At the beginning of last week, Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin wrote a column on Prime Minister Steven Harper which says that his “muzzling of the science community, its [sic] low regard for statistics, its [sic] hard line against environmentalists” has its origins in his Evangelical faith. For Martin this is the most logical conclusion because no rational person would have such views, and with the exception of his faith, Harper appears to be a “clear-headed rationalist”. Martin bases his claim in Harper’s membership in the Christian Missionary Alliance Church, a church which according to Martin, “believes the free market is divinely inspired and views science and environmentalism with what might be called scorn”
There are some pretty serious problems with Martin’s analysis. For starters, Martin’s dichotomy of evangelicalism and rationalism is a false one. Sadly there is a tradition of anti-intellectualism that is prevalent in some Evangelical circles; however the movement also has a strong tradition of developing some very bright academics. Judging the movement as anti-intellectual would be like judging atheism as communist or Islam as a religion of terrorism. Such judgments are horribly inaccurate and ignore the overwhelming evidence which does not fit the thesis.
Also problematic is Martin’s belief that Harper’s convictions stem from his membership in the Missionary Alliance church. This is a problem because it is commonly known that Harper is not a very dedicated churchperson—especially when compared to the former leaders of his party Stockwell Day and Preston Manning. If Harper is a nominal churchman it seems likely that his policies are also nominally influenced by his church. Preston Manning on the other hand was and is a highly active member of the Alliance church so certainly we should see even stronger examples in his policies of revering the free market and rampantly abusing the environment right?
Well, not so fast. You see Mr. Manning is a very bright, rationalistic individual who is also devoted to conservation. That is right, Preston Manning is an evangelical who cares about the environment. In a 2006 interview with a Saskatoon newspaper, Manning talked about how economic conservatism could be linked to ecological conservatism. One idea he advocated for there was charging companies in the oil sands for the water that they use. He suggested that doing so would promote conservation since the companies would be motivated to be waste less of a product they were being charged for. This may not be the type of environmentalism advocated for by the Suzuki-ilk but it certainly does show creativity, a commitment to the environment, and something which falls far short of worshiping the free market. The clincher, for Manning, is that he has recently been hired by the evangelical school Regent College to work in their Marketplace Institute which is dedicated to developing “new approaches to the intersection of faith with democratic governance, the market economy, pluralism and multiculturalism, science and technology, and environmental stewardship.”
Manning’s decision to work in an evangelical school which is deeply devoted to care for the environment suggests that it is not a mere coincidence that Manning is both an evangelical and a conservationist. Manning is not an intelligent, conservationist despite his faith but rather sees both of these things as being a critical component of faith.
Martin certainly has the right to question the wisdom of Harper’s moves. It is however, unfair to try and draw a link between his policies and his faith—especially given a lack of evidence. Feel free, Mr. Martin to call Harper what you will but please do not suggest that his apparent scorn of science and the environment and his conservative economic policies are rooted in the teachings of Evangelicals. The reality is that Evangelicalism is much more diverse than all of that. Some of us Evangelicals love science, work diligently to protect the environment, and God-bless us some of us can even be found left of centre in the realm of politics.