by Mark Penninga, Director, ARPA Canada
Politics impacts everything we do, from what kinds of light bulbs we can buy to what we read on our cereal boxes. Given the impact politics has on our daily lives, it’s worth asking how much Christians are doing to positively influence society through politics. Which Christian organizations are already involved in Canadian politics? How successful are they? And is there room for one more?
Canadian Christians have indeed been doing some work in the political sphere, and there are at least three different types of Christian political advocacy organizations already at work in our country. We’re going to look at each of them, and then explain just where ARPA Canada fits in.
Have you ever received an email from a group calling you to respond to something that is going on in Parliament, such as the definition of marriage, or a bill to increase the age of consent? Chances are the email came from an organization that is promoting grass-roots mobilization, commonly referred to as an advocacy group.
Examples in Canada are Canada Family Action (CFA) and My Canada. Like almost all Christian political organizations, these are actually very small organizations with only one or two employees. They rely on regular Canadians to get their message out to our civil governments. The primary method of action that these groups use is the Internet – through email “action notices” or “1 click technology” that allows individuals to send an email to many government officials at the click of their mouse.
Grass-roots mobilization is very important because it is in keeping with the Biblical mandate for all Christians to be a light in our world. The work is not left up to a few professional lobbyists in Ottawa. Furthermore, since we live in a democracy, the people still have an important influence in the public policy process. Giving citizens a voice is an important part of promoting democracy.
Grass-roots mobilization organizations are often reactive rather than proactive. Emails flood Parliament when something bad is happening, but little is being done to promote positive action before changes are already happening. Furthermore, internet-based lobbying only has limited value. Few things are more effective than meeting with a government official face to face, or at least giving them a phone call.
Recognizing that Canada is promoting many harmful things, such as abortion and the breakdown of the family, some groups exist to make a difference on those specific issues. Campaign-Life Coalition is a primarily Catholic organization that has been promoting the pro-life cause in Parliament. Groups like this have also sprung up in response to the changing definition of marriage (such as Defend Marriage Canada) but they have died out about as quickly as they came up. Many Reformed Christians were also familiar with the ECP Centre (Equipping Christians for the Public Square). Although their name suggested that they may belong in the first category of Christian political groups, they instead focussed primarily on defending civil liberties.
These organizations focus on one (or a few) issues which means that they are often good at what they do. They can also strategize and be proactive so that they influence the government officials before they make decisions. Furthermore, they are often able to interact more directly with Members of Parliament and hopefully also build a relationship with them.
This approach does not usually encourage much action from every-day people because it is just a few paid employees who do all the work. Some of these groups struggle with having to give the same message for many years and end up becoming distracted from their goal or wearing out their welcome.
Religious groups and denominations realize that government decisions have a big impact on the things that they care deeply about. That explains why organizations such as the Catholic Civil Rights League and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada have offices devoted to political action. These organizations work with a broad variety of issues and try to provide a religious perspective to government.
These organizations don’t try to hide the fact that they are bringing a religious perspective. This results in a more Biblically-based approach. Furthermore, they have a stronger connection to their support-base and are therefore able to encourage grass-roots mobilization as well. The EFC in Ottawa is a good example of how effective this type of organization can be. They have nurtured good relationships with MPs and earned a lot of respect for the work they do.
Having a broad mandate can often result in a lack of focus. These groups struggle with having to cover such a wide variety of issues and still be effective.
It may sound like there is already a lot of Christian political action so why should there be another group? In reality, most of the groups that exist have very few employees. As a result, they are limited in what they can accomplish and would welcome another organization on the scene with a similar objective. Another thing that must be noted is that most of the organizations which do exist have attached themselves to one niche in the political spectrum because they realize that it is difficult to be effective on anything more broad. Many issues are not receiving the attention they need because of a lack of people and organizations are involved. For example, although the pro-life cause may seem to get a lot of attention in Canada, in reality there are very few people working to actually change the laws on abortion. Most of the people involved work for regional and provincial pro-life offices and stay away from politics if they can.
Why not simply support one of the organizations that already exist? The primary reason is that there are no organizations that are specifically promoting political action in the Reformed church community (aside from local ARPA’s). Reformed Christians believe that their faith is supposed to impact all of life and yet many are cynical about politics or think that it is only for those who enjoy it. There is a real and pressing need for Reformed Christians to apply their faith to public life – including the political realm. The purpose of ARPA Canada is to help people do just that.
Furthermore, ARPA Canada aims to go beyond promoting political action in the Reformed churches by working on a couple of specific policy goals. We believe that there is a need for an organization like ours to come up with a proactive plan for these issues and then to get other groups on board to help accomplish this plan. Subscribe to the free ARPA Canada e-newsletter and stay tuned to Reformed Perspective magazine in the months and years ahead to be a part of this exciting vision!
ARPA Canada most closely resembles the third type (a general Christian advocacy group) because we will be directed specifically to the Reformed church community. But it will also promote grass-roots involvement and will go directly to government on specific issues. It is broad in focus (applying the Christian worldview to politics) which is required because Reformed Christians will be active on issues as diverse as substance abuse to family taxation. But we will also attempt to be proactive by working on specific issues that we feel are important and have a reasonable opportunity for success.
ARPA Canada realizes the importance and value of working alongside the organizations that already exist and that share a similar vision. As director I have already developed connections with many of the organizations and will try to build upon this. We are willing to work together with other organizations on specific campaigns and briefs as well as to strategize future action.
ARPA Canada is a welcome addition to the Christian political organizations that already exist in Canada. With God’s blessing, we hope to be an agent for change and a service for Reformed political action for years to come.