Mainstream-media reporters and columnists are largely unaware of the growing influence of the religious right in Canada, according to the author of a new book on the subject.
In an interview at the Georgia Straight office, veteran journalist Marci McDonald said that she wrote The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada (Random House Canada, $32) to “lay out the geography” of the Christian right in this country.
She noted that in a 2003 speech at the annual Civitas conference, Prime Minister Stephen Harper outlined an electoral strategy to reach out to religious conservatives of many different faiths.
McDonald maintained that for a long time, the leaders of the Canadian Christian right have tried to emulate their U.S. counterparts by gaining influence over public policy.
“This particular strategy is being encouraged by a government that’s wedded to secrecy,” she said.
Her book describes a multifaceted movement with close ties to several Conservative MPs, including Treasury Board president Stockwell Day, who represents the federal riding of Okanagan–Coquihalla.
McDonald reports in her book that Day is one of the “most prominent members” of a conservative Kelowna-based Christian group called Watchmen for the Nations. Vancouver pastor Bob Birch, who died in 2007, spearheaded its creation in response to Vancouver hosting the Gay Games in 1990.
“He was so outraged he took out these newspaper ads,” McDonald said.
She pointed out that Watchmen for the Nations has helped reconcile some members of the French-speaking, English-speaking, Jewish, and aboriginal communities. However, she said that its leader, David Demian, believes the end times are coming soon, and that Canada must become a “truly Christian nation to fulfill its biblical prophesy”.
“That is a very strong belief,” McDonald said. “It’s why I called the book The Armageddon Factor.”
She noted that Birch had ties to numerous right-wing Christian groups, including Miracle Channel cofounder Joan Dewert, National House of Prayer founders Rob and Fran Parker, and religious broadcaster David Mainse.
Watchmen for the Nations is one of a few groups that McDonald describes as “dispensationalist”, “Christian Zionist”, and “Christian reconstructionist”.
In her book, she writes that the father of dispensationalism was a 19th-century Irishman named John Nelson Darby. He interpreted the Bible to mean there would be seven epochs, culminating in the Battle of Armageddon against followers of the Antichrist.
According to him, true Christian believers would be spared by being summoned to heaven before the battle.
The Battle of Armageddon would take place when Israel had returned to the strength it had in biblical times. Therefore, in the eyes of dispensationalists, it is necessary to support the present-day state of Israel against its enemies.
“There are rabbis in Israel who have said, 'You should not take evangelical money because they do not have our best long-term interest at heart,’ ” McDonald commented. “I think it is certainly worthy of debate, but you can understand, in fact, the Israeli government can’t afford to alienate the best source of tourism and support, especially in America, where a congressional grant is at stake every year.”
This is why the dispensationalists are sometimes called Christian Zionists. McDonald sees the Harper government’s unwavering support for Israel as a manifestation of the dispensationalists’ influence on his government.
“It’s this particularly militant wing that wants to restore Canada as a Christian nation,” McDonald said. “And they believe that it’s God’s will that is in biblical prophecy that Canada be restored as a Christian nation so that it can fulfill a role in the end times.”
Linking the country’s destiny to Armageddon is known as Christian reconstructionism, which was pioneered by California-based theologian Rousas Rushdoony, who argued for a Christian-based government.
“He is quite extreme,” McDonald said. “He advocates stoning for homosexuals and adulterers, and so on. That was in the Old Testament, and he thinks that’s just fine.”
McDonald writes that Christian reconstructionists believe Canada has broken its covenant with God by permitting same-sex marriages and by having no abortion law.
She cited Tim Bloedow, chief legislative assistant to Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott, as one of the leaders of this movement in Canada. McDonald reports that Bloedow has written that environmentalism “represents the hatred of man and, by extension, of the God Whose image man bears”.
In his first term as prime minister, Harper appointed Vellacott to the House of Commons committee on environment and sustainable development.
McDonald’s book devotes considerable attention to Trinity Western University, which she calls a “well-respected” private Christian postsecondary institution. The Fraser Valley school has created a satellite campus in Ottawa called the Laurentian Leadership Centre, which offers nonpaying internships to students who want to work in government offices or for members of Parliament.
“They are training a new generation of Christians to bring their faith in a reasonable and informed way into government, into politics, and into the public service,” McDonald said. “Already, some of them have found jobs in Stephen Harper’s offices and other MPs’ offices.”
She emphasized that not all conservative Christian MPs in Harper’s government should be characterized as Christian reconstructionists. And she noted that the Canadian religious right differs from the U.S. version because there is a significantly higher percentage of Catholics in this country.
“So there are a lot of conservative Catholics in [the Conservative federal] caucus, like Jason Kenney, like Rob Nicholson,” McDonald said.
She pointed out that in recent years, a charismatic former Simon Fraser University student named Faytene Kryskow has become a significant member of the Christian right in Canada.
McDonald said that Kryskow has been invited to VIP receptions with the prime minister after budget and throne speeches. Kryskow has also read letters of support from the prime minister at rallies in the nation’s capital during her rise to becoming the public face of the anti-abortion movement.
“Here’s this dynamo who seems to have sprung up fully formed from B.C., but actually she is backed by some powerful American revivalists who are seen as quite militant and quite radical,” McDonald said. “And she has gotten incredible access.”
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