The political repercussions of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s evangelical Christian beliefs, which are being probed these days, might be seen as relevant to the recent controversy around a cabinet minister’s wife speaking publicly on an unpopular topic.
Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Harper’s church denomination accepted the ordination of women, by a vote of 380 to 281 at its national assembly. The Christian and Missionary Alliance will now extend the same affirmation for spiritual service to women that it has to men. That’s a story for another column, but as a member of one of the 400 Canadian churches, I passed the time between such rancorous assembly business by networking.
During one break, I sought out the Prime Minister’s pastor, eager for any insights he had. Like Mr. Harper himself, he’s tight-lipped about his famous parishioner’s faith. What are we to understand about the Prime Minister’s Christian faith that may affect his job?
“Economy” is a good place to start, but take the word out of its fiscal definition and apply it to how you manage and distribute spiritual resources.
In the book Sanctified Vision, scholars John J. O’Keefe and R.R. Reno describe the economy of Christianity as one with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone. An energized Christian will apply the Bible’s teachings on Jesus to all areas of life, but the modern puzzle, of course, is interpretation. Mystery, humility and study of the teachings and traditions of the centuries before us all form how one interprets the Bible’s words.
Take the case of our summer vote over women’s ordination. Some want a literal interpretation of an apostle’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, “I do not let women teach men …” Others evaluate the recorded actions of Jesus and the entirety of Hebrew scripture in the Bible to conclude a different view. Somehow, we co-exist quite nicely.
The worry comes when power is introduced and issues can be forced, rather than debated. Rightly so – when it comes to government, we fear being manipulated by any suggestion of such power applying a spiritual economy to issues that concern our private or public lives.
It is true that Mr. Harper is quiet on the issue of his faith – even his denominational insiders will tell you that – and from my experience of travelling in the media, I think it’s a wise decision. Canadian literacy on faith application is low.
It’s quite a different story in the United States. Last month, Michelle Obama was quoted in The New York Times on her interpretation of Christianity. “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday,” she said. “It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well … Jesus didn’t limit his ministry to the four walls of the church. He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day.”
If Jesus is the cornerstone that Mrs. Obama, Mr. Harper or any other person of political influence have in their economy of how the system of life functions, it will affect the way they approach their job. History is full of good and bad examples of how Christian faith was applied by people of political power, but in the case of our current concerns, I would predict this means an endless array of applications, both in personal disciplines and public worldview.
The story of Jesus Christ is essentially about the fact that God loves people deeply and for all of eternity. God has not ignored the need for our renewal and regeneration, and the fact that the divine name shows up in political life from time to time is simply evidence we are not dealing with a wisp of imaginative hope, but a persistent fact of human existence.
Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV, seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.