Jason Kenney as St. Francis of Assisi (not)

By Dennis Gruending

St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis NotFormer Reform Party leader Preston Manning gathered members of the Canadian political and religious right for talk fest in Ottawa recently to strategize about how to win the nation for conservatism. Macleans magazine columnist Paul Wells wrote a piece about it called Hard Right Turn, which is where the Conservatives appear to be headed.  Another piece on the event that caught my eye was one by Lloyd Mackey, a journalist who writes mainly for evangelical Christian publications from his perch in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. I find Mackey’s columns interesting because he has good connections in the Conservative Party and with a segment of Canada’s Christian churches. Mackey was close to Preston Manning and once edited the Reform Party’s publication. He has also written books about Manning and his father Ernest, the late Social Credit premier of Alberta.

Mackey’s report from the Manning Centre hobnob began by invoking St. Francis of Assisi, who early in the 13th century is said to have written one of history’s most famous prayers. “O Divine Master,” he wrote, “grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.” Mackey picked up on St. Francis’ line about placing the understanding of others above being understood yourself. He then applied this wisdom to a recent controversy enveloping most of Canada’s mainline churches and the Conservative government.

Mackey describes how the topic arose in a conversation at Manning’s networking conference. “The subject, at that particular point,” Mackey wrote, “ was a recent conflict between a faith-based advocacy group and a government agency which had turned down funding for that particular group.” Mackey doesn’t name the group but it is KAIROS, the ecumenical justice and human rights organization, and the unnamed government agency is CIDA, which on November 30 suspended funding for KAIROS projects between 2009 and 2013. Mackey continues, “The speaker quoting St. Francis was trying to make the point that the advocacy group in question was more interested in getting its own viewpoint understood than it was in understanding the viewpoints of the people on the other side of the table.”

Mackey does not identify the speaker in this encounter either, but concludes: “He was putting forward the seemingly preposterous notion that an advocate should seek divine guidance in the quest of understanding an opposing viewpoint. And, if an advocate can get his or her mind around that humility-based concept, it could go a long way toward the accomplishing of goals that come out of reasonable compromise.”

Ah yes, but this does gloss over some other rather important details. CIDA’s removing of KAIROS funding is one thing. But Jason Kenney, the Immigration Minister, was not content to leave things rest there. Speaking at an international conference in Jerusalem on December 16, Kenney accused KAIROS of being anti-Semitic. This, one assumes, makes it rather difficult to turn the other cheek or to forgive someone seventy times seven. Kenney later insisted that he had not actually accused KAIROS of being anti-Semitic. His remarks, however, were recorded in audio and video. Listen to them here and judge for yourself.

KAIROS and its member churches have chosen not to go quietly into the night regarding the blowing up of their partnership with CIDA after 35 years of co-operation in the case of some of member organizations. The KAIROS response, however, has been quite conventional. The organization has asked people in member churches and organizations  — Catholic, United, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches, as well as the Mennonite Central committee and the Quakers – to write or send emails to their local MPs, the Prime Minister, and CIDA minister Bev Oda. Leaders from the KAIROS coalition also held a news conference on Parliament Hill, and member organizations have lobbied dozens of MPs, focusing mainly on the Conservatives. The delegation that met with Transport Minister John Baird included his former Sunday school teacher.

The Mackey article continues: “But my speaker friend who was interpreting St. Francis was exercising a different kind of thinking. Admittedly, advocates — and their sometimes symbiotically-linked cousins, absolutists — would find that difficult, particularly if their work and stances come out of a narcissistic mindset.” This is a rather odd non sequitur, but being called narcissistic is likely far less painful for KAIROS staff and member churches than being called anti-Semitic.

Unfortunately, no one has applied an analysis of Franciscan precepts to Jason Kenney. One fine Franciscan line that comes to mind is: “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.” Mr. Kenney is allegedly a devout Catholic so he should know all about the peace and love advocated by St. Francis. Kenney attended Notre Dame, a Catholic college at Wilcox, Saskatchewan, so he cannot plead ignorance on these matters. 

Kenney has been an MP since 1997. He used his contacts in the Christian right in 2000 to organize on behalf of Stockwell Day for his campaign against Preston Manning for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party. Day won but suffered a self-inflicted meltdown and Stephen Harper defeated him in  yet another leadership convention in 2002. When the Harper-led Conservatives became the government, Kenney became a trusted attack dog, a kind of Churchill without the wit. Kenney was also given a key responsibility in winning over new Canadians and certain religiously identified groups to support the Conservatives.

Under Stephen Harper, with Kenney running interference, the Conservatives have clearly chosen sides in the Middle East conflict – supporting Israeli no matter what actions it undertakes. There is no subtlety here. Question the policies of the Canadian government and you will be punished. Question the policies of the Israeli government and you are called anti-Semitic.

Canada’s respected Rights and Democracy organization found that out early in 2010. The Conservatives appointed new board members who forced the resignation of the organization’s president Rémy Beauregard at a tense board meeting. Mr. Beauregard died of a heart attack later the same day. Conservative appointees to the board of Rights and Democracy accused the organization of being anti-Israel, a charge similar to that launched by Kenney against KAIROS. The research, if it can be described as such, for both of these charges may have arisen from one source – a right wing Israel-based group called NGO Monitor. In an investigative piece, Macleans’ Paul Wells reports that Gerald Steinberg, an Israeli political scientist, also runs NGO Monitor. Steinberg published an Opinion Editorial in the Jerusalem Post congratulating the Canadian government for its actions against both KAIROS and Rights and Democracy. Wells writes: “Steinberg’s list of organizations he regards as anti-Israel is long. In one publication he decries CIDA aid to what he calls ‘extremist political groups’ opposed to Israel, among which he counts Médecins du Monde, Oxfam, and the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada.”

Whoops! The Mennonite Central Committee? Extremist? I beg your pardon. These attacks are over the top. I am not a Mennonite but my wife is and I have often attended church with her. If there is any organization that exemplifies the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, it is the Mennonite Central Committee. Kenney may well find that he has over-reached by deliberately putting a stick in the eye of Mennonites, Quakers, Catholics and mainline Protestants. I am told the KAIROS protests will continue, with homilies, public meetings, lobbying, musical events, even a photo contest – all done quietly, gently, and firmly, in a Franciscan manner. 

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament

5 thoughts on “Jason Kenney as St. Francis of Assisi (not)”

  1. It follows that since Mr Kenny and his ilk cannot understand the message of Jesus, that they cannot understand the message of St Francis. In fact they do the opposite of all St Francis taught.

  2. Mennonites extremist?
    you dismiss that out of hand.

    have you done any actual, you know, research?

    Mennonite antiZionist activities

    Dennis replies: Backseat Blogger (BB) asks if I have done any research regarding Mennonites. I referred in my blog piece specifically to the Mennonite Central Committee. Indeed, I have observed their operations for more than 20 years and have visited some of their projects, admittedly not in the Middle East. BB then refers me to the link above about Mennonites and their alleged anti-Zionism. The link is to an article about Mennonites prepared by an organization called the Institute for Global Jewish Affairs. I have looked at this website and find it to resemble the quick response teams set up by political parties in election campaigns. Their task is to discredit anything said and done by those who disagree with them and to pump the party line at every turn. The Institute denigrates Mennonites for being naive pacifists who are, in turn, protected by those prepared to fight. The Institute also accuses Mennonites in Canada of establishing their farms on land taken from Aboriginal peoples. Every Canadian who is not an Aboriginal shares that history and our only response can be to do justice in our time. But I do find it ironic in the extreme that this criticism is being made by an organization in a state that came into being in 1948 by expelling the existing population from their land and their homes and which has extended that occupation, systemically and illegally, in the years since.

  3. As Saskatchewan’s representative on the National Board of Development and Peace [D&P]for 6 years, I never heard even one anti-Semitic remark, by any of the National Board members or the staff of D&P. This was at a time when Mary Corkery was in charge of the Toronto office of D&P. For a number of years now Mary Corkery has been working for the multi-faith NGO, Kairos. For Mr. Kenney to say that Kairos is anti-Semitic is politically and totally out of line. It is also damaging to Canada’s reputation, as well as for supporters of Kairos, who struggle to bring justice all oppressed people, regardless of race, color or creed.

    It was quite interesting to note that Jason Kenney received his early schooling at Fr. Athol Murray’s school at Wilcox. It may well be that Fr. Murray’s take on social programs did affect Mr. Kenney’s political future, and this is how I see that connection —

    About 50 years ago the Saskatchewan government of the day was endeavouring to structure a universal provincial Health Care program. We and our young family were driving to town when we turned on the car radio. We listened to a man who sounded quite angry, and was raving about the evil and dangers of a government sponsored Health Care program. We were somewhat shocked by the force of his presentation. At the end of the program, we heard that that person was Fr. Athol Murray.

    Maybe this cliche fits,”What goes around, comes around.”

  4. Thanks so much for this excellent piece, Dennis! I’ve shared it with a number of people who will be most interested. I really think there is a lot to explore re the Con Gov’s. connections, background, influences & support of & by the evangelical fundamentalist Christian Zionist in Canada – not the least of which is John Hagee’s close relationship with the PM. I hope everyone who read this will join the Facebook group, “Canadians Who Want Jason Kenney to Resign” (similar to that). His comments & actions towards anyone who infers even the slightest criticism of Israel, the STATE, for one, are utterly over the top – & I fear the CCPAS as an instrument of McCarthyism.
    Keep writing on this Dennis!
    Btw, Did you see this in the Hill Times:
    http://www.thehilltimes.ca/page/view/contraception-03-29-2010

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