Saturday, March 31, 2007

Impending schism in the Anglican church

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the prelude to Holy Week when Christians commemorate the crucifixion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For many faithful Anglicans, this is an especially anxious Easter season as they contemplate an impending schism within their church. At issue is the vexed question of same-sex marriage.

Earlier this month, the Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada overwhelmingly approved the submission of two resolutions to the upcoming meeting of the church’s full General Synod in June, one relating to the blessing of same-sex unions and the other to revising the doctrine of the church to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples. By adopting either resolution, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada would make a definitive break with the position of the global Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops which voted decisively at its last meeting in 1998 to reaffirm the church’s traditional doctrinal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

The Episcopal Church in the United States is also embroiled in an intense controversy over revision of the doctrine of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is profoundly perturbed. He has warned that Anglican bishops who sanction the blessing of same-sex unions in defiance of church doctrine might well be deprived of their status as full voting members of the Lambeth Conference at its next meeting in 2008.

Andrew Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has acknowledged the danger. He concedes that the possibility of an Anglican schism will be a “real risk,” if General Synod endorses the blessing of same sex unions.

Underlying this dispute is a central teaching of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; namely, the primacy of Sacred Scripture as the ultimate authority on all questions of faith and morality. The majority of liberal Anglican bishops in Canada and the United States seem to have persuaded themselves to adopt the intellectually untenable position that the blessing of same-sex unions can somehow be squared with the plain teachings of the Bible that forbid sexual intercourse outside the sacred bond of marriage between a man and a woman.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, a professor of church history at Oxford University, is a candid proponent of blessing same-sex unions. In discussing the legitimacy of homosexual activity in his book, Reformation: Europe's House Divided, he persuasively argues:

“This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity. The only alternatives are to try to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or to say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong.”

Quite so. The Bible makes clear that faithful Christians must not only sincerely care for the well being of homosexuals, but also uphold the precepts of sexual morality that God has ordained for the happiness and benefit of all people, homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.

Granted, the church’s understanding of the moral law has evolved over time. But any authentic development of doctrine must occur under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in conformity with Sacred Scripture. Thus, the church’s condemnation of slavery in the 19th century conformed with the admonition of St. Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Over the centuries, countless numbers of heretical sects have broken with the injunctions of Holy Scripture as expounded in the universal and constant teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. These sects have disappeared. Like a number of other liberal denominations, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church of the United States are now poised also to lapse into heresy and wither away.

Regardless, Christians can be certain about the ultimate survival of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. In the words of a classic hymn: “Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never ‘gainst that church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.”

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A political marriage of convenience

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

In a rare display of intergovernmental and bipartisan harmony on Tuesday, Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario’s Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty jointly announced more than $1.5 billion in additional federal spending for projects in Ontario.

A substantial chunk of the federal tax money -- $586.2 million – will be funnelled to Ontario through “Canada ecoTrust,” a new agency that the Harper government has established to support provincial projects for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. Among the several environmental initiatives jointly approved by the Harper and McGuinty governments is the expedited construction of a new East-West transmission line for the importation of clean hydroelectric power from Manitoba.

McGuinty has a special interest in this transmission line. Once it is completed, the Ontario government should finally be able to fulfil the abortive promise he made in the last provincial election to shut down Ontario’s biggest polluter – the gigantic, coal-fired Nanticoke generating station.

Most of the new federal money for Ontario -- $962 million –- is designated for expansion of the Toronto subway system as well as the construction of other transit facilities and commuter highways in the Greater Toronto Area. The projects are intended to speed up traffic flow on commuter highways and persuade more people to use mass transit, thereby reducing air pollution and making life more comfortable for commuters in the Toronto suburbs where the Conservatives hope to gain seats in the next federal election.

Ontario, of course, is not the only province designated to benefit from new federal spending. Just last month, Harper announced plans to allocate $349.9 million out of the Canada ecoTrust to Quebec. Like McGuinty, Quebec Premier Jean Charest is also enthused about these promises of more federal spending in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

In contrast, Toronto Mayor David Miller is not altogether happy with federal grants to the provinces for municipal projects. He is trying to browbeat the Harper government into transferring all the revenue from one percentage point of the GST directly to the nation’s cities.

Miller’s proposal would cost the federal treasury more than $5 billion a year. He estimates that Toronto alone would get $470 million a year. In this way, he and other municipal politicians would get credit for spending hundreds of millions of dollars out of revenues that the federal government would retain responsibility for raising.

No federal prime minister is likely to go along with such a one-sided proposal. Miller and other city mayors should count themselves lucky that the Harper government has promised to transfer two cents of the federal gas tax to the municipalities for spending on urban transit.

McGuinty, Charest and the other provincial premiers are no less loath than Harper to make unconditional grants out of their tax revenue to municipal politicians. As a general rule, politicians on one level of government can see little advantage to raising tax revenues for transfer to politicians on another level, if the latter will have complete control over how the money is spent.

In the past, the federal government incurred the wrath of the provinces by imposing conditional grants for spending in areas of provincial jurisdiction that did not accord with provincial spending priorities. Harper has been careful to avoid such antagonism, by working in close coordination with the provinces on joint spending plans.

Consequently, both Ontario and federal officials were all smiles on Tuesday as Harper announced plans for increased federal spending on environmental, transit and highway projects approved by the government of Ontario. McGuinty’s only reference to the separation of federal and provincial powers under the Constitution was to jest that Parliament bears entire responsibility for excessively cold weather.

There is a catch in Harper’s new spending proposals: He cannot actually hand over the money that he has promised to Ontario and Quebec, until Parliament approves the spending in the upcoming federal budget. Will the opposition parties dare to combine to vote down that budget?

Probably not. It would be a rash Liberal or New Democrat in Ontario who would want to go into an election campaign with the Conservatives blaming them for depriving the province of hundreds of millions of federal dollars for curbing air pollution and improving mass transit in Toronto.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Harper is at least better than Dion

Catholic Insight
By Rory Leishman

In politics, as in so many other endeavours, the best is often the enemy of the good: Consider, in this respect, the 1860 presidential election in the United States.
For most voters, the predominant concern was slavery. At the time, Christians in the United States were hardly less divided over this issue than they are now over abortion.
Many in the South embraced the viewpoint expressed by the United States Supreme Court in the notorious Dred Scott decision that blacks have no rights because they are not citizens within the meaning of the Constitution. Most in the North were no less adamantly opposed to slavery. They recognized that the evil institution could not be squared with the plain teaching of the Bible that there is neither slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus.
In retrospect, the opponents of slavery in 1860 might seem to have had an obvious presidential choice in Abraham Lincoln. Yet at the time, many preferred New York Senator William H. Seward, a prominent opponent of slavery who had voted against the Compromise of 1850 that had postponed the inevitable showdown over slavery between North and South.
Lincoln was also implacably opposed to slavery. He famously declared: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” But in 1860, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. In campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, he promised only to oppose the extension of slavery into the territories, while leaving it alone in the South.
On the first ballot at the 1860 Republican convention, Seward took the lead. In the end, the majority of delegates nominated Lincoln, then a comparatively unknown moderate on the slavery question, because they judged him to have a better chance of winning the presidential election.
The rest of the story we all know: Lincoln won the election, bided his time and eventually on January 1, 1863, issued his bold Emancipation Proclamation that forever abolished the evil of slavery from the United States.
What lessons might faithful Canadian Christians draw from this experience as they contemplate the next federal election? Only Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Stephane Dion stand a chance of emerging as prime minister. Neither bears much resemblance to Lincoln.
While Dion is an unabashed exponent of the evil of abortion on demand, Harper refuses to be pinned down on this most vital of all issues. Pressed last year by CTV’s Lloyd Robertson to state his personal position on abortion, Harper would say only: “Well, on my views, as I said, I’m not on either extreme on that issue.”
How can that be? Harper is intelligent. He belongs to the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination that unequivocally opposes abortion. If Harper were a statesman in the Lincoln mould, he might dodge an inopportune commitment to curb abortion, but he would not shrink from affirming that if abortion is not wrong, nothing is wrong.
As it is, Harper has made no such statement. He has in no way encouraged the pro-life movement. To the contrary, he has vowed time and again that his government will not introduce any legislation on abortion.
At least, Harper has not pledged that his government will also oppose all private member’s bills on abortion. Indeed, he is obligated not to do so. The policy declaration of the Conservative Party of Canada states: “On issues of moral conscience, such as abortion, the definition of marriage and euthanasia, the Conservative Party acknowledges the right of Members of Parliament to vote freely.”
In this respect, the Conservative Party stands alone among all the parties in Parliament. It also has more pro-life MPs than all the others combined. And Harper has appointed Jason Kenney, Vic Toews and a number of other outspoken and committed pro-life MPs and political operatives to key positions in his cabinet and personal staff.
For these reasons, pro-life voters should do whatever they can to help get as many pro-life Conservatives nominated and elected in the next federal election. A Conservative majority government is much the best conceivable outcome. And Harper, despite his deplorable equivocation on life and family issues, is a much better choice for prime minister than a shameless apologist for abortion like Dion.

Mounting oppression of British Christians

The Interim
By Rory Leishman

Thanks to a draconian new Equality Act which comes into effect in England, Wales and Scotland in April, faithful British Christians are about to undergo much the same persecution as their Canadian counterparts.

The British Act includes a sweeping ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and members of his cabinet on January 22, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, urged the government to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from the new regulation.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor underlined that the Catholic Church “utterly condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, violence, harassment or abuse directed against people who are homosexual, and teaches that they must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

Given that the Catholic Church also upholds marriage and the natural family as best for children, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor insisted: “We believe it would be unreasonable, unnecessary and unjust discrimination against Catholics” to force employees of Catholic adoption agencies to provide adoption services to same-sex couples in violation of “the teaching of the Church and their own consciences.”

On this point, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor got solid backing from the two most senior clerics in the Church of England -- the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu. In a joint letter to Blair on January 23, Williams and Sentamu emphasized: “The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning.” And they pointedly added: “It is vitally important that the interests of vulnerable children are not relegated to suit any political interest.”

Quite so. It’s regrettable that Williams and Sentamu stopped just short of joining Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor in affirming what the Church has traditionally taught and a wealth of social-science data has confirmed: That children thrive best under the care and guidance of a mother and father who are joined in the bond of marriage.

Initially, Blair seemed sympathetic to the pleas of England’s most prominent clerics to respect the rights of conscience. The same cannot be said for the Opposition Leader David Cameron and most members of Blair’s cabinet, including its leading Catholic member, Home Secretary John Reid. In a recent speech, Reid argued that no faith-based groups should be exempt from the newly proclaimed equality rights for homosexuals. By analogy, he said: "If somebody says to me: ‘I'm sorry, I'm not going to treat women as equal because my religion does not allow it,” I say: ‘Tough, you're in Britain and that's a fundamental value in Britain and everyone has to accept it.’”

Under pressure from Reid, Cameron and others, Blair caved in. On January 30, he announced that after a transition period, Catholic adoption agencies will be required by law to treat same-sex couples the same as a husband and wife.

In response, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor has threatened to shut down Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, has vowed that Scottish adoption agencies will defy the new regulation on the ground that it violates the rights of Catholics to freedom of conscience in the Equality Act.

It will be interesting to see how British courts deal with Conti’s argument. In Canada, the courts have consistently held that equality rights for homosexuals trump the religious rights of Christians that are supposedly guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The row over adoption agencies signals just the beginning of a campaign against religious freedom in Britain. A spokesman for the Scottish Catholic bishops has pointed out that the Equality Act “will impact on anyone who provides goods and services, from the priest who refuses to hire the parish hall to a same-sex couple, to the editor of a Catholic newspaper who refuses to carry a Gay Pride advert, or a printer who refuses to print those adverts - they will all be criminalised by this Draconian measure. This is as close as you can get to a thought crime."

It’s scandalous that politicians like Reid are leading this attack on their fellow Christians. It’s high time that church leaders in Britain and Canada took tougher action to defend the faithful, by telling these rogue Christian politicians that they are no longer welcome at communion.