by Gregory Baum
Canada has no equivalent of the American Christian Right. In the first place, Canada is a much more secularized society than the United States. This is especially true in Quebec, where subsequent to the Quiet Revolution practising Catholics have become a minority. Even in English-speaking Canada, as sociological research has shown,1 church membership is drastically declining. Nor has Canada inherited a set of religious symbols that represent its national identity and express its mission in the world − using the language of sociologists, Canada has not inherited a civil religion.2 What follows from these facts is that religion is unable to play an important role in Canadian politics.
A second significant difference between Canada and the United States is that in Canada the great majority of Christians, more than 75 per cent, belong to the three largest churches, Catholic, Anglican and United – a striking difference from the distribution of American Christians. In the United States 40 per cent of Christians belong to about 20 mainline churches, while 60 per cent belong to the a greater number of evangelical churches. In Canada, evangelicals constitute a minority.
Evangelicals are currently organized in the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada,3 an institution that fosters unity among evangelicals and intends to influence society. The fellowship promotes conservative social values and opposes abortion and homosexual love, yet it does so in full respect for Canada’s pluralistic society where all groups have the right to advocate their own values. The fellowship’s concerns also include the spread of unemployment and poverty in Canada.
Evangelicals were involved in politics in the Reform Party and its successor, the Canadian Alliance. Their influence receded when the Alliance was integrated into the Conservative Party in 2003. In my judgement, Stephen Harper presents himself as an ideologue, not as a believer, even if the Quebec press occasionally designates him as a born-again Christian.
There are signs that groups of evangelicals have involved themselves politically by supporting Harper’s election campaign. Many conservative Protestants and Catholics, unhappy with the legalization of same-sex marriages and Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s nomination for the Order of Canada, have become supporters of the Conservative Party. Because of a strict understanding of the secularity of the state (la laïcité), journalists in Quebec denounce any politician who justifies his or her public values in religious terms, whether on the right or the left. During the election campaign, they criticized Conservative candidates who have a connection to conservative Protestant or Catholic groups, even though arguments based on religion are no longer persuasive in Quebec. The recent support for the Conservative Party in that province is based on several factors, none of which are religious. The modest effort of conservative Christians to influence Canadian politics cannot be compared to the orientation and the power of the Christian Right in the United States.
1 Reginald Bibby, Fragmented Gods (Toronto: Stoddart, 1990) and Restless Churches (Ottawa: Novalis, 2004).
2 Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” in W.G. McLoughlin, ed., Religion in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), pp. 3–23.
3 http://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/ (retrieved August 25, 2008).