Saturday, November 25, 2006

Where does politics end and religion begin?

When is it appropriate for a church to get involved in politics? Where does lobbying end, and social advocacy begin? For the most part, Canada's mainline churches (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, United) as well as a majority of the evangelical churches (I include in this group such churches as the Lutherans and the Salvation Army) know where to draw the line -- it's a fine one and ever shifting, but it's almost never crossed. Some don't, believing church and politics should be the same thing, and that's what I want to touch on today.

This weekend, perhaps not too coincidentally when the Western Christian Churches mark the feast of Christ the King, Alberta Progressive Conservatives are participating in the first round of balloting to pick the successor to "King" Ralph Klein. Most people, however, thinks it will be a showdown next weekend between Jim Dinning and Ted Morton. Whoever wins will have to try to rebrand the party as he or she prepares the party for the next provincial election, probably in 2008. And it could be much tougher than before -- although gerrymandering (intentional or not) gives overweight to rural areas the province is no longer a one party fiefdom, with both the Liberals and New Democrats having strong showings in the popular vote last time as well as the far-right Alberta Alliance, which picked up 10% of the vote and a seat in the legislature in Edmonton.

There is, however, a slight complication that could taint the final results. Seems as if our old friends at Lethbridge TV station CJIL (a.k.a. The Miracle Channel), amongst the chief exponents of the Seed of Faith heresy in this country, may be up to some new and dangerous tricks. A couple of weeks ago, Tim Thibault mentioned at his TMC monitoring website (The Miracle Channel Review) that Dick Dewert, who effectively controls TMC, sent out a mailer with this: "For all residents of Alberta, I will be sending an email in the next week regarding how you can be involved in the selection process for Alberta's next premier. Be sure to watch your email for this important information." Among the information, said Thibault, was a membership application for the Alberta PC Party; as well as "links to websites telling people who to vote for."

This could very well be a clear contravention of Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) rules, which allow churches and other registered charities to distribute general information about elections (such as when to vote and who the candidates are), but prohibits them from actually endorsing any one particular party or candidate. Furthermore, if a "voter information guide" is created, it must clearly state how all candidates -- not just the one they favour -- voted or would have voted on issues.

It's bad enough that money intended to keep the channel on the air is being used to send mailers which are blatantly partisan. What's clear to me, however, is that based on the views expressed on the station regarding social issues -- which fall under the convenient header "traditional family values" (meaning barefoot and messy mothers, gays and lesbians in prison, reviving the so-called "rule of thumb") the on-air personalities favour one of two candidates and them alone: Ted Morton or Lyle Olberg, and are hoping their followers in Alberta will vote in like manner.

In Canada, the "rules" have been used to strip some left-wing groups of their tax-free status, such as the Council of Canadians. (They seem to be inconsistently applied, however; Campaign 2000 takes some strong policy positions but is still a registered charity, as is the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.) Few if any churches have faced similar wrath -- maybe because the vast majority do good work in the community; and do so without favour to any group and without condescension towards any group, even the ones they disagree with. Perhaps the fear is by singling out those who go too far, a widespread rumour of "persecution" will spread the land.

Maybe it's time the CRA did. Using reason and sound Biblical principles doesn't seem to persuade TMC to change its ways. Citation after citation from the CRTC doesn't seem to do the trick. Pulling tax-free status over this might. I wouldn't have minded if they had given the addresses and toll-free numbers of all the parties in Alberta. Sending information about memberships in one party alone is way over the line -- no other group in the country would be alowed to even attempt that, and I can only wonder if knowing Stephen Harper is in office is their Blessed Assurance that any further sanctions by either the CRTC or the CRA will be their salvation since the Cabinet can overrule any findings from either.

The MSM is finally starting to catch on to TMC and some of its outlandish methods -- such as this clip from CBC Saskatchewan. It's time the rest of us did and said enough is enough. People of faith in politics, yes. People using their faith to change the course of politics, no.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

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