Our faith calls us to engage

 on February 1, 2015

This year marks the 40th anniversary of my father’s election as a Member of Provincial Parliament. On that election night, I was interviewed by a young reporter for the largest newspapers in the riding. “What is he personally getting out of this?” I was asked.

“He’s in this because he believes that he can make a difference to the people he’ll be serving,” I replied.

“No, but what’s he really in it for?”

“He believes in the duty of service. He is altruistic.” I don’t think the reporter knew the word. The interview never made it to press.

My father served for 15 years and I was very proud of him. I campaigned for him, even though Dad and I did not agree on a number of issues. We had some very loud arguments, including the pivotal role of one of my episcopal predecessors in an election where many of his friends had lost their seats. Politics and faith present some interesting challenges.

True or false? “In Canada, there is a separation of church and state.”

The answer is: It depends. There is no legal or constitutional separation of church and state in Canada as there is in the United States’ Constitution. Over the course of Canadian history, the relationships have been complicated. The first Bishop of Toronto was a member of the Executive Council and Legislative Council of Upper Canada – essentially the Cabinet and the precursor to the Senate – while active as a priest and then bishop. Canon Cody was for a time the provincial Minister of Education as well as rector of St. Paul, Bloor Street. In the 1980s, three priests of the Diocese of Toronto served at the same time in the House of Commons, one representing each of the three major parties (a very Anglican balance, wouldn’t you say!). Two of those men died this past year – Dan Heap and Roland de Corneille – while Reg Stackhouse is still very much active in retirement. Anglican laity have served in all levels of government and three of the last four Governors General (and at least 20 of the 28 who have served) have been Anglicans.

On the other hand, the long connection between the church and the government on Indian residential schools was hugely problematic and has caused deep, lasting pain.

But in current policy and practice in the last few decades, there clearly is a much more marked separation – interestingly, more so here than in the U.S. It would be hard for an American presidential candidate to be successful if not photographed going to church regularly; not so with a Canadian prime minister. And compare the official commemorations of the 9/11 tragedy in Ottawa, Washington, New York and London.

By law, not-for-profit organizations – churches fall into that category – can spend a maximum of 10 per cent of their revenue on political advocacy, and then only if it aligns with their mandate and is non-partisan. We fall well within that. This is being interpreted more narrowly and, at times, restrictively. For example, the Canadian Revenue Agency recently deemed that a major Canadian charity could operate programs to alleviate the effects of poverty directly but not to advocate for policies to eliminate it, which is absurd!

I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the vows we make at our baptism compel us to engage with our government and the political system as an essential part of our Christian witness. Our faith gives us a particular lens through which to view the world around us. It shapes how we participate as citizens in the decisions about the way we live in this world, how others are included, and what priorities we set.

Five Marks of Mission were developed by the Anglican Communion to indicate ways in which we join in the mission of Christ to the world. At least three of those Marks have a political dimension, as well as a service orientation:

  • To respond to human need by loving service.
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.


Our diocesan Social Justice and Advocacy work (along with the work of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund) is a key resource to help us analyze the issues, educate us, build partnerships and assist us to advocate for appropriate alternatives to the existing state of affairs. This includes not only getting Anglicans to engage in direct outreach ministries to the vulnerable in our society – we have done a lot of very good and needed work in this! – but also to engage in the longer term effort to change the policies and structures that either cause or perpetuate the problems in the first place.

Policy is as critical as programme; advocacy needs to be hand-in-hand with ministry.

There are inevitably different possible solutions and different ways of both understanding and addressing the problems, which is why open discussion and healthy debate within our parishes on these matters is an essential part of our Christian duty. Complex issues are not solved only by experts. In fact, solutions to complex problems require imagination, creativity, determination and changed attitudes because expertise does not yet exist.

That is the reason that, over the last few years, we have proposed a motion on a social justice issue to be discussed at annual parish Vestry meetings. While it is helpful to have the motion passed or amended – I can use this data when I meet with members of government, for instance, to indicate the level of support that I represent – that is not the most important thing. For me, it is to have the issues discussed and people of all persuasions commit to learn more, understand better and act responsibly and faithfully in the name of Jesus Christ.

As Anglicans, we know that we need to wrestle with how we interpret our faith and that there will often be competing conclusions. There is, however, no such thing for an incarnate Christianity as faith without politics, although there might be politics without faith.


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