B.C.’s premier speaks about her faith

And into the charged atmosphere that is Canada’s current grappling with the theocratic urges of its federal government comes this statement by British Columbia’s premier, Christy Clark:

During her informal 50-minute talk before the ethnically mixed audience, Clark discussed what it means to be a lifelong Anglican, her support for “faith-based” social services, her views on same-sex marriage, her commitment to “kindness” and her approach to the Bible.

“For me it’s been kind of an interesting experience to realize, for the first time in my life, that perhaps being a Christian is something that I should not talk about. But I reject that,” the premier said. Saying B.C. has more “declared atheists” than any province in Canada, Clark nevertheless said for her “the most important thing is to go to church every week and be reminded, by someone whom I respect, to be kind … to be compassionate.”

Now, it should be noted that Premier Clark went out of her way to acknowledge that atheists are not less charitable by disposition, and that she raises them only to contrast secular urges to give with the fact that her giving is inspired directly from her Christian beliefs. In so doing, Clark is walking the well-trodden road of the religious moderate – ‘well it works for me, and religion is all about kindness and compassion and puppies and rainbows’. While it provokes naught but eye-rolling from anti-theists like myself, it is likely to resonate with the people of British Columbia who are a rather mushy lot.

This, however, should be a giant red flag:

“I think we should be doing much, much more to involve faith communities in the work that government does, to serve the people,” Clark said, adding that “It’s not going to contaminate us.”

Given what we learned this morning, and given the religious makeup of the parts of the province that aren’t the City of Vancouver (rural BCers are, almost to a one, fundagelical Christians – leaving the city is like entering a parallel universe), this makes me all kinds of uneasy. When elected, Ms. Clark said explicitly that she was going to direct the resources of government to provide services. Now, she seems to have discovered a zeal for allowing the private sector – the religious sector specifically – to play a larger role in such provision.

Now, the generous interpretation of this statement is that Premier Clark sees an opportunity for community-based groups to integrate themselves and get involved in helping their fellow British Columbians. A call to public service is certainly laudable coming from a political leader, and I am totally in support of government empowering individuals and groups to become more involved in volunteerism. Given the context of the conversation – religious belief – and given the fact that church groups often act as de facto community organizations (in many cases offering services to the public), it seems perfectly natural that the Premier would suggest that this is a valid course of action for the government.

The most cynical and suspicious interpretation notes that this is an election year, and Clark is flailing to shore up any coalition she thinks could possibly re-elect her government (which has been consistently trailing in polls). By reaching out to ‘mushy middle’ religious voters and carefully ensuring that she doesn’t lose the support of the Bible Belt religious believers, this “faith in politics” sop is carefully calculated to ensure that she seems like all things to all voters. It’s also a signal to those who think that secular government is a failed experiment, and that B.C. needs a high priestess in charge, or at least someone who won’t stand in the way of a theocratic agenda.

I have no particular love for Ms. Clark’s government, and find her party’s platform repellent, so my opinion tends to fall pretty squarely along the cynical line rather than the generous one. Wherever the truth lies along a continuum between these two positions, even the cynic in me finds some snarky comfort in this:

When a member of the audience asked, through a written question, why some of Clark’s political policies “contradict the Bible,” the premier retorted that “the Bible contradicts itself.” She added: “I’m an Anglican. This is what we learn in church. The Bible is not a static document. It’s a teaching document. Which is why we debate its contents so vigorously.”

I would imagine that, should she be challenged from the religious right (which is entirely likely – it is on her right flank that she is most vulnerable), this comment will not sit well with folks from the interior. And while it might play well in Vancouver, her policy platform likely will turn off urban voters who are more concerned with the environment and housing than they are with whether their Premier believes that the Bible is literally or metaphorically true (or, complete falsehood). No, if she wants to make a dent in the polls, she’s going to need to find a way to suck up to Vancouver’s woo-soaked hordes and its immigrant population in one fell swoop. But how?

Your government knows that more must be done to ensure we have a health-care system that meets the demands of a population that is both changing and aging. An innovative health-care system must respond to the changing needs of its citizens and embrace practices beyond traditional western medicine. In the months ahead, your government will begin work to create the environment for a school of traditional Chinese medicine at a British Columbian post-secondary institution.

We’re doomed.

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  1. wmdon says

    You know, I want to like her. I really, really do. But every time I see her interviewed, or read about her in the paper, she’s saying something that makes me want to walk the six blocks down Douglas Street and scream at the Parliament Buildings.

    I guess I wanted her to be the one that fixed the Liberal party. But she IS the Liberal Party. And all that that entails.

  2. Jenora Feuer says

    Well, Victoria isn’t all that bad either, if you want to live on the Pacific. Head out to Tofino if you like surfing. It’s just that there are only really two cities of any significant size in the province, thanks to the geography. (And I say this as someone born in what used to be the third-largest city, Prince George. Not that it is anymore; even if you group all of Greater Vancouver together, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Nanaimo have all moved ahead of it.)

    But yes, you go up the Fraser Valley from Vancouver, and one of the places you run into early on is where my grandmother was from: Mission City. Think about that name…

  3. Sansgerd says

    “the most important thing is to go to church every week and be reminded, by someone whom I respect, to be kind … to be compassionate.”

    What the fuck? She needs to be reminded to be a good person?
    So without Jebus praising once a week you fall into a rage fuelled bloodbath complete with drunken nights of making out with chicks and killing unborn fetuses?

  4. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    Living in the far off deeps of Vancouver Island (back of Qualicum Beach to be precise) I can only goggle at the claim of

    rural BCers are, almost to a one, fundagelical Christians – leaving the city is like entering a parallel universe)

    I just don’t see it. Sure, there’re too many churches around and I do certainly know some locals that attend at least occasionally but there are few signs of rabid fundies on patrol. OK, I suppose the machine gun toting guards on the towers surrounding my Atheist Retreat Compound might explain why we never get bothered by babble spouting mouth-foamers.

  5. Promii says

    Another Victoria resident here. We’re not crazy! Although I am always surprised by the size of the anti-abortion brigade that martches down Government St. outside my office a couple times a year.

  6. ryangerber says

    I’ve lived in the interior for 26 years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever met an evangelical Christian. There’s probably a few scattered around somewhere. I guess they keep it to themselves, to avoid offending the hippies.

  7. ryangerber says

    Huh… it had never occurred to me that the Fraser Valley wouldn’t be considered part of Vancouver. All part of that stretch of bad traffic between the mountains and the ferry. I guess you’ve got an awful lot of crazy to pass through before you get to the other 98% of the province.

  8. demonhauntedworld says

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been more coverage on FTB about Harper’s new Office of Religious Freedom.

    Can’t believe this government shuts down a major Coast Guard station in Vancouver in the name of budget restraint, then opens up a completely new government department whose mandate should be already covered by existing departments such as Foreign Affairs.

    Office of Religious Freedom? How about an Office of Scientific Freedom?

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