Reclaiming faith for the public good
By Michael CorenContributing Columnist – Tues., Dec. 10, 2019 – ‘Toronto Star’
Let me share a secret. I live with a daily paradox. This is supposed to be the era and the age in which Canadians no longer care about faith and religion, but as a newly ordained deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada, as well as a journalist who writes about religious issues a great deal, I find that the direct opposite is true.
When I wear my clerical collar, all sorts of people want to speak to me, often from a position of extraordinary trust. When I write about religion, I’m inundated with emails and tweets. Surely the entire Andrew Scheer debacle — one that still features in media and political discourse to a jarring degree — is largely about the man’s religiosity. So whether we like it or not, religion matters.
I’ve just had a book published that groups my columns, many of them from this newspaper, from the last five years. The title, I think, goes to the heart of the conundrum. It’s called “Reclaiming Faith.” My thesis is that people have not abandoned religion but that they have fled, and understandably so, from its intolerant and reactionary trappings.
If anybody doubts the existence of that arch-conservatism, spend some time with the evangelical or Catholic right, listen to U.S. Republicans and their church-based views, study the open wound that still bleeds through the evidence of persecution, anti-Semitism, residential schools, homophobia, and so much else.
Yet Jesus was no oppressor, and no perpetrator of injustice and exclusion. On the contrary, his song was one of revolution, equality, redistribution of wealth and power, love for the marginalized and forgotten, and care for the rejected and poor. Why we Christians don’t always serenade with that song genuinely shames me.
People can be good without God of course, and anybody who claims otherwise knows neither God nor goodness. The bigger question is why so many people who have claimed to be Christian have acted so badly, often precisely because they have been convinced that God was on their side.
I’m fortunate, blessed actually, to know the great Stephen Fry. When I asked him to read my book and provide a blurb I wondered if I’d exploited our friendship. Stephen is, after all, not only an atheist but also a gay man who has sometimes witnessed the most acute Christian hatred of the LGBTQ2 community.
I shouldn’t have worried. He wrote, “I live on the other side of the faith divide from Michael, but that doesn’t prevent intense admiration of his insight, clarity, courage and honesty. These essays reveal the integrity, wit and passion of a fine advocate for the best of Christian thought and a faith that encompasses the human as well as the divine.”
I quote this not to boast, although I am certainly proud and grateful, but to emphasize the frequent commonality and fraternity between believer and non-believer. They can share a dedication to improving the human condition, making leaps of empathy with those who are different, feeling for and even weeping with the hurt, hindered, and hounded. Faith has to be reclaimed not only for the faithful but for all of us and for our society.
It’s not religion that has been removed from the public square but the abuse of religion to pursue a stale agenda. I’m tired of those who parade opposition to women’s choice and equal marriage as if these were quintessential Christian values. There is nothing at all Christian about them, and I would actually argue that they’re directly contrary to Christian virtue. There is no war on Christmas, there is no persecution of Christians in North America, and nobody in Canada has been denied their right to worship.
The subtitle of my book is “Inclusion, Grace, Tolerance.” If all Christians, including myself, lived these themes and celebrated them with all that they are and all that they do, the reclamation of faith would be a done deal, a campaign accomplished.
My secular dad used to say about my faith, “If it makes you happy, just don’t tell me about it.” Sorry, I think I’ve let you down. But dad, it all depends how you say it and whether you’re true to the original.
Something important must have prompted this working journalist to offer himself in response to a call into the ministry of the Anglican Church of Canada. Michael Coren’s discernment of the trajectory of the Church, both in Canada and elsewhere in the world, has brought him to a place where he wants to actively – cutrrently as a deacon in the Church, while continuing his journalsitic career – help recover the proclamation of the liberating Gospel of Christ in a way that will convince people they should belong to the Church of today.
Here are two paragraphs I found most convincing in Michael’s article in the Toronto Star, that best describe the alienating effect of ultra-conservatism in today’s Church:
“If anybody doubts the existence of that arch-conservatism, spend some time with the evangelical or Catholic right, listen to U.S. Republicans and their church-based views, study the open wound that still bleeds through the evidence of persecution, anti-Semitism, residential schools, homophobia, and so much else.
“Yet Jesus was no oppressor, and no perpetrator of injustice and exclusion. On the contrary, his song was one of revolution, equality, redistribution of wealth and power, love for the marginalized and forgotten, and care for the rejected and poor. Why we Christians don’t always serenade with that song genuinely shames me.“
What strkes me as remarkable in this instance, is the fact that a hardened journalist- in our day and age – should answer a call into the ministry of a Church which he feels is failing its current and prospective membership on issues of justice and the generosity of Jesus towards the marginalsied and despised of our world. God, bless you, Michael!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand