Attack on Harper out of line

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In regard to Frances Russell's article Values drive Conservative politics Free Press, Oct. 21): As a researcher in the area of Canadian evangelicalism, I was surprised by the University of Ottawa's Michael Behiels' comments about the religious faith of Stephen Harper and its effect on his politics.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/10/2009 (4679 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In regard to Frances Russell’s article Values drive Conservative politics Free Press, Oct. 21): As a researcher in the area of Canadian evangelicalism, I was surprised by the University of Ottawa’s Michael Behiels’ comments about the religious faith of Stephen Harper and its effect on his politics.

Behiels presents his personal opinions as concrete facts.

He states “Harper is a fundamentalist ‘values’ conservative and his evangelical Christian views drive both his domestic and foreign policy agendas.”

In all the time he has been in politics, Harper has never given a detailed interview about his religious faith and thus he certainly hasn’t said how his faith influences his politics.

Apart from knowing he was raised a Presbyterian and now attends a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church with his family, we, the public, know nothing about what he personally believes.

The church he currently attends is theologically conservative and is strongly oriented toward public service and social justice, but even that tells us little about Harper. Does he accept some of his church’s tenets of faith? All? None? Does he simply go for the music and coffee after the service?

In short, to state he holds a “fundamentalist” faith that “drives his domestic and foreign policy agendas” is sheer conjecture on the part of Behiels.

In fact, certain of Harper’s policy decisions suggest just the opposite. Despite heavy lobbying from social and religious conservatives, he has refused to reopen Canada’s abortion debate.

Similarly, during the federal same-sex marriage debate, Harper angered hardliners from the Christian right by proposing and supporting civil unions as a “middle way” to allow gays and lesbians to legally partner for life.

That Behiels repeatedly describes Harper as a “fundamentalist” is perhaps most problematic. That moniker, pejorative as it is, refers to a sub-group of evangelical Christians characterized by militarism, separatism and biblical literalism. Such people are rare in Canada; it’s estimated they comprise about two per cent of the population or less. To lump the prime minister in with them, especially without any evidence, is a stretch indeed.

Behiels concludes by saying that the next election will be a “competition” where the “deeply entrenched liberal values in Canada” must be defended” against those values held by religious conservatives. It seems Behiels has already begun defending his side.

David Haskell is associate professor of journalism and contemporary studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford Campus.

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