Saturday, November 28, 2009

In praise of Stephen Harper

It isn't often I get to say this, really. Good for Stephen Harper. Well done.

Today, the Times of London (among others) reports that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown showed real leadership at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, condemning the horrific anti-gay legislation currently before the Ugandan parliament.

Good for Stephen Harper.

Curiously, some of the bravest Canadian stands against international injustice have come from Conservative Prime Ministers - John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney led the Commonwealth charge against racist apartheid in South Africa. Despite their pretty talk, Liberal Prime Ministers have been pretty much a bust on that score. It was Liberal Mackenzie King who refused to admit Jewish refugees from Naziism into Canada, for example.

The Times article also quotes UN AIDS envoy (and former Ontario NDP leader) Stephen Lewis, who spoke to the conference. According to Lewis, "Nothing is as stark, punitive and redolent of hate as the bill in Uganda."

Now if only the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (the latter a former Ugandan judge) could rise to the same level of moral insight as these three politicians.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Torture is still wrong

I must admit, at times Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his political instincts baffle me. I swear, the man has the political equivalent of Tourette's Syndrome.

Recently, the hot news story in Canada has been the accusations of a Canadian diplomat that Canadian troops had been handing prisoners over to the Afghan government without taking adequate measures to ensure that such prisoners were not tortured.

To their credit, the Harper government have actually taken some steps to address this problem. They may not have done enough, but they had done something.

Unlike the previous Liberal government, which (unlike most other NATO countries) had decided to leave Afghan nationals to the tender mercies of a government known to engage in the torture of prisoners. That would be the same Liberal Party now led by "regulated" torture advocate Michael Ignatieff.

The part I don't get is why the Conservatives have decided to get defensive on this file, and have started attacking the credibility of this diplomat. It was on the basis of his reports that the Harper government changed the terms under which prisoners were turned over - and on at least three occasions, suspended such turnovers in response to reports of torture and abuse.

The Tory record on this file may not be perfect, but in the words of a former Conservative Prime Minister from my home province, "don't compare me to perfection - compare me to the other guy."

Seems to me the smarter (and actually justifiable) response would have been for the Conservatives to say something like this:

"Yes, there was evidence that prisoners turned over to the Afghan authorities were being tortured. That is why our government changed the terms under which such prisoner transfers happened. We are prepared to further tighten our conditions if necessary. Unlike the former governing party and their current leader, we find torture to be abhorent."

In fact, had I been advising the Prime Minister, I'd have told him to appoint a well regarded Canadian whose reputation was above reproach - possibly former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent or former Ontario NDP leader and UN Ambassador Stephen Lewis - to conduct a review and report back to the government in 90 days about how such prisoner transfers should be managed.

Instead, the Conservatives have become (in the eyes of most observers) defenders of the transfers and de facto defenders of torture.

And they've pretty much left Count Ignatieff and the Liberals off the hook.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Torture is still wrong.

People who don't understand that are either wicked or stupid (or possibly both).

For the egregiously dimwitted, here's a former professional wrestler to explain it to you.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Green is the Colour

No one in Canada will need an explanation.

For my non-Canadian readers, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have won the Western Conference Championship and will play in the Grey Cup next Sunday.

The Grey Cup is the Canadian Football League Championship.

Canadian Football is not the same as that silly four down game the Americans play on that tiny field, with wimpy rules like "fair catch."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hate is not a Christian value

Uganda was never, so far as I can tell, a hotbed of gay rights. Certainly the Anglican Primate of Uganda, Henry Orombi, has made enough bizarre remarks about homosexuals - in among his famous comments about how the American far right sends him so much money. (I decline to draw you that dotted line any more plainly.)
Even so, it is beyond distressing that the Ugandan Parliament should be considering an horrific anti-gay bill that calls for the deaths of LGBTQ people and for the imprisonment of any straight person who doesn't turn them in to the authorities.
Since this story broke, official responses in the Anglican universe have been pretty muted. Dead silence from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop of York - himself a former Ugandan jurist - has deliberately held his tongue. And, to no one's surprise, the North American schismatics who like to pretend their churches are in Uganda have offered nothing but deafening silence.
I suppose the Ugandan Church can be damned with faint praise for their half-hearted suggestion that the death penalty may be slightly over the top - but that otherwise the bill is just jim dandy.
Thankfully, the Anglican Church of Canada gets it. You can read last weeks resolution from the Council of General Synod here.
In the meantime, other folk have been speaking out. A Facebook group has nearly 5,000 members as of this afternoon. (And if you aren't a member, why not?) The group has designated today as a day of prayer, asking people to pray for at least 30 minutes for: the wihdrawal of the bill; for the protection and peace of LGBTQ people in Uganda and around the world; and for Ugandan Christians to realize this bill is nothing short of blasphemy.
It is worth noting that it isn't just supporters of LGBTQ folk who have spoken out against this appalling bill. You don't have to be in favour of gay marriage to realize that mass murder is wrong.
How hard is it to grasp that hate is not a Christian value?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

. . . in grateful thanksgiving for the many benefits received at his hand . . .

This Monday is the feast of St. Margaret of Scotland.

When I was a young priest (yes, I was once a young priest) I was at the local high school to see the principal. The secretary asked who she might say was calling. The conversation went something like this:

Me - I'm Malcolm French, the Anglican priest.

She - No. Anglicans have ministers, not priests.

Me - I'm Malcolm French, and I'm the Anglican priest.

She - Catholics have priests. Anglicans have ministers.

Me (choking back an entire history lesson about the English reformation and the catholicity of Anglicanism) - I was there. The archbishop put his hands on my head and I distinctly heard him say "priest." Would you please just tell Norm I'm here?

I still remember it distinctly. It was on the feast of St. Margaret of Scotland 1984 at All Saints Church in Oxbow SK.

The picture is a stained glass window from St. Margaret's Chapel, Edinburgh. The image is taken from the official website of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Church Kiss

My wife and I attended a high school production of The Wedding Singer last night. The students did very well, and the costumes brought back memories of the 1980s in all their horrors.

I'd never seen the Adam Sandler - Drew Barrymore movie on which the show was based - though it was one of the early pieces in Sandler's transition from cinematic clown to serious actor in romantic comedies. He's carried it further in movies like 50 First Dates - also with Barrymore. He's following the steps of noted funny men like Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, though he's not quite seen as a potential leading man in a drama.

In any event, last night did introduce me to one scene which serves to answer a question that comes up (implicitly, not usually explicitly) at wedding rehearsals. To wit:

The play also included a brief hit of klezmer music, which moves me to include this video for no particular reason.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Taskless Thanks

Yesterday, there was a bit of a rhubarb between New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer and Conservative Senator Mike Duffy on Evan Solomon's new show, Power & Politics. The issue was a report Peter had issued about the cost of the Canadian Senate.

For the clarification of my non-Canadian readers, the Senate of Canada is not so much like the Senate of the United States as like the pre-reform British House of Lords. Senators are "summoned" by the appointed Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. They hold office until the age of 75.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had promised to reform the Senate, and that he would not appoint Senators. (He did allow that he would honour non-binding Senate elections if any province were to conduct one. Only Alberta currently provides for that.) Despite his promise, Prime Minister Harper now holds the record for the most Senate appointments in one calendar year. He has now appointed 28 Senators. One, Bert Brown, was the winner of a non-binding Senate election in Alberta, who Harper appointed in 2007. The rest were appointed in four batches so far this year.

There are 105 seats in the Senate, with two current vacancies in New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Two of Harper's appointees, including Senator Duffy, may have violated the constitutional requirement of being resident in the province they were appointed to represent. Five of his appointees will still be in the Senate (barring resignation, impeachment or death) in 2039. One will not have to leave until 2049. Nice work if you can get it. Truly, it is the taskless thanks.

Now, here's the video of the exchange. I swear, I was worried dear old Duff's head was going to explode.

Here's the interesting thing. The comments on the CBC website were 90% critical of the Senator. Similarly the media commentary. Duff's former friend, Don Martin (no syncophant of the NDP he) was unusually blunt is his condemnation of his erstwhile colleague.

Many senators are decent types trying to make intelligent and constructive contributions to public policy. But Mike Duffy's only value has become that of poster boy for why the Senate needs, at very least, major reform if not outright abolition.
The first politician to rise to Stoffer's defence was an MP of another party.

Peter Stoffer said he would run for Parliament and did. He won, as he has done repeatedly. He acted on his convictions. Mike Duffy railed against the Senate as a place of unelected stooges while a media commentator but then took an unelected appointment to the place the moment it was offered. Of the two, I can guarantee you that Peter Stoffer is not a fake.

Duff defended his travel expenses by comparing them to Stoffer's, which he claimed were similar on an annualized basis. "What's the difference?"

Here is my email to Senator Duffy (cc-ing Peter Stoffer):

Dear Senator Duffy,

On CBC yesterday, you indicated that you couldn't see the difference between your travel claims and those of NDP MP Peter Stoffer, whose claims, on an annualized basis, you suggest are on par with yours.

Now, I'm a bit surprised you can't figure it out. But let me explain it to you.

Last election, 24,290 Canadian citizens voted for Peter Stoffer. That's about 61.5% of the votes cast in Sackville - Eastern Shore.

By contrast, no one voted for you at all.

Now don't get me wrong. Duff. My contempt for the Senate of Canada does not translate into contempt for every Senator. I'm quite fond of Senator Raynell Andreychuk, who has always been very kind to me personally. I've met Senator Michael Meighen and found him to be both amiable and well-informed. My own great-uncle, Earl Hastings, was a Senator for more than 30 years. I always got on well with the late Senator Hazen Argue and am friends with several members of his family. And some of the work of Senate committees has frequently proved a valuable contribution to public debates.

However, none of that changes the fact that there is no place for an all-appointed legislative body in a democracy. The Senate of Canada, as presently constituted, is a festering pustule on the arse-end of Canada's democracy. Those who accept the taskless thanks of a summons to the Senate should be prepared to have their activities scrutinized - particularly the cost of the Senate is increasing at more than three times the rate of the cost of the House of Commons, even though the number of MPs has increased while the number of Senatorial sinecures has remained stable. Whingy temper tantrums on national television by the most junior Senator
from Prince Edward Island do nothing to enhance the credibility of the Red Chamber.

I hope this clears the matter up for you, Senator.

Yours aye,

Malcolm French APR

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Steven Anderson - CINO

In any movement, there will be those hardliners who claim that other members of the movement who dissent from the deemed consensus on X, Y or Z issue are not "real" members of the movement.

In Canada, the Reform Party arose, in part, because the Progressive Conservative Party were deemed "not 'real' conservatives."

In my own party, there are always the handful who claim that various of us have no right to be New Democrats due to our assorted thought crimes. (Ironically, they will often accuse me of really belonging in the Liberal Party, while at the same time decrying my alleged lack of principle in refusing to countenance electoral deals with the Liberal Party. A trifle counterintuitive that.)

The right wing of the US Republican Party have even come up with a (half) witty acronym for moderate members of their party: RINOs - Republicans in Name Only.

Thing is, it does occasionally happen that people will claim to be part of some movement or body or structure while at the same time violating its basic beliefs or principles.

So, brothers and sisters, let me introduce you to Pastor Steven Anderson, CINO - Christian in Name Only.

Pastor Anderson has taken to praying for President Obama. Not that God should guide and bless the President, mind. Rather that the President should die.
"I hope that God strikes Barack Obama with brain cancer so he can die like Ted Kennedy and I hope it happens today."

This isn't an example of a well meaning Christian getting it wrong. This isn't a wee bit of confusion about the finer points of Christology or Trinitarian dogma. This isn't honest disagreement about casuistical divinity.

No, brothers and sisters. This is not error. This is grievous sin and overt heresy. This is Satan messing with the Body of Christ.

It is clear and unambiguous. Though he calls himself "pastor," Steven Anderson is leading Jesus's sheep into the tender embrace of the wolves.

If he believes that there is any theological warrant to pray for the death of another person, then the god who Steven Anderson worships is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Jesus he proclaims is not the Son of the Living God. The Spirit he invokes is not the comforter who will lead us into all truth.

Now, here's the kicker. If I want to be more than a CINO, I need to pray for Steven Anderson. To pray that he will have his eyes opened, that he will be freed from this error and come to know the true God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That someone who pretends to be in a position of Christian leadership would pray so hateful a prayer is a scandal. He slanders the Name of Jesus.

Of course, he's not the only one out there preaching hate and pretending to do so in the name of the God of Love. We've seen enough examples of that of late - Uganda and Maine spring immediately to mind.

Much as I may feel otherwise, my Christian duty is to pray for them all.

MOST gracious God, we humbly beseech thee for thy Church. Fill it with all truth; in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where any thing is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen and confirm it; where it is in want, furnish it; where it is divided and rent asunder, make it whole again; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Judicious Divine

Today is the feast day of that judicious divine, Mr. Hooker.
"He that goeth about to persuade a multitude that they are not so well governed as they ought to be, shall never want attentive and favourable hearers, because they know the manifold defects whereunto every kind of regiment is subject, but the secret lets and difficulties, which in public proceedings are innumerable and inevitable, they have not ordinary judgement to consider. And because such as reprove supposed disorders of state are taken for principal friends to the common benefit of all, and for men that carry singular freedom of mind, under this fair and plausible colour, whatsoever they utter passes for good and current. That which wanteth in the weight of their speech is supplied by the aptness of men's minds to accept and believe it."

- The Rev'd Dr. Richard Hooker
Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (I, 1, i)
When I was a young priest, I had, for a time, a retired Archbishop as my honourary assistant. On his death, his family kindly gave me his copy of Ecclesiastical Polity. I got more than the occasional odd look when I would mention that I now had the Archbishop's Hooker.
I suppose it was injudicious of me.