Dear Mr. Harper…

Dear Mr. Harper…

saint ben’s member Steve Bell recently alerted us to a post on his blog, which contains the text of a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper regarding the pending Omnibus Bill C-10. We’d invite you to read the text of his letter here, or for more information to take a look at Steve’s original post. Some may wonder if this is a classic case of the church getting mixed up in politics, but we prefer to think of it as a good example of how a person of faith might bring his faith and ethics to bear on an issue currently under consideration by the body politic.

Dear Mr. Harper,

I am deeply concerned about Omnibus Bill C-10. It is my wife’s research (as a social-work student at Booth University College in Winnipeg) that has refocused my attention to the bill. The more I followed her work, the more concerned I have become.

Firstly, I believe there are some good things in the bill – let me be clear about that. But there are also some alarmingly retrogressive policies that will undoubtably be a black stain on your leadership for decades to come if passed as is. For the love of God and your fellow Canadians, please slow the process of this bill down. Break-up the omnibus to its components and consider each individually and carefully.

Honestly… in the last election I was prepared, for the first time in my life, to vote Conservative. I tend to be a bit left leaning myself, but thought that at this particular juncture perhaps a conservative economic approach trumped other concerns. Also, I live in Conservative MP Joy Smith’s riding and have deeply appreciated her noble fight against human trafficking. But in the end I could not, by extension, sign my name to a bill that blanketly criminalizes the ill and the desperate when other measures are proven to be cheaper, more effective and more humane.

I have no need to demonize those who have different opinions than me. But please tell me… who is being served by taking away the power of judges to discern individual cases and sentence accordingly? Who is being served by harsh punitive measures for crimes that are rooted in addictions and poverty when prevention and restorative measures are proven to be far more effective? Who is being served by costly measures that disrupt family and community economies instead of promoting personal responsibility and community well-being? We need a much more sophisticated and nuanced response to crime and public safety than what this bill will produce.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised that you, who shares the same Christian faith I embrace, propose to rule out discernment and mercy from the justice system. A broad-scope survey of Biblical history shows a slow but progressive movement away from a merciless justice which favours retribution to restoration.

Know also, my convictions come from lifelong experience of the Canadian Penitentiary system. My father was a protestant chaplain who served roughly 30 years in federal prisons in Drumheller, Stony Mountain, Edmonton and, toward the end of his career, as regional Chaplain of the Maritime Provinces. Dad is a thoughtful man who tends toward a more conservative ideology, but finds himself utterly bewildered and alienated from ideologies that do not honour or respect the long hard work of practitioners in the field, expert research or verifiable fact.

Mr. Harper, please reconsider. I don’t believe you have the majority of Canadians’ support for this. You certainly do not have the support of experts in the field. Again, this administration will be well remembered for a costly mistake in judgement in support of structures that will have to be dismantled at great expense to the individuals, families and communities that make up our nation.

Meanwhile, I do sincerely pray for your health and the well being of your beloved. I wish you every good success in the office with which you have been charged and I thank you for carrying the weighty burden the office demands.

Respectfully,

Steve Bell
singer/ songwriter
Winnipeg

5 Responses to Dear Mr. Harper…

  1. Steve, thank-you so much for such an eloquent and thoughtful letter. I cannot express how much I appreciate your taking the time to do this. I particularly applaud your reference to Mr. Harper’s faith, because as an Evangelical Christian he knows he’s accountable to much more than even his voters and this is something we undoubtedly hold in common.

  2. Steve Bell says:

    Hi Nick. On my site, where this was originally posted, there was a pre-comment to readers which included this:

    “Please note – though my political sentiments tend to be left leaning, this letter is not anti-Conservative or anti-Harper. It is honest concern about a particular bill that I think is extremely unwise and will be tragically harmful if passed as is.”

    I haven’t thought deeply about this, but I think there is a significant difference between the church publicly supporting or denouncing a particular party and the church speaking out about moral/ethical issues a government may be facing. Our government is currently facing an issue that (I think) needs a hearing from a Christian perspective. I’m saddened so see so many churches silent about this.

    Respectfully,

    Steve

  3. Nick says:

    Like the intro says, this is an unabashed case of the church getting involved in politics. Steve is definitely allowed to have his opinion and voice his concern. But posting it publicly on the church homepage?

    • Jamie says:

      Thanks for this Nick… and yet, it is posted publicly on a church site.

      In part that has to do with how we understand this site. As I wrote in the introductory piece for the launch of this renewed version of our site, more than just an information source on our church’s activities, “we’re here on the web in order to offer resources, ideas, questions, artistic expressions and critical insights, all as our way of participating in life in the public square.” Posting Steve’s letter – political edge and all – reflects our intention to do just that.

      I think that sometimes we’ve imported a “separation of church and state” ethos from south of the border (where, truth be told, the religious faith regularly overlaps with political life… name a U.S. president who hasn’t identified as a Christian…), and at times to our detriment. Not that we should be aligning with particular political parties, which is something that did serious damage to the church in Quebec prior to the Quiet Revolution, producing a culture deeply hostile to the church. But simply because matters are under consideration by the wider body politic doesn’t mean we automatically need to fall mute. In fact, falling mute is the very thing of which we are so critical when we consider the actions of much of the German church under the Nazi regime. In hindsight, we can now celebrate the critical edge of Christians such as Bonhoeffer, but at the time he came under fire for meddling in matters of state and politics.

      Not that it is an easy read, I would commend Oliver O’Donovan’s book “Desire of the Nations” as one of the most thorough and searching explorations of the church’s engagement with public life. No one would ever accuse O’Donovan of being a radical – and in fact he is really quite conservative, both theologically and otherwise – yet he sets out a powerful case for life in the public square.

      And having written all that, I’d love to hear what others might have to say about both the content of Steve’s letter and its placement on this site.

      Jamie Howison

    • Bryan says:

      A few years ago I started to read the works of Bishop (Now retired) NT Wright. The whole of Bishop Wright’s work points towards the Gospel message being tied up in the political. To say Christ is Lord is to implicitly say that Caesar is not and to announce a coming Kingdom is to imply the one on earth now will pass away. Today we often spirituralize these claims, but for the early Christians living under the Roman Empire they were not. The real question then is not should the church be involved in politics (It is by virtue of it’s existence) but how do we understand our role in politics today, which it is argued is quite different than the Roman Empire. Recently Bishop Wright gave a lecture entitled “God in the Dock: What Place Now for Christian Faith in Public Life?” In it he gives thoughts on an answer:

      “So those who follow Jesus have the task, front and centre within their vocation, of being the
      real ‘opposition’. This doesn’t mean that they must actually ‘oppose’ everything that the
      government tries to do. They must weigh it, sift it, hold it to account, affirm what can be
      affirmed, point out things that are lacking or not quite in focus, critique what needs critiquing,
      and denounce, on occasion, what needs denouncing. It is telling that, in the early centuries of
      church history, the Christian bishops gained a reputation in the wider world for being the
      champions of the poor. They spoke up for their rights; they spoke out against those who
      would abuse and ill-treat them. Of course: the bishops were followers of Jesus; they sang his
      mother’s song; what else would you expect? That role continues to this day. And it goes
      much wider. The church has a wealth of experience, and centuries of careful reflection, in the
      fields of education, health care, the treatment of the elderly, the needs and vulnerabilities of
      refugees and migrants, and so on. We should draw on this experience and use it to full effect.”

      His answer seems to be the same as what the tradition has been doing from ancient Israel onward. Be the prophetic voice, call out abuses when you see them, and live as a Kingdom people. To do that though means the church will continue to be “in politics”.

      The whole lecture can be read at http://www.cslewislecture.ie/images/stories/cslewis%20lecture%202011.pdf It is very good and far shorter than Jamie’s recommendation.

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