Monday, December 30, 2013

"Moving into the neighborhood": Humbly incarnating ourselves in the world

Towards the end of an eventful and challenging year I am taking a break from politics (more or less) and offer a few personal reflections on what it means to be a Christian in the world today. This is a plea for more humility on the part not only of believers everywhere but also of those who profess not to believe in any god. The latter blame religion for the world's problems, little realizing that they too in their arrogant claim are part of the problem. Atheists are just as guilty of this as anyone else.  A generous dose of humility on the part of all of us would go a long way to provide healing for the world's problems. Humility, not arrogance, is needed.

Christmas is when Christians celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The Son of God humbled himself by becoming human. This season is the most appropriate occasion to reflect on his incarnation as an expression of the meaning of Christmas. and thus what we ought to be doing in the world in which we are living.

I wrote previously that Christ came to restore the creation. Now, I need to explain that in order to do that Christ first had to incarnate himself by becoming human. Incarnation for him meant an enormous descent: he came down from heaven, and when he came to earth he "moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14, The Message).

The Apostle Paul described Christ's incarnation in the form of hymn in which he urged his readers, among other things, to imitate what Christ did (Philippians 2: 5-8, The Message):

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he remained human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death -- and the worst kind of death at that -- a crucifixion.

Incarnation, in our case, does not mean that we can humble ourselves the same way that Christ did. His descent took him from heaven to earth and eventually to the cross where he died for the sake of the whole world. We are already human and we already live on this earth, thus our descent is minimal in comparison.

Rather, incarnation for us involves humbling ourselves in imitation of Christ. Humility is something difficult for most of us. By nature we tend not to be humble, and we do not enjoy humbling ourselves. It runs against our grain. We all want to be praised for our accomplishments. Our desire is to become great -- at least in our own eyes and those of our acquaintances -- if not the whole world.

Christ did become great. He was glorified but this happened only after he had first humbled himself and had demonstrated his obedience. The previous biblical passage continues (Philippians 9-11, The Message):

Because of this obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth -- even those long dead and buried -- will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

There is only one avenue to true praise and that involves humility. Few people realize that, and thus they try to grab honor and praise in any way they can, even if that means stepping over bodies of others. All of us have witnesses this. Sometimes it happened to us; sometimes we have done it ourselves.

In the long history of the Christian Church, it is hardly surprising that among publicly acknowledged saints those who are remarkable for their Christ-like modelling of humility are rare. The Roman Catholic Church has hundreds of saints, but not all these men and women were noted especially for their humility. The Catholic criteria for sainthood is different, involving apparent holiness along with several attested miracles, but humility, with some notable exceptions, is not always mentioned.

There have been and still are countless unacknowledged men and women who have sacrificed themselves for their families and communities. These saints are often remembered only by God. They are the ones who have valiantly imitated Christ in their humility. Many of us try, but few of us exemplify the humility that Christ displayed. I say this not to shame anyone, but rather as a mea culpa, since I too have sinned in this regard.

But my admission of falling far short of this ideal does not deter me from pleading for all of us to display more humility in our behavior in the world. Christ is our standard. The Christmas season is an annual reminder not so much of our shortcomings but rather of the love of God that is portrayed in Christ's incarnation.

Yet many examples of Christ-like humility can be found today. Mother Teresa comes to mind immediately. In her work with the poor in what used to be called Calcutta, she too has "moved into the neighborhood." She was noted for her humility. The Roman Catholic Church has already beatified her, which is the third step to official recognition as a saint.

Pope Francis, who will no doubt be declared a saint some day, is noted especially for his concern for the poor. His humble lifestyle contrasts sharply with that of his predecessors,yet some of whom will soon be recognized as saints. His humility is genuine and incarnational. He has truly "moved into the neighborhood" and is changing the Roman Catholic Church in ways that no one expected when he was elected.

In the secular world, the late Nelson Mandela might also qualify for a shortlist of people who have displayed humility. He may have had his shortcomings, but no one can dispute his efforts on behalf of the black and colored people in South Africa who had been discriminated against by apartheid. Through his work he too has "moved into the neighborhood."  With no judgment implied about Mandela's faith, most of us would have to agree that Christians do not have an exclusive claim to modelling humility. Far from it sometimes.

Sadly, there are too many people who call themselves Christians, but whose behavior is anything but Christ-like. They need a reminder during this season of whose name they bear. A study a few years ago revealed that sexual and emotional abuse of spouses and children is especially prevalent among those who attended churches where patriarchy was commonly practiced. This was not a coincidence.

Because of their high visibility, politicians are very easy to blame when their lifestyle falls far short of even the minimal standards of society. This past year perhaps the most egregious example of someone who claimed recently that he had had a "Christ moment" -- whatever he meant by that -- was Toronto mayor Rob Ford who has shamed both his family and his city by his atrocious behavior. Worst of all, he may not even be fully aware of what he did.

In the middle of the recent "Ice Storm" in Toronto (where I live) Ford claimed, "I am doing everything I can" to restore power to those who were still freezing and sitting in the dark after many days. He even handed out fridge magnets. He would insist that because of his popularity he too has incarnated himself, but his total lack of humility belies such claims. His arrogance and pride are constantly on display.

Ford is the modern anti-hero whose negative example should be a warning to all of us. Every country, of course. has its own version of Rob Ford. Fortunately, in a year or two I hope he will be largely forgotten, especially if the media would only learn to ignore him and those who are like him. Ford thrives on publicity.

Incarnation or "moving into the neighborhood" has nothing to with popularity, as Ford believes. Instead, it is based on giving oneself in deep felt humility to serving God in the world. That is something all of us can try to do, even if our humility is not as deep as it ought to be. Yet whatever we do in Christ's name can and will be used by God. He will bless it.

Our service is not limited to those occupations that some Christians have traditionally associated with serving God, such as the Christian ministry and missionary work. This was hammered into me already when I was still young. Such service includes every type of work that Christians are involved in, including manual labor. Do not forget that Christ was a carpenter in his youth. All work is dignified by God if it is done in his service.

What God does demand of us, however, is humility. That is something we tend to lose sight of.  Humility is the opposite of pride, and that is where we often fail in our striving to serve God. We cannot, it should be clear by now, incarnate ourselves in the world with proud hearts. That would be the antithesis of what Christ did and how he served God. Christ is the one whom we should imitate, but that requires more humility that many of us are able to muster. Yet that is what we must try to do.

Children while they are learning to walk will stumble and fall numerous times until they finally succeed. Even then they will remain unsteady for quite a while. In imitating Christ we will remain at the stumbling level all our lives. Nevertheless, God commands us to imitate Christ by incarnating ourselves in the world just as he did.

"Moving into the neighborhood" means humbly incarnating ourselves. This is no easy task, but God enables us to do so, even if our incarnation is imperfect and incomplete. That is the challenge that faces us as we enter the new year.

This post is more a meditation than a regular posting. My apologies if this offends anyone. When I try to relate faith and politics, I feel I must be free to discuss my faith. This is what provides a background to my discussion of politics. Even in this post I could not entirely avoid discussing politics. I need a yardstick when I talk about politics and politicians. Here I have provided one yardstick. I hope this has been helpful. And, as you no doubt noticed, I could not avoid politics entirely.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The meaning of Christmas: Restoring shalom to the world

The world has been celebrating Christmas for more than two thousand years. At first the group of celebrants was very small, but throughout the centuries it has grown astronomically until today it is celebrated almost everywhere in the world, sometimes even by people who have no connection at all with the Christian faith.

The meaning of Christmas is simply this: restoring shalom to the world. It has nothing to do with Christmas trees, gift giving, food, or the many other things that we associate with the season, but it has everything to do with Jesus Christ whose incarnation and birth are the real reason for the season.

We do not know the precise date of Christ's birth, except that it was probably not December 25. We do not even know the exact year of his birth. Yet his birth and later death and resurrection, are the most important dates in the history of the world, at least in the opinion of Christians. Christ was born to restore shalom to the entire creation.

Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning, among things, completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfection, fullness, rest, harmony, and absence of agitation or discord. The list can go on and on. All these English words are wrapped up in that very rich Hebrew word.

Shalom is the way God created the world. Shalom is how the world was before sin disrupted, and continues to disrupt, it. Shalom is the purpose of Christ's coming. He came to restore shalom to the world.

How and when sin entered the world is not the issue at the moment. All that matters now is that shalom has disrupted the world, and that it needs to be restored. In fact, Christ is already restoring shalom to the world.

This restoration has enormous implications for both Christian believers and for those who do not believe in him. For believers shalom means much more that just personal salvation. Shalom Involves God's care for the entire creation which needs to be restored.

Some Christians think of Christ's coming only in terms of personal salvation. Salvation is viewed as a lifeboat that goes around plucking believers out of the ocean of sin. The rest of the people in the world are thereby consigned to hell, and the world as we know it will be destroyed. An entirely new world will be created.

If this is why Christ came into the world, it would make his work on earth practically meaningless. Christ came to restore the entire creation, not just to save a few people. The Bible teaches us that God loved the whole world, not just a handful of believers. Of course, he loves people but he also loves the rest of creation. He wants to make all things new again by restoring them, not destroying them.

This restrictive understanding of Christ's work that some Christians have blinds them to see him at work in every part of the creation restoring everything. The need for such a restoration is immediately clear to anyone who reads a newspaper, or watches the news on TV.

A litany of horrors is presented on a daily basis. Syria, while it was pushed off the front pages for some weeks, has deteriorated into a disaster zone. The human cost of the civil war there, now in its third year, continues to rise. According to the United Nations, Syria now has the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. estimates that the number of Syrian refugees, now already over two million, will swell to four million by the end of 2014. Other sources use figures that are slightly less. While within Syria, more than 6.5 million people are internally displaced -- most of them are beyond the reach of humanitarian aid. This has been described as perhaps the greatest human disaster today.

This is only one example. Tragedy after tragedy parades across our TV screen, and we feel helpless. Add to this the personal tragedies that we encounter: deaths, illnesses, loss of jobs, and so on and so on. That is not God's intention. When he created the world everything was good.

God wants to restore shalom, and he is accomplishing this through Jesus Christ. It may sound presumptuous to claim that Christ is already restoring the world, but that, nevertheless is the claim that all Christians can and should make. God uses people, believers and otherwise -- even those who have never heard his name -- to do the restoration. Christ's coming was decisive, but God is not limited in his use of many people everywhere, yet in his economy he does..

And that restoration is slowly taking place. Everyone who works for justice in this world is doing a little bit to make restoration a reality. The restoration of shalom is a long process because that shalom was seriously disrupted, But divine intervention has changed the course of history and has made restoration possible.

So, let's turn the issue around. What would the world have been like without God's intervention in the person of Jesus Christ? His coming has made the restoration of shalom possible. Even those who are not believers, but are concerned with the environment, are aiding in the restoration of shalom, whether they realize it or not.

The same is true of all peace-makers, even if they are not Christians. Everyone, indeed, who strives for peace and justice in this world is on the side of the angels, as it were.

That again may sound like a presumptuous statement. How can unbelievers be assigned roles in this divine restorative process without their approval? Yet that is the way God works. He even co-opts unbelievers in this enormous task. Everyone is enlisted if shalom is to become a reality.

Shalom is increasingly becoming a reality. I do not mean this in the sense of the world slowly becoming better through human efforts alone. The restoration of shalom is still, from beginning to end, God's project, yet he uses fallible human beings to help him to achieve this goal.

Christmas 2013 can be a meaningful celebration if we look beyond the tinsel and gift-wrapping to the person whose birth can be a reason for joy in a world that is still torn apart by war and conflict. But everything is not always as it seems.

Even in Syria there is a possibility of peace. After three years of fighting there is no resolution in sight. Is it not time for new ceasefire, starting this Christmas? Ceasefires in the past have not been successful. Is this such a crazy proposal? If you agree, please help  spread the word so that Syria may now enjoy a period of peace, even if it is short lived. Maybe that peace will become permanent. That would be appropriate during this season.

In 1914, in a series of truces on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day soldiers, who were mostly British and German, ventured into "no man's land," where they mingled, and exchanged food and souvenirs. They even played soccer. What was possible then should also be possible today.

Politicians of the world, please take note. A newly restored world is looming just over the horizon. They must do what they can to hasten that day, and not place impediments in its way. Syria is just one example. Many more countries can be cited. Instead of involving themselves in real politik, they should do what they can to promote shalom in this world.

Shalom will one day become a full reality again. Christ came into the world to restore shalom. Let us pray for that during this Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Religion and global warming: part 3 -- Muslims

Muslims are very much  concerned with the environment, just as Christians and Jews are. This may come as a complete surprise to many people, especially those who characterize all Muslims as terrorists. It should not, however, since Islam is one of the three major Abrahamic religions. This means that there are many similarities between these religions, especially when it concerns climate change.

All three religions profess a belief in the creator. Islam shares the creation story of Judaism and Christianity, which spaced out over six days or periods. The Islamic creation account, like the biblical one, involves Adam and Eve as the first parents who were living in paradise.

And, as in the biblical story, God, or Allah, as Muslims prefer to call him, warns Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from a certain tree, but they do anyway, earning their expulsion from paradise. But Islam, in contrast to the other two religions, explicitly blames Satan for tempting Adam and Eve.

The Qur'an states that Allah created the world and the cosmos. He made the sun, moon and the stars. He also made all the creatures that walk, swim, crawl, and fly on the earth. Allah made the angels too. Satan is the one who misleads Adam and his offspring.

Allah has appointed mankind as his representative. As in Judaism and Christianity, mankind is a steward and a trustee entrusted with the responsibility to establish and maintain justice and peace on earth. Mankind must serve the Creator by taking good care of what Allah has entrusted him with: this includes himself, other forms of life and the environment.

Qur'an 6: 165 describes that role as follows: "He it is who has placed you as vicegerents of the earth."  This Surah continues by stating that Allah tests mankind. Allah will punish them, but he is also forgiving. 

Q. 33:72 teaches: "We offered trust unto the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they shrank from hearing it and were afraid of it. And man assumed it. But he has proved a tyrant and a fool."

Mankind’s failure to properly observe this function of trusteeship has had dire consequences in mankind and the whole creation, including the environment. His doing well, on the other hand, would lead to the approval of the Almighty, eternal bliss and happiness.

Khalifa, as Muslims call this guardianship, is the sacred duty that Allah has imposed upon the human race. All of mankind are the guardians of creation. This responsibility, according to Muslims, stems from being able to reason, which is unlike any other living creatures. Allah holds human beings ultimately accountable for their actions.

Clearly mankind has neglected this responsibility as khalifa. Mankind is destroying the whole natural world. Scientists are confirming that human actions have induced global warming and climate change, which is disrupting the pattern of God's creation. God has uniquely endowed the planet earth with a climate suited to the propagation and sustenance of life.

Three ideas stand out especially in the Islamic account: 1. The concept of tawhid, or the oneness of Allah, which means that he is the creator of everything that exists; 2. Mankind's khalifate or stewardship of the creation; 3. Mankind's accountability to Allah.

For a further amplification of these basic ideas, see especially the Islamic Faith Statement on Islam and Ecology (:

This statement concludes with the following remarks, which are worth quoting in their entirety: 

As we indicated at the beginning, there are several Qur’anic principles that, taken separately, do not have an obvious connection with conservation. But taken in their totality, they state in clear terms that Allah, the One True God is the Universal God and the Creator of the Universe and indeed, the Owner of the Universe. To Him belong all the animate and inanimate objects, all of whom should or do submit themselves to Him.

Allah, in His Wisdom, appointed humans, the creatures that He has conferred with the faculty of reason and with free will, to be His vice regents on earth. And while Allah has invited people to partake of the fruits of the earth for their rightful nourishment and enjoyment, He has also directed them not to waste that which Allah has provided for him—for He loveth not wasters.

Furthermore, Allah has also ordered humans to administer his responsibilities with Justice. Above all, people should conserve the balance of Allah’s creation on Earth. By virtue of their intelligence, humanity (when it believes in the One Universal Allah, the Creator of the Universe) is the only creation of Allah to be entrusted with the overall responsibility of maintaining planet Earth in the overall balanced ecology that man found.

If biologists believe that humans are the greatest agents of ecological change on the surface of the earth, is it not humans who, drawn from the brink, will—for their own good—abandon Mammon and listen to the prescriptions of God on the conservation of their environment and the environment of all the creatures on earth? The Islamic answer to this question is decisively in the affirmative. 

Other Islamic statements also worth reading include: The Muslim Declaration on Nature -- Assisi 1986 ( Wisdom in Nature has published several works on the Islamic view (  Another noteworthy publication is: Islam & Climate Change ~ A Call To Heal. It is only 20 pages.

This little booklet stresses that mankind is called to live in harmony with the creation. Islam is a religion of harmony, according to the authors. Muslims use the term fitrah to describe the original state of harmony into which every person is born. It is worth noting that this original state is positive and includes a natural disposition to submit to Allah. Thus  fitrah stands in sharp contrast to the Christian concept of original sin.

The implications of this contrasting view between Islam and Christianity needs to be developed further, including how this affects their respective understanding of the environment. I am unable to do so in this post, but I would suggest that this needs to be investigated further.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cuba revisited

A little more than two years ago I was hospitalized in Cuba for a day and a half as a result off a broken arm (see This year I visited Cuba again. I left with mixed impressions. There is much about Cuba that I like very much, but there are also some things that need to be done if Cuba is to attract even more tourists.

One week recently in a resort near Havana is not enough to make me an expert on Cuban resorts, much less Cuban tourism in general. But I can give some impressions, bolstered by comments from fellow Canadians.

Let me begin by commending the Cuban people whom I met. With few exceptions they were all very friendly and they all tried their best to accommodate the wishes of people who are not always aware of how little Cubans enjoy on a daily basis. The food that tourists receive may not always be up to international standards, but it is much better than what most Cubans receive.

As I learned already two years ago, Cubans who work in the tourism sector are much better off than other Cubans, since they receive tips in hard currency (CUC or dollars). The medical doctors who helped me then were paid in ordinary Cuban pesos, and that was inadequate for their daily needs. They envied the staff of the resorts who received tips regularly. Jobs in tourism are very popular.

View of beach from our room

This time my wife and I, together with some friends, chose a hotel that was close to Havana. It is not the best hotel in Cuba -- not by a long shot -- but it grew on us as the week progressed. Many people we talked to have also stayed in better Cuban hotels, yet they keep on coming back here.

One couple we met has come here annually for many years already, while another couple comes twice a year. They appreciate the proximity to Havana and the beach, as do many other tourists.

The weather did not help. Our first impression was when we arrived in the rain. The next day the rain was so intense that the hallways became wet and slippery. The day following that we took a shuttle bus into Havana. We saw part of the old city, especially the back streets, in between showers. When the rain finally stopped after one of the best lunches available in Cuba, we returned to the hotel and enjoyed the beautiful beach for the first time.

The water was crystal clear, calm.and great for swimming. Perhaps first impressions should be discounted. The food could be more tastefully prepared, and we sometimes had to wait for plates, cups, and glasses, but we had enough to eat. The drinks are watered down, but this is typical at such resorts everywhere.

Aside from the beaches, there are many other attractions in Cuba. Havana is an exciting city to visit, particularly the old city. Not far from Havana is the Hemingway estate ("Finca Vigia" or "Lookout Farm"), where Ernest Hemingway lived and worked for many years, especially during the winters.

For Whom the Bell Tolls was written here, probably on the typewriter that I was able to photograph when I visited this 15 acre site which the Cuban government has lovingly preserved. Visitors can not allowed into the house, but they can take photos through the windows.

Cuba has been increasing its share of tourism in the Caribbean, and now receives about 3 million visitors annually, mostly Canadians and Europeans. With further improvements in infrastructure it could capture an even larger share.

Because of widespread intermarriage between the various ethnic groups in Cuba, there does not seem to be much racial animosity. Several white Cubans mentioned to me that they were married to blacks and vice-versa. My impression is that Cubans of various shades work together very well.

This is a good example for the rest of the world. The United States, where some of the protests against Obamacare, let us be frank, are motivated by racism, should take special note.

The US and Cuba do not enjoy good relations. About two years after the overthrow of the Batista regime by Fidel Castro, the US imposed a commercial, economic and financial embargo on Cuba. This embargo is still in effect. In Cuba and Latin America this embargo is known as el bloqueo, even though the word embargo exists in Spanish.

Some old cars, and a new one

This embargo hurts Cuba, especially ordinary Cubans. Many of the cars on Cuban roads date from the 50's and 60's, although newer cars can also be seen. How Cubans keep these old cars going is a miracle.

Despite the existence of the embargo, the US is the fifth largest exporter to Cuba, while 6.6% of Cuba's imports are from the US. However, Cuba must pay cash for all imports, as credit is not allowed. Much of these imports are food, but more would be available if the embargo were ended.

Cubans insist that the embargo is to blame for the shortages that exist in the country, although the US denies this, laying the blame on Cuban central planning. The US argument is no longer valid.

Changes are already taking place under Raul Castro. I expect that when Fidel Castro dies many more changes will take place. The embargo has been condemned by the United Nations General Assembly and many religious leaders all over the world. Even some American political leaders have spoken out against the embargo, which is largely kept in place by Cuban exiles in Miami who despise Fidel. 

This embargo should be ended as soon as possible, not only because it violates international law but for humanitarian reasons. Put simply, it is the Christian thing to do. After more than sixty years, it is time that the US and Cuba have normal relations once more.

The travel ban that prevents most Americans from visiting Cuba should also end. Calls for this in Congress have been stymied by pro-embargo groups. Ending the travel ban and expanding food exports to Cuba would be good for human rights, for alleviating hunger, and for showing solidarity with the Cuban people. 

It would finally allow ordinary Americans to travel to Cuba in great numbers, without having to fly first to Toronto or elsewhere, as well as contravening American law by spending money in Cuba. This would be great for the Cuban tourist industry. Unfortunately, then Canadians and Europeans would not have Cuban beaches to themselves. As a Canadian I am willing to share those beaches.

Ending the embargo and the travel ban will greatly benefit Cuba and the Cuban people. Maybe then I will want to travel to Cuba again. Next time I hope to see more improvements in a lovely country with many lovely people.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013): Some personal observations

What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead. — Nelson Mandela
To summarize the career and legacy of Nelson Mandela is almost impossible. Newspapers and journals all over the world have tried without success. Mandela is such a rich and complex figure that I will not even try to do so, but rather offer a few personal reflections based on what I have been able to read about him over many tears of observing South Africa.
His funeral is already being described as the biggest funeral ever. That is no doubt a slight exaggeration, but it will be attended by the most world leaders in modern times. That alone gives some idea of the influence of this great man on the lives of others.

Mandela is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he was often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba. He was also called Tata, meaning "Father," since he has been described as "the father of the nation." Few people anywhere are as deserving of this title as Mandela.

He has also been described as "Mr. Africa." Without him, the history not only of South Africa but indeed of all of Africa might have been very different. He demonstrated that whites and blacks can live together in peace.

That part of his story is well known and does not need to be repeated. But even so, there is too much to say. Much more will be said in the days and weeks ahead.

What I found especially interesting was Mandela's transition from the use of violence to non-violence in order to achieve his political goals. His long imprisonments (1964-90) may have contributed to the change, but there is more to this story than that.

Mandela had initially pursued nonviolent resistance, but he became the leader of  the armed wing of the African National Congress. Mandela and others at the time believed that this strategy would be more effective in their struggle against apartheid. It was that violent resistance that landed him in prison. In 1985, Mandela was offered a conditional release if he were to renounce violence, but he refused.

Afterward, Mandela continued to espouse his own version of non-violence. In Long Walk To Freedom, he explained the difference with Mahatma Gandhi's son, Manilal Gandhi, who was the editor of the newspaper Indian Opinion

I saw nonviolence in the Gandhian model not as an inviolable principle but as a tactic to be used as the situation demanded. The principle was not so important that the strategy should be used even when it was self- defeating, as Gandhi himself believed. I called for nonviolent protest for as long as it was effective. This view prevailed, despite Manilal Gandhi's strong objections.

In the Sacred Warrior (2000), the book Madela wrote about Mahatma Gandhi, he explained his position on non-violence more fully. For Mandela the use of violence was a strategic decision, not a matter of principle: 

Gandhi remained committed to nonviolence; I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could, but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone. We founded Umkhonto we Sizwe and added a military dimension to our struggle. Even then, we chose sabotage because it did not involve the loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Militant action became part of the African agenda officially supported by the Organization of African Unity (O.A.U.) following my address to the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA) in 1962, in which I stated, "Force is the only language the imperialists can hear, and no country became free without some sort of violence."

Nevertheless, the 27 years in prison had an enormous effect on Mandela.  According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. it was a time of deep growth for him:

I think what happened to him in prison was something that you have to now accept my authority for it, that suffering can do one of two things to a person. It can make you bitter and hard and really resentful of things. Or as it seems to do with very many people--it is like fires of adversity that toughen someone. They make you strong but paradoxically also they make you compassionate, and gentle. I think that that is what happened to him.

Mandela did not merely grow, he was transformed. He became concerned about justice for all races as he explains in his autobiography bout the night of his election as President of South Africa:

From the moment the results were in and it was apparent that the ANC was to form the government, I saw my mission as one of preaching reconciliation, of binding the wounds of the country, of engendering trust and confidence. I knew that many people, particularly the minorities, whites, Coloureds, and Indians, would be feeling anxious about the future, and I wanted them to feel secure. I reminded people again and again that the liberation struggle was not a battle against any one group or color, but a fight against a system of repression. At every opportunity, I said all South Africans must now unite and join hands and say we are one country, one nation, one people, marching together into the future.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Mandela was unable to forgive the apartheid regime that had offered him a conditional release from prison, if he was prepared to renounce violence.  Mandela refused, insisting that black South Africans would not lay down their arms until the country’s white government did the same. He declared about President P.W. Botha in 1985: "Let him renounce violence. I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free." In fact, the African National Congress did not suspend the armed struggle until Mandela had been unconditionally released from prison and the ANC had been unbanned.

Mandela refused to grant legal absolution to the perpetrators of apartheid’s crimes until they had publicly confessed their guilt. The ANC, when it had won the fist fre elections in South Africa, overturned the action declaring amnesty to South Africa's police and security services. Instead Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which required detailed, public confessions by anyone seeking amnesty.

Bishop Tutu, who ran the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, explained Mandela's rationale: "True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth…because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing."

Mandela, whose mother was Methodist and whose father was a priest in the Xhosa religion, was unwilling to forgive the Dutch Reformed Church that had given theological sanction to apartheid. This is understandable, but it made him appear un-Christian. Mandela was never noted for his public display of faith, although he does espouse the African concept of Ubuntu, which stresses the idea of community.

There were many South Africans, who belonged to the Dutch Reformed Churches or to related churches, who had denounced apartheid. A good friend of mine in South Africa joined the ANC at the time in order to fight apartheid. Within the last few years, however, he has been disillusioned, since the ANC has rejected him and others like him. The ANC has become racist in turn and turned its back on its white supporters.

Mandela, indubitably, was a great man, but he had his weaknesses, as we all do. Yet he truly deserves the praise and honor that the world is according him. South Africa and the rest of the world is properly celebrating a life that has made a great difference in the lives of many people everywhere. This is why I too want to honor him with these personal observations.

Let me conclude on a very personal note. Many other people died on December 5, the same day as Mandela. Of course they will not be honored the same way, nor is that possible, but their lives have been significant within their own small circles. One was an aunt of mine, who was almost the last of her generation to die. Many other people that I know have also died since that day. And some friends are now on their deathbeds. By honoring Mandela I have not forgotten them. They will also be remembered.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Religion and global warming: part 2 -- Jews and Christians

The importance and the urgency of my survey in this new series of the views of the world's major religions on the environment is illustrated by the recent report that places Canada dead last on the list of what developed countries are doing in order to protect the environment.

I am ashamed of my country and its leaders. I blame the Harper government for its clear lack of concern for the environment in general and global warming in particular. Harper calls himself a Christian, but his Christian faith is not evident in his government's policies.

While I doubt that these posts on religion and global warming will ever reach, much less influence, the Canadian government, I nevertheless will try to do what I can to oppose these wrong-headed policies.

According to recent polls, most Americans accept the reality of global warming (see chart). Polls in Canada who similar results. But they have to get the message out to their politicians, who seem to be more interested in advancing the interests of corporations rather than the environment. They must inform their leaders that this is not the stewardship that the Bible demands.

Jews and Christians share parts of their respective scriptures. Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and accepted by both , tells the story of the creation. Chapter 1 teaches us that God created the world. But it does not describe how he accomplished this. That is where science comes to our aid by uncovering the laws that govern creation.

Genesis 1:28 teaches us what our task as human beings is in relation to the world that God has made. This governs the whole world, and thus includes the environment:

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

The next verse informs us that God provides food: seed-bearing plants and trees. Only later does the Bible add animals to the food supply. This provision should be understood in the context of the role that God has assigned to humanity.

The word "rule" in verse 28 has too often been misinterpreted. Some translations use the word "dominion" to describe that role. But there is a better interpretation that is expressed in the next chapter of Genesis.

Chapter 2 provides another creation account, where God has placed human beings in the Garden of Eden and commands them to care for the garden. Their task is that of gardeners, who do not own the the garden but merely take care of it, although that is an enormous responsibility, nevertheless.

Human beings are stewards or managers. They do not own the earth, but have been asked manage it for the owner, who is God. When people lose sight of our managerial task and usurp the role of owner, they get into trouble and misuse God's marvelous creation.

The environment is there to be taken care of properly; thus it must not be misused. The "dominion" part was rejected. This happens to be the interpretation I grew up with. Many Jews and Christians agree.

Jews and Christians are commanded to love God. This also means to love the creation.  The whole earth belongs to God (Exodus 19:5; Psalm 24:1). Believers are called to live in harmony with their neighbor and the rest of creation. This mandate has been ignored by many people today, even those who call themselves the children of God.

Humanity, when it has lost its connections with God, thinks that it owns the world and is therefore free to do whatever it wants. Today that even means to plunder and rape the earth.

Jews and Christians have protested this misuse in several notable statements. As mentioned in the last post, they have affirmed their position (together with people from other faiths in the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change:

Jews have done so similarly in the Jewish Community Priorities for Climate and Energy Policy:

Roman Catholics have also issued a number of statements: Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good (A Statement of the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops):; and: Catholics and Climate Change (from the Yale Climate Project)

The National Council of Churches in the U.S.A. provides a list of of these and other statements in Faith Statements & Resolutions on Climate Change:

Evangelical Christians, not the be outdone, have issued: Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action:

Other religions have also produced statements on the environment. A long list of these statements is provided by the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale. I will examine several of them in future posts on this topic:

Secularists disregard these statements at their peril. There are secularists who are concerned with climate change, but some do not. Largely because of their denigration of religion, they have no use for the idea of stewardship, even though they are concerned about the environment.

Thankfully, there are many people of faith who are calling governments to action in the name of stewardship. Governments everywhere need to warned about the consequences of global warming.

Jews and Christians are in the forefront of such calls to action in many parts of the world. Motivated by God's command to be good stewards of the earth, they urge leaders in the respective countries to be more concerned about the environment and to fight global warming. 

Stewardship is fundamental to the faith of Jews and Christians, as it should be for everyone who lives on this world. It is the only world we have, and thus we must take good care if it.

I am trying to do my little bit to get this message out. If you agree, please do what you can to help spread the good word. Together, whether Jews or Christians, people of faith or of no faith, God commands us to be good stewards of the creation and to  prevent further damage to the environment.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Religion and global warming: part 1 -- introduction

The recent typhoon in the Philippines and the tornadoes in the American mid-west have been the most terrible in a long time. The devastation that they caused was unprecedented. Not surprisingly, many people immediately connected these events with global warming. Not everyone agrees, however. Some claim that these are merely natural disasters and were not brought on by humans.

Who is right? Whom should we blame? Of those who accept the contributions that human beings make to global warming, some blame religion for it and hold it responsible for the degradation of the environment. This comes especially from people who have no use for religion. Many of these are people of science, for whom environmentalism has ironically become a religion, even though they reject all forms of religion.

These charges are blatantly false, as I will try to show in a new series on global warming. I want to examine different religions and see how each of them deal with environmental issues. Many religious people do feel responsible for protecting the environment, thus why are these charges being made against these religions?

In this introductory post, I suggest several reasons why such charges are made, although there are many more no doubt that could be cited.

The first charge comes from scientists who have a fear of religion, one that goes back many centuries to the persecution of Galileo and Copernicus, and continues today when evolution and environmentalism are attacked by people who often have little understanding of science but a great distrust of scientific research.
Both scientists and people of faith contribute to the huge gap that exists between them on the issue of global warming. Scientists, with their rejection of a holistic view of life, are often unwilling to accept religious people as allies. Religious people, in turn, are afraid of scientists and see them as the enemy. As a result, each side blames the other. Scientists tend to claim that religion ignores environmental issues, while religious people counter that scientists are exaggerating global warming.

Not all scientists and not all religious people vilify each other, but enough are so antagonistic as to make cooperation difficult at times. Yet science and religion can and often do work together in fighting global warming. This is why I want to look at the views of various religions on the environment in the next few posts and see where cooperation is possible or is already happening.

A distrust of science is typical of many conservatives. Typically, political and religious conservatism often overlap. Many conservative governments have gutted environmental regulations and reject any scientific evidence that contradicts the government stand on the development of oil fields and other sources of energy resources as well as the pipe lines and other means of bringing these resources to market.

Such governments turn a blind eye global warming, often appealing to conservative religious people for support. When these governments are blamed for their stand on the environment, they try to shift some of the blame onto these people. Thus religious people once again receive the blame for global warming.

The companies that produce energy and are thus more directly responsible for global warming are protected in this way. Religion makes a convenient scapegoat, especially because of the tendency of more than a few religious people to ignore environmental issues. Political and religious conservatism bolster each other.

In addition, industries spend enormous amounts, especially at election time, for slick media campaigns that downplay the effects of global warming and argue instead that these industries protect the environment while creating jobs. Conservative religious groups often pronounce their blessing on these efforts.

I call this bad religion. It is a religion that is so focused on heaven that it ignores earthly concerns. It is not adverse to twist scriptures to support its position.

One account, familiar to Jews and Christians, is Genesis 1, where God gives humanity "dominion" over the earth. Such mastery is easily misconstrued to justify misuse of the environment. We are in charge, some people claim, thus we can do whatever we want. As we shall see later, that is a distortion of this passage and, as a result, of the human task.

We are not rulers but stewards. There is a big difference between these terms, as I will demonstrate in a later post. Rulers do not have to concern themselves with the environment, but stewards or managers do.

No wonder some Jews and Christians are blamed for global warming. Other religious people can also use their scriptures to justify misuse of the environment. God has given the world and everything in it to human beings, and thus they can do anything they see fit. The earth is large, and they will not damage it very much.

Moreover, these people argue, climate change is natural and is not caused by humans. There are natural warming and cooling cycles. If human beings have done any damage, it is minimal as compared to these natural cycles. We cannot trust the science of global warming, and thus we need not concern ourselves very much with it.

This argument is especially popular in poorer, less developed countries. If global warming is caused naturally, then they cannot be blamed for adding to it. On the other hand, if humans are culpable, then these countries should be granted a period of grace before they are judged by the same criteria as are rich countries. We cannot afford it, they contend. Natural causes are thus much more convenient and less likely to give offence.

Finally, eschatology also plays a role, especially for some Christians who hold to apocalyptic views of the world. They believe that God is going to destroy the world when Jesus Christ returns. Global warming is one sign of this. There is thus nothing that human beings can do to avert this destruction, nor should they.

Anyone who holds to such apocalyptic views will not view global warming in a negative way, but rather as a positive sign of Christ's imminent return. Often this view is combined with some of the previously mentioned views on global warming.

When all these views are added up, it is not surprising that religion receives the blame and is accused of degrading the environment. Religion seems detached from the world. It either ignores the reality of climate change or rejects any responsibility for it. In either case, religion is blamed, whether fairly or not.

The world disagrees on the causes of global warming

As I shall attempt to show in future postings, this change is not only unfair but it is blatantly false. Religion is a positive force for change on environmental issues. While global warming is an important issue among all faiths, not all groups among these various religions see it as a danger. as we have already noted. But this does not mean that religion as such must be blamed.

Similarly, we do not blame all the world's political leaders for global warming, even if some of them ignore it or deny any responsibility for it. There are good politicians and bad politicians, good politics and bad politics.

Religion deserves some blame, but I prefer to call that bad religion. Good religion is practiced by much of the world's population. More than 80% of the people in the world believe in a god or some higher force. All of these people, whether Hindus, Muslims. Christians, Sikhs, or whatever faith they belong to, are threatened by climate change. Many all over the world attribute global warming to human factors.

These people of faith do not simply want to stand by as silent observers, but have spoken out against this threat. In the "Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change," more than 100 religious and non-religious groups called on world leaders to come to a binding agreement on fighting climate change.

People of various faiths from over the world are discussing global warming. They do this partly in the context of highlighting relevant passages in their scriptures that show a close connection between human beings and the world. The environment is included. It cannot ignored or dismissed. How could it?
In the next few posts I will examine what various religions have to say about the environment. This topic is more important today than ever. Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu affirmed this at a climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. "We only have this one world, this world, And if we destroy it, we have nothing else."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Leadership means involving everyone

We need a new type of leadership today. One that does not cater to a base, but includes everyone. Politics today is increasingly polarized. In the US this polarization has made the functioning of the federal government almost impossible. It is now totally dysfunctional. Canada is not far behind. It is becoming more and more polarized by the day. This has to stop.

One of the reasons for polarization relates to types of leadership. Leadership has been defined as "organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal," although there are many other definitions. The type of leaders that I envision must have, in addition to many other qualities, is the ability to involve everyone. Polarization increases when some leaders use it for their own purposes.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto have both capitalized on this polarization. In fact, they have promoted it. Both have established a base that they can count on for support, especially during elections. In Ford's case, those who voted for him in 2010 and continue to support him have been termed, "Ford Nation."

Stephen Harper and Rob Ford

I am using Ford and Harper as examples because of the constant barrage of media reports in Toronto, where I live. In the case of Ford, this has been 24/7 non-stop. Harper has been in the news repeatedly as well not only because his is prime minister but also because of his handling of the Senate scandals. As I wrote previously, the Office of the Prime Minister is being investigated by the RCMP.

During the last few months, while Ford was under attack by the elitist media, as "Ford Nation" saw it. Ford claimed he had delivered on his campaign promises, and "Ford Nation" was willing to overlook his personal failings.These accusations, they insist, were all part of a plot to destroy their hero. Even now, when the evidence that he smoked crack is overwhelming, and he has even admitted doing so on several occasions, many still continue to back him.

Toronto is divided as it has never been before into two parts: urban and suburban. This is the result of amalgamation in 1998 when six municipalities were merged to form the City of Toronto. These two parts are totally different from each other. Ford and Harper both find much of their support in the suburbs. Ford appealed especially to the suburban voters with promises to "cut the gravy" -- money that was supposedly being wasted, especially by the urban elite who have neglected the suburbs, or so "Ford Nation" claims.
The City of Toronto: the suburbs voted overwhelmingly for Ford as can be seen from the colors

Harper has a solid base as well, even if these people are not as devoted to him. In fact, Ford and Harper share much of the same base. Harper's stage is much larger, but there are many similarities between these two men and their respective bases. These people are Conservatives and, in the Toronto area, tend to live in the suburbs. They share a feeling of alienation -- of being excluded and not part of the elite. They are angry and are committed. For this reason, both Ford and Harper have successfully played the role of outsider in their appeal to the base in order to win elections.

Ford and Harper have ignored for the most part those who are not part of their base. Harper has to appeal as well to "swing voters" -- those voters who actually decide elections by swinging their votes one way or the other. The base, however, is what both Ford and Harper depend on. These voter are highly committed, and, as wily politicians, Ford and Harper cater to them.

Neither man ever spends much time or money trying to attract those who are opposed to their policies. They cater to their base instead. But that does not display good leadership. Leadership in this case means involving everyone, not just the base.

Are there any leaders today who can bring the two extremes together? Many leaders today cater only to their base. What are needed are leaders who can reach out beyond their base to include voters of every political stripe.

One of the most important leadership gifts is the ability to bring everyone together. In the absence of leaders who regularly display that gift, the US, Canada, and many other other countries will lurch from one crisis to another. The world needs a new kind of politics and a new type of leader.

Instead of  leaders pandering to their bases and vilifying their opponents, we need leaders who can build bridges. Leaders who understand their opponents and do not tear them to shreds, but are willing sit down with them for a civil discussion on how to proceed for the sake of the common good. Leaders who can reach out to all political groups, not just their own. But that is impossible in the current polarized atmosphere.

President Obama is constantly vilified by his political opponents and large segments of the public who have turned against him and his policies. Obama has not been able to build bridges to them. Some people judge him to be a poor manager, but there is also a latent racism among segments of the population. Or they think he is a communist. All these things prevent them from judging his programs objectively.

Thus it is difficult for Obama to build such bridges, even if he is inclined to do so by nature. That is too bad. Congress is filled with the wrong sort of leaders-- those who are unwilling to reach out to others. The Tea Party movement hampers the members of Congress from making even the smallest political concession. This has fed the polarization, and as a result, even on the Democratic side there are few real leaders. The waning influence of the Tea Party will not change this polarization and lack of good leadership.

Outside the political arena I can hear many voices crying for a new leadership. People are fed up with the acrimony and bitterness that are typical in politics today. They want politicians who are not beholden to the base that they use, but are willing to listen to and respond to the needs of everyone. Only such leaders will be able to deal effectively with all the problems facing both the US and Canada, not to mention many other countries.

Labels such as conservative or liberal are not always describe voters. They have individual needs that are often not covered by these labels. They may be as angry as their neighbors are, but that does not mean that their concerns are the same. These labels should thus be used with caution.

For example, to describe "Ford Nation" as a united group exaggerates those things than bind them. That unity is fleeting and it forms a poor basis for a trustworthy base, as Ford is now learning as many disillusioned members of "Ford Nation" are leaving in droves. They have had enough of the man. His policies, such as they were, are not enough to unite them any longer. Ford has lost all moral authority, and many supporters finally realize this. The type of leadership that he represents is outdated and inappropriate, even apart from Ford. It must be changed.

Harper may learn that lesson in the next election. Unfortunately, that is still two years away, and memories are often short. But Harper may yet discover that he cannot count entirely on his base in the Toronto area in particular. A lot of damage has been done to the Conservative brand by Ford especially, but Harper has inflicted his own wounds. He too may lose some of his support as a result.

If Ford and Harper cannot count on their base the way they did before, there is hope yet for a new politics and a new leadership, one that is capable of building bridges. I sincerely hope and pray that this will be the case and that the current polarization in Canada will one day become history. That will require new leaders.

In the US new leaders are needed too. May today's Tea Party also be relegated soon to the history books! That movement is not the only reason for the polarization of American politics, just as Ford and Harper are not the only culprits in Canada. But all of them contributed to the polarization of their respective countries and used it for their own ends. Other politicians do the same. This must end.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can one be both a Christian and a politician at the same time?

There are many Christians, but few are politicians. There are also many politicians, but few are Christians. Is it possible to be both a Christian and a politician at the same time? Does one have to sacrifice one's faith when they are combined? The answer to the first question is easy: an emphatic, yes! The answer to the other is more difficult, especially in the confines of this blog.

Rather than making a survey of Christian politicians from the beginning of the Christian era until now and doing so worldwide, which would require a series of books, in this post I want to do a very brief case study by looking at one politician in Canada who is currently very much in the news and is widely acknowledged as a Christian: Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper is regarded by many as a consummate politician, yet in a country where politicians prefer not to identify themselves openly with a denomination, much less to be seen attending church regularly, he stands out. This is part of his appeal to his conservative base, which includes many evangelical Christians.

Harper is a member of the evangelical Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination and attends East Gate Alliance Church in Ottawa. He married Laureen Teskey in 1993, and they have two children, Benjamin and Rachel. His home life to all appearances is impeccable.

His lifestyle stands in striking contrast to that of Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, whose drunken behavior and admitted drug use have brought shame not only on himself but also the city and the entire country. That is something thing that Harper would never do, although lately he has seriously damaged his own brand as well as that of the Conservative Party though the way he has handled the Senate scandal.

For those of you who are not familiar with Canadian politics, this is the biggest scandal in decades, involving several senators who have made false expense claims. The scandal has blown up to become a major political event because of the way the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has handled it.

Harper is reputed to be a control freak, and thus it is extremely unlikely that he was totally unaware of what the PMO did, as he claims. Without going into all the sordid details, he has blamed the senators involved and some of his office staff, especially his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, for the sordid mess. Instead, Harper shoved his chief of staff "under the bus." Rob Ford, to his credit, albeit foolishly, did not want to do that. He has said that he does shove his friends "under the bus."

What Harper has not done is accept any responsibility, much less any blame for the Senate scandal. He is, to put as mildly as I can, "truth challenged." He appointed the three senators, who have now been suspended from the Senate, with a loss of salary. He also appointed the staff in his office. Unlike Harry S. Truman, he does not say, "The buck stops here," especially now that the PMO is being investigated by the RCMP for possible criminal wrongdoing. That is a basic principle of good leadership. Harper has failed in this respect.

In Parliament he has been accused repeatedly of lying. That is a serious charge to bring against any politician, even if the words politician and liar are sometimes considered synonyms. It is more serious for someone who professes to be a Christian. Harper is a politician who wants to save his political life, but that does not excuse behavior which goes beyond lying; he also displays a ruthless that is unbecoming a Christian.

Interestingly, the accusations of lying and ruthlessness that have been brought against him have not mentioned his faith at all. That speaks volumes about how he downplays that part of his life, at least in public. Although not afraid to mention his denominational affiliation, I have not been able to find a photo of him leaving a regular Sunday church service, as is common with US presidents.

These charges are not even the most serious ones that I would bring against Harper. Although I do not like Harper and the way he operates, I am most disappointed by his refusal to display his Christian principles in the policies his government has introduced. It is bad enough that he is ruthless and vindictive -- that can characterized as a serious character flaw, although one would hope that he behaved in a more loving way in political life and not only in his home life.

Harper's stand on many political issues is seemingly motivated more by a conservative worldview than by Christian principles. For example, on the environment his government has been blamed for eviscerating environmental regulations in order to promote extraction industries, especially in Alberta, the province he considers home, although he was born in Toronto.

Alberta has the third largest oil reserves in the world

Harper is an economist by training. His economic policies are very conservative. Early in his political career he called for reform of health care and replacement of the federal pension plan with a provincial one. He has pushed strongly for austerity measures in order to curb growing deficits, yet the Conservatives have managed to amass the largest deficit in Canadian history. In spite of this huge deficit, Canada has still managed to have the lowest debt-to-GDP ration in the G7 economies.

His social policies are not as conservative. There he displays his strong political skills by avoiding contentious issues such as abortion and euthanasia as much as possible, even though his conservative base and some of his members of Parliament support such legislation. This was illustrated again at the most recent Conservative convention where delegates approved these measures in spite of Harper's strong objections. This shows he may be losing some of control he has had of his party. This is part of the fallout of the Senate scandal.

In Parliament, when one of his MPs introduced a motion to initiate debate when life begins, the otherwise tyrannical prime minister allowed his caucus to vote as they wished, although he personally voted against it. He knew it would be defeated.

Harper's own personal views on abortion do not play a role for him. His stand was determined by politics. Political considerations are also the reason why he does not want to reopen the euthanasia debate. Yet the media do not want to leave this issue alone. Politicians cannot control everything, as even Harper has learned.

Harper's foreign policy is characterized by a strong pro-Israel stand. This stand, which was clearly politically motivated by his desire to attract the Jewish vote, cost Canada an opportunity to get a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2010. How much Harper's evangelical faith may also have played a role in this I have not been able to determine, but it is a stand that is popular with parts of the evangelical Christian portion of his base.

Central to Harper's agenda is his longstanding desire to destroy the Liberal legacy that he inherited from previous governments. His intention is to replace it with a Conservative stance, much as Reagan and Bush achieved in the US, so that when Harper retires he will leave his own legacy, one that will be difficult to undo.

For Harper, his brand of Conservatism trumps any evangelical Christian views he may hold. This is a harsh judgment, perhaps, but that is my perception. I am willing to be corrected, but politics is what drives the man.

East Gate Alliance Church in Ottawa

I wish that biblical principles would be more operative in his politics, but that does not seem to be the case. This does not make Harper less a Christian. I am not questioning his faith, but rather the way Harper allows his faith to operate in the political arena. I want to see a man who is on fire for justice for all Canadians, not just the rich and influential people who fund the political apparatus in Canada.

I am not a politician, and I would make a poor one, since I am too blunt for my own good. If I were involved in politics I might find it difficult to bring my own faith to the table. After all, politics is the art of the possible. It requires compromises. Harper is a politician.

Harper may not be able to exercise his faith more fully within the political context where he finds himself. But that context is to a large degree one that he has helped to shape. On the other hand, if he had allowed his faith to be operative to a larger degree that is currently the case, he might not have been able to accomplish what he did. He may never have become prime minister.

The political alliance he formed in order to be elected and to achieve his position demonstrates a man of great political acumen. He parlayed his role as an outsider from Alberta and someone who did not belong to the elite into the highest political position in the land. He is now the consummate insider. He and the people around him constitute the new Canadian political elite.

The three suspended senators: Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, and Pamela Wallin

How long that will continue, only time will tell. The Senate scandal may yet prove Harper's undoing. He has handled that crisis poorly, and it may yet destroy him. He has been a consummate politician for a long time, but during that time I, and many Canadians with me, wish we could have seen more of his faith not only in his policies, where it is urgently needed but also in his dealings with people.

Harper's character flaws are only too obvious. I wish he would demonstrate genuine love and concern for ordinary Canadians, especially the poor and downtrodden. That is not only a Christian thing to do but it is above all human. Canadians want to see less of his machine-like nature and more of his humanity.

Can one be both a Christian and a politician at the same time? The answer is, yes! Unfortunately, I am not sure that Stephen Harper is the best example of someone who is able to accomplish both at the same time. That is sad, because he is a very capable politician. Like all of us, he has his flaws. The difference, however, is that he is prime minister and we are not. We cannot bring our faith to bear on public issues the way he can. The more the pity!

What I can do is pray for him and for all those who are actively engaged in politics, especially those who want to exercise their faith. They may not always be successful in demonstrating their faith openly, but I can rest assured that I have interceded on their behalf.