the issue of religion rarely surfaced in the recent federal election, a change from previous elections. When it did make news, it was usually prompted by
media commentators raising the issue.
There were bright spots in the coverage. The National,
the CBC TV evening news program, profiled the Elections
Kit released by The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
(EFC). In this segment explaining how religious groups engage during elections, viewers learned that the EFC is not a
single-issue organization, that we cover a breadth of issues
and work across party lines.
Perhaps this is an indication of the media’s willingness
to explore what it means to be Canadian, to be religious and
to be a voter or a citizen running for political office.
Party leaders and many other politicians regularly attend
religious services and festivals of a variety of religions, but
very few say much about their own religious beliefs.
Contrast this with American candidates for public office: for them not to speak about their own faith or not to
have photo ops attending their preferred place of worship
It is characteristically Canadian for our politicians not
to wear their religion on their sleeves and instead to publicly reach out to a variety of religious expressions. It’s a
manifestation of a long-standing non-sectarian approach
to religion that distinguishes Canada from Britain, France
and the United States, the three countries with the greatest
historical influence on our country.
Our Canadian ancestors did not presume faith should be
privatized and kept out of the public square (France), nor
did we have a state church (Britain), nor do we have a constitutional separation of church and state (United States).
A non-sectarian approach accepts that religions influence all aspects of life including the political – that
the Canadian Way
Canada handles the intersection of faith
and politics differently than Britain,
France or the united states.
Together for influence, impact and identity
the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the national association of
Evangelicals gathered together for influence, impact and identity
in ministry and public witness. since 1964 the EFC has provided
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religion does have political implications – and hence
non-sectarianism seeks fairness in accommodating these
A secularist approach, by contrast, seeks to limit religious
expression to the private sphere and asks people to check
their specific religious beliefs at the door when entering the
House of Commons or engaging in public dialogue about
law or public policy.
Canada’s federation was forged in the political dynamics
of the French Catholic and English Protestant reality that
required anyone who would be prime minister, whatever
their first language or denominational allegiance, to be seen
as someone who could mediate between these “two solitudes” and be able to accommodate the aspirations of both.
Not only did Canada develop without a constitutional
doctrine of the separation of church and state as in the
United States, the Canadian constitution provided for the
funding of minority religious schools: Catholic schools in
predominately Protestant Ontario and Protestant schools
in Catholic Quebec. Further, consider our social services
sector, where Canada’s largest provider besides our governments is The Salvation Army.
Canada’s approach has been a robust non-sectarianism,
where no single set of doctrines, religious or secularist,
would be imposed.
At the same time, a non-sectarian approach does not
presume religious neutrality or that the public square can be
neutral. Rather, it recognizes that a plurality of worldviews
shapes and guides the actions of citizens.
The political world and the broader public realm are
shaped by this doctrinal diversity. The goal is not to sanitize
statecraft from this plurality, but to accommodate diversity
and its expression in the fairest ways possible. In such a
context political leaders are expected to be even-handed,
fair and just in their dealings with everyone.
What we need is more constructive exploration of the
intersection of faith and politics in Canada, and more reflection on how Canada is distinctive from other countries in
how this has been expressed.
When political leaders are reluctant to talk about their
faith, it doesn’t necessarily indicate a hidden agenda or
prove they consider their faith to be a private matter with
no public consequence.
It might simply mean they understand what previous
Canadian leaders learned about giving leadership in a
plural and non-sectarian Canada. Ft
bruCE J. ClEMEngEr is president of the Evangelical
Fellowship of Canada. Read more of his columns