Faith and Public Life: Making the Connection

By Dennis Gruending

dennis_guending_hill_de08_250.jpgI’ll be leading an evening class for the Ottawa Lay School of Theology between January 12 and March 16 and I am inviting you to participate – either in person or from a distance. The course is called Faith and Public Life: Making the Connection, and we will examine how individuals and peoples of faith have participated in public issues and political discourse in Canada. I will lead a lecture-discussion format in a few sessions and guests of exceptional quality will be presenting in others. I will devote at least one Pulpit and Politics blog posting for each of the next 10 weeks to topics that we cover in the class. If you have comments or questions arising from the articles, please post them to the Comments section on my site. I will try to respond — perhaps with the assistance of our guests and people in the class. Let’s call it a digital dialogue.

I have long been interested in how religious faith informs political decisions, including the division of wealth in our society, education and race relations, immigration, foreign policy and environment issues, to name just a few. It is often argued that we have a tolerant and peaceful society in Canada because our laws and institutions are built on a Judeo-Christian foundation. A counter-argument is that the tolerance shown and the freedom accorded to our citizens exists in the space that our secular system of governance has created – often in the face of opposition from organized religion. These are not frivolous questions and that is why it is well worth considering the links between religion and pubic life.

I use the term public life in a way that is defined more broadly than running for elected office, or being an MP, an MPP or MLA. I include the bureaucracy in my definition, and I also consider the way in which faith based organizations enter into dialogue with governments and the bureaucracy.  I believe there is, at least potentially, a connection between one’s faith and one’s participation in public life, but the remaining question is how does one make that connection effectively and with integrity? It is those questions that the class participants, our special guests, and I will investigate. My guests will include:

– Peter Harder, a former deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, who will talk about the connections between faith and public life for those who work in the bureaucracy.

– Paul Dewar, Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre, will talk about those connections for people elected to public office.

– William Janzen, a long time director of the Mennonite Central Committee’s Ottawa office, and Kathy Vandergrift, who has worked on Parliament Hill and as the policy director for World vision. They will reflect on their years of dialogue with politicians and civil servants on behalf of churches and religious organizations.

– Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice and former director of social affairs for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, will talk about Catholic social teaching.

– David Illman-White, program director of the Galilee Centre at Arnprior, Ontario, will describe the Protestant social gospel.

– Lloyd Mackey, a Parliamentary Press Gallery reporter to a number of religious publications and websites, and the author of a book on the Mannings (Ernest and Preston) and a biography of Stephen Harper, will discuss how evangelical action has informed faith-based participation in Canadian public life.

We will be looking mainly at Christian churches and organizations, and individuals formed by and in some cases representing those churches and organizations. I am, of course, aware that Canada is an increasingly diverse and pluralistic country and that we live in a world growing in its interdependence. The theologian Hans Kung wrote some years ago that there would be never be peace in the world until there is peace among the world’s religions. Inter-religious dialogue, respect and tolerance are more important today than ever. For those who can attend, I would recommend a class immediately following mine on Monday evenings. Its called called Islam – A Deeper Look and it follows up on a successful course offered last year on Islam and Christianity.

You can register online at: or by calling Doug Fisher at 613-725-2705. The class will be held at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Westboro at 347 Richmond Road (just west of Churchill Avenue), beginning on Monday, January 12. It runs on Mondays from 7:30 to 8:20 p.m. The cost for the 10 sessions, and a second hour class if you wish to take one, is a total of only $50.

The Ottawa Lay School of Theology has begun its 45th year and is sponsored by the Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches in the Ottawa area.  It has a non-denominational and ecumenical approach and many of the courses attempt to bridge the gap in understanding other faiths and traditions.

One thought on “Faith and Public Life: Making the Connection

  1. I wonder whether your class will explore the reason(s) that individuals who appear to share the same religious faith differ so markedly in their social & political living of it.

    Dennis replies: Thanks Al. I will pose this question to the class and to one or another of our guest presenters.


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