It was a typical Bulkley Valley October evening some years ago. As evening settled in and a chill filled the air, the wood stove was lit and coffee was brewed. But an atypical gathering took place that night in my brother’s home. A bunch of Christians, from a variety of ages, including myself, showed up to a dessert social to get to know our MLA.
The MLA was NDP and identifies with “progressive” values. The same could not be said of most of the people in attendance that night. But what followed was a warm evening of fellowship that everyone heartily enjoyed. A relationship of respect between the MLA and these constituents was formed and continues today.
This, I submit, is the paradigm of democracy – people gathering in freedom to build relationships of mutual trust with their elected officials, even if they have different worldviews or political ideologies. And this is exactly the kind of engagement that the Christian non-profit organization, Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada, which I work for, strives to foster.
So, it was discouraging to see the BC NDP send out a press release on Thursday, vilifying BC Liberal candidates for having any connection with ARPA. It labelled ARPA a “homophobic and anti-choice group” and said we were holding “campaign events” in BC Liberal ridings. As we’ll see, this was ill-conceived attempt to score cheap political points during an election campaign.
I’m guessing the NDP war-room staff who drafted this failed to consult NDP candidates. Had they done so, they may have been informed by people like my current NDP MLA (and cabinet minister), as well as the new NDP candidate in my riding, that they too have long associated with ARPA, met with its staff, and taken part in ARPA functions, including the coffee social mentioned above and our “God & Government” conference – the same conference the NDP press release breathlessly accuses BC Liberal candidates of attending.
The NDP war room might have also learned that ARPA doesn’t “campaign” for any party or candidate. We help ordinary citizens through education on political issues, always maintaining a strict non-partisan stance. A major part of our support base happens to be non-voters: youth between the age of 15 and 17.
It is disappointing that the NDP would condemn the very thing on which a health democracy depends. They vilify BC Liberal MLAs for meeting with people associated with ARPA. Is the NDP suggesting that some citizens (i.e. Christians) are unworthy of a politician’s attention? That meeting with or talking with Christians is unacceptable?
Many politicians (not just NDP) celebrate diversity, but only in a shallow form. Where views do not align with their own “progressive” ideology, they ignore or condemn them.
The NDP also accused us of being “homophobic,” because we have expressed concerns with a bill to ban “conversion therapy,” a bill that is so vaguely drafted that it could criminalize people in positions of trust (parents, pastors, etc.) from helping young people to love the bodies they were born with, rather than undergo invasive procedures that are often irreparable and typically do not resolve underlying psychological struggles in the long term. How such a bill is “progressive” is beyond me. I’d be happy to have a coffee with my MLA to explain that to me, but, based on the NDP press release, associating with me might hurt their political career.
Federally or provincially, in almost every election campaign now, the party that wishes to appear the most “progressive” tries to dig up examples where opposing MLAs or MPs have expressed contrary views on social issues that they deem sacred, usually related to sexuality or abortion. Although many in the mainstream media still lap it up, one of the costs is that political parties are falling out of step with many citizens. They wonder why so few people care enough to vote, not realizing what it feels like to be on the receiving end of their mudslinging. A party that has “democratic” as its middle name should realize this.
I won’t hold my breath for an apology, but I do hope British Columbians join me in fostering a society in which people with varying beliefs are willing to meet, talk and seek the common good.
Mark Penninga is the executive director of the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada, a Christian political advocacy group.