Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What is a Canadian Writer Who is Christian? - Harris

Even back in Bishop John Strachan's day, many Upper Canadians rejected the mission of the Methodist circuit riders who rode up from 'the rebel republic' to preach a mixture of revolution and Christ. The message of intimacy with Christ the Methodists brought could not be heard in Canada until the 'loyalist' Egerton Ryerson became Methodist leader in Upper Canada.

Ryerson was a man with unquestioned allegiance to the Crown and to the government of Upper Canada. Both he and Strachan are qreat figures in Canadian history. Both took their ministries far into the wildlands, building churches and schools in the remotest parts of the colony. But neither man got evangelism completely right.

For decades, Ryerson and Strachan feuded over the rights of public versus faith based schools and argued about money from 'Crown and Clergy reserves.' They lived in the same community, but never bothered to meet privately to settle their differences. Instead, they argued with each other through the newspapers. But Strachan and Ryerson had more in common then either admitted.

Near the end of his own life, Ryerson, lamented his political feud with Strachan because this feud was used by the radical Scot, Alexander Mackenzie, a man who hated the church, to incite rebellion in 1837. In Ryerson's words, "How much asperity of feeling and how much bitter controversy might be prevented if those who were most concerned would converse privately with each other before they entered into the area of public disputation." (p. 29. Harris, Stars Appearing: The Galts Vision of Canada)

Unfortunately, Strachan and Ryerson spent years fighting over theology and policy issues that had little to do with the gospel. In doing so, Ryerson's message of grace was nearly forgotten. And Strachan, a man who came from a working class family and exhbited great compassion for the sick and the poor, became associated with the elitist, socially regressive Family Compact.

I admit it: I have mixed feelings about being labelled a 'Christian' writer in Canada because many people I know don't associate the Church with grace, compassion or respect for the poor. They associate the Church with a political agenda and ruthless money-making.

This irritates me: I don't like people assuming they know what my views are on politics, arts, culture, and social issues in advance of asking me. And, as an author and journalist, I especially don't like mainstream media, publishers and editors, assuming that I'm not 'balanced' in my reporting and analysis of issues. Being 'balanced' is my bread and butter because most of my work is printed in mainstream publications.

Of course stereotypes about Christians, like all stereotypes, are largely untrue. And since I've been a member of The Word Guild, I've had a chance to meet, via email, incredibly talented, professional authors and journalists from many Christian denominations, social classes, and lifestyles. They live in every region of this huge and beautiful country.

The members of TWG contribute to Canadian culture in impressive ways. And Christian publications, such as Faith Today, Christian Week, The Anglican Planet, and Maranatha News often have more courage in their approach to news and features than many mainstream magazines and newspapers that bow to the opinions of 'advertisers.' If you're like me, you've probably had editors tell you many times, "I don't think our readers want to hear that." (This is code for 'the advertisers will withdraw their money if we print that.'}

So, why are "Christians" ghettoized in the media? Especially in Canada? Do we have any role to play in the stereotypes about us? I think we do. And I think we can do much to fix our own image among Canadians.

Much of what I see being touted as a Christian world view by the popular press and some Christian ministries, especially on economic and political issues, simply can't be found in the gospels. But Christians who suggest that some messages published and aired by 'Christian ministries' have nothing to do with Jesus, often have their 'relationship with Jesus' or 'submission to authority' questioned. I know. It's been happening to me since I was a teenager.

My discomfort with 'agendas' began when I was little girl. In those days, I received Sunday School papers written in Indiana that touted the 'godliness' of the American Revolution. It was quite an inappropriate and confusing message to give to a child who recited The Lord's Prayer and sang 'O Canada' and 'God Save the Queen' every morning before school.

Every Sunday our living room television blared out programmes in which, mostly foreign tele-evangelists talked more about politics than Jesus and lobbied their listeners to join political organizations.

Many of the adults in my life simply stated Canada should copy American political and social arrangements -- that Canadians had 'missed' God's message. That our country didn't have the 'blessing' of God.

By the time I was a teenager, I had a hard time meshing my own experience of asking Jesus into my heart with what I heard from the pulpit. Church didn't seem to have much to do with Jesus at all. It was more about being a club that kept the damned at a distance.

When I was 18, I left the church. It took me years to separate the 'political' messages from the gospel. Even though I continued to read the Bible almost daily, take my kids to Sunday school, pray, and defend other Christians when they were under attack, I resisted calling myself a Christian until I was in my mid thirties.

It was only when I grew up enough to be able to put my eyes on Jesus, that I could accept the 'label' Christian. Even then, it took years to be able to stand up to 'the authority figures' who questioned my faith simply because I did not think the way a Christian, especially a Christian woman, 'should.'

I don't think I'm alone. Canadians left the churches in droves in the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's. Yet according to Sociologist Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge, in Lethbridge, Alberta most Canadians still identify with the Christian faith, even if that link is only through their grandparents, and are open to re-connecting (or in some case connecting for the first time) with their churches. I can relate to that. And I grieve for others still living in the kind of 'exile' I was once in.

Maybe it is time to begin removing the obstacles and 'stereotypes' that limit the church in Canada. That may mean reconsidering exactly what messages we are sending to society at large.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Bonnie Grove said...

I think it would do all of us a great service if we returned the word 'Christian' to its proper place. It is a noun. Not an adjective. I never tell people I am a 'Christian writer', or 'Christian - anything'. I tell people I am a Christian. I write books that reflect a Christian world view.

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