by Dennis Gruending
The Ottawa-based National House of Prayer (NHOP) is organizing a National Prayer Sunday for our government and its leaders on June 29. You may not have heard of the NHOP or its prayer list so I will take a brief look at both. You may be surprised â€“ but first a brief bit of history.
Rob and Fran Parker are a couple from British Columbia who say they felt God calling them to set up a house of prayer in the capital. Mr. Parker has a long association with an organization called Watchmen for the Nations, and after a gathering of the group in 1996 he organized a prayer-walk from Calgary to Ottawa. In 2004, the NHOP purchased a former convent not far from parliament hill for $900,000. Theyâ€™ve added staff and volunteers and regularly host groups, including youth, from across the country to engage in formation as prayer leaders. NHOP personnel appear to have ready access to parliament hill. They attend question period, sit in at committees and lead prayer meetings. They were invited by the National Prayer Breakfast in 2007 to participate in a workshop following the meal, and the publicity for this yearâ€™s event invited people to an NHOP open house.
Each week on its website the NHOP asks people to offer prayers on a variety of issues and for individuals in public life, and the group also posts other prayer requests and observations on a blog. The most prayed for piece of legislation in 2008 has been MP Ken Eppâ€™s Bill C-484 (The Unborn Victims of Crime Act), which would create a separate offence for killing or injuring a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman. The bill has passed second reading in the House of Commons and has been sent off to a committee for examination. It is controversial because many believe that if passed the bill could be used as a wedge to re-criminalize abortion. The NHOP blog posting on April 30 talked about â€œpractical thingsâ€ that could be done to support Epp and his bill. These included praying, organizing a national fast, signing a petition of support on Eppâ€™s website, and writing handwritten letters to MPs in support of the Bill C-484.
Earlier in 2008 another blog entry requested prayers for passage of Bill C-2, the federal governmentâ€™s anti-crime bill. Yet another recommended prayers that a conservative jurist be appointed to replace Mr. Justice Michel Bastarache, who has announced his retirement from the Supreme Court of Canada. The same blog entry expressed approval that the court appears to be turning back a growing number of charter cases.
Another entry requested prayers for â€œa total overhaul or abolition of the current human rights councils in this countryâ€ and referred readers to conservative pundit Ezra Levantâ€™s articles for further information. The case provoking the prayer request involves a human rights complaint into comments made about Muslims by writer Mark Steyn in Macleans magazine.
The NHOP website is also requesting prayers for the success of an event called The Cry, which is to be held on parliament hill on August 23rd.Â The website says: â€œLet’s intercede that thousands of believers will attend this wonderful event.â€ Similar youth rallies were held in 2002 and 2006 to dramatize concern about what organizers described as the moral and social decline in Canada. Guest speakers at those rallies included the Parkers from NHOP and David Demian, head of Watchmen for the Nations. Demian and his organization are dedicated supporters of the Israeli government and its policies.
Where does NHOP fit into the wider picture? In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen in January 2006, the Parkers describe the prayer house as a registered charity that welcomes Christians of all denominations. They say it is not an advocacy group and does not endorse political parties. The Citizen article also says that the NHOP â€œhas the financial backing of churches and religious organizations with links to the grassroots evangelical groups that helped Stockwell Day defeat Preston Manning in the 2000 Canadian Alliance leadership race.â€
The NHOP exists within a charismatic and Pentecostal movement known for its emotional and enthusiastic forms of worship. NHOP also leans toward Christian reconstructionism â€“ a belief that government and all of society must submit to the Bibleâ€™s moral principles. It may be this strong Biblical focus that explains an NHOP blog posting following a demonstration at the Chinese embassy this spring calling for a free Tibet. â€œSome of our prayers go in that direction,â€ the NHOP blog said. â€œHowever, on another level, our deeper cry in prayer is â€˜Free Tibet!â€™ Free it from the centuries of spiritual darkness and oppression that the Tibetan Buddhist priests exerted over the people. Free them from the power of blinded obedience to the Dalai Lama.â€ This statement is particularly odd because the government named the Dalai Lama as honourary Canadian citizen in 2007, one of only four people ever to receive that distinction.
The NHOP is just one of a number of conservative Christian groups to locate in Ottawa within the past few years, a development that indicates the growing influence in Canada of the religious right.
I find it extraordinary that such an organisation has access to government and can influence policy in so partisan a manner. This government considered the Council of Canadians to be too much of an advocacy group to merit charitable status. There is something wrong with a tax system that would treat contributions to the NHOP as deductible. This organisation does not represent the vast majority of fair-thinking Canadians. We need to do as much as we can to shed light on the existence of such an “interest group”.
If my memory serves me correctly, before Ezra Levant’s magazine, based in Alberta, folded, it published the Danish cartoons that were an item of controversy in Islam. His magazine also sponsored Caribbean cruises where guests could mingle and listen to “reform minded” luminaries.
This makes me wonder if, in the interest of balance or counterpoint, it is not time for something equivalent (not the same, of course, but equivalent) that represents those with a more progressive understanding of how scripture informs public life and debate. This might be a Christian presence, or it might be more broadly based as an interfaith “house of prayer”. Perhaps someone with more time, energy and vision than I might step forward to give the necessary leadership.
Lawrence S. Cumming