The Christian Right, Israel and Stephen Harper

By Milner, Arthur | Inroads: A Journal of Opinion, Summer-Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

The Christian Right, Israel and Stephen Harper


Milner, Arthur, Inroads: A Journal of Opinion


Journalists have largely ignored the political influence of Canada's right-wing Christians--especially when it comes to Conservative policies in the Middle East. Hence Marci McDonald's The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada (1) is a good and important book, although you would never know it from the reviews.

In her negative (and confusing) Globe and Mail review, Molly Worthen implicitly includes Canada's policy on Israel when she writes, "McDonald sees Christian nationalist conspiracy everywhere she looks. Yet much of what she describes sounds merely like politics as usual." (2) Worthen ends by cautioning that "Canadian evangelicals who set their minds on politics do not have to be zealots in order to be disconcerting," but she doesn't tell us how or why.

In his disparaging National Post review, John G. Stackhouse, Jr., admits that McDonald "rightly shines her journalistic spotlight on people such as Timothy Bloedow and Gary Goodyear [and] Stockwell Day." (3) But, he advises, "forget making fun of the creation-science museum in Alberta, forget trying to demonize Preston Manning. Forget Charles McVety and Faytene Kryskow. FoCus on Stockwell Day and his associates and the religious culture that spawned and supports them. How have such people become so powerful and stayed so prominent even under Prime Minister Harper, who"--Stackhouse tells us--"is not like them?"

The truth is, McDonald does quite a good job of explaining how that's happened. The answer is roughly this: The various organizations of the Christian right in Canada became increasingly desperate and well organized after losing the battles on abortion and same-sex marriage. The Christian right had supported Day, and after winning the leadership Harper wanted its money, organization and electoral support.

But the almost always pragmatic Harper knew that a too-vocal Christian right would cost him among moderate Conservatives. With help from similarly pragmatic right-wing Christians like Preston Manning, many on the Christian right were taught that political effectiveness means knowing when to shut up.

They still needed their rewards, however. It was political suicide to raise the two issues nearest and dearest to right-wing Christians, abortion and same-sex marriage, so Harper gave them what he could: funding for stay-at-home mothers; funding (for the first time in Canada) for Christian postsecondary education; a criminal justice system based on an-eye-for-an-eye; thousands of appointments to senior positions in the bureaucracy and to judicial bodies; positions of power in cabinet, in the PMO and among his personal staff; and speeches that ended in "God bless Canada."

One can understand the appeal of each of these to biblical literalists, social conservatives and right-wing Christians. But Harper gave them one more gift: an unreserved, uniquely stupid government policy on Israel.

"Wait a second," you say. "Didn't he adopt his Israel-right-or-wrong policy to win support from Jews?"

That's what journalists suggest. I think they're wrong.

The Jewish Israel lobby has some clout, and might be able to deliver the odd riding to the Conservatives. But a direct link between Harper's policy and more Jewish votes isn't easy to demonstrate. Canadian Jews have been moving to the right on a number of issues and some would have supported the Conservatives anyway. They had no great objection to the Liberals' nominally balanced but decidedly pro-Israel policies, so it's hard to know how many Jewish votes the new policy will attract, especially since many Jews disagree (privately) with the Harper position and are as likely to be repelled as attracted by it.

In any case, Jews make up about I per cent of the Canadian population. They have money to offer but not many votes. There may be a small benefit, but can it be enough to justify turning Canada into an international laughingstock? …

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