Is Canada Tradition-phobic?

Here we go again! Another bastion of political progressiveness, under the leadership of politicians who want to end the daily recital of the Lord’s Prayer in our country’s municipal, provincial and federal legislatures.

It’s been a traditional practice for many years, dating back to the Victorian age. But that was then, this is now. We have “progressed,” right? We have outgrown our need to call upon or depend upon the input of Heavenly Father. The kids have grown up and left home, in many more ways than one.

“It’s time for us to ensure that we have a prayer that better reflects our diversity,” they say. We must “look at how we can move beyond the Lord’s Prayer to a broader approach that is more inclusive in nature.”

Now, this is not unusual. Many of the provincial legislatures have either stopped praying altogether (Newfoundland), allow daily readings from a multi-faith base (BC), pray a non-sectarian prayer (federal government), or permit a daily moment of reflection (Quebec).

But some people are speaking up. The traffic was so heavy when the committee set up the online form that it crashed the website. The Toronto Sun reported that this proposal prompted 5,700 submissions from the public and hundreds of phone calls from many who want Ontario to preserve this Christian tradition.

Bruce Clemenger, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, wrote: “The act of prayer itself is an acknowledgement that legislating is not self-sufficient, that politics and governance are not simply human artifice, and that politics itself is an expression of a broader vision of life and is founded in a higher purpose and reality that transcends our individual interests.”

He went on to say that, “Unlike France’s secularist approach that seeks to privatize religion, or the American strict separation which presumes a compartmentalization, in Canada we have understood that religion cannot be separated from other aspects of life and sought non-sectarian solutions which did not eliminate religious expression nor establish one denomination or church.”

Now, praying the Lord’s Prayer must be controversial for us to take such a step, right? We are a multi-cultural, secularist state, right? This is another one of those politically correct acts, right?

Well, listen to who is and who is not standing up for the Lord’s Prayer in Ontario. Len Rudner, Ontario regional director for the Canadian Jewish Congress, suggested that the removal of the Lord’s Prayer, created by a Jew (Jesus), prayed to the same Heavenly Father (Yahweh) that Israel addressed, thought it was a very positive step.

However, Mohammed Saleh, the Imam at Belleville’s masjid (mosque) challenged the removal of the Lord’s Prayer. He felt that it was important to respect the Christian foundation on which Canada was built. I don’t even hear Christians saying that!

He went on to say: “If we live in Canada, we have to obey the laws of Canada. Canada has a Christian background; therefore, we have to [respect] the Christian religion. I came all the way from my country to live in Canada, so I have to obey the law of Canada….I can’t try to change the law. If I didn’t like the law, I would leave. Nobody is forcing me to stay in Canada.”

I find all of this interesting. Canadians seem to have a phobia about keeping any tradition that is rooted into our Christian heritage. Others, apparently, do not share our phobia that praying to Heavenly Father might be in some way damaging to our culture or political decisions.

 

Canadian Media – TV Trash and Bill C-10

I like tv as much as any other guy, I suppose. I like watching sports, the History Channel, the Classic Westerns (that should date me), and a broad expression of national and world news reporting. On the whole, people are watching a lot of television these days.

I know that television has changed over the years. First, black and white left – I wasn’t so sorry about that. Technicolor was great.  Then, we got options: remember going from one channel to two to cable to satellite?  And, what man can forget the invention of the “remote control.”

However, not every change has been beneficial or healthy for Canadian viewer ship. Many of us can still remember the days when “obscenity,” “nudity and sexuality,” and televising someone drinking or taking drugs was not tolerated for public viewing. Now it is commonplace.

Well, it appears that our Conservative government is considering cleaning up the moral filth occurring through the Canada’s film industry. This has serious implications because nearly a billion dollars in tax credits and subsidies goes to support the industry annually.

Some of the films that have received subsidy benefits glorify indecent sexual behavior between teens as exemplified in “Young People F—ing,” a film produced by Stephen Hoban. The government plans to set up a “screening process to make sure quality films, both in content and technique, will be receiving subsidy help.”

Bill C-10’s intent was to amend the Income Tax Act. However, Section 120 gives the Heritage Minister the right to withdraw tax credits from productions determined to be “contrary to public policy.” He would set guidelines for the producers regarding violence, hatred and sexual content.

The Directors Guild of Canada and ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) are up in arms. They are lobbying against what they consider to be “moral policing” with a Kill Bill campaign. What’s new? This is getting old real quick. You have to wonder: “When is anything going to be immoral to anybody?” Canada’s film industry has been kicking up against the edge for years. In an attempt to be different from the U.S. film industry, to give Canada its own sense of uniqueness, ACTRA has crossed many controversial lines.

This legislation isn’t an invasion on “human rights” – it is an attempt to give meaning to and protect human rights, like our children’s rights to watch television with some level of safety, or our women’s rights to have their bodies looked at with honor and treated with dignity.

Some bloggers are calling for “separation of church and state.” That is a tired argument. You can’t separate morality from any aspect of life. Anyways, what they are really whining about is the use of our money via tax incentives, the separation of “tv trash” and “state financing.”

Here is a novel idea: maybe some of this “tv trash” would not be supported by corporations if the tax incentives were removed. Maybe somebody ought to look at what corporations are financing this stuff!

If they really want the government to stay out of it, the government should, and not release any of the billion dollars to support an industry that may be undermining our nation’s moral strength.

I just returned from Vietnam. I was warned before entering that nothing that can be considered damaging to the moral strength of their people can be brought into the nation. I could have faced prosecution.

What the Canadian film industry is really concerned about is the possibility that government may be able to set a “community standard for the entire country.”

I, for one, support Bill C-10, Section 120. It’s about time somebody in government was “standing guard” over the moral health of our citizenry.

Canadian Preachers and Politicians

Whether it comes from the pulpit or podium, whether it is heard in auditoriums or championed in churches, whether it is before a room full of reporters or before the world via satellite, both Senator Barack Obama (politician, running for President of the world’s greatest power) and Rev. Jeremiah Wright (preacher, Obama’s ex-pastor) share one thing in common: they sure can talk.

And Canada, along with the rest of the world, is reading, watching and listening. Both of these men are educated and knowledgeable orators. Both can keep your attention when they speak. They are colorful, intelligent, masterful communicators.

However, that appears to be where the similarities end. The last few weeks have been marked by Senator Obama’s distancing of himself, and his campaign, from the very controversial remarks of his former pastor. It remains to be seen whether Rev. Wright’s opinionated views of the world, called Liberation Theology, will affect the outcome of the Senator’s race for the White House.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle listening to politicians speak. I have lived long enough, studied long enough (I have a degree in political science), and voted enough to know the difference between what a politician says and what he can actually do. Look at their record four years later.

I have also struggled listening to preachers, and I am one. I am constantly amazed at the fact that anyone would come out to hear what I have to say. But, I have lived long enough, studied long enough (I have a degree in religion), and attended church enough to know that there is often a difference between what a preacher says and what he can actually produce.

As long as we remain a democracy, we will have politicians and preachers. I, for one, am grateful for the freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble, the freedom of religion, and for the freedom of speech. Our nation’s laws support the right for both politician and preacher to speak their personal convictions, whether you agree with them or not.

Unfortunately, in reality, the playing field is not all that even. Politicians fare much better in terms of their freedom to voice their positions without prejudice. Preachers are often maligned and marginalized. It seems that the podium of the press is an acceptable venue for the politician but that the preacher should keep his remarks within the four walls of the church.

Obama is applauded when he separates himself – politically, maybe intellectually, and even, physically – from his former pastor, Rev. Wright. It is possible that was the right thing to do. But, what if the pastor felt strong enough that he needed to separate himself from a politician’s views? Would he be applauded?

There is a place for politicians – they have their national assembly (parliament), their legislatures, and they are given opportunity on a daily basis to convey their personal and regional convictions.

There is also a place for preachers – they have their solemn assembly (church), their legislature (prayer rooms), and they too have an opportunity on a daily basis to express deep religious convictions. And they should! One cannot separate their personally held moral views from corporate moral responsibility.

Is it possible that Canada has lost some of its moral conviction because preachers have remained silent on the issues behind the pulpit? Is it possible that our society has devolved rather than evolved because the Church has been gagged when it comes to their voice into social justice?

Look out Canada – the tide is turning. The Voice of the Church is beginning to emerge out of years of silence. And, trust me, our nation will be the better for it.

Compassionate Capitalism in Canada

Even heard of an oxymoron? That was the word that came to mind when I started writing this title, but even I had to look it up. It means “a rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, like a deafening silence.”

Well, for some people using the word “compassionate” alongside “capitalism” may be seen as contradictory. However, I don’t see it that way at all. I happen to believe in and support both concepts.

According to Wikipedia capitalism refers to “an economic and social system in which the means of production are predominantly privately owned, operated for profit, and in which investments, distribution, income, production and pricing of goods and services are determined through the operation of a market economy.”

Call me conservative in my political views if you so desire, but I believe the best economies emerge from the least bureaucratic interference. Most of the jobs produced in our nation are done so through the enterprise of small business owners. The more centrally planned the society is the less efficient and effective. I have witnessed this.

Historically, Canada was based on a belief in a Creator God. If you study world economies, those cultures that believe in a Creator are creative, the innovators, and most often, the Nobel Prize winners. Cultures with a belief in polytheism – a recognition and worship of many gods – often build their economies on manufacturing and marketing other nation’s inventions.

Cold capitalism can be cruel though. Take the calling out of work, pursue making money for making money sake, spend all life’s energy on building bigger barns, use profit for selfish purposes, and capitalism becomes a four letter word. The rich get richer, and the poor die.

There is something wrong with that picture if you care to look at it. If you look closely, you may find yourself in the picture. That’s when this column gets personal. However, even though we know that we are blessed to live in Canada, among the world’s top 5% wealthiest citizens, we have the tendency to shut out the cry of the world’s poor and less fortunate.

This is where compassion comes in. I should not have to explain this, but let me try for a moment. Historically, our Western culture has been fashioned by the Greek mindset – ie. the analogical, scientific, cerebral. The Hellenistic world had no word to describe mercy or compassion: the closest they could come to it was courage.

The ancient world found a word to describe what should be our heart towards our fellow man, splagchnizomai, meaning “to have the bowels yearning.” When did you feel that last? Or, have we become dull in feeling and hearing the desperate cry of the world?

The Bible teaches that “if anyone has this world’s goods (resources for sustaining life) and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart of compassion against him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3: 17).

This leads me to why I believe in compassionate capitalism. Make money – no problem: be a capitalist. However, decide on a purpose for the use of your wealth compassionately. Remember this: if you are Canadian, the poorest of us are among the wealthiest of the world.

How are Canadians doing on the mercy scale? 2006 stats on Charitable giving in Canada stated that Canadians gave only 1.2% of their monies into charities. You tell me if that “overwhelming generosity” moves the heart of God to reach out and bless us or not.

Is it possible that our Western culture may be facing judgment? Is it possible that what the United States economy is going through right now is related to a poor performance in mercy?  This may come home to roost in Canada, if we are not careful. Americans gave 2% of their wealth away.

Among the reasons Sodom was judged by God was “pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness … [and] neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezek 16:49). Think about it.

Compassionate capitalism needs to start at home, extend to our neighbours, then to our city and nation, and ultimately, to the global village. I pray that God touches your heart with love for your fellow man, and that you find some practical way to reach out and touch somebody, starting today.

“I Am Canadian!”

“I am Canadian!” What an honor to be able to proclaim that. I believe that we are truly blessed to be sons and daughters of this great land. We have a lot to be proud of. Say the word “Canadian” around the world, and it speaks loud about the values we hold dear: freedom, tolerance, opportunity, and so on.

Since the mid-1990s, an average of 220,000 immigrants have come into Canada every year and made it their home. Citizenship and Immigration Canada says that it has been aiming at a “long-term objective of immigration level approaching one percent of Canada’s population (annually),” so these averages will continue to increase.

Immigration has become an increasingly important component of net population growth in Canada. Statistics Canada reports that immigration represents close to 70% of current population growth. Given our nation’s below-replacement fertility rate, within 25 years immigration will be the only source of net population growth factor.

Every immigrant is needed. The facts are beginning to speak for themselves. The Conference Board of Canada stated that “Canada could experience a one million worker shortage by the year 2020, and for some sectors, shortages already exist.”

Canada Perspectives commented five years ago that “the proportion of the working-age population employed was 62.4%, the highest on record.” However, Canada is aging. The Globe and Mail’s investigation of our labour force led them to state emphatically that “the country’s labour pool is expected to shrink under the weight of an unprecedented retirement bulge….”

So, Canada has put out the welcome mat to the world.

Recently I had the honor of being asked to witness close to 60 people inducted into Canadian citizenship. Citizenship judge William L. Day presided over the proceedings, and gave a heart-felt introduction into the rights and the responsibilities that came with Canadian citizenship. Then each new candidate stood, pledged their Oath of Citizenship, and resounded a closing “I am Canadian!”

He compared citizenship to marriage, the only difference being that you are marrying 33 million people. The oath (or vow) was a promise: if each citizen kept their promise, the marriage would work well. They promised faithfulness to the Queen, obedience to the laws of Canada, and a commitment to work from within the legal system to change Canadian law.

He stated that Canada was different from most countries of the world. Most nations have law, religion, dress, and a language that distinguishes them. However, he strongly addressed the fact that Canada is a secular nation.

Interesting, eh? We are secular, multi-cultural, bilingual, a mosaic of the world’s ideas and beliefs. We are not a melting pot where people become Canadian first. That is the Canadian difference.

 

I am saddened by that glaring reality. Canada used to be known as a Christian nation, people pledged allegiance and swore on the Bible, prayer was prayed over new citizens, they were given a Bible as a gift, and when they sung the Canadian anthem they expressed gratitude to the God of the Bible who was asked to “keep our land glorious and free.”

Now, instead of singing “Ruler Supreme, who hearest humble prayer, hold our Dominion, in Thy loving care,” we now look to the rule of law as our saving grace. And, by the way, Canadian law is no longer based on the Common law which was based upon Biblical law: it is now based on the law of our own making.

There is no question that things have changed – a lot. Time will tell if they have changed for the better. What made Canada Canada is no longer at the base creating who we are becoming. That concerns me. Will it make Canada safer for all who desire to make this nation their home? I am not sure. I know that most of our families came here from a different past. The challenge I guess is whether we will have a common future.

A Breakdown in Civility in Canada?

Stephen Carter, a professing Christian and distinguished professor at Yale Law School, suggested that the central crisis he felt that was facing Western culture was the accelerating breakdown of civility.

Maybe one of the greatest proofs of the accuracy of that statement can be answered by your response to a question: “When was the last time that you heard the word ‘civility’ used in every day speech?” My gut sense would be, “seldom, if ever.”

It seems like some words leave a culture forever and die through a terrible lack of use. The problem is that the activity associated with that word also tends to depart. The word that is erased from the mind is lost to speech, and words that are no longer spoken lose their power to influence society.

According to the dictionary, civility simply means “courtesy or politeness.” It refers to words and actions that breed good culture. Some would call it manners: ie. how we speak to the young, the words we use and the way we say them, how we treat our wives in public, or, the regard we have for others around us.

Remember when men would get up and give their seat to an elderly citizen or pregnant woman entering the bus? Remember when cars waited on pedestrians crossing the street before they turned? Remember when we heard “thank you” being uttered because people were truly thankful for service? Remember when men opened the door for their wives?

Civility is associated with two key words: civilian and civilization. I believe that they are interrelated. I believe the level of civility expressed by civilians creates the kind of civilization that causes us great embarrassment or the kind of civilization that brings a smile and strengthens our back with pride.

Carter noted that Western nations were caring less and less about their fellow citizens. No longer were fellow citizens seen as fellow passengers. He made the comment that “we may see them as obstacles or competitors, or [worse], we may not [even] see them at all…”

You and I have a responsibility to open our eyes to see those around us. If civility is going to make a comeback within our Canadian culture, it is going to need a kind word, a helping hand – yours, a smile. Maybe it will require waiting a moment without frustration or expectation – by the way, it’s not the end of the world. What about responding instead of reacting?

In October 2007 the Center for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism interviewed Reginald W. Bibby. Bibby chairs the Department of Sociology at the University of Lethbridge. He had written a press release on research entitled, “Good without God, Better with God?”

Bibby’s article created quite a stir because he connected the nation’s interpersonal relational health to the practice of faith. He implied that the connection between human values and the practice of civility in Canada was linked.

He stated, “To the extent that Canadians say ‘good-bye’ to God, we may find that we pay a significant social price” – ie. a breakdown in good manners. I happen to believe that.

I know that an assumption is required here: for someone to be compassionate we would have to assume that they value compassion. However, my understanding is that values do not emerge from a moral vacuum. Their source is some form of training – ie. conscience, parental, educational, or, spiritual tutoring.

I believe every community should contend for a comeback in civility. Each community can be a winner. What a grand goal!

 

Guarding Our Canadian Borders

No, this is not article about immigration and illegal aliens entering our country. Though Canada has the world’s largest shared border, we have not experienced the scale of problems other nations have, as seen in the hotly debated US Presidential elections.

However, guarding our borders is much more than questioning people, searching cars entering Canada, or checking the mail. From my perspective, the greater need has to do with protecting Canadian borders from the undermining influence of immoral ideas. You see, ideas recognize no borders, receive little challenge, and reject national sovereignty.

I care about the future of Canada. I am a grandfather now, and it is my desire to see my grandchildren grow up in a better society than the one I grew up in. I believe that it is the responsibility of each succeeding generation – your and my responsibility – to leave behind a better legacy.

Border guards have been given a tremendous responsibility. It is not an easy job. They are paid to be suspicious of people’s words. They are trained to spot inconsistencies in dialogue, and to probe deeper than what is stated superficially in response to questions.

But border guards can only do so much. It takes an entire nation of citizens to do a proper job of protecting our borders. We all have a responsibility to do more than sing the national anthem: daily we are called upon to take our place and “stand on guard.” We can’t leave it to the “other” guy – we will all be held accountable.

Ideas are out there. For example, Montgomery County, Maryland passed a new law that demands co-ed locker rooms and restrooms in all public accommodations. That law was designed to accommodate “trans-gendered people” – that is, men and women who say they perceive themselves to be the opposite sex.

It has started a “bathroom war.” Imagine that! People are calling it “potty politics.” You may laugh, but what has happened to common sense and decency? Pardon me, but this idea needs to be flushed.

However, it crossed the state border into the Colorado legislature. Unbelievably, they followed suit, opening all public restrooms – airports, arenas, restaurants, businesses, churches – to anyone who wants to use them.

Apparently, the comfort of trans-genders overwhelms the discomfort of the rest of the public who have to deal now with the violation of their privacy. Who is going to confront a “trans-gendered” person entering a washroom? Who is going to protect our children from molesters posing as “trans-gendered” people?

This idea is crossing borders. Will this idea make its way into Canada and become law? It could – unless someone stands on guard for the nation and its future generations against this idea.

Defying a Culture of Hate in Canada

Unfortunately, my city is not immune from what is now recognized as a global resurgence of a culture of hate. Not too long ago, hate-filled words were directed at the Jewish community and painted on the walls of their Center.

This was not an isolated act of graffiti. This was a senseless and serious offense, not just to our nation’s legal commitment to protect basic human rights, no matter race, color, or religion, but it was an affront to the good heart of our citizenry.

Our Mayor stated that our city would express a zero tolerance for this kind of criminal behavior. Though the messages and symbols have been painted over, they can never truly be erased. The marks left on hearts by hate propaganda are not easily removed.

Since the Supreme Court decision (1991) involving the criminal case of James Keegstra, those fighting hate propaganda have come to understand that our Canadian courts and judges are serious about ridding hate from the culture of our land.

In June 2005, the Supreme Court found that Rwandan leader Leon Mugesera’s speech referring to the Tutsis as “cockroaches to be exterminated” violated Canada’s hate propaganda laws under the Criminal Code. His words were described as “a crime against humanity:” as a result, he was deported.

Still, the line between freedom of speech and illegal promotion of hate is difficult to discern: “Under Canadian law, a person is free to think what they like, say what they like whether it is true of untrue, mean, vicious, or disrespectful, subject only to the laws of defamation and the promoting hatred against an identifiable group.”

Though the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is the major legal tool to address this, racist organizations are not presently prohibited in Canada. This violates the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: Article 4(b) states, “(b) [Members] shall declare illegal and prohibit organizations, and also organized and all other propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination, and shall recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offence punishable by law.”

However, hate propaganda remains rampant, and racism is a growing phenomenon, regardless of Canada’s long-term record of tolerance. Neo-Nazi groups and White Supremacists pervade our culture. National leaders like Iran’s President Ahmadinejad fan the flame. He addressed the world, denouncing the Holocaust as a “myth” and preached that “Israel should be wiped off the map.” He was applauded, and not just in Iran!

Racist organizations are exploring cyberspace to get their message out to the public, easily and anonymously. The Justice Department has had to establish watchdog technologies to fight the emergence of cybercrime, looking for “posted messages that expose persons to hatred or contempt by reason of race, national or ethnic origin, color or religion.”

Ultimately, racism is a heart issue, and not a media or legal issue. The real question is, “Has it touched and contaminated your heart?”  We need to watch our hearts, and let’s work together to ensure that our cities are a place free from a culture of hate.