Life's busy, read it when you're ready!

Create a free account to save articles for later, keep track of past articles you’ve read, and receive exclusive access to all RP resources.

Browse thousands of RP articles

Articles, news, and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians.

Get Articles Delivered!

Articles, news,and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians delivered direct to your inbox!


Most Recent


Politics, Recent Articles

Political tactics 101: reframing the aggressor

The concept of self-defense is easy to understand and its validity is recognized by most people, whether Christian or not. If somebody is attacked, it is easy to understand that fighting back is a proper and even moral thing to do. That’s why people sympathize with the victim in these situations – self-defense seems naturally just. I’m a victim! That’s also why when a political debate is being framed, each side wants to be seen as the side that is being attacked – they want to be the side that is simply fighting back, rather than the bully who is picking fights. So it should come as no surprise then that whenever Christians get politically active, they are portrayed as the aggressors. Every since the 1970s when today’s conservative Christian political movements first began to take shape, Christians have been accused of trying to force our morality on other people. Why, oh why can't we just leave others alone? But it just isn’t so. Christian political activism has been a defensive response to secularist attacks. If we look at things in their proper historical context, it leads to the question, “who was forcing what upon whom?” Did groups of Christians suddenly decide to organize politically to force other people to adopt Christian styles of living? No. The fact is, it was social movements on the Left that began forcing changes that led Christians to respond with social and political action of their own. The other side was (and is) on the offense, and Christians are simply responding. Reactions This was pointed out as far back as 1982 by a prominent American sociologist, Nathan Glazer. He wrote an article at that time explaining the efforts of the then newly-formed Christian political groups that had played an important role in the 1980 American election that saw the rise of President Ronald Reagan. His article was called "Fundamentalists: A Defensive Offensive" and was republished a few years later in a collection of essays entitled Piety and Politics: Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Confront the World. (Don’t be confused by the word “fundamentalist.” It is a common term used to describe conservative Protestants, although in many contexts it is meant in a disparaging way.) Glazer lists the various issues that were (and still are) of primary concern to conservative Christians to show that they are fighting defensive battles. “Abortion did not become an issue because Fundamentalists wanted to strengthen prohibitions against abortion, but because liberals wanted to abolish them.” Pornography did not become an issue because Christians suddenly decided to ban adult literature, but because by the 1970s porn was becoming ubiquitous and prominently displayed in stores. Homosexuality didn’t become an issue because Christians suddenly became obsessed with it, but because the homosexual rights movement began to make big political and legal strides. Feminism also emerged as a powerful political force leading to a Christian response. In each of these cases, the Christian activity was a response to a political offensive from the other side. This leads Glazer to write,

“What we are seeing is a defensive reaction of the conservative heartland, rather than an offensive that intends to or is capable of really upsetting the balance, or of driving the United States back to the nineteenth century or early twentieth century.”

Due to the initial surge of Christian political activity, many people viewed the Christians as being on the offensive. But even if their activity did amount to an offensive of sorts, its whole purpose was ultimately defensive. In this respect, Glazer calls it a “defensive offensive.” But it’s vitally important to keep the defensive nature in mind.

“This ‘defensive offensive’ itself can be understood only as a response to what is seen as aggression—the aggression that banned prayer from the schools, or, most recently, the Ten Commandments from school-house walls, that prevented states from expressing local opinion as to the legitimacy of abortion, and that, having driven religion out of the public schools, now is seeking to limit the schools that practice it.”

Conclusion Every society operates within some code of morality. All laws are based on a concept of morality, even traffic laws which protect people from the careless driving habits of others. Conservative Christians have not taken it upon themselves to introduce some new rules upon society but simply to defend the rules that have served well for hundreds of years. It is the other side that is trying to force a new morality onto society, and then accusing the Christians of doing so. Thus not only is their accusation false but it is also hypocritical. Christian activism is a form of political self-defense. Christians didn’t start this fight. They are responding to changes launched from the other side.

This first appeared in the February 2011 issue under the title "Political self-defense: some people find Christianity quite offensive – it just isn’t so."

Politics, Theology

Haggai and the call to rebuild the temple: a case study in Church/State relations

Canadians find themselves beginning 2021 under varying levels of lockdown. Across our country churches are wrestling with how to respond. The Bible seems to contain few practical examples of believers facing something comparable to our current scenario. However, over the Christmas break, I stumbled across an article about the story of Haggai and its connection to the book of Ezra. The story struck me as having particular relevance, or at least uncanny parallels, for the church in Canada today. I offer this reflection not to recommend a particular way forward for churches in Canada as it relates to restrictions on corporate worship, but to at least help some Christians better understand the decisions of some church leaders who have made the decision to continue worshipping corporately despite (near) total prohibitions in their province. In the May 2020 edition of The Messenger (a denominational magazine of the Free Reformed Churches), the late Pastor Gerald Hamstra published a meditation about the rebuilding of the temple in the post-exile period. Though the books are spaced far from each other in the Old Testament canon, the events of Haggai and parts of Ezra occur simultaneously. Many of us are familiar with the narrative of Haggai, where the prophet calls on the people of Israel to rebuild the temple: "This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’” "Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 'Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?' "Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.'" – Haggai 1:2-6 It appears, on first reading, that the people of Israel were selfishly caring only for themselves and their own houses and ignoring the worship of the Lord without a thought for the temple in ruins. However, that is not the whole picture. In the book of Ezra, we find the rest of the story. Why had the rebuilding of the temple ceased? King Cyrus had issued a decree permitting the Jews to return from Babylon to Jerusalem and charging them to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:2-5). But the Jews, soon after their return, faced many challenges and obstructions from those living in the region and even from the local civil magistrates (Ezra 4:1-5). Eventually, these opponents, with malicious lies, convince a subsequent king, King Artaxerxes, to stop the building of the temple entirely. Having been persuaded by the reports of the local magistrates in Judea, the king concludes that the temple-building efforts are a threat to the security of his kingdom and decrees that the temple work must cease. "As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. Thus, the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia." – Ezra 4:23-24 For some sixteen years, the temple lay in ruins because of the king’s edict. Over the course of those years, the crops began to fail and the people were struggling. They were not flourishing following their return from Babylonian exile. Pastor Hamstra, reflecting on this story, explains: “ interest in the temple and the worship of God was waning. They erroneously viewed the encountered opposition as a divine indication that the work on the temple should be discontinued.” (emphasis mine) It is worth noting that the order from King Artaxerxes for the Jews to cease building the temple was not a form of direct persecution. The king was not operating with anti-Semitic animus or anti-religious prejudice. He had been convinced by his officials that there was a threat to the safety and security of his realm. So, he ordered the project to cease. Questions of safety and security are under the proper authority (or “sphere”) of the king. So, the Jews submitted to the civil government, ceasing work on the temple. But in this case, the people of God had mistakenly viewed the challenges to building the temple and the intervention of the local authorities as an indication from God that the temple work must stop. God sends Haggai to call the people to repent, to return to building the temple, and to observe the corporate worship of the Lord in the way He prescribed. Haggai makes it clear that the worship of God is to be held in the highest regard, and that King Artaxerxes had been wrong to stop the building of the temple for the worship of God. In the face of opposition, the people begin to rebuild God’s people respond in faith to the call of the prophet. They recognize the punishment for their disobedience, and the suffering they were enduring because of it. Just a few weeks after Haggai delivers his message and encouragement from the Lord, the Jews restart the temple building project. In Ezra 5 we read that the local magistrates came to the building site to see why the people had begun building again in apparent defiance of the king’s orders: "At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” They also asked, “What are the names of those who are constructing this building?” But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received." – Ezra 5:3-5 Though the local rulers questioned them, the Jews continue to rebuild the temple. The call from Haggai was to obey God, regardless of what the earthly king or the local magistrates declared or forbade. They obey God unquestioningly. Interestingly, as the Jews resume their work, the local governor Tattenai sends another report to the Persian king, King Darius, about how the Jews were rebuilding the temple contrary to the decree of the previous king, Artaxerxes. In that report, Tattenai lists the Jews’ legal defense: that King Cyrus had decreed that they should build the temple (Ezra 5:6-15). King Darius orders a search of the archives and confirms the truth of the matter. He orders the local governors and their associates to “keep away” and to “let the work on this house of God alone” (Ezra 6:6, 7). The Jews are vindicated! Are there any lessons here for today? The parallels to today are striking. In this Old Testament story, we see conflicting government decrees, human opposition to corporate worship, the disdain of the people of God by some levels of civil government, and hasty orders by rulers motivated by fear for safety. We also see commands from God and confusion on the part of His people as to the right way forward. We also see God giving direction, and redirection, patient with His people while unwavering in His call to worship. We see His mighty hand turning the hearts of leaders for His glory and the good of His people. Some lessons in this story for the people of God today include how God’s people can appeal to, and be vindicated by, the higher laws and decrees of civil governments. Perhaps appealing to the original decree of Cyrus (where he first granted permission to the Jews to build the temple), is comparable to church leaders appealing to a constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. Perhaps the Jews’ refusal to abide by the second decree of Artaxerxes while their appeal makes its way to the court of Darius is comparable to the path chosen by some church leaders to resume corporately worshipping God while challenging the legality or constitutionality of overly broad public health orders through the court system. Though I don’t think this story is prescriptive of the way forward for churches in Canada today, the story of the rebuilding of the temple does provide some insight for the 21st-century church to ponder in light of significant restrictions by the civil government on corporate worship. Even if you don’t agree with the decisions made by some churches to continue worshipping, that decision should at least be understandable in light of the Ezra and Haggai story. One thing we can remain confident in is that God rules over the nation of Canada today, just as He has over the nations and empires of the past. He is faithful to those who put their trust in Him. It is our daily duty to pray, work and worship to the glory of His name! "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." – Jeremiah 17:7-8 This article first appeared on the ARPA Canada blog here. Colin Postma is the Federal Issues Manager for ARPA Canada...

Politics, Theology

2K is not OK

A review and discussion of Willem J. Ouweneel’s The World is Christ’s: A Critique of Two Kingdom’s Theology **** A tour a few years back by ARPA Canada prominently featured a famous statement by Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” Many Christians undoubtedly agree that Christ is king over every aspect of human life. However, there is a relatively new theological movement within conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches in North America that stands in direct opposition to Kuyper's view. This new movement draws a sharp distinction between the kingdom of God and a secular “common kingdom” that is not directly under the rule of Christ. Hence the movement is often referred to as “Two Kingdoms” or 2K theology. Sometimes it is known by the acronym NL2K which stands for “Natural Law Two Kingdoms” theology. This is because it teaches that most institutions in society (e.g. schools, businesses, civil governments, etc.) are to be governed by “natural law” (or the law that we can deduce, not from the Bible, but from the “natural” world around us. And the reason these institutions are to be governed by natural law, rather than the Bible, is because schools, business, the civil government and more, are said to be in that secular “common kingdom.” Two Kingdom’s growing popularity in some Reformed circles has prompted Dutch scholar Willem J. Ouweneel (who holds PhDs in Biology, Philosophy, and Theology) to write an extended analysis called The World is Christ's: A Critique of Two Kingdoms Theology (Ezra Press, 2017). This book demonstrates that 2K is highly problematic from a confessional and biblical perspective. New, but not so new It is legitimate to label 2K as “new” because it has only appeared within the Reformed and Presbyterian churches in the last decade. However, there is a sense in which it can be considered to be the return of an old error. According to Ouweneel, 2K is deeply rooted in medieval scholasticism which has a dualistic perspective that divides human activities into the sacred realm and the secular realm. For 2K, the authority of the Bible is restricted to the church and the life of individual Christians. It is not to be used as a guide for politics, economics, science, literature, etc. because those fields are part of the “common kingdom” governed by natural law. Ouweneel’s simple summary of scholasticism also functions as a summary of the basic 2K perspective: “there is a spiritual (sacred, Christ-ruled) domain and a natural (secular, common, neutral) domain, which have to be carefully kept apart. There is a domain under the authority of God’s Word and a domain that is supposedly governed by the God-given ‘natural law’ . . .  There is a domain under the kingship of Christ and a ‘neutral’ domain (which is at best a domain that falls under God’s general providence)” 2K versus the early Reformers However, 2K advocates claim that their view is the original Reformed position. They believe Abraham Kuyper’s “not one square inch” perspective added a new twist that conflicts with the teachings of the Reformers. The confessions indicate otherwise. The confessions formally summarize the essential theology of the Reformers, and their statements on civil government demonstrate 2K to be in error. The original wording of the Belgic Confession on civil magistrates included this statement: “Their office is not only to have regard unto and watch for the welfare of the civil state, but also that they protect the sacred ministry, and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship, that the kingdom of antichrist may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted.” The Belgic Confession (at least in its original form) saw an active role for the civil magistrate in advancing the kingdom of God. He was not outside the authority of the Bible. Modern Christians may not agree with that statement in the Belgic Confession, but it is clearly in conflict with 2K. The original Westminster Confession contains similar statements about the civil magistrate. For example: "...it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed.” Ouweneel summarizes the confessional point this way: “it would have been unthinkable for the divines who wrote the Belgic Confession (Guido de Brès, d. 1567) and the Westminster Confession to accept the idea that the “secular” state falls outside the kingdom of God.” Therefore, if we use the confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as the standards for determining early Reformed and Presbyterian theology, 2K cannot be said to represent the original position. 2K versus Christian schools Many Reformed Christians send their children to Christian schools because they want their children taught from a Christian perspective. Each of the subjects in such schools is rooted in a Christian approach. However, according to Ouweneel: “This is the very reason why many NL2K advocates object to Christian schools: they do not believe in the possibility of a Christian approach to all these disciplines. In their view, both the school and the disciplines taught there belong to the ‘common realm,’ which is neutral and secular. So why should we need Christian schools?” If there is no distinctively Christian perspective for subjects like English, science and history, then there is no need for Christian schools. This is a consequence of the NL2K theology. Neutral history? Ouweneel asks, “Can you imagine studying history from a ‘neutral’ perspective?” How is that even possible? How do we determine whether particular historical events or people are good or bad without a biblical perspective? Someone may argue that a figure like Adolf Hitler is widely regarded by almost all people, Christian and non-Christian alike, to be evil. Therefore that demonstrates the existence of a common “natural law” standard for judging historical figures. But wait just a minute. In the 1930s there was no consensus that Hitler was evil. In fact, he was supported by millions of people in Germany and he had numerous admirers in other countries as well. It was only after he lost the war that he was regarded everywhere as being evil. If he had won the war, Hitler would have likely remained popular, at least in Germany. From a biblical perspective, Hitler was evil right from the start. But from a “natural law” perspective (whatever that means), things aren’t so obvious. As Ouweneel writes: “If a person is a radical Christian, let him look for an equally radical Muslim or Hindu, and try to find out how much ‘natural law’ the two have in common!” Natural law does not provide a clear and objective standard for determining right and wrong. But the Bible does. Ouweneel describes 2K’s usage of natural law as follows: “Such a Scripture-independent natural law is nothing but a loincloth, a fig leaf, to hide the shame of refusing to acknowledge Christian philosophy, Christian political science, a Christian view of the state, etc.” Two kingdoms in the Bible Now, the Bible does teach that there are two kingdoms. However, they are not the kingdom of God and a “common kingdom,” but the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan (Matt. 12:25-28). According to Ouweneel, every societal relationship (e.g. family, school, business, political party, etc.) is either a part of the kingdom of God or a part of the kingdom of Satan. As he puts it: “in every societal relationship, the kingdom of God can be, and is, manifested if this community is, in faith, brought under the rule of King Christ Jesus and under the authority of God’s Word.” This means that a political community where the citizens and government have placed themselves under the authority of the Bible manifests the kingdom of God. There are historical examples of such communities: “The kingdom of Christ did indeed clearly come to light in various German lands and European countries (Scotland, England, the Netherlands) in which Protestant convictions dominated public life (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries).” Clearly, the early Protestants did not believe 2K theology. And as Ouweneel asks, “Can you imagine John Calvin telling the city council of Geneva that they had to be ‘neutral,’ and that for their rule it did not matter whether they were Christians as long as they were good rulers?” The key issue Ouweneel sees the dispute over 2K coming down to one key point: “This is the issue: either God’s Word has full authority over the entire cosmic reality, or only over a limited part of it: the church.” For 2K, the Bible is authoritative only over the church. It does not have authority over politics and government or the other spheres of the “common kingdom.” The real-life consequences of 2K are serious. As mentioned, it undermines the rationale for Christian schools. Another effect is to remove all Christian influence from political life. As Ouweneel points out, 2K plays “…into the hands of all the atheists and agnostics who propagate the neutral, secularized state and wish to restrict religion to the church and to the private religious lives of people. The growing number of non-Christians in North America should be thanking their new gods for the support they are receiving from NL2K advocates with their commitment to a secular state.” Conclusion The consequences of embracing 2K theology would be devastating to Christian influence in politics and society. Public policy in Canada, the United States and other Western countries has been moving in an increasingly anti-Christian direction for years. If Christians were to abandon their distinctively Christian efforts to influence government, that trend would only get worse. Yet that is what 2K theologians essentially advocate. Abraham Kuyper was certainly correct that Christ is sovereign over every square inch “in the whole domain of our human existence.” Excluding the Bible from certain spheres of society is a recipe for accelerated decline and ultimate disaster. As Ouweneel puts it, “All talk about a so-called ‘common kingdom’ means in the end that we allow the kingdom of Satan to prevail in the public square.” Michael Wagner is the author of "Leaving God Behind: The Charter of Rights and Canada’s Official Rejection of Christianity,” available at Merchantship.ca....

Politics

What is “political success”?

Stephen Harper’s mistaken understanding changed him from a principled conservative to a power-focused politician  **** People get involved in politics because they’re concerned about the future. They know certain principles need to be defended, for the good of all, even the good of those that oppose those very principles. However, in a pluralistic, increasingly relativistic, country like Canada, it’s hard to get elected while standing uncompromisingly on principle (just ask the Christian Heritage Party!). So compromise on principle and you might win, don’t and you’ll almost certainly lose. How then can we succeed? It’s a key question, but there’s a more important one that we need to answer first: how are we going to define political “success”? The dictionary tells us success is “reaching our goal” but it doesn’t offer any insight into what those goals should be in the political arena. The Bible does. We were created for the glory of God (Is. 43:7) and therefore, whatever we do, we should do it “all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Now the world defines political success as being elected to office. And because they do, principles are then seen as impediments that get in the way of achieving that goal. But if we define “success” as glorifying God, then we will publicly advocate for His principles, and we will speak out to honor God, and to educate people about what really is right. Then success will be had by having the loudest election campaign possible. Then we will speak out at every opportunity, and without fear, because whatever the election result, we will know we have already achieved God’s idea of success. Can both types of success be had? But what if someone could be principled and get elected? On occasion a man or woman associated with clear principles will seem to make strides towards electoral success. We do have some godly Members of Parliament. However, history seems to show that for a person to reach the highest positions of influence they will need to backtrack from their previous principles. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper is an example of this phenomenon. Early in his political career, Stephen Harper was considered to be a principled conservative. After serving one term as a Reform Party MP, he became president of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) in 1997. The NCC is a conservative organization that promotes limited government and individual freedom. Harper pursued this objective passionately and effectively. However, after leaving the NCC in 2001 to become leader of the Canadian Alliance, Harper began to compromise his principles. Gerry Nicholls of the National Citizens Coalition One of the people most surprised by Stephen Harper’s compromise was Gerry Nicholls, a longtime staff member of the NCC. In his 2009 book, Loyal to the Core: Stephen Harper, Me and the NCC, Nicholls provided an account of Harper’s time as NCC president. Initially Nicholls was convinced that Harper was committed to conservative principles. That’s why, after Harper re-entered electoral politics, Nicholls helped Harper’s campaign and was willing to overlook Harper’s initial compromises. Eventually, however, Nicholls saw the writing on the wall. For Nicholls, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the Conservative government’s March 2007 budget. That budget involved what Nicholls describes as “an orgy of massive government spending.” “After that,” Nicholls explains, “I knew Stephen had no intention of providing Canadians with conservative government, or of even paying lip service to conservative ideals. He had turned his back on conservatism.” Professor Tom Flanagan That assessment might sound harsh, but it is shared by Tom Flanagan, a political science professor at the University of Calgary. Flanagan was, for many years, a close companion of Stephen Harper. Flanagan managed Harper’s successful leadership campaigns for the Canadian Alliance and for the new Conservative Party of Canada, and also played key roles in the Conservative Party’s 2004 and 2006 federal election campaigns. After a while, however, Flanagan became concerned about the change in Harper’s political direction. Eventually the two men had a falling out. In 2011 Flanagan wrote a letter to the editor of the Literary Review of Canada where he described Harper’s compromised political perspective as prime minister: Harper has adopted the Liberal shibboleths of bilingualism and multiculturalism. He has no plans to reintroduce capital punishment, criminalize abortion, repeal gay marriage or repeal the Charter. He swears allegiance to the Canada Health Act. He has enriched equalization payments for the provinces and pogey for individuals. He has enthusiastically accepted government subsidies to business, while enlarging regional economic expansion. He now advocates Keynesian deficit spending and government bailouts of failing corporations, at least part of the time. Flanagan, in fact, wrote this letter to reassure certain prominent Liberals that their policies still governed Canada. The “Liberal consensus lives on,” Flanagan wrote, “It’s just under new management.” Stephen Harper’s management. Conclusion In the 2015 federal election, Stephen Harper was clearly preferable to Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party and Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party. He was the “lesser of evils” among the major party leaders. But that’s not a very high recommendation. In current Canadian politics, conservative principles and even more so, Christian principles, are most often a hindrance to electoral success. The career of Stephen Harper is a clear example of how conservatives and Christians can be tempted by the worldly sort of political success into jettisoning their principles. But the cost of this kind of “success” is very high. What’s the point of attaining power if principles cannot be the guidelines for governing? However, if our “success” is defined as glorifying God by publicly proclaiming truth, then doing so and facing the electoral consequences is a meaningful activity. By this standard, a loud and public Christian Heritage Party campaign that loses would be more successful than all the electoral wins of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. “I'd rather be right than be president,” said US Senator Henry Clay in 1838. That’s an admirable sentiment that Stephen Harper rejected. We must not make the same mistake. Photo credit: Mike Ridewood/iStockPhoto.com, Oct. 2008, Calgary....

Politics

Compulsory voting is only for show

Should everyone have to vote? This past September the polling group Research Co. asked 1,000 Canadians if voting should be made mandatory in all federal elections. 62% thought it should be. Why would so many want to make voting compulsory? Advocates argue that higher voter turnouts give a government a higher degree of political legitimacy. In Australia, where voting is required, the 2013 election saw roughly 80% of the voting age population cast a ballot.1 To put that number in context, over Canada's last three federal elections we’ve averaged about 65% of the electorate casting a ballot. Compulsory voting could increase those totals. How? By forcing the apathetic to get up off the couch: folks who were too lazy to get educated about their choices, or those who know and hate their choices but who are too sluggish to step up and offer voters an alternative. Now here's a question: do we even want them voting? We can force them out to the ballot box, but nothing we do can force them to get informed. Why would we want to make them eenie, meenie, miney, mo their way through the slate of candidates? Are we really making democracy better when one voter's thoughtful choice can be countered by a guy making selections based on his favorite number? “I’m going with lucky number 4!” Making voting mandatory will inflate the voter turnout, but that’s really only a sham: requiring someone to vote doesn’t mean they will be any more involved. Compulsory voting won't motivate the I-won’t–vote-unless-you make-me sort to also spend time studying the issues and researching the various candidate’s positions. That's why, the very last thing we need to do is force people who don’t care, who haven’t done their research, and who otherwise wouldn’t vote, to now go down and mark their utterly random “x” on a ballot. Endnote 1 The official figure was 93% but that doesn’t factor in that, despite the law, 10% of Australians aren’t registered to vote. When we consider all the people of voting age, and then see how many actually voted, we get 80%....

Politics

Even the world should agree…Christians activism is good for democracy

Many among the Left, and even some on the right would like Christians to just stay out of politics. These are the sort who will chant “Separation of Church and State!” and “Don’t force your morality on me!” We could critique the inconsistency in their thinking – they don’t have any problem forcing their morals on us. But in his book The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, Prof. Jon A. Shields rebuts this anti-Christian mob a different way. He notes that there are three main agreed upon measures by which political movements are generally evaluated. And by these measures Christians most definitely have a positive impact in the political realm. Or, in other words, Christian political involvement is good for democracy. Three measures So what are these three measures? 1) Does it foster participation? As Justin Trudeau considers just how he is going to remake Canada’s political process one of the changes that has been suggested is that everyone be required to vote. While that is a very bad idea (do we really want to force those who would otherwise be too lazy or uncaring to vote, to casually and carelessly cast a ballot?) it is based on the thought that the people should have their say. So the first measure, as to whether a political movement is a positive force in a democracy is whether the movement has been successful in mobilizing citizens into political participation... especially citizens who had previously been disaffected or alienated from politics. Is the movement getting more people out to the voting booths? Is it getting more people to visit or write their MP or MLA or city councilor? 2) Does it encourage civil discussions? The second measure is whether the movement encourages its adherents to abide by “deliberative norms.” Some political movements encourage screaming, shouting and even rioting. But if a movement encourages people to speak in a civil manner to their opponents, then we can agree that the movement is, in this respect, a positive force in our democracy. 3) Does it help the common good? The third measure is whether the goals of the movement enhance the common good. Unfortunately, this third criterion is not very helpful because the common good is defined very differently by people holding to different worldviews. Christian political involvement does help the common good but this is not something those on the other side will be likely to concede. So it would be best to focus on the first two criteria, which can be considered separately from the third. Participation Sheilds’ focus is on the American political scene, and there he notes that beginning in the 1970s and accelerating during the 1980s and 1990s, Christian organizations (notably the Christian Coalition) deliberately organized conservative Christians for political activity. This effort had a significant effect. Shields writes, “today conservative evangelicals are not only more engaged in politics than they were in earlier decades, they are also more engaged than other groups that they once lagged behind.” In Canada, we’ve seen the growth of conservative Christian involvement too. In the late 1970s and early 1980s groups like Campaign Life Coalition and REAL Women of Canada were founded. More recently, ARPA Canada has helped get many more active. Considering the first criterion, then, it is clear that conservative Christian organizations (or “Christian Right” organizations as Shields sometimes calls them) have effectively mobilized large numbers of previously uninvolved citizens into the political process. The Christian Right has, as Sheilds puts it, “helped revive participatory democracy.” This is a clear win for democracy. Deliberative norms The second criterion relates to how a political movement’s members conduct themselves in public. Do they treat others with respect and try to reason with fellow citizens? Or do they scream at their opponents? On this point Shields thinks conservative Christian organizations have done a good job encouraging their members to act and speak appropriately in public affairs. He writes that: the most universally taught deliberative norm in the Christian Right is the practice of civility. Christian Right leaders preach the virtues of civility because they want to persuade, not alienate, other citizens. Just as often, movement elites ground this norm in Christ’s command to love one’s neighbor. Pro-life example For his study, Shields focused particularly on the pro-life movement because it is one of the most important and long-standing causes of conservative Christian activism. He found that pro-life organizations frequently try to develop deliberative norms among their members that include “promoting public civility, practicing careful listening and dialogue...and embracing moral reasoning.” Pro-life organizations will help to train their members how to argue for the rights of the unborn. For example, they explain fetal development and why the “pro-choice” position is inconsistent with human rights. In this way, pro-life activists become educated about abortion and how to explain the issue to fellow citizens. This often strengthens the confidence of the activists and their willingness to engage others on this important matter. It makes them more engaged as citizens. The other side’s unwillingness to debate Interestingly, Shields discovered that pro-choice organizations tend to be unwilling to debate. Many pro-choice organizations with college or university campus groups have explicit policies of avoiding such debates. For example, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) discourages its student activists from talking to pro-lifers supposedly because they won’t be able to change the pro-lifers’ opinions. The Pro-Choice Action Network refuses to debate because it claims that abortion is a basic human right and rights are not up for debate. Dialogue about abortion is therefore not possible. Thus while pro-life groups are instructing their members how to discuss the abortion issue, some pro-choice groups are discouraging such discussions altogether. Shields points out that this situation has: left abortion rights advocates severely handicapped in the context of public debates. When pressed by pro-life activists, they have no ready explanation for why fetuses become persons at any point between conception and birth. This fact may explain why an undercurrent of self-doubt runs through some refusals to debate pro-life opponents. Clearly, by the criterion of deliberative norms, the pro-life organizations are contributing much more to a functioning democratic society. ARPA Canada too On its website, ARPA Canada states that its mission is “to educate, equip, and encourage Reformed Christians to political action and to bring a biblical perspective to our civil authorities.” ARPA’s activities clearly fall in line with the two criteria for political movements that enhance democracy. It encourages participation in the political process. It also encourages deliberative norms by educating Christian citizens on important issues and equipping them to make use of that knowledge in contacts with public officials and other citizens. So a clear case can be made then, that ARPA Canada enhances democracy in Canada through its efforts, even aside from its specific impact on the issues it addresses. Its impact on those issues is above and beyond its positive contribution towards democratic participation. Conclusion Christians who engage in activism tend to become better democratic citizens. They usually increase their knowledge of public affairs and become better able to discuss those affairs with others. They are more aware of matters affecting society and more concerned about those matters. Time spent contacting public officials and discussing the issues with other citizens is time spent trying to make the country a better place. Democratic virtues are manifested in this way, even when government policies are not changed for the better. If the world appreciates everyone’s respectful participation in the democratic process, then they should need to acknowledge that Christian participation is good for democracy....

News, Politics

Backing away from Big Brother: government overreach doesn't just happen in China

Who should get to decide what information you see? And who would you trust with your own personal information? On the other side of the globe one government is taking on the dual role of data collector, and information gatekeeper. And while it is nowhere near that bad here at home, we do have reason for concern. Collecting and restricting information in China We've known for some time now that the Chinese government, via its "Great Firewall," restricts what information its citizens get to see. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter have been blocked, as are many mainstream media sites like the National Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal (though Reformed Perspective seems to have slipped past the censors' notice).  While search giant Google is also banned (as are their Gmail and Youtube properties) it's being reported that they are now willing to comply with the Chinese government's restrictions. Google plans: "to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest." The company that once had as its slogan "Don't be evil" is now siding with the government censor. In addition to restricting the access its citizens have to information, it's also being reported that the Chinese government is collecting personal information on its citizens so it can assign everyone a "social credit" rating – a three digit number – that would increase or decrease based on behavior both online and off. That "social credit" rating would then be used to determine what services a citizen would be allowed to receive. If you behave, you can book flights. But if, like journalist Liu Hu, you publish claims critical of the government, you may find yourself ground-bound. There is some dispute (even among writers appearing in the same magazine) about just how far along China is in developing this social credit system. It is a work in progress with the grand unveiling planned for 2020, even as local experiments are already taking place. But even in its unfinished state, there is interest from overseas. Venezuela is getting Chinese help to implement their own system and Reuters is reporting the information the Venezuelan government is collecting seems to include not only phone numbers and home addresses but "emails... participation at Socialist Party events and even whether a person owns a pet." Closer to home In the West we are still quite free, but even here the government's data collection is expanding. And the government also restricts our access to information. Starting in January, the Canadian government is planning to compel banks to give them the personal banking records of 500,000 citizens. It promises to use the information only to analyze overall trends, and not to look at any individuals. But it is doing so without the individuals' permission or knowledge. The same government asked businesses for information as to their position on abortion if they wanted to qualify for funding under the summer jobs program. And they only received the funding if they were pro-choice. When it comes to restricting information, the Ontario government tried to keep the province's abortion statistics secret, and it was only a successful 2017 court challenge that made that information available again. And whereas parental notification and consent is required for school field trips, in Canada and parts of the US abortionists don't need to tell parents when their underage children are getting an abortion. More recently, in Alberta the government has passed a bill banning schools from informing a child's parents that their child has joined a Gay/Straight Alliance club. That's information that the government has decided parents don't need to have. Bigger and bigger In China, the government manages every aspect of its citizens' lives, from where they might be allowed to live to how many children a couple is allowed to have. It's hardly surprising that a government that's already this intrusive doesn't recognize any limits on what it can do. Here in the West, our governments do less than the communist state, but perhaps more than we really realize. A partial list of what we expect from the government shows that in Canada, too, there is hardly an area of our lives untouched by the government. Canadians expect our government to: supplement our retirement income deliver our mail provide us with national radio and TV stations provide care for us when we are sick ensure there are affordable places to live when we are old create summer jobs for our teens verify the safety of our food build recreation centers and neighborhood playgrounds subsidize the creation of professional hockey arenas educate our children help provide daycare for them before school pay for abortion provide euthanasia Some of these responsibilities are small and some are enormous. It's hardly surprising, then, that Prime Minister Trudeau wants more information and defends his government's data grab by arguing government decisions need to be based on evidence. Can we really expect a government to mind its own business after we've invited it to take on some of the biggest responsibilities in our lives? It would seem our lives are their business. Backing away from Big Brother In China the government has taken on the role of Big Brother, dominating all of life...but that's not how it thinks of itself. Big Brother never thinks of itself as Big Brother - it looks in the mirror and sees a kind benevolent Nanny State whose only concern is the care of its citizens because, well, citizens aren't really capable of caring for themselves, are they? In the West we might think ours is still the kind and gentle Nanny State – we are grateful for its provision of free healthcare, and free education. But it is in those two roles - those two enormous roles - that our government is also doing its worst, providing the facilities or funding for the murder of one-quarter of its citizens. And that doesn't even include the murders it now manages of the elderly! The Alberta government wants to use its educational role to teach children that the State, not God, is supreme. That's a recent development, but for years now the government has been teaching our children the very opposite of God's Truth when it comes to sex, marriage, human worth, the environment, and much more. So if our Nanny State isn't already Big Brother, we can certainly see how natural the progression will be. What can we do about it? This is a massive problem, so there's any number of fronts on which we can take up this battle. But perhaps a useful first step is to consider the warning Samuel gives in 1 Samuel 8:10-22  against relying on the power of kings. If we demand that someone rule over us, rule they shall, but it's quite likely they will not rule as we hoped. When the government directed summer jobs funding to only pro-choice companies, Christians were outraged at the favoritism. But what few considered was, why were we expecting the government to fund summer job creation in the first place? To do it they have to take money from some companies – and doing so limits those companies' opportunities to create jobs – to give to other companies to fund their summer jobs. From the start, such a program involved the government rewarding some at the expense of others. And when we expect the government to pick winners and losers, why would we be surprised when it decides the winners need to think like they do? Lord Acton gave a warning that matches up well with Samuel's: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." If we want a less arrogant government, it would help if we started asking for a much smaller one. This will appear in the November/December issue of the magazine POSTSCRIPT: A couple of points to ponder Q1: ARPA Canada and many other Christian groups protested the government's discriminatory summer job program requirements. If, as this article argues, the government shouldn't be expected to create summer jobs, was it misguided to protest the discriminatory nature of the program? Shouldn't the protest have targeted the program itself? A: When there are two wrongs to right, is it misguided to take them on one at a time? The discriminatory nature of the program was the far more topical issue and the more winnable one. It made good sense to take it on first. Q2: If we wanted a smaller government, where could we begin? Where could we ask it to do less? A: Two of the government's biggest expenditures are healthcare and education. Even if the government continued to fund both why do they need to provide both? If parents directed educational funding to the school of their choice that would put them back in charge of their children's education. That's a step in the right direction....

History, Politics

The rise and fall of Canada's most effective opposition MP

It’s hard to conceive of any way that a Christian politician could, in today’s Canada, win a mandate to turn the country in a Christian direction. So if seizing power seems an unreachable goal, is there any other means by which Christians could prove influential in the political sphere? Yes. As Svend Robinson proved, you don’t need to be in government to have enormous influence – you just need to be fearless, dedicated, hardworking, and outspoken. And did we mention fearless? Svend Robinson was by far the most influential opposition Member of Parliament in Canadian history. He was not a force for good, however; Robinson used his influence to push Canada to the Left, especially on social issues. He was the first openly homosexual elected politician in Canada, and also worked to expand abortion rights, and legalize assisted suicide. Robinson’s life and influence are chronicled in Graeme Truelove’s 2013 book Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics. Truelove is an adoring fan including only the occasional bits of criticism, and that from other left-wing critics, like some of Robinson’s NDP colleagues who did not appreciate his brash and publicity-hungry style. Still, Truelove’s book gives us a look at how much can be accomplished by a politician unconcerned with playing it safe. Early life Svend Robinson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 4, 1952. His parents were both left-wing activists and his father was an English professor. However, according to Truelove, Robinson’s father was also an alcoholic with an anger problem, and had a hard time holding onto a job. As a result, the family moved frequently, mostly within the United States. Then in 1966, in conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, Robinson’s family moved to Burnaby, BC where his father got a position at Simon Fraser University. From an early age Svend Robinson demonstrated that he was intelligent, driven and as Truelove puts it, he had a “monumental capacity for hard work.” In 1972 he won the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) most prestigious award. He was appointed to a BC government commission on post-secondary education in 1974 and subsequently to the UBC Board of Governors in 1975. He was still in his early twenties. For most of his student years at UBC Svend was married to a women, Patricia Fraser. Eventually, however, he gave in to his homosexual urges and his marriage ended. He graduated from UBC with a law degree in 1976 and then spent a year at the prestigious London School of Economics in England. All through this time Svend had been active in numerous left-wing causes and organizations including the New Democratic Party (NDP), as both the president of BC Young New Democrats, and as a member of the Provincial Executive and Federal Council of the NDP. NDP candidate Returning from England, Robinson became the NDP candidate for Burnaby’s federal riding in 1977. Working as a lawyer during the day, he spent much of his free time campaigning for a federal election that wasn’t held until 1979. As a young, first-time candidate, Robinson tried to get support wherever he could. Truelove notes that Robinson: "used his socialist background to personally convince the Burnaby Club of the Communist Party not to run a candidate against him, assuring him a handful of votes that could make the difference in a close race." On May 22, 1979, he won his seat in the federal election and became an NDP MP. His first private member’s bill proposed the complete decriminalization of abortion, which was still partially restricted at that time. Prime Minister Joe Clark’s minority government fell a few months later and a new election was held in 1980. Robinson was re-elected. Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister again and renewed his drive to change Canada’s constitution. Robinson’s Charter influence One of Trudeau’s main goals was to have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms added to Canada’s constitution. A special parliamentary committee was formed to carefully review the proposed Charter and to reshape it as necessary. Robinson was one of two NDP MPs on this committee. In this role, he had a crucial impact on the shaping of the Charter. Robinson proposed numerous changes, some of which were adopted and some of which weren’t. His influence, however, was substantial. Truelove quotes journalist Michael Valpy as writing that Robinson, “perhaps more than any other opposition MP, has been the architect of the Charter of Rights.” Robinson proposed adding “sexual orientation” to the list of protected categories in the Charter. That was rejected by Justice Minister Jean Chrétien. However, Chrétien said that future courts were free to interpret the Charter as if sexual orientation was protected. That would be up to the courts to decide. Chrétien’s caveat ensured that “future courts would be empowered to take evolving social mores into account and expand the list themselves.” Today, few people remember the central role played by Robinson in the framing of the Charter. However, Truelove correctly notes that: "an examination of Robinson’s contributions to the debate at the time, and of the ways in which the courts have embraced his point of view in the years since repatriation, suggests that his name deserves mention among the movers and shakers who crafted this defining feature of the Canadian legal landscape." Stacking the witness list In 1985 the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney established a parliamentary subcommittee to seek public input on the Charter’s equality rights provisions. The committee would travel across the country holding hearings for this purpose. Svend Robinson was appointed to this subcommittee. He immediately began to contact homosexual activists across the country to get them onto the list of presenters to the committee. Truelove writes that this tactic of “stacking the witness list” is common across the political spectrum. Whatever the case, Robinson successfully stacked the list with activists who would argue that homosexual rights should be protected by the Charter. In this way, politically-active homosexuals had a disproportionate influence on the subcommittee. His tactic was very successful and the subcommittee’s report was overwhelmingly favorable to the homosexual rights cause. The Justice Department’s 1986 official response to the subcommittee’s report echoed its commitment to homosexual rights. This was a major success for the gay rights movement in Canada. Friend of Morgentaler Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative Party had come to power in the federal election of 1984. Robinson had been re-elected at that time. Besides his efforts on behalf of homosexual rights, he also pushed hard for the liberalization of Canada’s abortion law, proposing bills to that effect. Furthermore, Truelove writes that Robinson: "worked closely with pro-choice advocate Dr. Henry Morgentaler (one pamphlet circulated by opponents in Burnaby called him Morgentaler’s 'best friend' in Parliament) and accompanied him to the Supreme Court in 1988 as Morgentaler appealed his conviction for performing illegal abortions." The 1988 Morgentaler decision struck down any legal restrictions on abortion in Canada. It came out in January, and the following month Robinson, for the first time, came out publicly as a homosexual. He was the first elected official in Canada to do so. Many people believed that his public “outing” would hurt his political career, but they were wrong. The culture had changed enough that a significant body of opinion supported him. In fact, donations to his NDP riding association poured in from all over Canada, and it raised more money for the 1988 federal election than any other NDP riding association. That would also be the case in subsequent elections. Assisting suicide Besides abortion and homosexuality, Robinson worked hard on behalf of assisted suicide. He supported a woman named Sue Rodriguez who had a debilitating disease and challenged the criminal prohibition on assisted suicide in court. She argued that the prohibition violated her Section 7 Charter right to security of the person. Rodriguez lost in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in September 1993. The prohibition on assisted suicide was ruled to be constitutional. In spite of the decision, Rodriguez wanted to proceed with an assisted suicide anyway. As Truelove relates, she: "needed someone else to help her end her life when the time came, so she asked Robinson. He felt privileged to be asked, and despite the serious legal risk, he agreed to help." He was the only person with her when she died in 1994 but he was not charged with any crime due to a lack of evidence. He continued to push unsuccessfully for the legalization of assisted suicide. His 1997 parliamentary motion to create a committee to write legislation legalizing physician-assisted suicide was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons. Leadership campaign In 1989 Robinson supported Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin in her campaign to be the federal NDP leader. She won the leadership but the party lost most of its seats in the 1993 election. She resigned in 1994 and the following year Robinson launched a campaign to become NDP leader. He represented the most extreme left-wing faction of the NDP. Among his early supporters was future NDP leader Jack Layton. A Toronto city councilor at the time, “Layton was put in charge of fundraising, and the Ontario campaign was launched in the living room of the home he and Chow shared.” The leadership convention was held in October 1995. With three candidates for the leadership, Robinson finished first on the initial ballot ahead of second-place Alexa McDonough and third-place Lorne Nystrom. Nystrom intended to have his delegates support McDonough to block Robinson’s path to the leadership. Sensing defeat, Robinson decided to concede to McDonough before the second ballot was held as a way to unite the party. It didn’t work. McDonough and her people thought that Robinson was trying to upstage them by throwing the convention to her. This led to continuing rifts within the party between McDonough and Robinson. And many of Robinson’s supporters were outraged that he conceded defeat after winning the first round of balloting. Spinning a hiking accident On December 31, 1997, Robinson was hiking alone on Galiano Island in BC and fell off an 18-metre cliff. He was severely injured. Concerned he might die alone in the wilderness, thoughts of his Cuban lover, Max Riveron, inspired him to muster all of his strength to try to find help. He was successful and subsequently recuperated in hospital. This was a terrible experience, of course. But Truelove writes that Robinson saw a potential political benefit: "He hoped that he could use the story of his fall to demonstrate that the love between homosexual partners was as real and as powerful as the love between heterosexual partners." Homosexual rights achievements In the early part of the 2000s, same-sex marriage became a major issue in Canada. Unsurprisingly, “Robinson was acknowledged as one of the leaders of the same-sex marriage movement.” However, he was actually more concerned about adding “sexual orientation” to the law against hate propaganda. He introduced his own bill, C-250, in 2002 to accomplish this goal. Despite the fact that it was a private member’s bill, it was passed by the House of Commons in September 2003 and by the Senate in April 2004. According to Truelove, “Today he keeps a framed copy of the bill hanging over his desk at home.” Becoming a thief After years of highly effective political work, Robinson’s career came crashing down when he stole an expensive piece of jewelry. The spring of 2004 was a very significant time for Robinson. On March 20 a special event was held in Vancouver to celebrate his 25 years in Parliament. The speaker for the occasion was the world-famous left-wing American intellectual Noam Chomsky. The 2,500 attendees gave Robinson a standing ovation. This was the height of his career. However, three weeks later, on April 9, Robinson stole a ring valued at $21,500 from a jewelry auction in Vancouver. He just took the ring, put it in his pocket and went home. Subsequently, he was overcome with guilt and turned himself in, apologizing profusely for his crime. The fallout ended his political career. As Truelove relates: "If the Office of the Attorney-General had announced it was satisfied with Svend’s apology, and that he wouldn’t be charged, he might have run again. But no such announcement came, and he was left in limbo" A federal election was imminent and Robinson had to let someone else run in his place. Eventually he was charged. Interestingly, Truelove implies that the government was pushed into charging Robinson by a conservative organization: In mid-June an Alberta-based lobby group, run by publisher and former Reform Party activist Link Byfield, ran an ad in The Province which read, ‘Two months ago MP Svend Robinson was caught stealing. Will he be charged with theft?’ With one week to go in the election campaign, Svend was charged. Why did he do it? In the wake of this scandal Robinson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His supporters explained the theft as being a result of his anguished mental state, or the stress he experienced from encountering virulent homophobia. Strangely, despite being an ardent atheist, Robinson himself explained his criminal behavior in a rather Christian way. When asked about the theft by Truelove, Robinson replied: "In all of us there’s, you know, there’s bad and good. Maybe this was bad. Maybe I just, you know – temptation overcame me. I don’t know." Robinson tried to make a political comeback by running for the NDP in Vancouver Centre in the 2006 federal election. He was soundly defeated by the sitting Liberal MP. Subsequently, Robinson and Max (who got “married” in 2007) moved to Switzerland where Robinson works as the senior advisor for parliamentary relations at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Conclusion Truelove is correct in writing that Robinson was “more effective than perhaps any other opposition MP of his generation.” His hard work and determination led to numerous accomplishments in pushing Canada to the Left. Robinson was a “superhero for left-wing activists.” Robinson’s success and influence in Canada are unmistakable. However, it’s interesting to note how Robinson’s career crashed and burned immediately after he reached the pinnacle of success. His 25-year parliamentary anniversary, with adoring crowds and celebrity endorsements, was soon followed by a criminal act that ruined his career and severely tarnished his legacy. Perhaps the end of his career can be compared to that of a political leader mentioned in the Bible who was also at the height of power when “he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him” (Daniel 5:20, ESV). But there is a more important point to consider. What made Robinson so effective? And what can we learn from his approach? He succeeded because of his commitment to his principles. Make no mistake - Robinson is a godless man, but most certainly a principled one. And what his career demonstrates is that a clear commitment to principles, and a determination to advance those principles, can be an effective political strategy. He would not stop talking about the issues that mattered to him. His outspokenness meant he could never have become prime minister but it also meant that while others politicians were too careful, too tactical, or simply too cowardly too speak out, Robinson was being heard. A principled politician may not be able to rise to the highest positions of power, but what Robinson shows us is that such a politician can still be an influential player who makes a distinctive contribution to the direction of the country. We would do well to imitate his fearless, principled, outspoken approach....

Politics

Dethroning the dictator

A simple electoral reform that might actually make our democracy more representative **** Canada’s democratic system has been likened to a four-year “elected dictatorship.” Why? The fault is often lain at the feet of our First-Past-The-Post electoral system which allows a political party with only a minority of the popular vote to form a majority government. We saw that happen again in 2015, when the federal Liberal Party won a majority government – 54% of the seats in Parliament – with only 39.5% of the votes cast. But does this make Canada a dictatorship? No, not this alone. The bigger issue is the control that party leaders have over who gets to run for their party. Anger your party leader, and he won’t sign your nomination papers. Then your only option is to run as an independent. However, independents don’t win; there have only been two elected independents over the last three elections. So if you want a seat in Parliament, you’d best not do anything to annoy your party leader. That means that, while the Liberals control Parliament, Justin Trudeau controls the Liberals. That allows him to sets the agenda for Parliament. He also chooses who will get Cabinet positions, selects individuals to the Senate, and picks Supreme Court Justices. Three hundred and thirty-eight Members of Parliament are elected, but all the power of Parliament is concentrated into the hands of this one man. Canada is an elected dictatorship. This is a problem This would be a problem even with the best and most noble of men leading our country – unfettered power is a potent temptation to anyone. As Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Our neighbor to the south recognized this corrupting effect, and it led the American Founding Fathers to design a system of government that split power between three separate branches of government: Congress would vie with the President and with the Supreme Court. The three would compete with and hold the others in check to ensure that power was never concentrated in any one branch. But what holds the prime minister’s power in check? Theoretically, it’s the other Members of Parliament (MPs). The prime minister has only one vote, so if his MPs don’t like what he is doing, they could vote against it and stop him. But that’s not how it works. As party leader he has both carrots ands sticks with which he can control his party. An MP who stays loyal may eventually get rewarded with a Cabinet position. An MP who makes trouble may get demoted or even kicked out of the party. The result? MPs dare not disagree with their leader. More parties in control So what can be done? One frequently mentioned proposal is to replace our First-Past-The-Post electoral system with some form of Proportional Representation (PR). Though there are a number of different versions of PR, under the simplest version parties would receive seats in proportion to their popular vote. So if the Liberals received 39% of the popular vote across Canada they would receive 39% of the seats in Parliament. This would result in many more minority governments, forcing the PM to share his power with the other party leaders. Instead of dictating to them he’d be forced to cooperate with them to get his bills passed. The problem with Proportional Representation is that it most often involves voting for a party, not a candidate. A party puts out some sort of list, often with an order of their choosing. If they get enough votes for, say, three MPs, then the three people at the top of their list will get in. This gives the party leader even more power over his party because anyone who isn't willing to pick up his dry cleaning will get put far down the list, or not make it at all. It's true, PR would move us from a dictatorship, but to an oligarchy; instead of rule by one party leader we would be ruled by a council made up of two or three party leaders. However, those party leaders would have an even firmer grip on their parties. So that’s not much of an improvement. Empowering MPs A better option is to change the way a party leader is chosen. Presently, party leaders are chosen by the party members. This method means that, come the next leadership election, a party will be able to sell a lot of memberships. But this is what’s behind the power imbalance: a party leader still has his carrot and stick, and the MPs have no way to constrain their party leader because he is hired and fired not by them, but by their party’s membership. What if the party leader was chosen by the MPs? That’s how it used to be done in the United Kingdom, up until the early 1980s. Under such a system a party leader would still be able to exert considerable control over his caucus, but he wouldn’t be able to run roughshod over them. If he annoyed too many, then out he’d go. There would be some balance. Individual MPs might then feel free to occasionally vote as they think best, or as their constituents think best, and not simply as their party leader thought best. This is a change that the party membership can bring about, starting at the riding level, and the pushing it on to the annual convention. It would take time to win support – this would be a multi-year process – but it can happen. And if a party's membership demands this change, then we might well end up with a more representative democracy, and without any of the radical electoral reforms that have been proposed. Of course, in a sin-stained world a democracy isn't always ideal either: just consider how giving the people their say won’t put an end to either abortion or euthanasia any time soon. But a democracy is a step up from our dictatorship of one....

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

What is Principled Pluralism?

Our country is made up of many people and many faiths. How can the government best resolve the clash of values that will inevitably result? Can the government operate from some sort of "neutral" perspective that doesn't elevate one group's beliefs over another's?  In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he explains that such neutrality isn't possible, and isn't desirable. But harmony between believer and unbeliever can be had, under a "Principled Pluralism" that recognizes God as supreme. ***** "Principled pluralism" recognizes the pluralism of contemporary society but contends that biblical norms need to be recognized and applied in order for government and society to function according to God’s will. When this is done, society benefits for God established the norms for humans to live together peacefully and for the benefit of each other. Principled pluralism has the following distinctive basic principles. 1) No neutral “non-religious” ground    There is no morally neutral ground. All of life is religious in nature and both Christians and non-Christians have religious presuppositions which they bring into the public square. Also secularism and the denial of God’s relevance for public life is a religious system. It is, therefore, impossible to restrict religion to the private personal sphere of home and church and to insist that the public square is without religious convictions. Principled pluralism opposes a secularized public square which bans religious voices and practices except its own. Christians have the obligation to influence the public discourse in a biblical direction. Principles derived from Scripture need to be part of the debate in the public square so that arguments can be made for a public policy according to the overriding norms of God’s Word. 2) All know God’s law Although God’s special revelation in the Bible is normative for all of life, God has revealed enough of his eternal power and divine nature in creation and in the nature of things to render all people without excuse. He has written his law in their conscience (Rom 1:18–21; 2:14–15). In this way God has a claim on all creation, including the civil authorities. Before his throne they are without excuse if they suppress the truth and refuse to see the light of God’s gracious demands and promote sin (Rom 1:18–19). 3) Government’s role is to maintain justice and righteousness The civil government is God’s servant to maintain justice and righteousness (Rom 13:1–5). To understand this mandate properly, one must realize that God gave each person an office or offices in life, be it as a parent, a church member, a plumber, a husband, or whatever. If a government is to maintain justice, it must see to it that these offices can be exercised. Or as Gordon J. Spykman put it: “The state should safeguard the freedom, rights, and responsibilities of citizens in the exercise of their offices within their various life-spheres according to their respective religious convictions. The government is obliged to respect, safeguard, preserve or, where lost, to restore, and to promote the free and responsible exercise of these other societal offices. That is what God commands the state to do to fulfill the biblical idea of public justice.” 4) Government’s authority is limited Principled pluralism affirms that a government’s authority is limited because God has ordered society in such a way that different structures make up the whole. These structures, such as civil government, the family, church, and the market place, each have their own sphere of authority which should not be transgressed by another societal structure or sphere. Government has the duty to recognize this diverse reality and to promote the well being of the different spheres of authority found within society by safeguarding their existence and ensuring their continued health. 5) Government doesn’t oversee the Church Principled pluralism also recognizes that civil government does not have the authority to decide what constitutes true religion. For that reason, government cannot favor one religion over another or enforce, for example, the religion of secularism in society. Within certain limits, such as the need to restrain evil, all religions must be treated alike and be given the same freedom and opportunities. This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email [email protected] for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com....

Politics

First and Second Things: Power is a wonderful servant but a terrible master

Where have all the outspoken social conservative politicians gone? Can we find them amongst Canada's conservative parties? Sometimes there seems reason to hope. In Ontario, the Progressive Conservative's new leader Patrick Brown had a history of pro-life politics, and he once voted against gay marriage. Sadly, he was only a false hope; he's promised to protect the pro-abortion status quo, and now marches in gay pride parades. In BC, recently, there was one politician who spoke up when the province decided to add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to its human rights code. Laurie Throness quietly noted that he and others view gender as being fixed, not fluid. But while this lone voice did speak up, he wasn’t willing to vote against the bill. It passed with 70 votes for and none against – Throness abstained. How about Alberta? Surely in red-neck Alberta there must be an outspoken Christian politician? No. The two conservative opposition parties either won’t speak on moral issues, or agree with the governing New Democrats. The headline of a recent LifeSiteNews.com article put it this way: "No Alberta politician willing to stand up to NDP gvmt’s ‘totalitarian’ LGBT school agenda?" Why it’s so bad Why are Christians so badly represented? We might think it's because there are no Christian politicians, but that's not the real reason. There are plenty of Christian in the Ontario, BC, and Alberta legislatures. The reason we don't hear from them is because they are acting according to a set sort of strategy. They believe: If you want to make a difference, that's easier to do if you get elected. You can’t get elected if you take strong public stands on moral issues Ergo, it doesn’t make sense to take strong public moral stands. This strategy helps Christians get elected, but it's also why we can't find politicians speaking on abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, transgenderism, gay/straight alliance clubs, sex-ed curriculums and the issues that matter to us most. This is why no one is speaking up in Ontario and BC and Alberta and most everywhere else. For strategic reasons, our elected Christians are silencing themselves.  It's a catch-22: speak up and you won't get elected; don't speak up and you may get elected, but without any mandate to make change, so what's the point? Is there any way out of this seemingly no-win scenario? Put first things first Yes, if Christians voters and Christian candidates reorder our priorities. In his essay “First and Second Things” C.S. Lewis wrote about the damage that’s done when we start treating secondary priorities like they are the most important ones. He gave as an example a man who makes alcohol his focus. While alcohol can be a source of pleasure, that comes to an end when drinking becomes a man's priority. When he overvalues alcohol, then he’s liable to lose his house, his job, and maybe even his family. And, ironically, he'll even lose the pleasure he once got from drinking back when it was a minor matter to him. We need to understand that achieving power isn't our goal – it isn't a "first thing" for us. Our first thing is our message – the change we want to push for. Power, then, is a secondary thing to our message. We want to win a seat to have a platform from which to push for change. Power is a tool, not our purpose. It is an incredibly useful tool – having the platform that comes with being an MLA or MP means we could be heard by far more when we do speak out. But it is still just a tool, and only useful to us so long as we view it as a tool, and we don't overvalue it. If we make it our priority, that's when everything goes wrong. While power is a wonderful servant it is a terrible master. When getting elected is our first priority, then everything else – including our message – must serve that goal. That's when Christian politicians will silence themselves even when advocating for change was the original reason they got involved in politics. If winning is first it makes sense to stay silent on any issues that could lose us votes. In making power our first priority, we lose the ability to wield it in a useful manner. If we do win, we’ll be elected without any mandate for change. And we’ll still have reason to be fearful about talking on controversial issues because doing so will undermine our re-election chances. Like Lewis's drunk who in overvaluing drink loses out on all the pleasures of it, Christians who overvalue power lose out on the ability to use it. When our message is first So that's why there are so few Christian politicians speaking out: misordered priorities. What happens when we put first things first and bump power down off its perch? Then strange and wonderful possibilities present themselves! When our message becomes our first priority, then we can evaluate power, and the quest for it, in light of how it will serve our message. Then we compare it with the other tools at our disposal and evaluate them as to which will best help us be heard. Now, if seeking power requires us to stay quiet, then it seems quite likely some of our other tools are going to be better at getting us heard. But what are those other tools? Well, as we've seen over the last several years, a Christian lobby group - even a small one - can be very effective at getting our message out. Writing letters to the newspaper, talking to our neighbors, visiting MLAs and MPs in their offices, setting up large-scale demonstrations, and funding court challenges are all ways we can speak out loudly and clearly. Running for office is another possibility, so long as power remains a secondary concern. A candidate who isn't fixated on winning can be fearless and creative. That can be quite the contrast when his competitors are maintaining a strategic silence on all the controversial issues. I've been part of a losing campaign where the candidate was the subject of more than a hundred articles, endorsed by one of the city's daily papers, and the subject of TV news and radio reports. He lost, but his message was better served by a loud losing campaign than it could ever have been with a quiet winning one. What an impact a fearless politician can have! But you know what would be better still? Winning loud! It’s hard, but possible. And to see what can be done when a politician wins in a fearless fashion, we need only look at the example of Svend Robinson. This homosexual activist won a seat in Parliament and then used that platform to become Canada's most effective MP. He made his message his priority and that allowed him to use his power to full effect. As MP he advocated for homosexuality and for assisted suicide, and never stopped talking about what mattered to him most. He kept up the pressure, and despite only being a member of the opposition, he got the changes he was after because he would not be quiet. Parties are tools to use, not teams to join We can also learn from the way Robinson viewed his political party. While he was a long-time member of the NDP, he was not a team player. To him the party was another tool to use, not a team to join. It was valuable only is so far as it helped him be heard. Christians need to make this same shift in our thinking. In Alberta, BC and Ontario the most conservative parties want our help, and our contributions, and our vote. They want us to join their team... but they have no interest in representing our views. They are only interested in us in so far as we can be used to further their ends. It's time to turn the tables on them. We need to understand that political parties are only useful to us in so far as they can help us achieve our ends and further our message. Like Robinson we need to see them as a tool to use, not a team to join. If that seems disloyal, it's only because we're again mixing up first and second things. We join political parties as a means by which to do good and godly work – to speak in defense of what God holds most precious. That is our priority, and the party is only useful in so far as it helps us do what we've set out to do. We don't owe them anything. Opportunities to seize? Can parties today still be useful to us? Some certainly are not. On the federal level, the NDP and Liberals have shut the door on pro-life Christians. These are not tools we no longer have any access to. Provincially things are getting difficult too, but there may still be some opportunities. In Alberta, for example, we could target a riding the likes of Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. It includes at least four conservative Reformed congregations and the current MLA is a Wildrose Party member Glenn van Dijken but no conservative (he supports Bill 10, which requires even private schools to create a Gay-Straight Alliance Club if a student requests it, and he doesn't support the unborn). If we stack the Wildrose nomination meeting with Reformed and other Christians, we would stand a good chance of replacing him. By picking our spots and focusing on locations that best suit our strengths, it's possible we could be loud and still win.  Then imagine the possibilities! For at least the next four years our winning candidate could make use of the platform God gave him to speak out fearlessly, repeatedly, winsomely, creatively and did we mention fearlessly? He could say what no other politicians today have the courage to say, speaking God's Truth to a nation that is in such desperate need of it! Conclusion In making winning our priority, we've made our message a secondary something to be sacrificed if it gets in the way. Since speaking out on abortion, homosexuality, or transgenderism does hurt at the polls, Christian politicians are silencing themselves on these and every other contentious moral issue. It's only when we listen to Lewis and put first things first, prioritizing our message, that we have any chance at being heard. Then a political candidate can speak without fear. Only then can he employ his creativity to present his message as loudly as possible. Only then will he dare address today's most controversial issues. He might not win; he probably won't. But win or lose he'll be heard by at least some. Win or lose the quiet Christian politician is heard by none....

Politics

Electoral Reform: paper and pen beat bits and bytes

As we progress ever farther into the digital age there is going to be an increased push to have voting go from paper to digital, with voting done on, and tabulated by, computers. Part of this push comes from those who just think it a natural progression. After all, isn't everything going digital? Others think it will increase voter turnout, especially if we open things up by allowing voting over the Internet (then you could vote from your own home). But another reason for this push to digital comes from the complicated ways that other countries do elections. In Australia's 2016 federal election, because of their ranked ballot, it took more than a week for the country to find out who had won. If voting had been done electronically this could have been resolved almost right after voting concluded. But there is a problem with electronic voting that makes Canada's present paper and pen voting method vastly superior. If we want people to be involved and invested in the democratic process, then the one thing we need them to know is that the results reported at the end are, without a shadow of a doubt, legitimate. That’s true of the Canada’s present federal system…and in a way that should be the envy of every other country. Our paper ballots leave a paper trail that can be checked and double check and triple checked too. In fact, in most ridings there are people with at least 3 different perspectives counting each vote: the (hopefully neutral) Elections Canada staff a Liberal Party scrutineer a Conservative Party scrutineer In addition there are often scrutineers from the smaller parties like the New Democrats and the Greens (though they don’t have the manpower to scrutinize at every poll). This independent triple check keeps the system entirely transparent – if Elections Canada, the Liberals, and the Conservatives can all agree on the vote total (and they do 99% of the time) then we know that the result are trustworthy. Compare that to United States, where electronic voting tabulates the vast majority of votes and there is no paper trail. Every election there are reports of computer errors – someone voting Republican and their vote being given to the Democrat candidate, and vice versa. Some of these errant votes are caught – one famous example occurred when, in a precinct where just 412 people voted, presidential candidate Al Gore received a negative vote count of minus 16,022 votes. Someone, it seems, had hacked the machine. Errant totals like this are easy to spot, but if a machine can be hacked once, why should we trust all the others? And how many of the other vote totals might be the result of simple computer error? American voters can only wonder how many less obvious errors may have escaped notice. Long ago Joseph Stalin said something to the effect of: "The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything." Americans’ dependency on electronic voting machines means their system is based on trust – trust that the machines our counting properly, and trust that the people making and programming these counting machines are competent and honest, and trust that their security is flawless. Meanwhile in Canada our hand counting approach recognizes that it is foolish to trust overmuch, that we are fallen and depraved creatures. Of course election officials have never stated it in such explicitly biblical terms, but that is the difference nonetheless. Instead of trust, we have verification, with two, three and even more vote totals from the different parties available to check against the official results. From a Reformed perspective then, the Canadian hand count is vastly superior to the American voting machine count. On the federal level Canada currently has the most trustworthy, and therefore best, vote-counting system in the world. We need to let our friends and neighbors know that when it comes to voting and verification, bits and bytes don't beat pen and paper....

Politics, Pro-life - Abortion

Should one issue determine who we vote for?

Someone asked me why abortion should be the only issue that determines how we vote. It seemed silly to them that in an election when so many issues are on the table that we would decide things based on just this one issue. But is it silly? Consider that there are many other “single issues” that would be enough to disqualify a candidate from our consideration. If a candidate agreed with us on free trade but wanted to bring in Sharia law, we wouldn’t vote for them. This one issue would be enough to rule them out. And we couldn’t vote for them even if all the other candidates were worse. We also wouldn’t vote for someone who approved of slavery. We wouldn’t vote for a Communist, an anti-Semite, or a homosexual activist. So there are many “single issues” that, by themselves, would be enough to disqualify a politician from our vote. The reason it might seem silly to let the single issue of abortion disqualify a candidate is because abortion happens outside of our view, and because it has been with us for so long. It's understandable that we will have lost sight of the horror. To regain perspective it might be helpful then to consider how we would react if this same sort of devastation was being wreaked on other, more visible, groups. For example: what would we think of a candidate who stood with us on every other matter but who thought there should be a right to kill Natives - as many as 100,000 each year? Or what if a candidate said that they were all for a proposal to wipe out the town of Chilliwack this year, and then Red Deer next year, and the year after that Thunder Bay, and four years from now Waterloo, all cities of roughly 100,000? Would either of those be candidates we could vote for? Clearly not. When we restate their monstrous abortion stand in more visible terms we know such a candidate is simply too evil to support. What then can we do? There aren't many pro-life candidates so who can we vote for? If God has given you a CHP candidate, or a pro-life Conservative candidate in your riding then take full advantage. If you have neither of those options then please do still go out to the polling booth, but not to vote for any of the candidates. Instead take the opportunity to express as clearly as you are able, by spoiling your ballot (perhaps by writing "No pro-life candidate available across it") that none of these candidates are qualified to represent you. It is a small thing. But it is what you can do. However, the day after the election, that is when Jesus’ “Parable of the Persistent Widow” (Luke 18:1-8) can help guide us – this is first and foremost not a parable about how best to engage in political action, but it is that too. When faced with an unjust judge the widow simply persisted. And she got justice not because she won the judge over, and not because the unjust judge was replaced by someone who actually cared about right or wrong. No, she got her justice because she would not shut up. In a country in which there are no electable pro-life leaders, this is what we can still do - speaking up persistently, ever hopeful that God can make use of our persistence to help the unborn. And, of course, we must also remember the real point of this parable, which Jesus told to encourage us to persistent in our prayers to God. Casting our vote is important, but it is only a small, one time, thing. Our God is big and ever near us. And He wants to hear from us – He asks us to persistent in our requests to Him. So let us pray for the unborn and for our country without ceasing!...