I happened to sit next to a hero, a wise elder of religion writers, as the Anglican Church of Canada selected its new archbishop last week. He observed that few of Canada's major dailies had sent reporters to cover the meeting, and that this reflected on how Canadian culture sees the church as largely irrelevant. I said a few reporters were present from dailies, but I had dismissed his point too glibly: the National Post depended on Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun; the Globe and Mail relied too much on telephone interviews; the Toronto Star let Canadian Press handle most of the week's news. During my brief week there, Canada felt no more grimly secular than much of America. Conservatives gathered regularly at a Lutheran seminary on the Brock University campus, and they were forbidden by seminary policy to partake even of wine while on the premises. The Canadian side of Niagara Falls was as glitzy and tacky as a stroll down any tourist trap in the United States. Evangelical Anglicans were as ready to speak of their faith as their counterparts in the Episcopal Church.
But a report during the weekend by Ron Csillag, writing in the Toronto Star, highlights something that's less evident during a brief visit: Many Canadians take the church-government divide to absolutist ends that should gladden the heart of any regular contributor to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Csillag's report mentions a nasty little poll, conducted at the request of the Liberal Party, that asked Ontarians were asked whether they would be "more or less likely to vote for the Conservatives if you knew they had been taken over by evangelical Christians."
When a Conservative Member of Parliament asked whether Liberals were poised to attack evangelical Conservatives, Prime Minister Paul Martin's initial response was hardly reassuring:
Martin called the question "as vile as it possibly could be," and added: "Let me say that faith, religion has no room in politics. The fact is that this government would never allow that. For this honourable member to raise that kind of issue in this room is the ultimate in prejudice and bigotry."
After he'd calmed down, Martin conceded "faith and religion and belief are very, very important. And faith and religion will certainly influence the way that people look at the world. But faith and religion should not be the subject of partisan politics."
Csillag reports that Martin is Catholic, and he delivers this stunning bit of candor from Martin's predecessor:
Some political leaders, like former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, have gone to great lengths to assure they would never allow their personal religious convictions to cloud their vision or influence their decisions. ("I am a Catholic and for abortion," Chretien said last year).
If nothing else, you have to admire the lack of code language.