The question regarding whether Christians who seek public office should be held to a higher standard or, to put it more bluntly, be vetted with greater suspicion and scrutiny than others arose in Alberta again this past weekend, following an interview given by Opposition Leader Danielle Smith to a lesbian website.
In the interview with I Dig Your Girlfriend, Wildrose Party Leader Smith is reported by the usually reliable Rick Bell of the Calgary Sun to have said that candidates with religious beliefs have to show they can represent everyone. This follows on two controversies that arose during the election campaign this past April. One was when supporters of the government dug up a year-old blog on a Pentecostal website by Pastor Alan Hunsperger in which he indicated, in the context of a discussion with members of the gay San Francisco community, that those who don’t change their lives will burn in the Lake of Fire. The other was when a snippet from an interview by Calgary pastor Ron Leech was leaked in which he indicated that as a Caucasian candidate in a heavily ethnic riding he had an advantage because he didn’t identify with any single community. Amid the general hysteria of an election that threatened a half century of one-party rule in Alberta, that comment evolved into hints of white supremacy.
So with that as context, Smith waded into modern politics’ two most divisive wedge issues—the gay agenda and the faith agenda (Smith, for the record, is neither gay nor does she have a religious affiliation). So while the interview with I Dig Your Girlfriend was no doubt well-received in the lesbian and gay community, what stirred the pot among some of the 34% of Albertans who voted for Smith’s party in this year’s April 23 election was that when she said people of faith have to show they can represent everyone, she failed to say “ALL” people who seek political office have to show they can represent everyone. The test of whether a phrase is acceptable for one group has in my view always been how it would sound if you replace the words with another group. Imagine, for instance, a politician saying that if gay and lesbian people want to participate in public life they need to show that they can represent everyone. Sounds pretty ugly, doesn’t it?
Given that a large number of Wildrose supporters come from the faith community, she no doubt found herself batting on a bit of a sticky wicket this week but that is her issue and no doubt it will be resolved in some fashion.
Yet the more I thought about the phrase and its potential hurtfulness to persons of faith, the more quickly I came to the conclusion that, intended or unintended, she was right. It doesn’t matter anymore that CBC’s most famous Canadian, medicare founder Tommy Douglas, was a Baptist preacher. Or that “Bible” Bill Aberhart ruled as Alberta premier for decades or that Saskatchewan’s last NDP premier was a United Church Minister. People of faith—at least within parties on the conservative side of the spectrum—will be singled out and targeted by their opponents and by the media. This may be wrong. It may represent the most outrageous form of prejudgment and it may be hurtful, but it is so. U.S. Presidents and candidates may still be photographed—Bible in hand—heading off to church on Sunday but in Canada you might want to wear a disguise and sneak into the back pews.
The truth, sometimes, is mighty ugly and the lesson for people for whom faith is a significant component in their life is this: stay home, burn in a political lake of fire, or cowboy up and acquire a superior set of skills.