Skip to main content

Michael Coren is an Anglican priest. His latest book is The Rebel Christ.

This month in 1944 Jane Haining died in Auschwitz. The name may not mean anything to you but it should. The Scottish Presbyterian missionary moved to Hungary in the 1930s to teach mainly Jewish children. Not to convert them, just to care and love. She refused to leave them when the war started, and after the Nazis occupied Budapest, she knew their inevitable fate. And hers. She ended her last letter with the words: “There is not much to report here on the way to heaven.” She was 47-years-old.

Naturally, she stands out as a martyr of pristine righteousness, but when we look at so much that is said and done today in the name of Christianity, the juxtaposition is scorching. The faith that motivated Jane Haining, and was founded by a man who preached justice, forgiveness, kindness, equality, and grace, and whose harshest words were reserved for the powerful, judgmental and wealthy, seems to have been hijacked by malice and hysteria.

It’s a generalization of course, as there are still myriad Christians who participate in the great, grand dance of collective goodness. As a priest I see it every day, and also observe the generous and empathetic statements and actions from so many church leaders.

But then there’s the rest, and how loud and numerous they appear. The dark obsessions and deranged conspiracy theories concerning the pandemic, plots at world domination, and the alleged war on freedom. The grotesque abuse of the LGBT community, the attempting and sometimes succeeding in reversing women’s rights over their own bodies.

The libelling of opponents as pedophiles – believe me, I’ve been accused countless times – and the advancing of the most nauseating ideas, ranging from support for Vladimir Putin and his “family values” to an adoration of Donald Trump as the only man who can save us from the liberals, communists and atheists who are apparently behind every corner.

Nor is this mud of nonsense confined to social media platforms. Some of these ideas have entered public debate, and what was once the preserve of the fundamentalist ghetto had punched its way into provincial, state and even federal centres of power. Witness some of the rulings in the U.S. over abortion, the banning of books from schools and libraries, and organized hostility to trans rights.

To assume that Canada is immune is naive and dangerous. If the Ottawa convoy and its offspring have told us anything at all, it’s the power of the lie, and a lie given substantial backing from ultra-evangelical churches and groups across the country.

Nothing, alas, new about abuse and horrors committed in the name of the church, every church, and for that matter every religion and pretty much every cause and creed. That’s human nature, that’s human brokenness, perhaps that’s even original sin.

But since the Second World War there has been a joyous revision and reinvestigation into the authentic teachings of Christ. It seemed that there was a consensus among thinking people that the central message of the Gospels – love God and love others as yourself – should lead invincibly to a philosophy that was progressive and enlightened. A permanent revolution of love.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during the last years of the Second World War and an early opponent of Nazism said that, ”Socialism is the economic realization of the Christian gospel.” Some might argue that this was a comradely step too far, but when we read of Jesus surrounding himself with those on the economic, political and social fringes of society it’s difficult to consider him a conservative. God becomes human in a divine leap of solidarity with those who struggle, suffer and sorrow.

This new approach was intimidating to some, and then came the more open and tolerant 1960s. There were so many things to oppose, to be frightened of. Women’s liberation, racial awakening, new family structures, protests against foreign wars. Then LGBT equality, reproductive rights, and now a whole panoply of paranoia.

The U.S. boasts separation of church and state but, ironically, mingles the two more than most, and as such the church became a hiding place from modernity but also a staging ground for attack.

Whether we call it Christian nationalism, the Christian right, or even Christo-fascism (a term that breaks my heart), the ogre remains the same. It holds a gun and a flag in one hand, a Bible and a cross in the other.

Glorious Jane Haining would weep at all this, and you have my word that she’s far from alone.