By Dennis Gruending
Reverend Charles McVety says that he has many friends among the Harper Conservatives who govern in Ottawa. This week he will testify before the Senate banking committee in support of legislation that he says occurred partly as a result of his lobbying. It would deny tax credits to films that the government deems offensive. It’s a move that critics say is an affront to freedom of speech and a threat to the Canadian film industry.
McVety is a busy man. He is president of the Canada Christian College in Toronto. He leads the Canada Family Action Coalition (CFAC), a group that he says has 40,000 members. The CFAC describes itself as a Bible-centred organization “with a vision to see Judeo-Christian moral principles restored in Canada.” This is code for Christian reconstructionism, a belief that “God governs” and that government and all of society must submit to the Bible’s moral principles, as interpreted by the reconstructionists. Others call this theocracy.
McVety also leads the Defend Marriage Coalition, which is comprised of several religiously conservative groups: McVety’s Canada Family Action Coalition belongs, as do Campaign Life, the Catholic Civil Rights League, and REAL Women of Canada. Campaign Life is an ardent anti-choice organization with a traditional base among Catholics but increasingly it is attracting evangelical support. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a self-appointed watchdog protecting Catholicism against what it considers unwarranted attacks, particularly in films, books and popular culture. REAL Women is an anti-feminist organization with Christian reconstructionist overtones. The group has joined McVety’s campaign regarding films and lobbied in 2006 to have the federal government abolish Status of Women Canada, and to eliminate support for the Court Challenges Program. (The Harper government quickly granted many of REAL Women’s wishes).
In the 2006 federal election, the Defend Marriage Coalition produced a pamphlet titled Returning Stability to Canada and had it distributed in various churches across the country. The pamphlet served as a skewed report card on the political parties, a tactic that is commonly used by the American religious right. This pamphlet attacked Liberal and NDP candidates for supporting same-sex marriage, and then accused them of being in favour of physician-assisted suicide and child pornography.Â McVety and his coalitions also helped a number of religious conservatives in attempts to win contests for Conservative nominations in 2006, including an unsuccessful run by Rondo Thomas, vice-president of McVety’s Christian College.
McVety is active on other fronts as well. When hostilities broke out between Israel and groups in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, he emerged as the Canadian chair of a group called Christians United for Israel, an offshoot of the Christians United for Israel – America. That organization included prominent evangelicals such as the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as well as Reverend John Hagee. He is a prominent Texas televangelist and author of Jerusalem Countdown, a book predicting that the world will soon end in Armageddon. Hagee was guest speaker at an Israel support rally that McVety organized at his college in Toronto. At about the same time McVety also appeared on television news to say that that the fighting in Lebanon created conditions that resembled end times as predicted in the Bible. (The belief in end times is common among Christian reconstructionists).
McVety made common cause with several Canadian Jewish organizations lobbying the Harper government to take a pro-Israel position in the conflict. The prime minister did not disappoint, when he described an Israeli campaign that took 1,000 Lebanese lives as a “measured response” to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.
Not along ago McVety’s organization and other groups participating in his Defend Marriage Coalition would have been seen as occupying the fringe right. Today the Conservatives appear to be courting them in an attempt to build an enduring political coalition that includes religiously conservative evangelicals, Catholics, Jews and others. When federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented his first budget in May 2006, McVety was his guest in the House of Commons VIP gallery. He had been drafted to help sell the government’s child care policy – one that scuttled the Liberals’ plan to provide a national child care program and replaced it with a tax break for families with children.
McVety is a religious entrepreneur of the American variety. The creation of overlapping coalitions and organizations (such as the Canadian Family Action Coalition) is another tactic long used by the religious right in the U.S. It aims at garnering publicity and creating the impression of numbers and momentum. Such groups are now becoming increasingly common in Canada. All of this must be frustrating for mainstream organizations such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), which was created in the mid-1960s to represent evangelicals in the halls of power. The CFAC does not belong to the Evangelical Fellowship and nor does McVety’s Christian College. Don Hutchinson, an EFC director, has been quoted as saying: “There’s a broad spectrum on the evangelical meter. Charles may be the representative of one end, probably the extreme end, of that spectrum.”
McVety’s apparent cultivation by the Harper government raises questions about how much influence social and religious conservatives have with the prime minister. Harper attends a Missionary Alliance Church but he is arguably more of a social than a religious conservative. He is determined, however, to embed the religious right in a political coalition that will remake Canada into a leaner and meaner state. The strategy is to put a Conservative majority government into power, but beyond that to move Canadian public opinion away from its liberal and social democratic tendencies toward a rock-ribbed conservatism. McVety and his supporters have played along but he, at least, is beginning to sound disappointed with Harper’s failure to deliver on issues such as rescinding the legislation enshrining same sex marriage. Religious conservatives remain largely allied to Stephen Harper but the relationship is becoming wary.