Constantine in Canada: The Conservative Evangelicals
Ron S. Dart
When Eusebius gave his “Oration to Constantine” in the 4th century of the Common Era, it was understandable why he lauded Constantine.
There had been a tragic history for Christians (never consistent, of course) of Christians being persecuted for their faith. When Constantine came to power, he reversed such a position and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire. Most thoughtful Christians, of course, were acutely aware that the interests of the state and church were not the same, and when push came to shove, the standards of the church took precedent over the state or empire. This did not mean Christians of the Late Antique world were anti-statist---to quote Thomas More, “the King’s good servant, but God’s first”. Most of the Fathers/Mothers of the Church knew the difference between ultimate, penultimate and antepenultimate concerns and priorities. But, there lingers the notion that when the church becomes subservient to the power structure of the state, Constantine has returned. How is such a reality being played out by conservative evangelicals in Canada today?
Missions Fest (MF) in Vancouver in January 2017 hosted an event in which many Christian booths advertised their vision of faith, but of these many booths, Christian Zionists (some with flags of Israel proudly flying) were given ample space but Palestinian Christians were not given a booth. Christian Zionists tends to be uncritically supportive of the state of Israel , and, now Trump is in power, the close relationship between the USA and Israel is firmly entrenched. Is this not a contemporary form of Constantine alive and well?—Christians genuflecting to two states (USA-Israel) and in the process legitimating a tale of two cities in Israel-Palestine.
Festival of Hope in Vancouver (March 2017) has had a turbulent history. The keynote speaker (Franklin Graham—son of Billy Graham) has a predictable history of being on the far right (neither as wise nor as moderate as his father). Franklin Graham offered uncritical support to Donald Trump (as a sort of new David and Moses), has trashed Islam (calling it an evil religion) and certainly lacks minimal sympathy for immigrants and many others. The deeper probes in Samaritans Purse reflect right of centre tendencies also. The fact a substantive element of the church in Vancouver (conservative evangelicals) would bring Graham to Vancouver, given his many questionable comments and support of Trump, speaks much about a Canadian-American form of Constantine incarnate---indeed, as T.S. Eliot would note, such strange gods.
The Evangelical Fellow ship of Canada (EFC) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) have formed a warm and friendly dialogical arrangement—needless to say, the fate of the Palestinians is kept far from the ongoing and deeper dialogue (if it can be called that). The EFC engagement with CIJA speaks much about the way conservative Christians are quite willing to work with Zionist Jews (who, of course, are quite supportive of the state of Israel). Needless to say, there are many secular and religious Jews who are deeply critical of the state of Israel. But, when EFC and CIJA join affectionate hands (Canada remains one the strongest supporters of Israel in the world), we see, all so clearly, those of faith bowing to Constantine yet once again. Trudeau is no more likely to criticise Israel than Harper (ironically, Trudeau and Trump are on the same page on Zionism). EFC & CIJA and Trudeau &Trump--even stranger gods.
The fact Missions Fest, Festival of Hope and EFC-CIJA take the positions they do reflect and embody a form of reviving Constantine in Canada, and it is, for the most part, conservative evangelicals that are the apologists and evangelists of such a position.
Open Letter Re: Franklin Graham's Visit to Vancouver
We, the undersigned, represent a broad diversity of Christian churches, including evangelical congregations, and over 60% of the Christians in the metro area.
We are releasing the attached letter regarding Franklin Graham being the speaker for the Festival of Hope, after nine months of dialogue with the Festival of Hope committee.
Diversity of opinion is not a sign of disunity. It is a sign of health. We have learned from each other that unity is best achieved at the start of a journey together, before an irrevocable decision like the selection of a speaker has been made. Despite this diversity of opinion about Mr. Graham, we trust that many will find new life in Christ at the Festival of Hope over these next few days and that, irrespective of anything else, this city will experience the love of God in new and profound ways. We pray to that end.
We had planned to release the letter on February 21st, but agreed to hold it until today to give Mr. Graham time to reply in writing. We received Mr. Graham's reply last night (the 23rd). We are encouraged that he gave us a gracious response and has publicly pledged to avoid controversial topics while in Vancouver and to focus on the "simple Gospel."
However, Mr. Graham has neither retracted nor sufficiently addressed the harmful statements to which we drew his attention, and which can be found here. Therefore, we are releasing our letter. We urge Mr. Graham to release the reply he sent us.
We want to make clear that our letter was not written at the request of the City of Vancouver. It was already in draft form when a few of us met with the Mayor earlier this month. The Mayor called that meeting because he wanted to share his concerns and to ask what the Christian community could do to diminish the potential risk of inciting violence that he and the Vancouver Police Department perceived.
We love and respect our sisters and brothers on the Festival of Hope Committee. We have worked together for many years and hope to do so for many years to come. Nonetheless, we feel compelled to clarify our concerns to the wider community, regarding our perspective on what brings honour to Jesus and on the Good News he asks us to share in word and deed.
We are eager to dialogue further with our sisters and brothers about their concerns and ours - and with Mr. Graham if he is so inclined.
February 24th, 2017
To our Christian colleagues and our fellow Vancouverites,
As pastors and Christian leaders in greater Vancouver, we deeply believe in a Jesus who is "for" all human beings. He is so “for" us that he willingly died to teach us how we can have life to the fullest with him. We desire that all people hear his message of hope.
We are concerned that Franklin Graham, who is our brother in Christ, will be the keynote speaker at the Festival of Hope conference to be held here in March.
Our concern is that the contentious and confrontational political and social rhetoric that Mr. Graham has used has the potential to overshadow the message of Jesus and incite hostility in our highly charged social climate.
We wish to make clear that we value the work our sisters and brothers in Christ have done in organizing the Festival, which intends to celebrate and share the true message of Christianity: the Good News about Jesus of Nazareth. We pray that the Festival of Hope will be all that God wants it to be.
Jesus's life, sacrificial death, and resurrection ensure that justice will ultimately prevail in the world, that the universe will be restored to its full goodness and wellbeing, and that everyone may find in Jesus forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with the Creator who knows and loves each of us in our unique particularity.
Jesus inaugurated his ministry in and for the world by announcing, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour" (Luke 4:18-19).
Regrettably, Franklin Graham's public comments appear to compromise Jesus's mission of love and justice for all. He has made disparaging and uncharitable remarks about Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community, while portraying the election, administration and policies of U.S. President Donald Trump as intrinsically aligned with the Christian Church.
For instance, Franklin Graham has said that:
All Muslims should be banned from the United States because Islam is a "very evil and wicked religion" at war with the Christian West;
LGBTQ+ persons should not be allowed to enter churches or even enter as guests into Christian homes, because "the Enemy [Satan] wants to devour our homes";
The outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election was due to "the hand of God," giving the impression that the Christian church as an institution is partisanly aligned with an administration and its policies.
Such blending of politics and religion is dangerous. First, it comes close to aligning the power of the church with the power of the state. Second, it does so by seeming to develop a false religious narrative to support an exalted and troubling American nationalism. Third, it can divide Christians who do not view things the same way as Mr. Graham. Fourth, we are concerned that some of the policies of the Trump administration have introduced unprecedented structural shifts that put the most vulnerable in our world at risk of greater harm. These policies may jeopardize refugees and reinforce prejudice.
Some examples of the incendiary speech Mr. Graham often employs can be found at whatfrankgrahamsaid.wixsite.com/whatfrankgrahamsaid. Statements like these do not convey the spirit of Christ that we would hope to see preached by an ambassador of the Gospel to Canada.
Offering a Christian presence and witness in Vancouver is a lifelong task that belongs to all of us. Unfortunately it’s one we may find more difficult if our fellow citizens are given the impression that such remarks are representative of Christianity.
Christians can legitimately disagree with one another on many issues of political and religious policy, and we do engage in ongoing conversation about these issues. Biblical ethics do not sort neatly into "conservative" and "progressive" circles, even less so among Canadian Christians than our American counterparts.
We have attempted to resolve this matter through dialogue with Festival organizers, who we had hoped would be open to inviting a speaker with a message that more clearly aligns with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, our efforts have been unsuccessful. So with heavy hearts we have taken this unusual, painful step to speak publicly about our differences.
We continue to respect Franklin's father, the prominent evangelist Billy Graham, and we appreciate the life-saving work that Franklin's international relief agency, Samaritan's Purse, does in some of the world's most challenged regions. It is not our intention to vilify the Festival's organizing committee. We simply believe it is a mistake to think Franklin Graham's political stances are immaterial to his presenting the Gospel. We want to continue to work with all our sisters and brothers in the faith, even in the wake of this controversy. We do not want disagreement on this one initiative to reverse the tide of cooperation that has been building for years now.
As followers of Jesus, then, we commit to:
Joyfully sharing Jesus's Gospel that calls us to serve and love our neighbours of differing ethnic or religious commitments;
Creating a society that includes people from every nation, in line with God's abiding passion for reconciliation;
Encouraging our elected leaders when they work for a just and peace-filled society that comes closer to God's vision of flourishing life, while challenging them when they enact policies that oppress others.
Sincerely in Christ,
The Most Reverend J. Michael Miller, CSB, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver
The Rev. Cari Copeman-Haynes, President-Elect, BC Conference of the United Church of Canada
The Rev. Garry Janzen, Executive Minister, Mennonite Church British Columbia
The Rev. Dr. Laura Nelson, President of the Board of Canadian Baptists of Western Canada and Pastor of Olivet Baptist Church
The Right Reverend Melissa Skelton, Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster
Pastor Randy Barnetson, Vancouver Foursquare Church
The Rev. Dr. Jeremy Bell, Executive Minister, Canadian Baptists of Western Canada
The Rev. Geoff Chapman, University Chapel
The Rev. David Chow, Killarney Park Mennonite Brethren Church
The Rev. Albert YS Chu, The Tapestry
The Rev. Lydia Cruttwell, First United Mennonite Church
The Rev. Geoffrey DeJager, Vancouver First Church of the Nazarene
The Rev. Dr. Darrell Johnson, Pastor and Professor
The Rev. Dr. Tim Dickau, Grandview Calvary Baptist Church
The Very Reverend Peter G. Elliott, Rector of Christ Church Cathedral and Dean, Diocese of New Westminster
The Rev. Mike Hsu and The Rev. Mark Swanson, Grace Vancouver Church
The Rev. Heather Joy James, Cambie Village Church
The Rev. Matt Kitchener, Pastor, Canadian Baptists of Western Canada
Silas Krabbe, Community Theologian and Coordinator, Mosaic Church
The Rev. Tim Kuepfer, Mennonite Church of BC
The Rev. Gordie Lagore, Vancouver East Vineyard Church
The Rev. Daniel Louie, Urban Village Church
The Rev. Janina Mobach and The Rev. Mary-Lee Bouma, Downtown Friends Christian Reformed Church
The Rev. Dr. Ted Ng and Diana Gee, Pastors, Faith Community Christian Church
The Rev. Jesse Pals, The Tapestry Marpole
The Very Reverend Dr. Gary Paterson, St Andrew's Wesley United Church
Dr. Cam Roxburgh, Pastor of Southside Community Church
The Rev. Dr. Ken Shigematsu, Tenth Church
The Rev. Trevor Vanderveen, First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver
Jonathan Bird, Executive Director, CityGate Leadership Forum
The Rev. Dr. Tom Cooper, President, City In Focus
Prof. Ron Dart, Dept. of Political Science/Philosophy/Religious Studies, University of the Fraser Valley
Dena Nicolai, Chaplain and Refugee Support Mobilizer, Christian Reformed Churches of Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland
The Rev. Dr. Richard R. Topping, Principal, Vancouver School of Theology
 quoted by NBC Nightly News, November 16, 2001