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Counter-cultural Christian

Michael Coren has no interest in being loved by secular society

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He's passionate about the sanctity of life, endlessly conversant about the situation in the Middle East, and convinced pacifism isn't necessarily compatible with Christianity. In short, Toronto broadcaster and columnist Michael Coren has many opinions and isn't afraid to share them, both with people who listen politely and those who might dare to disagree.

"I'm a Christian, I can't be a pacifist. Peace is an end, it is not the means to an end," he told a group of Mennonite ministers at a lunch meeting at Canadian Mennonite University last Tuesday.

"To save lives, we sometimes have to resort to violence."

A convert to Roman Catholicism from Judaism, the British-born Coren is a regular columnist for Catholic Insight, the National Post and papers in the Sun chain. The author of 12 books and frequent commentator on matters of faith, he told the 20 ministers that Christianity clashes with our secular, progress-oriented culture.

"We must be counter-cultural," said Coren, 50. "The moment we're totally accepted by the secular world, we have to rethink what we're doing."

The host of the nightly Michael Coren Show on Crossroads Television and the co-host of weekday radio call-in show on Toronto's CFRB Radio said the way to communicate the faith in the public square is not by words, but by actions.

"I don't use Christian-ese. You don't quote Scripture to non-Christian people, because they reject what you're saying," said Coren, who has written biographies of Arthur Conan Doyle, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

"We have to use a language that's totally understood by the secular world. You have to make people feel comfortable."

Instead, Christians need to use opportunities presented to them in their everyday lives, said Coren, to demonstrate Christian values and attitudes.

Although speaking to a largely Mennonite audience, Coren didn't shy away from sharing his opinions that pacifism is generally untenable. Mennonites are known for being a peace church and not participating in war.

"I think sometimes people who obsess about pacifism have lost the reason for doing it, their Christian faith," said Coren, who also commented extensively on the Middle East, Gandhi's non-violent tactics, and how violence is justified in stopping someone like Hitler.

One minister in the noon-hour meeting said Mennonites are used to other Christians disagreeing with their view of peace.

"Most denominations are OK with the just war theory and they're OK with war" in some circumstances, said Kim Stoesz of Braeside Evangelical Mennonite Church. "It wasn't a surprise to me to have somebody disagree with me on pacifism."

A proponent of the pro-life position when it comes to abortion, Coren referred repeatedly to his commitment to the sanctity of life "from conception to natural death," and argued that Christians in Canada should object to public funding of abortions.

"I believe in socialized medicine, but this is elective surgery," he said, referring to abortions. "I believe the vast majority of Canadians would say it's a bit wrong to be funding it."

In addition to speaking to ministers, Coren presented three public lectures at the university, and he was invited precisely because he has other perspectives to offer, including his views on abortion, said Pierre Gilbert, one of the organizers of the event.

"Some of us have made the case that CMU should not be a Mennonite bubble," said Gilbert, who teaches biblical studies and theology. "If we are going to be a university, then we have to have a diversity of opinions."

A regular attender at the ministers' lunches, Stoesz said she welcomes the wide range of perspectives offered at the monthly meetings and she was interested in hearing Coren speak about the connection between faith and culture.

Although she didn't agree with everything she heard, one of her challenges is how to respond when people find out she is a minister.

"Certainly I don't quote Scripture haphazardly to anyone, but I don't hesitate to say to people, 'this is what the Bible says,'" Stoesz said.

brenda @suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2009 A9

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