When did Christianity in Canada become so profoundly linked to political, social and moral conservatism; when did so many Christians, especially the loudest and most organized, embrace censorship, resistance to gay equality, denial of climate change, opposition to vaccinations and an angry obsession with abortion?
There are, of course, myriad believers in Christ who do not think and act thus, but ask most Canadians what comes to mind when they think of Christian activists and these issues will form the bulk of their answer.
In Ontario at the moment, conservative Catholics and evangelicals, aided by orthodox Muslims, are campaigning against the provincial government's new sex education curriculum. From reporting on their demonstrations I can assure you that most of them have not read the document and are even protesting parts of it that are entirely fabricated. It's mostly sheer hysteria, infected by lumps of homophobia and personal dislike of openly gay Premier Kathleen Wynne.
On a federal level the anti-abortion movement has launched a well-funded and nationwide campaign under the banner NO2Trudeau. His policies on poverty, foreign aid, military intervention or health care, for example, are apparently irrelevant. Abortion has become one of the sacraments of the faith and if someone is not zealous on this subject and not similarly opposed to marriage equality they are considered heretical. This is not hyperbole: I've personal experience of this after reforming my views in the past couple of years. The anger of the Christian right has few parallels and absolutely no foundation in the teachings of Christ.
What is so profoundly surprising about all this is while Christianity has always been linked to moral behaviour, the churches of the 19th and early 20th century were far more committed to social welfare, workers' rights, anti-slavery and progressive legislation than to a theology of sexual puritanism. Witness the social gospel movement in Canada, Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan and the Labour Party in Britain that owed far more to Methodism than to Marx.
The great shift came about to a large extent in the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church and the powerful emergence of liberal Protestantism. All this took place within the backstory of the new openness and liberation of the so-called permissive society and to every action there is a reaction, to every reform is a roar of opposition. Far from gluing their lives to the New Testament, many Christians looked to a quintessentially North American and conservative past as the apotheosis of the Christian story. This was a warped spiritual nostalgia rather than genuine commitment to what is in fact a genuinely revolutionary way of life.
The bumper slogan became What Would Jesus Do, and to the Christian right it was an entirely rhetorical question. He would speak a great deal about gay people, the unborn and pornography. But Jesus hardly ever speaks about sexuality and never at all about homosexuality. In the 200,000 words of the New Testament only 40 deal directly with same-sex attraction and many modern theologians see them as condemning rape and the sexual abuse of young men rather than mutual, adult gay love. Abortion is not a major theme of scripture either and, again, something Christ doesn't discuss. Censorship is irrelevant within the Bible and there is no "Blessed are those who refuse vaccinations" passages in Paul's Letter to the Climate Change Deniers.
From commitment to social justice and a preferential commitment to the poor to what one Canadian priest referred to as "Taliban Catholics" insulting any cleric or lay person who they believe doesn't toe the line; from evangelical Protestants demanding a welfare state, minimum wage and shorter working hours to the horribly misnamed Moral Majority types blaming every tragedy on pride parades, abortion clinics and even the Disney movies.
The quintessence of Christianity is love of God and love of neighbour and we are told if the latter is not obvious the former is inauthentic. Yet the sectarian angst and severe isolationism of the Christian right has become positively shocking. Rather than trying to extend the circle of love — which was surely what Jesus called for — they guard the corners of a tight little battle square. The doors are not held wide open but kept resolutely shut. And in Canada it's getting worse and not better.
What would Jesus do? Probably give them a good shake and demand to know why they didn't pay attention to what he said and how he lived!
Michael Coren is a Toronto-based television host, radio personality, syndicated columnist, author and speaker.