Religious people in power often seen as too threatening

  • May 22, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - Sometimes religious people are the biggest reason why their opinions get short shrift in public debates on controversial issues, says Preston Manning, an Evangelical Christian and former leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons.
Manning, speaking May 11 at a seminar on “Navigating the Faith-Political Interface,” argued that Jesus of Nazareth offered sound principles for Christian behaviour in public life.

“He said ‛be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,’ ” Manning quoted from Matthew 10:16. “He did not say be vicious as snakes and stupid as pigeons.”

Manning, a member of Parliament from 1993 to 2001 and founder/leader of the Reform Party and its successor the Conservative Alliance, added that, “it’s a sad thing on Parliament Hill, but the most vicious letters we received were from faith-oriented people.”

Manning said the best way for Christians to persuade others of the soundness of their viewpoints is to behave in a principled manner even in the heat of debate over controversial issues, such as same-sex marriage.

“Pollsters tell us that people are afraid of what religious people will do in public life,” he said. “Maybe we have to look at what we’re doing.”

He pointed out that Jesus was always non-threatening, even though what He said was a challenge to the elites of his day.

Manning’s experience as a politician inspired him, after his retirement from politics, to found the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, an organization that helps to train religious believers to work more effectively in a pluralistic society.

One of the fruits of the centre has been the seminars like the one he led May 11-12 with about 50 people at the Board of Trade, co-sponsored by Tyndale University College. Though dominated by Evangelicals, there was also a smattering of Catholics and other Christians. And the speakers came from both liberal and conservative camps.

“Our hope is we will be a credit to the democratic process and a credit to our faith,” he said.

Other seminars are also in the works for Jews and Muslims, as well as one in Quebec designed for Catholics.

The Toronto seminar featured a biblical grounding by Manning, followed with an overview of public attitudes toward religion by Andrew Grenville, vice-president of Ipsos-Reid pollsters, and other workshops with former and current politicians, and media specialists.

Manning argued that there can be receptiveness for public opinions based on religious faith, but politics is a tough game and it requires sophistication and deft handling. In fact, he believed that politics in general suffered from a bad reputation largely because those engaged in it didn’t have the skills to articulate their positions without resorting to dishonest or misleading tactics.

“I felt politicians were not equipped with the proper skills,” he said. “Our mission is to prepare people for principled participation in politics.”

Besides his work with the Manning Centre, the former politician has entered journalism on a regular basis. On May 14 he began hosting a new show on CBC Radio One called This I Believe, featuring essays on personal belief by eminent Canadians. It can be heard at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

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