PM’s faith has evolved with age

Trudeau's beliefs in social justice, abortion rights attract some, alienate others


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Now that we have a new prime minister, some will want to know about his faith.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2015 (2570 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Now that we have a new prime minister, some will want to know about his faith.

In a 2014 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Justin Trudeau said he was “raised with both a deep faith and a regular practice of Catholicism. We were in church every Sunday that we were with my dad. We read the Bible as a family every Sunday night. And we said our prayers just about every night together as a family.”

But when he turned 18, he became a lapsed Catholic. “I realized that… too much of my day-to-day life that was not the slightest addressed by what I was receiving from the church, from the formality, from the structure,” he said.

Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

“So, like so many Catholics across this country, I said, ‘OK, I’m Catholic, I’m of faith but I’m just not really going to go to church. Maybe on Easter, maybe midnight mass at Christmas.’ “

But when his brother was killed in an avalanche in B.C. in 1998, faith became more important to him. This included accepting an invitation from a friend to attend an Alpha course, an evangelistic discussion group about Christianity.

The course “came at exactly the right time,” he said, helping him realize that he needed to trust “in God’s plan.” Since that time, he “re-found… a deep faith and belief in God.”

At the same time, he hastened to add, he was “obviously very aware of the separation of church and state in my political thinking.”

For some, Trudeau’s acknowledgement of his faith is welcome news, as are his promises to support increased foreign aid, aid for refugees, protecting the environment and programs that address poverty and issues facing Canada’s indigenous people — all things many people consider to be part of what it means to be a person of faith.

For others, however, that isn’t good enough since Trudeau also supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Campaign Life, a Christian anti-abortion group that campaigned against Trudeau during the election, issued a news release following his victory expressing regret and stating his “extremist position” will lead to “greater access to abortion” across Canada.

In another news release, the organization criticized the Catholic Church for not publicly rebuking the new prime minister. It quoted a Catholic lawyer who suggested the church should “consider excommunicating” Trudeau and other Catholic politicians “who refuse to take their Catholic faith into the legislature.”

What about the Liberal party itself and religion?

For years, many people of faith — especially evangelical Christians — have complained the party treated them badly. This is something Liberal MP John McKay, an evangelical Christian, acknowledges to be true.

“I think the Liberal party has had a tin ear for people of faith, right across spectrum,” he told me recently.

Although McKay knows some people are critical of the party’s stand on abortion — he also differs with Trudeau on that issue — he thinks there are many other issues in which people of faith can find common ground with the new government.

On climate change, the Liberal party “lines up nicely with Pope Francis, and that should make a lot of Catholics happy,” he said, adding “on social-justice issues and foreign aid, Trudeau was quite assertive in his desire get back into the game.”

As for future relations with people of faith, McKay hopes Trudeau will reach out soon to leaders of the various faith communities. After all, he notes, if Trudeau is going to fulfil his promises in the areas of foreign aid, refugees and other social issues, “he is going to need everyone, but in particular the religious community,” since “they are the main” players in those areas.

He also hopes Trudeau will keep the Office of Religious Freedom, which was created by Stephen Harper in 2013. The office, he says, “provides a valuable service to all MPs.”

For McKay, there is “a broad base of sympathy in the Liberal party for the works of faith communities, even if there is not a broad base of understanding of the faith of (those) communities.”

Faith groups, he adds, “have some reason for optimism” when it comes to working with the new government.

During the next few years, we’ll see if that’s the case.

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John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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