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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....

Economics

Let's not be the squeaky wheel

Fewer people are using VIA Rail, more trains are behind schedule, and the Crown corporation continues to bleed money by the millions: that’s what Canada’s Auditor General found when he took a close look at the passenger service this spring. In 2014 VIA had revenues of $280 million, but spent $597 million in operating costs, plus another $82 million in capital projects (putting down tracks, etc.). That works out to a loss of $399 million, all of it covered by the government. So what did taxpayers get for their money? Well, an economy ticket for a four-day trip from Vancouver to Toronto is roughly $500, but the true cost is $1,100, with the government chipping in the difference of $600.  Even with government subsidies of $55 million for the Vancouver-Toronto route, VIA Rail can’t compete on speed or price. In comparison an economy ticket for a flight on WestJet for the same route can be had for $300 and will take five hours. A bus ticket for a three-day Vancouver-Toronto trip is as little as $250. Government intrusion into the marketplace has left us with a business that is slower, more expensive, and costs hundreds of millions of Canadian tax dollars each year. Why, then, does VIA Rail still exist? Because every time they cut service on unprofitable routes, ticket buyers – those who get the bulk of their ticket price paid for by taxpayers – protest. And these squeaky wheels continue to get greased. What’s the takeaway for us? Let’s not be that sort of squeaky wheel. We can make use of VIA’s service for as long as they exists – we don’t need to feel guilty about taking advantage of their subsidized ticket prices. Why? Because so long as their trains are going to keep running whether profitable or not, our ticket purchases will amount to a small decrease in VIA’s overall losses. However, if VIA proposes cutting a money-losing route – even our favorite route – then we must not squeak! It’s one thing to make use of wasteful government services, and quite another to demand the government continue providing these services. On what biblical basis can we argue that others should be required to subsidize our scenic train trips? SOURCES: VIA Rail Canada Annual Report 2014; 2016 Spring Reports of the Auditor General of Canada: Via Rail Canada Inc. – Special Examination Report - 2016...

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!...

News

Patrick Brown isn’t pro-life and wishing won’t make it so

Two days after Patrick Brown was elected leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, an article on Canada’s biggest pro-life news site declared: “Brown’s landslide win…bodes well for life-and-family voters." The LifeSiteNews piece highlighted how Canada’s biggest pro-life lobby group, the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), played a key role in Brown’s victory. CLC Toronto’s vice-chair Jeff Gunnarson was “very pleased with the efforts of staff, volunteers and supporters who rolled up their sleeves and went to work on this leadership campaign…” He estimated that approximately 20 percent of Brown’s vote total came from CLC supporters and he sent out his “heartfelt congratulations to Patrick and to all of our people for a job well done!” Why was the CLC eager to support Brown? Because, by their measure, Brown had a 100 percent pro-life voting record during his three terms as a Member of Parliament. He had something that very few other political candidates possess: a history of voting the right way. Past performance… But there was just one problem. In September, at the kickoff for his leadership campaign, Brown pulled a page out of the Stephen Harper playbook. He promised he “would not change the status quo” on abortion rights and would “oppose any efforts to do so.” Lest there be any confusion on this point, the status quo for abortion in Canada is that unborn children can be killed at any time, and for any reason, and the government will pay for it. Brown might have a pro-life record, but he’s promised that if it is up to him Ontario will have a pro-choice future. That's not all. It gets worse. Brown’s opponents and the media (did I just stutter?) will use his pro-life record to paint him as a radical social conservative. If he doesn’t want this label to stick he’s going to have to run from his record. He’ll have to be consistently callous, spurning anything that might do even a hint of good for the unborn. We can see this already happening. On the day of his victory he was asked about his parliamentary votes by both CBC News and Global News, and asked about them again two days later in an interview with the Toronto Sun. He repeated his pro-choice pledge again and again and again: “We are not going to revisit issue. It will not be part of my platform.” Despite the impression that LifeSiteNews gave its readers, and Campaign Life Coalition gave their supporters, the unborn will not benefit from Brown’s leadership. A better sort It’s mystifying as to how the CLC and LifeSiteNews could be so wrong about Patrick Brown. One takeaway is that even the best new sources, and even the most reliable organizations, can get things horribly wrong. The bigger lesson is that we should never let desperation drive us to delusion. Principled politicians are rare, but it does the unborn no good to rally around a Patrick Brown sort. No champion at all is better than one who believes his political ambitions are more important than unborn children’s lives. The fact is, while rare, principled politicians do exist. There really are men and women out there eager and able to explain to the muddled masses why the unborn are as precious as the rest of us. They understand that God would rather they speak for the oppressed even if it means they lose, than win by staying silent. Our job is to search for these special sorts. When we find them we need to support them with our money and our time. Ideally we’d all have one in our riding, but they aren’t yet as numerous as that. We may need to drive a couple ridings over to volunteer for one of these faithful few. Or if there’s no one nearby, we can still send money. And if in the whole width and breadth of this country no one can be found worth supporting, then the need is clear. If we can’t find one, we need to become one. Better to stammer out the truth ourselves than to throw our support behind false hopes like Patrick Brown....