Saturday, November 14, 2015

Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party and Faith

Now that Canada has a new Prime Minister, some will want to know: What about his faith?

In a 2014 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Justin Trudeau said he was “raised with both a deep faith and a regular practice of Catholicism. We were in church every Sunday that we were with my dad. We read the Bible as a family every Sunday night. And we said our prayers just about every night together as a family.”

But when he turned 18, he became a lapsed Catholic. “I realized that . . . too much of my day-to-day life that was not the slightest addressed by what I was receiving from the church, from the formality, from the structure,” he said.

“So like so many Catholics across this country, I said, ‘OK, I’m Catholic, I’m of faith but I’m just not really going to go to church. Maybe on Easter, maybe midnight mass at Christmas.’”

But when his brother was tragically killed in an avalanche in B.C. in 1998, faith became more important. This included accepting an invitation from a friend to attend an Alpha course, an evangelistic discussion group about Christianity.

The course “came at exactly the right time,” he said, helping him realize that he needed to trust “in God’s plan.” Since that time, he “re-found . . . a deep faith and belief in God.”

At the same time, he hastened to add, he was “obviously very aware of the separation of church and state in my political thinking.”

For some, Trudeau’s acknowledgement of his faith is welcome news, as are his promises to support increased foreign aid, aid for refugees, protecting the environment and programs that address poverty and issues facing Canada’s Indigenous people—all things many people consider to be part of what it means to be a person of faith.

For others, however, that isn’t good enough since Trudeau also supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Campaign Life, a Christian anti-abortion group that campaigned against Trudeau during the election, issued a press release following his victory expressing regret and stating that his “extremist position” will lead to “greater access to abortion” across Canada .

In another press release, the organization criticized the Catholic Church for not publicly rebuking the now-Prime Minister. It quoted a Catholic lawyer who suggested the Church should “consider excommunicating” Trudeau, and other Catholic politicians “who refuse to take their Catholic faith into the legislature.”

What about the Liberal Party itself and religion?

For years, many people of faith—especially evangelical Christians—have complained that it treated them badly. This is something that Liberal MP John McKay, an evangelical Christian, acknowledges to be true.

“I think the Liberal party has had a tin ear for people of faith, right across spectrum,” he told me recently.

Although McKay knows that some people are critical of the Party’s stand on abortion—he also differed with Trudeau on that issue—he thinks there are many other issues where people of faith can find common ground with the new government.

On climate change, the Liberal party “lines up nicely with Pope Francis, and that should make a lot of Catholics happy,” he said, adding that “on social justice issues and foreign aid, Trudeau was quite assertive in his desire get back into the game.”

As for future relations with people of faith, McKay hopes that Trudeau will reach out soon to leaders of the various faith communities. After all, he notes. if Trudeau is going to fulfill his promises in the areas of foreign aid, refugees and other social issues, “he is going to need everyone, but in particular the religious community,” since “they are the main” players in those areas.

He also hopes Trudeau will keep the Office of Religious Freedom, which was created by Stephen Harper in 2013. The office, he says, “provides a valuable service to all MPs.”

For McKay, there is “a broad base of sympathy in the Liberal Party for the works of faith communities, even if there is not a broad base of understanding of the faith of faith communities.”

Faith groups, he adds, "have some reason for optimism” when it comes to working with the new government. 

Over the next few years, we’ll see if that’s the case.

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