Friday September 30, 2005

Conservative Columnist Calls on Canada’s Religious Right to Wake Up

Pro-life leader responds long overdue, united effort by conservative groups would “knock the socks off” opponents

TORONTO, Ontario, September 29, 2005, ( – If religious people in Canada feel that they’ve been having a tough time lately, it’s probably not their imagination. So writes Lorne Gunter in a National Post column published Sept. 26, making it very clear that the religious right has to wake up and face reality. Gunter’s article was one of many in the Post’s week long series of articles on conservatism in Canada.

For the last decade Canadians have watched tribunals, courts and even Parliament chip away at traditional principles. “Christians”, according to Gunter, “kept hoping that sanity and reason will once again prevail…” and that “the truth shall set us free.”

It won’t happen, says Gunter: “It took this year’s debate on gay marriage to jar the religious right into the realization that the truth is a weakling, no match for the ingrained biases of the Canadian establishment or the spin of well-funded special interest groups. If the religious right wants change, it now knows it will have to abandon its cultural isolation, stop preaching only to the converted and engage in the muck and mire of day-to-day politics.”

Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition, says he agrees with that part of Gunter’s message. “For many years”, Hughes states, “it has been extremely difficult to get Canada’s religious leaders and most of their congregations to get involved and stay involved in the political process.” “All the attacks on life and family”, he adds, “would have been stopped in their tracks if only the churches accepted the seriousness of what was at stake and allowed their people to be appropriately mobilized.”

Loud and numerous have been the warnings from the left but, writes Gunter, “despite the paranoid fantasies of the editors at The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, and producers at the CBC and CTV, Canada’s Protestant, Evangelicals and conservative Catholics have almost no concerted political clout.”

Gunter observes that the Conservative Party, often held as the party most closely associated with conservative social values, is not helping. “This year,” he says, “while the Conservatives maintained steadfast opposition to gay marriage, they also ran away from every other socially conservative policy. They tried hard at their Montreal policy conference last March to squelch all debate on moral issues, and party leaders worked diligently to have delegates take no stand whatever on abortion.”

Lorne Gunter doesn’t believe Canada’s religious right will ever have the political clout that their U.S. counterparts have, especially, he indicates, when 15-20% of voting age Americans are self-described evangelicals, fundamentalists, Pentecostals and conservative Catholics or Baptists. In Canada, “the number is 10% at best”, says Gunter.

Gunter doesn’t mean to say that religiously motivated individuals should throw up their hands and give up. According to him, “if Canadian Christians want clout proportionate to even that low number, they would do well to emulate some of the Americans’ lessons.”

“Our religious conservatives are today where the U.S. movement was two decades ago,” he says, and if “they have finally accepted that if they are to save any of the values they cherish, they must become fully engaged in politics.”

He continues, “what they lack is their own version of Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed…It was Reed, who in the Reagan and George Bush Sr. eras taught the nascent religious right how to poll, canvass, recruit, raise money and get out the vote.”

According to Lorne Gunter, American Christian conservatives went through three stages: raising alarm, marshalling forces, capturing the mainstream. “Canadian Christians,” he says, “are just now entering Stage One. Our Christians, too, will have fewer mechanisms to build their influence – no citizen-initiated referenda, for instance. Caps on third-party spending and advertising during campaigns will make it much harder for them to get their message out, as well. And our Parliamentary system of government also makes it much harder to convince individual representatives to vote according to the desires of voters back home than hew to the line laid down by party bosses.”

“Moreover,” says Gunter, “our laws permit human-rights witchhunts that anti-Christian activists exploit to silence the religious right here to an extent undreamed of in the U.S. Not even Bill Clinton’s administration threatened to take away churches’ tax-exempt status if they did not conform to the official line on gay rights. Revenue Canada has vowed to do just that to Canadian churches.”

Jim Hughes, however, has a somewhat different and more optimistic view of the possibilities. He emphasizes that Canada’s “social conservatives or the religious right, or whatever you want to call them, have not yet made a real, sustained effort in the political arena on issues related to morality and family. Sure, there have been some great campaigns but these were all short-term and always limited in some way to a degree that crippled the possibility of victory”.

Hughes also disagrees that the Conservatives were “steadfast” in their opposition to same-sex marriage. “They in fact made a strategic blunder in not making the issue one of their major priorities in the last election”. “Had they done so”, he says, “I am convinced they would now be the party in power.”

CLC and other groups fighting to defend life and family together with their dedicated supporters, indicates Hughes, “have often been left hanging in the wind by their fellow Canadians of like mind when the chips were down”. “However”, adds Hughes, “I am firmly convinced that if we all, especially our religious leaders, join together in a committed, long term effort to defend life, family and our freedoms, we will knock the socks off those who have stolen the country away from us these past 40 or so years.”

“That’s where I especially disagree with Lorne Gunter,” says Hughes. “Look at what a very small number of gay activists have achieved in just several years. I completely disagree with their policies, but you have to acknowledge their determination, their lobbying and organizing skills and their ability to use the political system to get what they want. Our potential numbers are vastly greater. It should therefore be a relative piece of cake to get Canadian laws and government policies to include what we believe in. All it takes is the will.”

Hughes adds, “Considering the incredible things Campaign Life Coalition has done with minimal resources, a much larger, sustained, and coordinated effort by the church communities and other like-minded Canadians will stun everyone with what they will achieve. We have been so very close to victory so many times in the past that I have no doubt the possibilities are in fact much greater than Lorne and others realize”.


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