Will the church be left behind?

May 3, 2012

Have you ever felt on election day that your vote doesn’t matter because what the pollsters are predicting is already inevitable?  We don’t feel like that in Alberta, for the first time in a long time.

A year ago Canada had a federal election and the pollsters were saying that Harper had a chance of getting a majority, but a respectable showing by the Liberals and modest gains by the NDP would interfere with that.  We woke up to realize that Harper easily had his majority, the Liberals had been decimated and the NDP had risen to unforeseen levels.

Only weeks ago pollsters were saying that Albertans would elect a new political party into power for the first time in forty years, but it didn’t happen?  Why not?

One can only speculate, but it seems that in the last federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper shifted left far enough that he could appeal to more people without totally alienating his base of supporters (and who else were they going to vote for anyway).  There was also a massive movement to the far left with many Canadians embracing the social values of the New Democratic Party.

Even in Alberta, where the choice was essentially between the Conservative party and the more conservative party, a shift to the left seemed evident.  For a long time, PC leader Alison Redford had been accused of being a closet liberal, and the polls indicated her leadership would be rejected by the province.

The campaign was gliding along smoothly for Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Alliance Party, but then there were a few blips.  Someone dug up an old article in which a Wildrose candidate from Edmonton wrote that homosexuals will suffer for eternity in hell.  Shortly after that, another Wildrose candidate said in a radio interview that, as a caucasian, he could speak for all people, whereas his non-caucasians could only speak for their own race.  The party leader said she didn’t hold the same beliefs, but she didn’t outright condemn them.

In any other province, in any other party, these statements would have been enough to get the candidates removed from their parties or at least openly chastised by their leader, but not in Alberta.  There are enough social conservatives who would support and/or tolerate these people that there wouldn’t be enough of an impact to change the course of the election, right?  Well, a week later, their expected majority didn’t come, and they were left to watch yet another Conservative majority government take power.

There are likely a number of other factors, but these two statements stand out as the most obvious reason that voters had a last-minute change of heart.  So do these two election results point to a national progression in social values?  Probably.  One can be sure that in the next four years, the Wildrose Alliance will work very hard to dispel their image as socially backward, and that they will try to re-brand themselves in a better light.  These two candidates, both of whom lost their riding, will either be barred from running in further elections or muzzled to prevent similar damage being done next time around.

I am not trying to be a political commentator, what’s interesting to me about this story, is that both of these candidates were pastors.  While a political party knows it needs to re-brand itself as an institution of tolerance and equality, the church will likely make no such effort.

The homosexuality issue is difficult to resolve, of course.  Our societal values have shifted to a point where anything short of a full embrace of homosexual nature, practice and lifestyle will be viewed as intolerant.  For a variety of reasons, most Christians are not at that point, and most are willing to accept the social consequences of that position.

The man who made the race based comments is Pastor Ron Leech.  He lives in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood. He founded a church recognizing that the global Christian church is a multi-ethnic body and that should be reflected in his congregation, which it is. The private school run out of their church is also a multi-ethnic group. I have personally observed him helping people of various ethnic backgrounds.  According to the mainstream understanding of the word, Ron Leech is not a racist.

Based on a conversation I had with him a few years ago, I am quite sure his comments were taken out of context.  During the leadup to the previous provincial election, Mr. Leech sought the nomination in that riding for the PC party, a race he lost to a gentleman of Sikh descent. After a few private conversations with people who observed the voting, he is convinced that a number of members of the Sikh community voted in that riding nomination who were ineligible. Someone without proper ID can vote with a signed affidavit of their eligibility, and Mr. Leech believes there was a Sikh conspiracy to get one of their own people elected. So, his comments were rooted in this experience.  I believe that what he meant is that ethnic minorities can get away with this kind of fraud easier, and so they are more likely to carry it out, whereas he, as a caucasian, could not get away with and so is less likely to try and so he should be trusted more.  It’s convoluted, but I’m quite sure that’s what he was getting at.

After his comments, a number of people in the community pointed Mr. Leech’s record and defended him as a friend to all races.  His opponent publicly stated that he did not believe Mr. Leech to be racist. His party leader insisted he had the freedom to speak his mind but that she knew him to be a man of integrity, etc. Still, the damage was done. Given the chance to speak in his own defense, Mr. Leech made a woefully inadequate apology. “I am sincerely sorry if any comment I made earlier was misconstrued in any way.”  To even call that an apology is a stretch.  I’m not at all surprised that this statement failed to resolve the issue.

The local church may very well deserve it’s intolerant reputation with regard to the homosexual community.  If we are viewed, however, as a white old boys club, that is untrue. The Christian community as a whole and a large number of individual congregations in this province are multi-ethnic bodies.  Any inter-denominational endeavour will display evidence to that effect.

I’m sure I don’t need to say that these two pastors don’t speak for me and don’t represent the views of my church.  They would probably proudly say the same thing about me. I’m also not saying that the church needs to make a shift to the left, but if the society as a whole is doing that, and the church shifts stubbornly to the right, we will become increasingly irrelevant. The church would be better off by removing itself from the political spectrum entirely

My fear though is that people won’t understand that this diversity exists within the church and that this narrow vision of the church will be the dominant perspective. The gospel will be skewed because of it.

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