Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning gathered members of the Canadian political and religious right for talk fest in Ottawa recently to strategize about how to win the nation for conservatism. Macleans magazine columnist Paul Wells wrote a piece about it called Hard Right Turn, which is where the Conservatives appear to be headed.Â Another piece on the event that caught my eye was one by Lloyd Mackey, a journalist who writes mainly for evangelical Christian publications from his perch in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. I find Mackeyâ€™s columns interesting because he has good connections in the Conservative Party and with a segment of Canadaâ€™s Christian churches. Mackey was close to Preston Manning and once edited the Reform Partyâ€™s publication. He has also written books about Manning and his father Ernest, the late Social Credit premier of Alberta.
Mackeyâ€™s report from the Manning Centre hobnob began by invoking St. Francis of Assisi, who early in the 13th century is said to have written one of historyâ€™s most famous prayers. “O Divine Master,â€ he wrote, â€œgrant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.” Mackey picked up on St. Francisâ€™ line about placing the understanding of others above being understood yourself. He then applied this wisdom to a recent controversy enveloping most of Canadaâ€™s mainline churches and the Conservative government.
Mackey describes how the topic arose in a conversation at Manningâ€™s networking conference. â€œThe subject, at that particular point,” Mackey wrote, â€œ was a recent conflict between a faith-based advocacy group and a government agency which had turned down funding for that particular group.â€ Mackey doesnâ€™t name the group but it is KAIROS, the ecumenical justice and human rights organization, and the unnamed government agency is CIDA, which on November 30 suspended funding for KAIROS projects between 2009 and 2013. Mackey continues, â€œThe speaker quoting St. Francis was trying to make the point that the advocacy group in question was more interested in getting its own viewpoint understood than it was in understanding the viewpoints of the people on the other side of the table.â€
Mackey does not identify the speaker in this encounter either, but concludes: â€œHe was putting forward the seemingly preposterous notion that an advocate should seek divine guidance in the quest of understanding an opposing viewpoint. And, if an advocate can get his or her mind around that humility-based concept, it could go a long way toward the accomplishing of goals that come out of reasonable compromise.â€
Ah yes, but this does gloss over some other rather important details. CIDAâ€™s removing of KAIROS funding is one thing. But Jason Kenney, the Immigration Minister, was not content to leave things rest there. Speaking at an international conference in Jerusalem on December 16, Kenney accused KAIROS of being anti-Semitic. This, one assumes, makes it rather difficult to turn the other cheek or to forgive someone seventy times seven. Kenney later insisted that he had not actually accused KAIROS of being anti-Semitic. His remarks, however, were recorded in audio and video. Listen to them here and judge for yourself.
KAIROS and its member churches have chosen not to go quietly into the night regarding the blowing up of their partnership with CIDA after 35 years of co-operation in the case of some of member organizations. The KAIROS response, however, has been quite conventional. The organization has asked people in member churches and organizationsÂ — Catholic, United, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches, as well as the Mennonite Central committee and the Quakers â€“ to write or send emails to their local MPs, the Prime Minister, and CIDA minister Bev Oda. Leaders from the KAIROS coalition also held a news conference on Parliament Hill, and member organizations have lobbied dozens of MPs, focusing mainly on the Conservatives. The delegation that met with Transport Minister John Baird included his former Sunday school teacher.
The Mackey article continues: â€œBut my speaker friend who was interpreting St. Francis was exercising a different kind of thinking. Admittedly, advocates — and their sometimes symbiotically-linked cousins, absolutists — would find that difficult, particularly if their work and stances come out of a narcissistic mindset.â€ This is a rather odd non sequitur, but being called narcissistic is likely far less painful for KAIROS staff and member churches than being called anti-Semitic.
Unfortunately, no one has applied an analysis of Franciscan precepts to Jason Kenney. One fine Franciscan line that comes to mind is: â€œLord make me an instrument of your peace.â€ Mr. Kenney is allegedly a devout Catholic so he should know all about the peace and love advocated by St. Francis. Kenney attended Notre Dame, a Catholic college at Wilcox, Saskatchewan, so he cannot plead ignorance on these matters.Â
Kenney has been an MP since 1997. He used his contacts in the Christian right in 2000 to organize on behalf of Stockwell Day for his campaign against Preston Manning for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party. Day won but suffered a self-inflicted meltdown and Stephen Harper defeated him inÂ yet another leadership convention in 2002. When the Harper-led Conservatives became the government, Kenney became a trusted attack dog, a kind of Churchill without the wit. Kenney was also given a key responsibility in winning over new Canadians and certain religiously identified groups to support the Conservatives.
Under Stephen Harper, with Kenney running interference, the Conservatives have clearly chosen sides in the Middle East conflict â€“ supporting Israeli no matter what actions it undertakes. There is no subtlety here. Question the policies of the Canadian government and you will be punished. Question the policies of the Israeli government and you are called anti-Semitic.
Canadaâ€™s respected Rights and Democracy organization found that out early in 2010. The Conservatives appointed new board members who forced the resignation of the organizationâ€™s president RÃ©my Beauregard at a tense board meeting. Mr. Beauregard died of a heart attack later the same day. Conservative appointees to the board of Rights and Democracy accused the organization of being anti-Israel, a charge similar to that launched by Kenney against KAIROS. The research, if it can be described as such, for both of these charges may have arisen from one source â€“ a right wing Israel-based group called NGO Monitor. In an investigative piece, Macleans’ Paul Wells reports that Gerald Steinberg, an Israeli political scientist, also runs NGO Monitor. Steinberg published an Opinion Editorial in the Jerusalem Post congratulating the Canadian government for its actions against both KAIROS and Rights and Democracy. Wells writes: â€œSteinbergâ€™s list of organizations he regards as anti-Israel is long. In one publication he decries CIDA aid to what he calls â€˜extremist political groupsâ€™ opposed to Israel, among which he counts MÃ©decins du Monde, Oxfam, and the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada.â€
Whoops! The Mennonite Central Committee? Extremist? I beg your pardon. These attacks are over the top. I am not a Mennonite but my wife is and I have often attended church with her. If there is any organization that exemplifies the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, it is the Mennonite Central Committee. Kenney may well find that he has over-reached by deliberately putting a stick in the eye of Mennonites, Quakers, Catholics and mainline Protestants. I am told the KAIROS protests will continue, with homilies, public meetings, lobbying, musical events, even a photo contest â€“ all done quietly, gently, and firmly, in a Franciscan manner.Â