In The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, Marci McDonald attempts to raise awareness of our own growing Christian right. She purports to show how they have quickly and subtly gained an alarming amount of influence in the government.
In the first chapter, McDonald outlines Stephen Harper’s personal religious history, a topic that is not spoken of very much by Harper to the media. Harper became a born-again Christian after moving to Calgary and joining Preston Manning’s Reform party movement. However, Harper, unlike Manning and much of the Reform party, was more comfortable keeping his faith and politics mostly separate. McDonald notes that it was only later when, as leader of the new Conservative party, Harper attempted to reach out to the Evangelical communities.
But it was still hard for McDonald to measure the level of influence the Christian right has had under Harper’s consecutive minority governments. There have been few socially conservative policy changes and of those, most have disappointed the very factions McDonald seeks to expose. Harper has repeatedly turned away from the abortion debate, and upon winning his first minority government in 2006, he quickly allowed for his promised free vote on same-sex marriage — a vote that was actually earlier than many Evangelicals wanted, since it provided them less time to mount a defence. Similarly, by breaking his fixed-election date law in 2008, Harper killed several of his caucus’ private members bills, including an unborn victims bill that was called the “first winnable abortion bill” in years.
However, McDonald does point out that perhaps Harper’s greatest success has been in his “incremental” changes, evidenced by his countless appointments of partisans and born-agains to all levels of courts, the Senate and the Civil Service. Within the Prime Minister’s Office, Harper counts many Evangelical leaders, including the former leader of Focus on the Family Canada, Darrell Reid.
Similarly, Harper has been able to make many changes by the mere stroke of a pen. In recent months, Harper has cut funds to Status of Women Canada and KAIROS, a social justice charity that apparently represented the wrong type of Christians for this government (like McDonald has been told she is). He has sent tens of millions of stimulus dollars to Bible colleges and after he cut funding to abortions for overseas aid, a crowd of 15,000 pro-lifers rallied on the steps of the House of Commons.
McDonald also briefly discusses the so-called “Christian Left,” which included Tommy Douglas, the father of Canadian medicare. She points out how both Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP leader Jack Layton have reached out to various faith communities through acts like the revival of the NDP faith and social justice committee. Contrary to some interpretations, it does not seem to me that McDonald is against these, or even Harper’s, attempts to engage in dialogue with people of faith in principle, but merely that she hopes that such activity is acknowledged publicly.
The Armageddon Factor is an enlightening read, regardless of your personal views, but unfortunately the book strays from neutrality enough that it reads as a bit more than just a who’s who of the Christian right. My initial hope was that it could have been more like the documentary film Jesus Camp, which, for the most part, lets the subjects speak for themselves.
Either way, the book sheds light on much of what has been going on in the dark. No democracy is served by secrecy and backroom lobbying. At the very least, this book will hopefully force Canadians to decide what kind of country we want this to be, because if we do not, there are those who have a scripturally-inspired version of what they think it should be.