Canada
4 min

Harper more concerned about ‘God’s verdict’ than history’s

Plus: Christian Horizons appeals HRC ruling

Stephen Harper says he’s far more worried about what God thinks of his time in office than the opinion of ordinary voters.

“To be honest with you, I am a lot more concerned by God’s verdict regarding my life than the one of historians,” Harper told Quebec City’s Prestige magazine.

Now, that a politician, even the PM, would care more about God’s opinion than history’s doesn’t bother me. What worries me is politicians — such as the evangelical Harper — who appear convinced they already know what God’s opinion is and tailor their policies to it.

Harper’s religious convictions clearly dominate his approach to governance. It explains his insistence on a simplistic good vs evil approach to the world (as in his plan to appeal a court ruling ordering him to repatriate Omar Khadr); his campaigning against same-sex marriage; and the problems faced by Muslim Canadians who run into trouble abroad.

With the strong possibility of a fall election, Harper is appealing to conservative Quebecers. The fact that he’s already calling on God should worry the rest of us.

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I couldn’t help but compare Harper to Ted Kennedy upon his recent passing.

Kennedy, too, was devoutly religious, in his case a Roman Catholic. Upon learning of his impending death, Kennedy even wrote a personal letter to the Pope, which was hand-delivered by Barack Obama. Unlike Harper, though, Kennedy never made any attempt to tailor political policies to his religious beliefs.

Kennedy spent his political life working to help people, and as a result seniors, immigrants and the poor are much better off. Kennedy did attribute helping the poor to his faith, but was also a huge supporter of abortion rights and was considered by gay activists as their single strongest supporter in Congress. Kennedy opposed the Defence of Marriage Act, opposed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” supported same-sex marriage — and not just in Massachusetts — and was instrumental in getting a hate crimes bill passed.

Remember, Kennedy was from Boston, probably the most Catholic city in the US, and his positions often brought him into conflict with the teachings he had been brought up on and with church leaders. The priest who led a prayer at his memorial service says he received hate mail for praying for a sinner.

Did Kennedy think the church’s teachings were wrong? Or did he think the secular concerns of American citizens should trump God?

I don’t know, but Kennedy was clearly willing to stand before God, defend his actions and take his chances. His politics were despite his religious beliefs; Harper’s because of his.

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Christian Horizons (CH), a Kitchener-based evangelical organization providing care for developmentally disabled people in group homes, is appealing an Ontario Human Rights Commission ruling from April 2008.

The OHRC ruled CH could not fire an employee for being a lesbian and could not force employees to sign a lifestyle and morality contract that banned homosexuality. The ruling stated that sexual orientation was irrelevant to helping the disabled, especially as CH does not restrict itself to Christian clients.

CH, with support from groups such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC), is appealing the ruling to the Ontario Superior Court.

In factums filed with the court prior to the case being heard later this year, the EFC and the CCCC argue that religious charities should be allowed to discriminate in their hiring.

“Evangelical Christians practise and manifest their faith not only through religious worship, prayer, and doctrinal teaching, but also through activities of social service, charitable work and other social activism which constitute a manifestation and exercise of their religious beliefs and values,” states the EFC. “For Evangelical Christians, social activism and social service are an outward expression of faith, obedience and worship of God… Evangelical Christian religious organizations base their activities on a shared faith. All of the activities of the organization are considered by all members to be infused with the values of religious service. The day often begins and ends with prayer engaged in by all members of the organization. The social service work is provided with a shared set of beliefs and values but also with shared expression about how that work constitutes an exercise of religious mission.”

“A Christian charity that is engaged in evangelizing those who are not members of that charity would not be permitted to restrict hiring to believers,” states the CCCC.

In other words, the most important part of charity work is not helping the less fortunate, it’s showing God how religious you are and trying to convert recipients of your charity. If the most qualified person to help the homeless is an atheist or, God forbid, a lesbian, the homeless are shit out of luck.

The EFC claims if the OHRC ruling stands, charities will be forced to start turning away non-Christians.

“An urban Evangelical Christian street mission in Toronto which provides food, shelter, clothing, skills training, counselling, daycare and other basic services to the poor, homeless and needy, and has done so for years on the basis of helping all in need without discrimination based on faith or other grounds, would be forced to either give up its Christian identity (which is considered essential to its success) by engaging non-Christians, or by turning away vulnerable and poverty-stricken individuals on the basis of faith.”

In other words, if Christian charities aren’t allowed to discriminate against queers in their hiring practices, they’ll just stop helping anybody who’s not Christian, so they can discriminate.

None of the submissions make any mention of public funding. CH receives almost all its multi-million dollar funding from governments. And although public funding makes discrimination highly problematic, none of these charities seem willing to give it up in order to cater solely to Christians.

Unfortunately, religious groups are increasingly responsible for charity in Canada. If the OHRC is upheld, charities may withhold services from non-believers, or from gays. And if the OHRC is overruled, queers who wish to do charity work will be severely restricted in their choices.

I wonder what Stephen Harper thinks God’s verdict on all this will be.