Friday, July 02, 2010

Like a sneak peek at the book all Ottawa will be reading next week?

[Originally posted at Bene Diction Blogs On, May 8, 2010]

It will be a long week for Ottawa’s Christian conservatives next week, thanks to former Maclean’s staffer Marci McDonald. And thanks to the fact that I have obtained her new book, The Armageddon Factor three days before its formal release on May 11, I can give you a quick peek at her book through a short summary of what she writes about. And you will know in advance why the national press will be—by my guess--running stories targeting Christian politicians and their friends in think tanks and lobby groups in a few days.

The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism In Canada seeks to argue that Canada is developing its own version of the American Christian Right, complete with various support structures and a network of influential supporters. McDonald, a winner of seven National Magazine Awards, first began to look at this subject when she wrote an October 2006 story for the Walrus magazine, Stephen Harper and the Theo-Cons, which began to look at the relationship between Harper and his conservative Christian supporters.

Although I just came from the bookstore…I shall try and hit as many high points as I can, wanting to post today.

As I used to work for the conservative Report newsmagazines in Western Canada, I suspect that I would be part of McDonald’s own personal “Axis of Evil” if the magazines were still publishing. But, in order to try to be fair to her work as I just got the book, what I will do is try to mostly report on her work in this post. At a very first glance, I fear that she will beg questions and add two and two together to make five…but what I shall do is wait until I have read the book to offer a more concrete comment, after this post.

It will probably hit the best seller list quickly. Curious? Read on…

While I would probably qualify as a member of the “Christian Right”(and admittedly inclined to disagree with her thesis) , I do recognize the value of a little scoop, so I will pass on to you what I can gather from a quick overview.

McDonald approaches her subject from a position that the Christian right is likely to be scary. The introduction to her preface—I wonder if she has read Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here--reads like this:
“She stared at me across the table as if I were out of my mind. A publisher had asked me to write a book on the rise of the Christian right in Canadian politics and hearing the news, one of my closest friends was questioning my sanity for even contemplating such a task. “Why would you want to do that?” she asked. “Surely you don’t think that it can happen here. This is a profoundly different country that the United States.”

It would seem not, McDonald continues, but in her years reporting in the U.S. she found that the Christian right always develops a hidden resilience. Returning to Canada, she writes that she found clues, as argued in her Walrus feature, that there was a “burgeoning religious right [in Canada]—a coalition not limited to Christians” and that moreover the secular media—and even most non-Christians seemed not to be paying much attention to it. Her book is an attempt to redress that.

She then has a brief mention of The CRY in Ottawa introducing a friend of BDBO, Faytene Kryskow, to her readers. (What about Faytene? Please see my accompanying post.) This allows her to then talk about Stephen Harper’s born-again faith, which the media found quite odd, and Preston Manning’s role as a mentor to him. Harper’s home church is looked at. When discussing Harper’s career, there is a general sense on McDonald’s part that Harper values conservative Christian support and values, but a bit less than he values the possibility of getting a majority government.

Her political approach then leads her to looking back to the 1980s, and the difficulties that conservative Christians had passing abortion legislation. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’ s Brian Stiller was probably the most noted so-con of the era, so she speaks to him as well. This leads naturally to a short profile of Charles McVety (who Bene D has written on) Brian Rushfeldt of the Canadian Family Action Coalition, and Joseph Ben-Ami who now do much of the same sorts of things that Brian Stiller used to do. The journey of Darrell Reid from Focus on the Family Canada president to Stephen Harper advisor is focused on.

Being from central Canada, McDonald knows about the National House of Prayer, which allows her to spend a chapter talking about what it does, along with David Demian.

The next chapter stood out to me, as it is mostly about BDBO’s “perhaps favorite youth evangelist” ;), Faytene Kryskow. I’ve taken the liberty of doing a separate post about that, but I do want to mention here that McDonald does cite her dominionist views as central to the Christian nationalist movement she decries in her book. Bet that is a surprise to many of the other Christian figures I’ve cited so far, but I explain all that in that post.

And then, McDonald looks at academia and the related issue of creationism/intelligent design. What follows this is a chapter beginning with Murray and Peter Corren, two gay teachers who gained the ability to screen everything in B.C. schools, which leads to a discussion of the issue of homosexuality in Canadian schools and how the Christian right tries to have its own influence on the issue. This leads, naturally, to the question of Ontario’s Christian schools and public funding, homeschooling, and the tales of B.C.’s Christian Trinity Western University and the Laurentian Leadership Institute.

Canada’s “electronic pulpit” leads to a talk about Canada’s religious broadcasting history including discussions of pirate TV broadcasting100 Huntley Street the Miracle Channel and Crossroads Broadcasting. (Tim Bloedow is quoted herein.)

Gerry Chipeur, a former Alberta Report source and Calgary lawyer features in the next chapter about how conservative Christians approach the courts and the judiciary. The Boisson case, naturally, is discussed, as well as the controversies about the “human rights tribunals” and their treatment of the press. (This struck me as interesting as a central figure here—Ezra Levant is not Christian—rather Jewish. Given that she says in the beginning of her book that Canada’s religious right is not uniformly Christian—why does Levant’s mention on page 303 stand out?)

Names of various Americans have been standing out in the book thus far, though, perhaps in an attempt to argue that Canada’s Christian right is an American creation.

In my quick scan of the book, I have not been able to find anything that jumps out at me as obviously newsworthy, such as “Stephen Harper, whose parents raised him as a druid…” (large :) ). But I think that McDonald, knowing the ways of a newsroom, realizes that reporters who have been wanting to write on a subject, such as the “Christian right in Canada” need what is called a “news peg”—a new excuse to write about a topic. “A new book…” is perfect for such a purpose. McDonald, to be fair to her, dislikes the Christian right, as would many assignment editors and reporters across the country. So, I would expect her to appear in your newspapers and on your TV next week.

The last two chapters are tailored for such a media push. The chapter called “The Armageddon Factor” targets “Christian Zionism” and links it to Stephen Harper’s friendly stance towards Israel. Instead of pointing out, as Ezra Levant has on his blog, that there are many prominent conservative Jews in the Conservative Party who have Harper’s ear on this subject, McDonald instead attributes this to the dispensationalist beliefs of some on the Christian right. She reasons that they want to hasten the return of Jesus and therefore need to hasten the events of the end of the world for this to happen—which include pestilence, famine and war. Merv and Merla Watson, two sweet Christian musicians with an interest in the “messianic” church are part of the scheme. (I’ve met the Watsons and can attest that they do not have nuclear weapons hidden in their autoharps.) (Fair warning-- I will probably have issues with this chapter.)

Hinting that Christians wanting to cause the end of the work have Harper’s ear is useful red meat for the media. As is the last chapter, which discusses in a general way Christian conservative efforts to establish an institutional presence in Canadian politics—if you are a media reporter with an already skeptical bent about the Christian right, to have them be entrenched would be scary.

In Bene D’s own teaser post about the book earlier today, he writes that the book would be an encyclopedia on this subject. As someone who might have a good knowledge of all this—if not as thorough as Bene D’s—I can say at first glance that McDonald’s book seems quite thorough, and addresses the people and events that I would, were I to do a book length treatment of Canada’s Christian right. I might even say that it is comprehensive.

I fear a bias though…but will hold off on declaring that I see one, in my view, until giving the book the careful reading it deserves. (As I mentioned, I will address any comments to that effect in a comment on this post.)

I do know, however, that this book serves up this subject, on a plate, to those editors who want to pursue it. Given that the reporters will be primed by McDonald’s own unfriendly towards the right point of view on this, I can imagine conservative Christians having to face questions with a bit of a spin on this subject.

If you have a progressive view on all this, I can imagine you thinking “Rightly so!” But I can agree with you that there will be some very interesting stories sparked by this book, whatever you might think of what McDonald has to say, after you finish reading it.