The increasing political influence of evangelical Christians in Canada is changing the face of the movement for Christian unity in that country. More than half the members of the Canadian legislature belonging to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party are evangelical Christians, according to an article published in a recent edition of Walrus magazine, a Toronto-based world affairs magazine.
"They are becoming the mainline and we are becoming the sideline," says Lois Wilson, a retired Canadian senator and a former president of the World Council of Churches, now serving as the Ecumenist-in-Residence at the Toronto School of Theology.
The term evangelical is commonly used in Canada to identify people who describe themselves as converted Christians. They are often seen as believing that social change comes through individual redemption rather than through faith-based movements, such as those sometimes associated with the WCC.
As a result, evangelical Christians and those in traditional denominations are often thought to be in separate, if not opposing camps.
Still, recent years have seen increasing collaboration between the Canadian Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, a network of evangelical organizations and churches.
Bruce Clemenger, the president of the Evangelical fellowship, says the two groupings have cooperated in their support for poverty reduction campaigns and have made a joint intervention on bio-ethics to Canada’s Supreme Court.
Such collaboration, he says, is due to "a focus on what Christians share in common", rather than to changes in church demographics.
According to Canadian census figures, Christians who define themselves as apostolic, born-again, evangelical, or who do not name a denominational affiliation, represented 2.6 percent of the population in 2001. This marks a 121 percent increase compared to 1991. During the same period, the number of people claiming affiliation with a particular Protestant denomination declined by 8.2 percent to 29.2 percent of the population.
Bill Blaikie, a United Church of Canada minister serving as a member of parliament, believes the growth in the numbers of those calling themselves evangelical may not be entirely bad news for social advocacy.
"I am not as bothered as some Christian left wingers by all those Evangelicals out there. I see young Evangelicals as Christian capital," Blaikie, a member of the leftwing New Democratic Party and deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, told Ecumenical News International. "They could be the ground from which a new social gospel movement could spring." He says he tells young Evangelicals: "The longer you think about things like poverty, the more you’ll think like me."
(c) Ecumenical News International
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