Taking Media Phone Calls

Taking calls from the media is part of my role and job description as General Secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches. Such calls can be more or less frequent depending on events in the national and international context. In the Canadian context of an up-coming federal election and the international context of the Syrian refugee crisis, it was not at all surprising to receive a call from a journalist at the Canadian Press this week.

It is important to note that media interviews can be what may be termed as ‘friendly’ or ‘unfriendly’ and this one was very much in the first category. It was also thoughtful, insightful and complex. This makes it much more a source for deep reflection than it would have been if it was an ‘unfriendly’ interview. The journalist raised particular questions in terms of the Christian denominations of Canada but both her questions and my answers could equally well apply to any faith tradition.

She began saying that her questions related to a possible inter-relationship between the up-coming federal election and the Syrian refugee crisis. She told me that there is a perception amongst her colleagues that most Christian denominations favour the Conservative party when their members vote but that she herself was uncertain that this was really accurate. She had become more and more uncertain that this was accurate as criticism of the current Conservative government’s handling of the refugee crisis has grown and it has become clear that the churches (and faith communities) are not only on the forefront of compassion, action and advocacy but have decades of history in doing so. She wanted to know if a single issue like the refugee crisis could dramatically change the voting preferences of Christians in the country.

Of course, I began my response with a quick trip through Canadian history and the role of churches and other faith communities in it, pointing out its complexity and diversity.

Of course, I de-bunked simplistic generalizations.

Of course, I said that there would be people in every faith community voting for every political party.

The journalist was very receptive to everything I said and I believe that the up-coming story will be complex, nuanced and balanced in its presentation of some of the dynamics in the relationship of faith communities to politics.

The point of deep reflection for us all is the perception of the journalist’s colleagues that people of faith mostly vote conservative because it is that party that best mirrors their conservative stance on the traditionally defined social issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. She was clear that in the opinion of those she works with, those three issues are the main focus of churches’ political concerns. We are about saying ‘no’.

The visible response to the Syrian refugee crisis on the part of the churches/faith communities is altering that perception. The response is not mirroring that of the current conservative government and it is about saying ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’.

Another point of deep reflection for us all is the awareness of how we are perceived by our fellow citizens. How do we want to be perceived? Do we want to be proactive or just reactive about that perception? How do we want to present the issues that emerge from our deeply grounded faith? To use a Christian set of symbols, how are we seen and how do we wish to be seen as salt and light in the world?

The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches