Evangelical christians in Canada, stunned as their conservative theological views were used against them in last year's bitterly partisan national political campaign, are determined to reclaim their legitimacy in Canadian public life.

In the November election, the Liberal Party retained majority control of the Parliament, while the Canadian Alliance, the nation's second-largest political party, strengthened its base in Alberta and other western provinces. Stockwell Day, a lifelong Pentecostal and head of the Canadian Alliance, lost his bid to replace Jean Chrétien as Canada's prime minister. "When the fires of fear are stoked in a deliberate, strategic way, we couldn't overcome that significantly in a 36-day campaign," Day said in an exclusive interview with Christianity Today.

Day's ascendancy to a national political profile and his party's election setback highlight deepening cultural and religious divisions within Canadian society, pitting the oil-rich West against the establishment East and devout Christian believers against committed secularists.

Day downplayed his religious beliefs during the campaign, but his candidacy became a lightning rod for criticism and religious ridicule:

• "How scary is he?" asked Maclean's, Canada's national newsmagazine, in a lead article about Day in July 2000; thereafter, the word scary became common usage in describing evangelicals.

• Hedy Fry, Canada's secretary of state for multiculturalism and the status of women, publicly denounced Day's belief that "Jesus Christ is the God of the whole universe" as "an insult to every Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh—everybody else who believes in other religions."

• Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the government-owned radio and TV network, produced a documentary on Day's religious beliefs focusing on his endorsement of the Genesis narrative of the Creation. The producers did not interview Day or allow him to respond to the program's sharp criticism of a speech he had given three years earlier. In another broadcast, a Liberal Party critic used a purple Barney dinosaur doll as a prop and mocked Day's views.

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Denying Pluralism?

Canadian evangelicals believed that the "attack evangelicals" strategy would harm the ruling Liberal Party; it did not, and now they are deeply concerned. Brian Stiller, the former longtime president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, calls the attacks "an attempt to deny pluralism." Stiller also fears that members of Canada's liberal establishment are prepared to set aside the much-trumpeted doctrine of multiculturalism when it does not serve their purposes. Other recent events contribute to the sense of steadily dropping tolerance for evangelical Christian beliefs and morals:

• Educational discrimination: Trinity Western University (TWU) in British Columbia traditionally sent student teachers to another institution to complete their teacher training. But after TWU, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church, applied to graduate its own teachers, the British Columbia College of Teachers challenged the request in court, claiming that TWU students could be bigots because they adhere to traditional Christian teaching on sexuality. Bob Burkinshaw, a TWU history professor, said that not only does his university promote mutual understanding, but it is the only British Columbia university that requires students to take a course in thinking through social issues. The Canadian Supreme Court is considering the case this year.

• Privatized religion: A recent article in The University of British Columbia Law Review argued that the justices of the Canadian Supreme Court are devaluing the public expression of religion and expanding other civil rights, including those of homosexuals. As legal scholar David M. Brown says, "An expansive definition of freedom of religion appears to have given way to a view that religion is a private matter, which should not intrude into the public square." Ian Hunter, law professor and former human-rights judge, says that although surveys show about 80 percent of Canadians identify themselves as Christians, public religious expression has become so stigmatized that to be "publicly identified as a Christian in Canada is a political and social liability."

• Religious practice curtailed: The court case Brillinger v. Brockie involves Toronto Christian print-shop owner Scott Brockie, who accepted printing jobs from homosexual groups. But Brockie drew the line at printing stationery that implied an endorsement of homosexual behavior, which is contrary to his Christian beliefs. The Ontario Human Rights Court fined Brockie $5,000. Saying Brockie was free to believe as he wished, the court ruled that he violated the rights of others by refusing to print the stationery. "I think Brillinger is the most important case in the courts at the moment," said Vancouver civil-rights lawyer Iain Benson. He says it will establish whether religious freedom includes the freedom to live according to traditional religious convictions. In a similar incident, the Human Rights Commission fined Dianne Haskett, mayor of London, Ontario, $5,000 because she refused to declare a Gay Pride day in the mid-1990s.

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Benson calls the situation for conservative Christians in Canada a "velvet oppression"—underneath a surface of calm harmony lies an explicitly anti-Christian perspective. In the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union often works to strengthen the wall of separation between church and state. But its northern counterpart, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, has intervened on behalf of Trinity Western before the Supreme Court.

Out of Sync?

The liberal establishment is fighting hard to convince the public that evangelical Christians such as Day must not hold public office because they might force their conservative views on others. As the influential business columnist Diane Francis recently put it, "I don't believe social conservatives should hold political power and influence. That's because they are moral interventionists and totally out of sync with society, which is [composed] of social liberals."

Starting in 1982, Liberals initiated political reforms under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and moved the government from a British style to a more American style of government—enhancing, for example, the executive power of the prime minister. But they failed to establish American-style checks and balances.

As a result, the prime minister has enormous influence on the government and society; the prime minister appoints both the Senate and the Supreme Court, and he can decide when to call a national election. He also enforces very strong party discipline, sometimes even requiring his members to vote against campaign promises that the party abandons. It is nearly impossible for a Liberal member of Parliament to vote against the party on an important issue and remain in the party.

But Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's suspect use of his official powers became a sharp campaign issue last year. Chrétien was discovered to have pressured the government bank to lend $615,000 to a man with a criminal record who had purchased a hotel from Chrétien and three partners. The government's ethics counselor, a Chrétien appointee, ruled that the loan was legal.

Much of the Canadian public, particularly in the West, is fed up with the concentration of power in the hands of the Liberal Party elite, and many look to Day to democratize Canadian politics. The Canadian Alliance wants a voter-elected Senate, regularly scheduled elections, and an ethics counselor accountable to the House of Commons, not to the prime minister. Day believes these changes would create more democracy in Canada.

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"I believe in democracy; I am a democrat," Day said in his CT interview. "The prime minister appoints Supreme Court judges, all heads of boards and agencies, all senior people in government, and does not allow freedom of members of Parliament to vote according to their constituents or conscience. In the United States, there is party-following, but it is far more free than in Canada. In Canada, if you vote against the governing party, you can be thrown out of that party."

Day believes evangelicals in Canada should support greater democracy and freedom. "We need to work at the message that we are democrats," he said. "We have certain beliefs, but we respect the beliefs of others. Nobody should be allowed to undemocratically impose their beliefs on the population."

As the Canadian Alliance has gained strength, Liberal Party members have implied that Day and his supporters have a "hidden agenda" to turn Canada's cultural clock back to an era when Christian values were dominant. Canadian sociologist Harry Hiller says that when Day publicly announced he would not campaign on Sundays, "He made a fundamental mistake; that really fit the 'hidden agenda' issue." Hiller says that in a highly secular society, religious views remain hidden. "I don't tell people what I believe, what I do, where I go. You might even tell a few people if we ask you, but you don't announce it."

For American conservative Michael Horowitz, a leader in the campaign against religious persecution worldwide, the situation in Canada for Christians has many parallels with Jewish experience. Evangelicals are the "new Jews of the 21st century," Horowitz says. "Every statement used to distance oneself from Jews is now being said about Christians. It's utterly striking how verbatim the same language is used in newsrooms, at fancy dinner parties, in faculty clubs."

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Mainline Churches in Crisis

This historic turnabout for the public face of Christianity in Canada has been slow in coming. It is linked to the growth of new evangelical and charismatic congregations and the declining vitality of mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. At the start of the 20th century, evangelicalism was the majority religion of English-speaking Canada. French-speaking Canada remains largely Roman Catholic. In the years after World War II, mainline Protestant churches witnessed a steady decline in church involvement. But Pentecostal churches, most of them evangelical in their theology, were being aggressively planted all across the nation. Between 1960 and 2000, according to estimates from World Churches Handbook, these trends emerged:

• Anglican Church congregations declined about 30 percent to 3,180.

• United Church of Canada congregations (Methodist in style) declined 40 percent to 3,650.

• Pentecostal congregations (in about ten denominations) grew 317 percent to 2,400.

But those congregational numbers do not tell the full story of the threat to mainline Protestant and Catholic churches. For more than a century starting in 1879, more than 100,000 Canadian aboriginal children attended schools jointly run by the Canadian government and four leading Christian denominations (Catholic, Anglican, United Church, and Presbyterian). Some teachers sexually abused the students, resulting in lawsuits and financial settlements with victims.

But the greatest legal liability for churches has come from another cause. Canadian judges have allowed the churches to be sued as codefendants with the government for tens of billions of dollars for aboriginal students' loss of cultural identity and their native language. At least 1,600 plaintiffs have filed more than 350 such lawsuits, which are now making their way through the Canadian legal system.

As their legal bills have escalated, individual churches and dioceses are facing bankruptcy. Exploding legal bills have crippled the ministries of many. Last year, for example, the General Synod of the Anglican Church considered declaring bankruptcy to protect its assets. It has cut staff and trimmed expenses to balance its budget. The sense of crisis snowballed last year when a leading bank canceled the Anglican Church's line of credit.

Canada's evangelicals and Pentecostals have been largely untouched by these lawsuits. Although their churches represent about 10 percent of Canada's population, evangelicals and Pentecostals have a low public profile, in part because their newer churches are often geographically isolated and their denominations are small and loosely organized.

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Overcoming Misconceptions

Over time, many misconceptions grew up around the Canadian evangelical movement. Such misconceptions were reinforced with the 1985 publication of The Handmaid's Tale. In the novel, called a "feminist dystopia" by critics, best-selling Canadian author Margaret Atwood depicts a Christian Right takeover of the United States in which fertile young women become "handmaids," serving as concubines for the ruling religious elite in the new Republic of Gilead.

In Canada, the novel tainted public perception of evangelicals and Pentecostals, who were considered hostile to civil rights and determined to acquire total political power. But Canadian evangelicals and Pentecostals are no more uniform on political issues than their American counterparts. By U.S. standards, says Trinity Western's Burkinshaw, "They would be considered right wing on abortion, left wing on Medicare, and middle of the road on some other issues."

The myths and misconceptions about conservative Christians have taken root in the eastern Canadian cities of Toronto and Ottawa but have less power in the Canadian West. Starting in the 1920s, a number of Christian politicians, including "Bible Bill" Aberhart, Ernest "Back to the Bible" Manning, and his son Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform Party (now Canadian Alliance), made evangelical politicians respectable in western Canada. In British Columbia, a stronghold for Day, church attendance is at about 15 percent; but Day's Canadian Alliance received about 50 percent of the British Columbian vote. As Day and the Canadian Alliance became champions of the Canadian working classes, the party brought together economic conservatives and more culturally isolated social conservatives (mostly evangelicals and Pentecostals).

The movement of evangelicals out of their religious ghetto has been difficult and controversial. Because Canadian evangelicals have had little social power, they have preferred withdrawal. But they no longer fit into old hiding places. Culturally acceptable evangelistic programs such as the Alpha Course, a British import, are sparking significant growth and renewal in many churches. The globally recognized revival at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship was a major boost for public awareness of charismatic churches.

Further, starting in the 1980s, evangelicals began challenging Canadian government policies on the free expression of religion. Evangelicals historically accepted curbs, especially on religious broadcasting, to avoid being divisive. Now evangelical groups such as David Mainse's Crossroads Christian Communications near Toronto and Willard Thiessen's Trinity Television in lower mainland British Columbia are slowly winning television broadcast licenses for key media markets.

Evangelicals are also becoming more prominent in the arts, entertainment, and media: Recording artists Paul Brandt (country and western), Ben Heppner (opera), and Susan Aglukark (pop) are willing to talk about their faith in mainstream media. Doug Koop, editor of Winnipeg's ChristianWeek, sees great improvement in the representation of evangelicals in mainstream Canadian media compared to the "bleak" situation of a decade ago. Marianne Meed Ward, former editor of Faith Today (published by Canadian evangelicals), writes a prominently positioned column in The Toronto Sun that deals with a variety of issues from the perspective of a thoughtful evangelical.

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Moreover, Christian scholars such as Marguerite Van Die and Reg Bibby are gaining academic respectability for careful studies of evangelical Christianity in Canada. Evangelical leaders are also seeking to upgrade the status of Christian higher education in Canada. Redeemer College, a Christian Reformed school south of Toronto, is becoming a private university. (Just last year, the province of Ontario legally authorized the existence of new private universities.)

"Younger evangelicals do not understand why we have to ghettoize," says evangelical personality Lorna Dueck, cohost of the popular daily television revival program 100 Huntley Street. "They are working hard at taking our faith into the mainstream."

Evangelicals are also showing an openness to self-criticism. Many political leaders blame Day himself for the attacks he sustained.

Horowitz, however, says evangelical leaders need to stop blaming Day and mobilize against religious bigotry. "Why are tyrannical regimes around the world threatened by Christians?" he says. "What is it that your Toronto dinner parties don't know? Christianity is the great liberating message of equality in the eyes of God."

Gerald Vandezande, a longtime Christian social-justice activist, sees a bright future if evangelicals treat attack politics as an opportunity to talk about their views and concerns more aggressively. Otherwise, he warns, "It's like playing defensive hockey. Sooner or later, the other guy's going to score."

For Stockwell Day, another day for national elections eventually must come. "We're going to be much better organized," Days says. "If and when those attacks come, they will hit people in Ontario the same way they did in Western Canada. Bringing true equality and respect into family economics are key issues for me."

Denyse O'Leary is a journalist in Toronto and author of the forthcoming book Faith@Science: Why Science Needs Faith in the 21st Century (J. Gordon Shillingford).

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Related Elsewhere:

John G. Stackhouse Jr. examined evangelicalism in Canada for a 1994 Christianity Today article, "Confronting Canada's Secular Slide | Why Canadian evangelicals thrive in a culture often indifferent to religious faith."

Previous Christianity Today stories about Canada include:

Editorial: Bigotry Up North | An evangelical's faith generated shrill criticism in a nation known for its tolerance. (Jan. 2, 2001)

Liberals Sweep Canadian Elections | After a swift campaign of personal attacks, Canada settles in for a long winter of discontent. (Nov. 28, 2000)

Weblog: Great White North Edition | From the Supreme Court to Parliament, Canada is a hotbed of religious controversy these days. (Nov. 21, 2000)

Pentecostal Shakes up Canadian Politics | Stockwell Day, leader of Canadian Alliance, wins House of Commons seat. (Sept. 9, 2000)

Lawsuits Force Anglicans to Cut Staff and Programs | Abuse allegations cause the Anglican Church of Canada to scale back church support and overseas ministries. (Aug. 25, 2000)

Canada Meeting Gives New Hope for Unity Between Anglicans and Catholics | Churches come closer together, but not close enough to share Eucharist. (May 26, 2000)

Arctic's Anglican Bishop Looks for Priests to Brave the Cold | Nine vacancies in Anglican Communion's largest diocesan territory, but no prospects. (Jan. 27, 2000)

ChristianWeek and B.C. Christian News are two excellent Canadian newspapers that update their sites weekly. While the former offers a more national flavor, the latter has a Weblog-like "news roundup" with plenty of links.

Classical Anglican Net News is a Weblog that focuses heavily on tensions within Anglicanism, but also reveals the Canadianism of its author. Monday's listing, for example, contained this item:

CANADIAN GOV'T controversy echoes election-time anti-Christian slurs; barbs fly back and forth in the House of Parliament over politically-correct remarks by MP Hedy Fry, and later by MP Sheila Copps; "Oh, well then. Thank goodness she wasn't insulting a member of another faith. Insulting Christians is just one of those very important Liberal values." In November, 2000— Christians and religious leaders were deeply offended by pre-election attacks on religion, and versus conservative Christianity in a supposedly 'tolerant' and 'multi-cultural' Canada. The offending statement by Hedy Fry, the Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre came just after her office recently released a booklet that described 'ridiculing religion' as a form of violence. Shame!

More articles and resources about Stockwell Day and his party are available from Yahoo's full coverage area.

If you're an American (or Canadian) who hasn't seen the famous Molson ad debunking Americans' myths about Canadians, become enlightened.

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