Tag Archives: Calgary

Union Calgary: Theological Education in Alberta!

We’re excited to announce the launch of Union Calgary, a Learning Community of Union School of Theology for Christian theological education and ministry training, hosted by Calvary Grace Church. If you’re in driving distance of Calgary and are seeking an academically rigorous, biblically faithful, and accredited theological education, but can’t commit to a full-time program of study and can’t relocate to a seminary somewhere, this may be for you!

Details on the Calgary Learning Community here.

The program offered through the Learning Community is Union’s Graduate Diploma in Theology (GDip).

Prospectus here.

 

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Reformation 500–Come Hear Michael Haykin in Calgary!

If you’re in the Calgary area, the annual Calgary Reformed Conference will take place April 7-8 at Woodgreen Presbyterian Church. Our speaker this year is the church historian Dr. Michael Haykin, a good friend of ours at Calvary Grace. In this 500th year of the Protestant Reformation, he’ll be speaking on the theme of the English Reformation. And, it’s a free conference!

More details here.

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Alberta Archaeology

The Calgary Herald has an interesting look at archaeology right here in Alberta, along the Bow River.

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Healthy Eldership Conference with 9 Marks in Calgary November 15-16

If you’re a pastor, elder, minister, missionary, or seminary student in driving distance of the Calgary area, this will be of particular value for you, but everyone is welcome!  We’re holding a conference on Healthy Eldership at Calvary Grace Church on November 15 & 16. Jeramie Rinne is our speaker, coming out on behalf of 9 Marks. Here’s the poster, and more information’s available here:

http://www.calvarygrace.ca/cgc-fall-conference-2014-healthy-eldership/

Eldership Conference Poster

 

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“Buckle of the Bible Belt”? Part 5

Straitlaced No More: Alberta’s Moral Decline

So far in this series, I’ve asserted that Central Canadian bias, combined with the outsized prominence of individual Alberta evangelicals in Canadian politics, is the main reason for Alberta’s mythical reputation as a “Bible Belt.” I then looked at statistics which prove that, far from being an evangelical hotbed, Alberta is one of the most secular places in the country and its major cities some of the most unchurched in English Canada. Last time, I went on to give three examples of the theological decline of Alberta’s evangelicals in order to show that the church in Alberta is, in fact, in doctrinal trouble.

Still, the popular view of Alberta as Canada’s evangelical heartland is hard to break. It’s easy for many Canadians to assume that, because Alberta has for decades been reliably politically conservative in its provincial and federal politics, Alberta’s culture is therefore more heavily influenced by Christianity than others in Canada. So it’s possible that someone might read what I’ve argued so far, and say: “Well, okay, maybe the church has fallen on hard times, but it’s not all bad—Alberta’s still very conservative and friendly to Christian values, isn’t it?”

Well, no, actually, it isn’t. Not only is Alberta NOT an evangelical heartland—it’s no bastion of morality and ethics, either.

So, the focus of this article is to examine a parallel decline in the friendliness of Alberta’s culture to Christian values. In other words, I’m saying that those expecting Alberta’s broader society to reflect a more “Christian” culture, due to its being an alleged “Bible Belt,” are in for a sore disappointment.

By the way: my fear—and one of my motivations in writing this series—is that Alberta’s unjustifiable reputation as an evangelical hotbed may encourage some Christians, who are considering entering or supporting ministry in Canada, to look elsewhere than Alberta for places to serve or give, thinking that we’re somehow better off and therefore should be “less of a priority.” No, we need all the help we can get! So I think it’s important to show that the diminished evangelical witness of Alberta’s churches has been, I believe, paralleled to a degree in the extent to which Alberta’s culture is abandoning traditional Judeo-Christian values.

A HOTBED…OF SEXUAL IMMORALITY

It’s sad enough that in our sick and twisted world there are websites dedicated to destroying marriages by promoting adulterous liaisons; it’s even sadder that Canadians, in particular, appear to embrace them. Well, one particularly grim indicator of Calgary’s actual level of morality is the fact that according to one such adultery-promoting website, Ashley Madison, Calgary is the third-most “cheater-friendly” city in Canada, after only Ottawa and Saskatoon. Moreover, half the cities in their “top ten” were in allegedly conservative Western Canada, and two were in “Bible Belt” Alberta (Edmonton is the other one). For those unfamiliar with Canadian demographics, Western Canada does not have even close to half of the nation’s population, and Alberta barely counts one in ten Canadians, much less one in five! So both of those figures are far out of proportion to those regions’ share of the national population.

The sexual dissolution of Alberta’s culture impacts even Calgary’s famous Stampede, which is marketed as a wholesome family event. Now, it’s true that for the most part the fair grounds, exhibits, and competitions are family-friendly; I take my own kids most years. However, the “party culture” that has sprung up in Calgary around the Stampede is anything but. For ten days in the summer, Calgarians “let their hair down” and indulge en masse in adolescent partying. I used to manage a downtown hotel near the Stampede grounds, and while Stampede is a reliable moneymaker for Calgary’s hospitality industry, we came to dread the week from a customer service perspective, knowing that ten days of damaged rooms, inebriated twenty-somethings hollering in the hallways after midnight, and guest complaints awaited us. Aping Las Vegas, a common saying in Calgary during the festival is “What happens at Stampede, stays at Stampede.”

This Stampede “party culture” has been growing in infamy. After hearing some of their interns swapping Stampede stories of young females being pressured into playing sexually suggestive party games at corporate Stampede parties, and young men into attending events catered by topless waitresses, the Sheldon Chumir Foundation conducted a panel exploring the ethical implications of Stampede party culture, especially for businesses. T-shirts have been sold printed with the phrase, “It’s not cheating, it’s Stampeding”;  not too long ago, a prominent Calgary boutique hotel, as a publicity stunt, ran a cheeky marketing campaign offering to allow guests to check their wedding rings at the door–and get a spray tan application to cover the finger’s tan line. This Winnipeg newspaper story, chillingly titled “Debauchery… Divorce, Disease,” reveals some shocking statistics. Stampede, for too many married Calgarians, presents an opportunity to see if things really are “greener” on the other side of the fence. As a result, within about six weeks after Stampede, the number of people calling a prominent local divorce mediation firm spikes by 30 percent. Sadly, Calgary police estimate that during the ten days of festivities, the number of prostitutes in Calgary doubles.

Another telling example of how tenuous social mores have become in Calgary was the scene on Calgary’s infamous “Red Mile” during the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. As the underdog team won game after game, hockey fans spilled out into the streets, beers in hand and clothes falling off. Crowds encouraged young women to disrobe for their amusement and a website was even set up for pictures, leading to justifiable criticism that Calgary’s fans were exploiting the ladies.

And it’s not just a Calgary thing, either. When the Edmonton Oilers similarly reached the Cup Finals two years later, Calgary’s counterpart to the north not only imitated the “street party” atmosphere with their own “Blue Mile” (complete with the debauchery, of course), but its police had to deal with a remarkable amount of violence and property damage to boot.

INCREASING LAWLESSNESS

Christians have always maintained that departures from the biblical teaching regarding sex–that sexual activity is designed by God exclusively for a committed, covenantal marriage relationship between one man and woman–would result in grave consequences for society. The sexual revolution has typecast chivalry as being “patriarchal” and, therefore, discouraged men from thinking of themselves as having a uniquely protective and responsible role in their relationships with women. Moreover, the sexual revolution and technology has diminished the physical consequences of extramarital sex, freeing men to indulge their natural–and sinful–tendency to objectify women through casual sexual encounters. A culture that encourages men and women–but particularly men–to view other human beings as merely means to a pleasurable end is a culture that has diminished the value of other human beings.

So it’s not terribly surprising, then, that Albertans–who we’ve already seen to be happily throwing off every and any social restriction on sexual activity!–are more prone to commit, and be victimized by, explicit or threatened sexual or relational violence. Statistics Canada reports that while more than one-third (39%) of Canadian women experienced at least one incident of sexual assault in their lifetimes, well over half of women in Alberta (58%) have had such an experience. Alberta women were more likely to be victims of stalking than women in other provinces (both of the charts below are originally from this report).

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In 2004, Statistics Canada reported that the rate of spousal abuse against Alberta women was 10% – the highest in the country. 

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It’s not merely family and sexual crimes that are higher than normal in Alberta. More drunk driving charges are laid in Alberta (450 charges per 100,000 people) than in the rest of the country (national average was 262/100K). Now, it needs to be noted that this statistic could be partially attributable to more enforcement (i.e., maybe we’re better at catching them than the rest of the country); still, I’d be very surprised to learn that Alberta cops (as good as they are) are something like 70% more effective than those in other provinces!

A GATHERING STORM OF POLITICAL PERSECUTION?

It’s not just Alberta’s social culture that’s abandoning Christian values. Alberta’s political conversation is increasingly turning hostile to evangelical Christian beliefs regarding sexuality. One indication of this trend is the fact that Alberta’s Human Rights Commission has been used by homosexual activists to target Christians for publicly stating their beliefs. Despite international condemnation by both Christian and secular conservatives and libertarians, the Commission has not been reformed by Alberta’s Conservative government to prevent such abuse of the system, and Section 3 of Alberta’s Human Rights Act has not been amended to prevent suppression of free speech. The Alberta government’s stark refusal to move such reforms is all the more noteworthy given the fact that even Canada’s federal government responded to such abuse of the federal Human Rights Commission by amending its governing legislation.

It’s not just the bureaucrats of a quasi-judicial body that have shown such disdain for Christian belief. During our last provincial election campaign Alberta’s premier, Alison Redford, harshly criticized an evangelical pastor running for another party for past denunciations of homosexuality during his pastoral ministry. Her exact words were, “The fact that there are people who think that’s a legitimate perspective just absolutely blows my mind…. I think they’re shocking.” Let me restate: Her Majesty’s head of government in Alberta honestly thinks that what Christians (and the vast majority of non-Christians as well) have believed regarding human sexuality for the past two thousand years has suddenly become a totally illegitimate political viewpoint. The historical myopia and logical incoherence of her position aside, it’s another sign of how secular and post-Christian even Alberta’s allegedly “conservative” political discourse has become.

SUMMARY

My point in recounting these tales is simple: since Alberta is no evangelical heartland, no one considering the state of the church in Canada has any reason to assume that Alberta is somehow a more Christian-friendly place than the rest of the country. In fact, Alberta society is demonstrating all the signs of a culture given over to secularism. Far from being “better off” than the rest of Canada, Alberta’s need of Christian outreach and mission work is no less than any other part of the country–and, arguably, may be greater than most.

So if you’re considering pastoral ministry, or if you are thinking strategically about places where you may serve the Kingdom or contribute to its work, please don’t count out Calgary, or Edmonton, or Red Deer, or Lethbridge, or anywhere else in Alberta just because “everyone knows Alberta’s the Bible Belt.” This province desperately needs the Gospel, and workers for the harvest. May God answer that prayer–and grant that more may offer that prayer in the first place.

NEXT TIME

In the next installment of this series, God willing, I’m going to expand somewhat on the theme I closed with above, and examine some of the practical needs of the evangelical church in Alberta.

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“Buckle of the Bible Belt”? Part 4

Beyond Statistics: Alberta Evangelicals’ Critical Theological Condition

So in review: I’ve argued that Alberta’s evangelical reputation is a myth stemming from largely political factors. Last week I laid out some disturbing statistics that prove Alberta is actually one of the least Christian places in Canada. The problem, as I explained last week, is twofold. First, here in Alberta people in general aren’t particularly religious anymore. And second, we don’t have enough evangelical churches in our major cities of Calgary and Edmonton.

Sadly, it gets even worse. Not only do we not have enough evangelical Christians or enough churches, but many of the churches we do have are struggling. Furthermore, even many of the seemingly stable ones are theologically unhealthy.

It’s that last point that today’s article is about. I expect this post will likely be more controversial than others. However, if we care about the strength of Christ’s church in Alberta and Canada, we need to be honest about our problems, including our theological problems—and, boy, do we have some.

I’m going to provide three examples that illustrate the deep theological crisis Alberta’s churches are facing today.

GIVING A “HELLBOUND” HERESY A PLATFORM

An incident that occurred last year provides an instructive, though deeply saddening, example of the poor theological health of Calgary’s churches. A Christian theatre company in Calgary welcomed, promoted and screened Kevin Miller’s reprehensible film “Hellbound?” (a film I reviewed and responded to at our church blog). In this movie, the filmmaker not only commits heresy–as it denies the biblical teaching about eternal punishment for the wicked–but also commits slander, as the film goes out of its way to associate orthodox Christians with the nutcases at Westboro Baptist Church. Now, the mere fact that someone made a heretical film isn’t that surprising; after all, books that promote bad theology are written every day, and we’re bound to get some bad films as well. And the film wasn’t made here in Alberta. So why does it matter in this discussion? Well, what’s particularly disappointing is the fact that local evangelical Christians actually promoted and supported the film.

Even more worrying is what we learn when we take a brief look at the theatre company’s “About Us” page, which has information about the education and church involvement of its directors and staff. Note that (and this is critical) these are the people whose responsibility it is to oversee the theatre company’s content and uphold the Christian character of the organization–and under whose watch this movie was promoted and supported among the evangelical Christian community in Calgary.

The list includes leaders in several prominent and leading evangelical churches in the Calgary area–notably, the pastor of a significant Baptist church just outside Calgary, a worship leader at a prominent local multi-site megachurch, and a dramatic arts director at Calgary’s largest evangelical church. Represented among the directors and staff are graduates (and even some instructors!) from every evangelical Bible college in the Calgary area (including the very school I attended for seminary training!), not to mention arguably Alberta’s most famous Bible college in Three Hills and a major Baptist university college in Edmonton. Denominations represented on that list include the Christian & Missionary Alliance, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (Canada’s largest evangelical denomination), the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, and the North American Baptist Conference.

This is what’s so surprising and saddening: these are not fringe denominations, or diploma mills, or extremist churches. None of these churches or denominations teach universalism or deny the doctrine of hell, as far as I have been able to determine. So this theatre company’s directors and staff constitute as mainstream and representative a sample of Calgary’s evangelical community as one could hope to find. Therefore, the very fact that Miller’s heretical piece could be shown under the oversight of, and therefore the tacit approval of, such a group of Christian leaders, and thus by them be recommended to the average Christian as a profitable use of their time, is heartbreaking. Their failure to “test all things” not only fed theological poison to an untold number of Calgary evangelicals, but it also serves as a saddening indication of the utter failure of Alberta’s most influential evangelical churches, schools, seminaries, and denominations to teach and practice wisdom and discernment.

“TRINITY BROADCASTING NETWORK NORTH”

A small theatre company in Calgary may be a useful bellweather for evangelical theological discernment, but its actual impact on Alberta’s evangelical culture is no doubt limited. That isn’t the case with our next example.

A more extreme, but undoubtedly more influential, organization–based in Lethbridge, Alberta–is “The Miracle Channel,” touted as Canada’s “First Christian Television Station.” The Miracle Channel is the Canadian partner of America’s reprehensible and chintzy Trinity Broadcasting Network, whose late founder Paul Crouch labored long and hard to build the network’s seedy reputation as a home of charlatans, heretics, and fraudsters. (Interestingly, The Miracle Channel was its founders’ second attempt at importing TBN cheese into Canada; in 1986, they had attempted to set up a rebroadcasting transmitter for TBN, which Canada’s CRTC mercifully slapped down at the time).

Some of you may think my words harsh, but they are warranted. The Miracle Channel, like its American counterpart, is noted for its support and advocacy of dangerous false teaching—specifically, the so-called “prosperity gospel,” also known as “Word-Faith” or “name-it-and-claim-it” teaching. So it’s necessary, at this point, to spend some time explaining what “word-faith” theology is and just why it’s so dangerous.

Charismatic author D.R. McConnell, in his outstanding book, “A Different Gospel” (which I recommend heartily to everyone!) proves that the Word-Faith movement’s teaching is not actually Christian at all, but rather stems from the cultic teaching of E.W. Kenyon and is therefore more closely related to the religions of Religious Science and Christian Science than it is to the faith of the Bible. Word-Faith advocates teach that “we can write our own ticket with God if we decide what we want, believe that it’s ours, and confess it,” thereby redefining faith as the conviction you’ll get something you want—as opposed to the Bible’s definition of faith as an empty-handed, repentant belief and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ for one’s salvation. Word-Faith advocates, in a disturbing correspondence to Mormon theology, diminish God and exalt man by teaching that human beings “are little gods,” teaching that by using the “substance of faith” we have the potential to do anything God does—while reducing God to merely a cosmic vending machine who spits out what we want if we plug in enough “faith.” One of the most ghastly aspects of Word-Faith teaching is their emphasis that physical healing in this life is guaranteed if you just believe strongly enough that you will be healed. This biblically false idea, not confined to Word-Faith circles by any means but certainly characteristic of them, has on more than one occasion prompted gullible parents to withhold medical treatment from sick children. The Word-Faith movement’s sick twist on faith healing results from combining that biblically false idea of healing with its unique teaching about “negative confession” (that is, you can deprive yourself of health and wealth if you doubt you might be healed or say something that questions the certainty of receiving such blessing), meaning that going to a doctor is then seen as such a “negative confession” and can actually thwart healing–a view that all too often has tragic results. Of course, leading Word-Faith advocates would deny a connection with such events, but they promote and advocate a view of faith, healing, and sickness that leads directly to such disasters.

Word-Faith teaching, then, is cultic, heretical, and unbiblical. It kills physically and spiritually, costing people their physical lives and sending souls to hell.  Yet the Miracle Channel’s programming schedule reads like a “Who’s Who” of leading Word-Faith teachers. Streaming forth from their radio tower in Lethbridge are the flagship TV broadcasts of noted prosperity advocates like John Hagee, Paul Crouch, Kenneth Copeland (Believer’s Voice of Victory), Morris Cerullo (Victory Today), Joyce Meyer (Enjoying Everyday Life), Joel Osteen (who is not only shallow but heretical), and Creflo Dollar.

Sure, not everything in the Miracle Channel’s programming lineup is heretical; Way of the Master is a solid ministry, I’ve benefitted personally from Charles Stanley’s In Touch even though I wouldn’t agree with him on everything, and Dr. David Jeremiah is a mainstream evangelical teacher. There are other decent shows as well. But a few good shows does not a Christian TV network make; after all, mixing protein powder into a bottle of battery acid won’t make the final product worthy of human consumption! The fact remains that the Miracle Channel devotes no less than 20 hours a week to rank heresy, much of it in prime programming slots; Hagee is on in the 6/8 PM slot weekdays, and folks tuning into Miracle Sunday mornings for “TV Church” are very likely to run into Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, or Joel Osteen.

The money-obsessed nature of The Miracle Channel’s programming has been noted in even secular Canadian news, and has actually been the subject of a CBC expose. Needless to say, this black eye on Christianity’s reputation among unbelievers only increases the damage this organization was already doing theologically to the cause of Christ in Alberta. Nevertheless, The Miracle Channel could arguably (and sadly) be described as Alberta’s most significant evangelical export today, and even Canada’s national media has had to acknowledge its influence and strong base of support. Which, again, speaks volumes about the profound lack of theological health in Alberta’s Christian community.

QUESTIONABLE CONFERENCE HEADLINERS

 Every year, Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton is the site of Break Forth, which bills itself as “North America’s Largest Equipping and Renewal Conference.” And it is certainly a landmark event in the local evangelical calendar. Break Forth meets in the Rexall Centre, home of the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers. It draws around 15,000 people from more than 1,000 churches, many of them young people. I remember the posters in the student lunchroom at seminary.

Break Forth draws some of the biggest and most influential names in North American evangelicalism every year. Sadly, in recent years it has been drawing some of North America’s most dangerous teachers. 2010’s conference invited as a headliner William Paul Young, the author of the bestselling Christian book The Shack, which despite its popularity promotes badly misleading ideas about the Trinity, submission, forgiveness, and revelation. In 2011, Break Forth had as its headline speaker John Eldredge, author of several bestselling books—and advocate of the heresy known as “open theism,” a denial that God knows the future. Both 2007 and 2012’s iterations invited Tony Campolo, who after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 advocated Christians follow the teaching of Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner and deny God’s omnipotence and control over natural disaster. Again, that’s not to say everyone they invite to speak is bad–but, yes, again, protein powder and battery acid and all that.

Given the popularity of Break Forth with Alberta’s young evangelicals, the lack of discernment shown by its organizers bodes ill for the future of Christ’s church in the province.

SUMMARY

Alberta’s evangelical schools and Calgary’s largest churches are failing to teach Christians discernment, and their leaders are neglecting, at best, their responsibility to guard the flock from false teaching. The Christian airwaves in Alberta are dominated by cultic superstition disguised with a Christian veneer. Our largest youth conference introduces the next generation to some of the most dangerous writers of our time.

So not only are Albertans in general less religious, and not only do we not have enough churches, but Alberta’s evangelical community is desperately sick in a theological sense.

Next time, I hope to unpack the challenge that Alberta’s Christians face in the culture–in case anyone still thinks Alberta, while maybe not religious, is still a pretty strait-laced and moral place. (Spoiler: it isn’t).

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“Buckle of the Bible Belt”? Part 1

Explaining Alberta’s and Calgary’s Evangelical Reputation

INTRODUCTION

It’s not uncommon to hear of Alberta described as Canada’s “Bible Belt.” My home province has been labeled in the Canadian popular understanding as a bastion of religious fundamentalism. Like many popular assumptions, this particular belief usually isn’t examined very closely; most folks take it for granted.

But is it true? Is Alberta the “Bible Belt” of the Frozen North, and is the “cowboy capital” city of Calgary the “buckle” that holds it all together? It’s actually an important question for Canadian Christians to answer. Alberta is growing in both population and economic power within the Canadian federation, especially compared to older parts of the country like Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. But the reputation of Alberta as an enclave of evangelicals raises the possibility that evangelical churches, denominations, and mission agencies, when considering where to allocate scarce resources for church planting and strengthening, may consider Alberta to be “less of a priority” than other seemingly “less evangelical” parts of the country. Missionaries may opt for other provinces; church planters may decide the need is greater in cities other than Calgary or Edmonton or Red Deer or Lethbridge.

My aim in writing this is to show that, despite its reputation, Alberta is not Canada’s Bible Belt, and Calgary is certainly not the “buckle” of any such belt. I’m (deo volente) currently planning three articles in this series. This is the first article in a multi-part series. In this first article, I’m going to look at why Alberta has this reputation as Canada’s “Bible Belt,” examining the cultural and (particularly) political factors that have influenced this view of the province by Canadians.

(Update, 23 November: because of an interesting comment below, I wrote a second article examining in more detail the case of “Bible Bill” Aberhart and the 1935 Social Credit election victory, and clarifying my main argument.)

In a couple days, in my second third article, I’m going to offer some sobering statistics and real-life examples that show that Albertan evangelicals, and particularly those in Calgary, are not nearly as well-off as popular assumptions might lead one to believe. The final article will have some thoughts on where I actually think Canada’s “Bible Belt” is, and some concluding remarks.

Here’s the other articles in the series; I will add to this list here as I post them on the blog:

Part 2: “Bible Bill” Aberhart and the Myth of Alberta as Canada’s Bible Belt

Part 3: Alberta’s Evangelical Reality: A Wasteland, Not A Heartland

Part 4: Beyond Statistics: Alberta Evangelicals’ Critical Theological Condition

Part 5: Straitlaced No More: Alberta’s Moral Decline

I’ll apologize at the outset both for the length and the historical and political emphasis of this series. Understanding Calgary’s (and Alberta’s) reputation as an evangelical hotbed requires some historical analysis, and I hope it is enlightening to many.

A UNIQUE LOT

Some readers may already have been taken aback by my statement above that I don’t think Alberta and Calgary in particular are any kind of evangelical redoubt. If we aren’t the “Bible Belt,” why does everyone think we are?

Albertans, and especially Calgarians, are a rather unique lot in Canadian culture. We have unique resources; the home of Canada’s oilpatch, Alberta has become incredibly wealthy even compared to other parts of the country. We have unique, uh, interests: Alberta boasted the world’s first UFO landing pad, and the town of Vulcan, south of Calgary, has built an entire tourist industry based on the happy (for them, anyway) coincidence that Star Trek’s Mr. Spock hailed from a world of the same name. And we have unique politics: in a nation generally leaning centre-left on the political spectrum, Alberta has a uniquely conservative and stable political climate. Having voted for only three changes of government in more than 108 years, and with the currently governing Progressive Conservatives (PCs) closing on 43 uninterrupted years in power, Alberta has a tradition of one-party rule that banana republics the world over can only gaze upon with envy. Moreover, in each case the political change came from the right: a populist farmers’ movement tossed Alberta’s first Liberal government in 1921, the right-wing Social Credit movement swept aside the United Farmers in 1935, and the PCs overthrew the Socreds in 1971.

So there are some reasons internal to Alberta politics, that have contributed to this reputation. We’re not like the rest of the country, and we’re conservative to boot. But my belief is that the primary reason for our Bible Belt reputation isn’t so much found in Alberta itself, but in the assumptions that undergird the perspectives of those in the rest of the country.

THE TORONTO-MONTREAL BIAS IN CANADIAN CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE

As background for readers from outside our country: more than half of Canada’s population lives in another “belt” stretching from Quebec City to Windsor, Ontario—a belt that contains the urban centres of Toronto and Montreal. This “belt” has always been the political and cultural powerhouse of the Canadian federation. Even as hard economic times have been shifting Canada’s economic engine to the resource-rich Western provinces, the fact remains that urban Ontario and Quebec still hold the bulk of federal parliamentary seats and are home to Canada’s most powerful media companies and cultural industries. Compared to cosmopolitan and progressive Toronto, Calgary seems a bastion of traditional Protestantism; compared to post-Catholic secular Montreal and Quebec City, Calgary is a hotbed of religious fervor!

A significant factor in this difference is demographics. Alberta, like the other Western provinces, has a proportionately larger rural population than Ontario; furthermore, Alberta’s rural population only dropped below Quebec’s as a percentage of the population starting in 1981. Rural populations tend to be more socially conservative and religious than urban ones, and so simple demographics play a role in enhancing Alberta’s reputation as a religious enclave. Reinforcing this difference is the fact that even within Ontario and Quebec, regions outside these large cities often feel rather alienated. For example, the mood in Northern Ontario toward the seat of power in Toronto has at times been so sour that folks in the region have muttered about separating from the rest of the province. Quebec nationalism (and sentiment in favour of Quebec independence) has always been much stronger in areas outside more cosmopolitan and (relatively) anglophone Montreal, to the degree that residents of the Montreal area have considered secession from the rest of Quebec in the event of the province’s separation from Canada.

If even within their own provinces, these cities are cultural “worlds unto themselves,” it is unsurprising that sharp differences of values and perception might exist between Alberta and the Toronto-Montreal cultural and political “nexus.” My argument is that the perception (and, indeed, the very worldview) of Canada’s political and media elites is colored by their own location  in urban Central Canada, and by the post-Christian and postmodern assumptions and values that are increasingly taken for granted in urban Ontario and Quebec. The perception of those elites, in turn, heavily influences Canada’s national media coverage, entertainment, and political discourse. Since Alberta and Calgary in particular do not fit the assumptions and values of Central Canada’s elites very well, their perception of conservative and religious tendencies in Alberta and Calgary are easily magnified into the image of a “Bible belt.”

ALBERTAN EVANGELICAL IMPACT ON CANADIAN FEDERAL POLITICS

That perception has only been reinforced by the political history of Canada. Traditionally, Western Canadians have felt alienated and somewhat ignored or exploited by the Ontario-Quebec political nexus, and consequently have viewed the mainstream political parties (the Liberals and the Conservatives) with some suspicion. Periodically, this alienation has boiled into political revolt, expressed historically through the creation of new political parties. (For American readers, these populist revolts in Canadian political history bear interesting similarities to the current Tea Party revolt within the Republican Party in the United States).

Interestingly enough, these populist parties and movements have not only invariably begun or been based in Alberta, but they have also, significantly, been prominently led by evangelicals. Three noteworthy examples I’ll look at are the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the Social Credit movement, and the Reform movement.

THE CCF

In 1932, the social-democratic Cooperative Commonwealth Federation was formed in Calgary under the leadership of a Methodist circuit-riding preacher named J.S. Woodsworth, and it initially flourished largely in Western Canadian parliamentary ridings and provincial legislatures. Building from that foundation, the CCF and its socialist successor, the modern New Democratic Party, has exercised a deep influence on Canadian politics ever since. One outstanding example that both Canadians and Americans would both be at least casually aware of is the modern Canadian institution of single-payer government-run medicare. What many conservative and evangelical Americans may be surprised to learn is that Canadian medicare owes its existence largely to the efforts of a Baptist minister named Tommy Douglas, who led the CCF to implement it in the western province of Saskatchewan only later to be imitated in the rest of the country.

SOCIAL CREDIT

Based on the monetary teachings of British theorist C.H. Douglas, the conservative Social Credit movement in Canada began in Alberta and first swept to power in that province’s 1935 election under the leadership of the charismatic (in both senses of the term!) Baptist minister William “Bible Bill” Aberhart. Alberta’s seventh premier, Aberhart served until 1943 and actually ran a Bible radio program—even when in office! (An interesting historical note is that Aberhart was once principal of the Alexandra School in which, many years later, we at Calvary Grace Church met until 2012). His successor as premier was another evangelical and the first graduate of Aberhart’s “Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute,” Ernest Manning, who led Social Credit to seven consecutive election victories and cemented Alberta’s modern political tradition of one-party rule.

THE REFORM MOVEMENT

Pierre Trudeau ruled as a Liberal Prime Minister of Canada until the early 1980s. Not only did his foreign policies irritate Canadian allies abroad in the United States and NATO, but domestically, his policies infuriated Western Canadians. (One enduring legend in Canadian political history is Trudeau’s train trip through Western Canada in 1982; people tossed tomatoes at his car in the Rogers Pass, B.C., egged his coach in Exshaw, Canmore, and the outskirts of Calgary, and a frustrated Trudeau famously “flipped the bird” to protesters in Salmon Arm, B.C.) Western alienation within the Canadian confederation reached a fever pitch, a rage only temporarily soothed by the 1984 landslide that replaced the Liberals with Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives. This alienation soon began to grow again, however, particularly because of Mulroney’s repeated actions calculated to placate the Quebec nationalist wing of his coalition, actions interpreted by Westerners as being at their expense.

Disgusted with both traditional Canadian political parties, a new political party called the Reform Party was formed in Western Canada. Not only did Reform elect its first Member of Parliament from Edmonton, Alberta, but its leader was the son of Alberta Socred leader Ernest Manning (remember him above?). The younger Manning, another evangelical Christian named Preston, was based in Calgary and would later led the Reform party to sweep Western Canada’s parliamentary seats, assume Official Opposition status, destroy the Progressive Conservatives as a political force, and split Canada’s conservative movement for more than a decade.

Stymied, however, in its efforts to appeal to Central and Eastern Canadians, the Reform party re-branded itself as the Canadian Alliance under the leadership of (yet) another evangelical, a former Alberta cabinet minister named Stockwell Day. (Day’s evangelical beliefs on creation and evolution were infamously ridiculed on national television by a Liberal party hack wielding a stuffed toy dinosaur). Later, in the early 2000s (still) another evangelical and former Reformer, Stephen Harper, was instrumental in uniting the Canadian Alliance with the Maritime and Central Canadian rump of the Progressive Conservatives, forming the current Conservative Party of Canada that has now won three consecutive federal elections.

ALBERTAN TIES TO THE UNITED STATES

Compounding the influence of these political facts has been Canadians’ perception of the historical connection Alberta has had with the United States. One of the earliest non-native settlements in Alberta was Fort Whoop-up, so named because its American proprietors had set up shop just across the border from the authorities in their own country in order to ply the local natives with whiskey (a factor that, among other things, contributed to the formation of what later became Canada’s famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Since the second half of the 20th century, the oil boom in Alberta has created strong economic ties between the province and the oil-rich evangelical and Republican heartland of the southern United States.

These economic ties have contributed to a significant interchange of culture and immigration in both directions between Alberta and the United States. Today, more Americans reside in Calgary (per-capita) than any other city in Canada (and by some accounts, any other city worldwide). Calgary’s famous Stampede, begun by an American named Guy Weadick, is a keynote event in professional rodeo, a sport also popular throughout the western United States, and draws thousands of American and international tourists each year. The mobility of families between Alberta and the United States has been recently illustrated by the examples of two famous politicians. One of the stalwarts of Albertan and conservative Canadian politics in the last twenty years was a man named Myron Thompson, a dual citizen of Canada and the United States and former U.S. Army soldier. Thompson was born and raised in Colorado and once tried out for the New York Yankees as a catcher, only to lose out to Yogi Berra! More recently, a minor scandal erupted in America when it was discovered that a conservative Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz—again, an evangelical, and a Tea Partier to boot!—had been born in Calgary.

It’s important to stress the importance, in the Canadian cultural mind, of this connection of Alberta with the United States. In Canadian political discourse, “American-style” is an insult, and has been very commonly thrown at the policies advocated by both provincial and federal Albertan conservatives. In a country that, since the American Revolution, has defined itself largely by its differences from its southern neighbor, these associations between Alberta and the United States have resulted in Alberta being similarly associated in the public mind with the overt religiosity (at least as compared to Canada) of American culture and politics.

SUMMARY

To summarize, then! Because of the unique political culture, demographics, and history of Alberta, because of the influential but biased perspective of a national political, cultural and media establishment rooted in a more secular and postmodern part of the country, because of the outsized impact Western-based and particularly Albertan evangelical Protestants have had in Canadian politics, and because of Canadians’ natural suspicion of American culture combined with the historically close ties Alberta has enjoyed with the more religiously and culturally conservative parts of the United States, Canadians have for years found it all too easy to generalize and assume that Alberta is a Canadian “Bible Belt” and Calgary is its “buckle.”

In other words, Alberta and Calgary are perceived to be more “evangelical” than they really are. However, the facts don’t support the reputation. More on that next time.

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