Canadians elected on January 23 a government headed by a conservative Christian. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, governs with a minority in Parliament and now must convince at least one or two of the other parties to agree—on an issue-by-issue basis—to pass any legislation.

The Conservative victory ended 12 years of a Liberal administration humbled by corruption scandals and dithering leadership. In recent years Liberals also championed an aggressive social agenda that drew many previously quiescent Christians into the political process. Last year, the government changed the traditional definition of "marriage" to include homosexual couples.

According to Harper biographer Lloyd Mackey, the new prime minister's "personal faith has been shaped through such influences as C. S. Lewis and Malcolm Muggeridge." He attends Christian and Missionary Alliance congregations.

In his election night speech, Harper thanked supporters for their "labors, donations, and prayers," and concluded with "God bless Canada." Canadians rarely hear such language from their politicians.

Throughout the campaign, Liberal rhetoric focused on raising fears about Conservative "hidden agendas," implying regressive social policies and the "scary" prospect of an evangelical prime minister. Such warnings may have suppressed Conservatives gains in major urban centers.

In his first press conference after the election, Harper said he intended to ask Parliament "sooner rather than later, but not immediately" whether it wishes to consider restoring the traditional definition of marriage.

While Canadians eagerly desire change, the social conservative agenda is only a segment of the Conservative support base and a liability in broader circles. Mackey observes that in order to govern effectively, Harper needs to provide a place within the party for at least five different kinds of conservatism—including faith-based social conservatism.

University of Calgary religion professor Irving Hexham believes Harper is up to the task. "His biggest problem will be the unrealistic expectations of many social conservatives who may turn away from him," he says. "He will handle them by building a much wider support base once people see the he really does not have invisible horns and a tail."

Related Elsewhere:

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has an official response to the election, along with analysis.

Baptist Press interviewed some Canadian Christians for their response.

Previous Christianity Today articles on Canada are available on our full coverage page.