Election news has outdated ideas about social conservatives

Part of the Policy Options series on the elections with Ray Pennings of Cardus painting a more nuanced picture of social conservatives, noting the range of views and that they are generally not single issue voters.

Also noteworthy, is the increased religiosity of immigrants as various surveys have shown:

It seems surprising that just 15 years ago, Parliament’s vote redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships passed 158-133 with 16 MPs absent. Ninety-three Conservatives, 32 Liberals, five Bloc Quebecois MPs, and one New Democrat (as well as two Independents) cast a “social conservative” (so-con) vote on this question. These dissenters knew they were swimming against strong cultural trends, but were still part of the mainstream in their political parties.

Much has changed since then and the upcoming federal election campaign will test the commitment of Canadians and their political leaders to tolerance and including people whose views may not fit today’s cultural mainstream.

Current trends and the so-cons

For example, the Liberals and NDP today require MPs to take socially liberal positions; it’s no longer acceptable to leave certain issues to individual conscience.  Conservative leaders perform a delicate dance, insisting party policy rejects attempts to re-open issues like abortion or same-sex marriage, while ostensibly defending the free speech and conscience of so-cons within their party.

Given trends during the last two decades, so-cons feel more ostracized and marginalized than ever. Whether it’s on abortion (Morgentaler 1988), LGBTQ issues (same-sex reference 2004, Trinity Western 2018), prostitution (Bedford 2013), or euthanasia (Carter 2015), Supreme Court of Canada decisions have catalyzed significant socially liberal turns.

Few so-cons, therefore, expect politics to answer their concerns. Most political appeals for their votes contribute to a cynical mood at best. They also feel profoundly misunderstood.

The so-con label is one that, for the most part, is imposed, not chosen.  The small percentage who embrace the label are divided between purists and incrementalists.  Most voters who fit the so-con profile are silent observers. For them, “so-con” is a reluctant identity, disowned because it is most frequently heard as an epithet or insult. The coverage of so-con issues in politics and media tells a story in which they do not recognize themselves.

CBC and the Angus Reid Institute partnered in 2016 to conduct a comprehensive poll that examined the values, beliefs, priorities, and identities of Canadians. As a result, the poll suggested five basic mindsets among the electorate. The mindset dubbed “faith-based traditionalists,” including so-cons, made up 20 percent of the population, the survey found. The group was over-represented among immigrants in Canada less than a decade and visible minorities. And whereas 11 percent of Canadians said they attended religious services weekly, a third of this cohort did.

In their 2017 book Religion and Canadian Party Politics, David Rayside, Jerald Sabin and Paul E.J. Thomas attempted to map the policy outcomes of religious activism in an increasingly secular context. They concluded that reality was far more complex than the popular narrative assumed. For example, assuming all so-cons hold the same views on such issues as abortion and sexual diversity is somewhat outdated, they noted. Another recent factor (at least since the 2015 federal campaign) is the increased prominence of minority religions, which has added to what the authors termed “a new ‘axis’ of contention…centered on the place of minority faiths in the social fabric.”

So what does all of this mean for media coverage of so-cons and their potential influence on the 2019 federal election campaign?

First, nuance is required in defining so-con issues. Few so-cons expect politics to solve their issues, certainly not in the short-term.  For example, on abortion, a typical church bulletin includes notices about pregnancy support centres, adoption, counselling programs, and other hands-on activities; these far outnumber political messages.

It would also be a mistake to reduce so-cons to single-issue voters on hot-button issues. We know this because those “faith-based traditionalists” in the 2016 poll overlap significantly with the one-fifth of Canadians labelled as “religiously committed” in a 2018 Cardus and Angus Reid Institute study. These two surveys, based on different criteria and tested through at least four polling samples between 2016 and 2018, point to similar conclusions. The “religiously committed” group tended to be more pro-immigrant than the overall population; and were less white and Christian than typically presumed. Forty-nine percent of Canadians born outside the country reported, in the 2018 poll, receiving material support from faith-based communities on their arrival and 63 percent relied on faith communities to form a community or network.

Environmental issues are also significant for many faith communities, given that stewardship of creation is a significant theme in most religious traditions. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s faith toolkit for churches includes environment among priority concerns. Likewise, poverty relief is a significant concern, demonstrated by hands-on involvement and financial support for faith-based social service agencies.

Looking for signs of respect

Being used as fodder in a political culture war context has a perverse impact. Religious pro-life supporters, convinced that abortion involves something more than a collection of tissue, are expressing love for their neighbour. Some do it caringly, others less delicately. However, the declaration that anyone who veers from a publicly accepted orthodoxy is violating human rights is debilitating to democracy. Remember the Canada Summer Jobs attestation debacle – when the beliefs of potential employers, including anti-poverty groups and church camps, disqualified them from government grants? That sent a loud message that so-cons were unwelcome in public life.

Quebec’s new secularism law takes things even further. Turban-wearing Sikhs, and those of any faith wearing religious symbols, are effectively being banished from provincial public service. While religious freedom in Canada is very different than in countries where believers risk their lives to follow their convictions and worship, denying privileges in society based on people’s beliefs still matters greatly. During the October 2019 federal election campaign, so-cons will undoubtedly look for signs of genuine respect as they consider how to cast their ballots.

Fifteen years has marked a hasty change in the place that so-cons have in Canada. Most so-con Canadians, who like others pay relatively little attention to politics but vote as a matter of responsible citizenship, face an increasingly hostile culture. They view themselves as good citizens, loving their neighbour through their personal relationships and also by donating and volunteering in their faith communities and neighbourhoods. But those stories are rarely reported. So-cons only see themselves in the news when others declare how outdated or unwelcome so-con views are.

That hostility is seen in the numbers. When a Cardus-Angus Reid Institute study in 2017 asked if the presence of religion in public life was a net positive or a negative in society, the results were startling. Those who were religiously committed, regardless of tradition, were more positive about the contribution of others, including those of different faiths. Those who were least religiously committed were reluctant to acknowledge the benefit to society of anyone but themselves.

Sadly, it would seem that the constructive involvement of faith in Canadian public life has taken a back seat to a culture war mentality with so-cons perceiving themselves on the defensive.

The question for political leaders and the media is the extent to which so-cons will be respected players in the 2019 campaign game or be tossed around as a political football. While the resistance offered by a group religiously committed to live by the Golden Rule may be less militant than other political actors, the upcoming campaign will still test Canadians’ commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness toward those whose views may not be in the cultural mainstream.

Source: Election news has outdated ideas about social conservatives

ICYMI – Ray Pennings: Don’t overlook the contribution faith has made to Canada’s first 150 years | National Post

More polling data from Angus Reid/Faith in Canada 150:

Beer, beavers, and ketchup chips may be convenient replies to the perennial question “What is Canadian?” but answering with substance takes more than a word. When it comes to Canadian perceptions of the role of faith and faith institutions, new polling conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, exposes unarticulated Canadian values that contradict the one-word answers most might expect on the subject.

Ask Canadians about their own religious perspectives, and 21 per cent fit into the “religiously committed” category with 19 per cent on the “non-believer” end of the spectrum. The majority is somewhere in the mushy middle. When it comes to the most obvious expressions of religion in a local community — physical buildings such as churches, temples, mosques, or synagogues — the response seems to be shrugged shoulders. Sure, 36 per cent see these buildings enhancing the aesthetic of the community (compared to 9 per cent suggesting they detract) but the majority suggests their impact is neutral.

A different story emerges, however, when Canadians are asked about more specific expressions of faith in their neighbourhood. For example, when it comes to the delivery of healthcare, whether through hospitals, homes for the elderly, health clinics or programs for individuals with special needs, between one-third and one-half of Canadians see a positive connection with religious faith compared to less than 10 per cent who see a negative one. Similarly, when it comes to caring for the marginalized and homeless, providing relief in disaster situations, or assisting in the settlement of refugees and immigrants, the proportion of those who express appreciation of faith’s role is anywhere between 31 and 50 per cent higher than those who are skeptical of it. Even non-believers generally affirm these contributions, although they are the most likely to admit ignorance of them in their communities.

As with any poll, there is nuance. It would be misleading to ignore that on most questions approximately one-quarter of the population sees the role of faith communities in Canada as “a mix of good and bad.” Certainly, the interactions of faith communities with Indigenous peoples are widely perceived to be a black mark on the Canadian faith story. At the same time, the most religious respondents are also the most likely (84 per cent) to believe in the importance of reconciliation.

Consistent with the findings of April’s poll conducted by Angus Reid Institute, Canadians seem to respond more negatively when asked about religious institutions or religion in general. However, when it comes to the specifics, their attitudes and behaviours tell a different story. They recognize that faith communities have been an important part of delivering the Canadian social safety net historically, and continue to play that role today. There is a minority negative perspective, dominated by younger males who profess no faith and express hostility to religion. But for more than two-thirds of Canadians who are quite certain that God or a higher power exists, it is clear that faith communities are doing either “very good” or “more good than bad” in their neighbourhoods.

Source: Ray Pennings: Don’t overlook the contribution faith has made to Canada’s first 150 years | National Post

Canadians may be vacating the pews but they are keeping the faith: poll

Interesting poll that gives some sense of “religiosity,” in terms of beliefs, compared to general religious affiliation:

Beneath Canadians’ widespread abandonment of places of worship and their negative view of even the word “religion,” a new poll has found a solid core of faith that continues to shape the country.

The survey, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, grouped respondents into four categories according to their answers on a range of questions gauging their beliefs and religious practices.

“We have a society that has a secular government and there is a general assumption of faith being very private,” said Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of think tank Cardus. “On the other hand, when you actually take a look at everyday society, the majority of people are people of faith to one degree or another, and faith informs and influences many of the ways we deal with each other on a day-to-day basis.”

Mike Faille/National Post//Angus Reid

Mike Faille/National Post//Angus Reid

The poll classifies 21 per cent of Canadians as religiously committed, meaning they hold a strong belief in God or a higher power and regularly attend religious services. At the other end of the spectrum, 19 per cent of Canadians are pure non-believers.

It is the swath in between, equally divided between what the pollster terms “privately faithful” and “spiritually uncertain,” that offers the greatest insight into Canadians’ evolving beliefs and practices.

The privately faithful, 30 per cent of respondents, “are people who actually believe in God, believe in heaven, believe in an afterlife,” said Angus Reid, the institute’s founder and chairman. “They have largely not been involved in organized religion. They will go to funerals and weddings and that sort of thing, but their faith is largely a private matter, and it’s really driven by their prayer. They pray on a regular basis.”

Mike Faille/National Post//Angus Reid

Mike Faille/National Post//Angus Reid

The spiritually uncertain, also representing 30 per cent, “seem to be a bit confused about where they want to be,” Reid said. “On some issues they kind of side with the non-believers, but they haven’t given up totally on everything.

“They continue to believe that there’s a God, but they’re uncertain about the role of God.”

The poll is part of a multi-faith effort initiated by Cardus called Faith in Canada 150, which aims to highlight the role religion has played historically and continues to play in Canada. The initiative, which has a budget of roughly $1-million, was denied federal funding as part of official 150th anniversary celebrations.

Source: Canadians may be vacating the pews but they are keeping the faith: poll | National Post

And the accompanying op-ed by Ray Pennings of Cardus:

Despite this religious openness, the same polling indicates a significant disconnect between the perception and reality of faith’s role in today’s Canada.

Simply put, religion has an image problem in Canada. In fact, the word “religion” is more likely to be seen negatively than positively, according to this new poll. Moreover, just over half of Canadians say they disagree with the claim that religion’s overall impact on the world is positive.

About half of Canadians polled say they’re uncomfortable around those who are religiously devout. Throw in terms like born-again, theology and evangelism, and just 15 per cent of respondents associate those words with a positive meaning.

But how well do Canadians actually understand the role faith plays in everyday life? Asked what’s most important in life, the 21 per cent of Canadians who are religiously committed are most likely to prioritize family life, honesty and concern for others.

Conversely, concern for others was a lower priority for non-believers. Instead, they are more likely to select a comfortable life, self-reliance and good times with friends as important. Not to put too fine a point on it, but those who are most likely to pray to God, attend religious services regularly and read the Bible or another sacred text seem most oriented toward others and their welfare.

What about Canadians’ emotional lives? The religiously committed are the happiest amongst us. Fully 47 per cent of them say they’re very happy or extremely happy overall, compared with 35 per cent of non-believers. They also report the highest levels of happiness among friends and in their communities. None of that is terribly surprising. If anything, it simply confirms what other research has shown. It makes sense, then, that the religiously committed are also more likely to be “very optimistic” about the future.

When it comes to community engagement and charitable giving, once again it’s the religiously committed who report the strongest involvement. Slightly more than half of non-believers say they are uninvolved in community groups or activities. That percentage drops to 17 per cent of the religiously committed. In fact, 41 per cent of the religiously committed have at least some involvement in their community, with another 42 per cent reporting heavy involvement.

Almost a third of the religiously committed say they regularly volunteer compared with 13 per cent of non-believers. Dare we ask about charitable giving?  Only 12 per cent of non-believers say they try to donate to whatever charities they can. That jumps to 43 per cent among the religiously committed. These are not selfish people.

The numbers present a clear picture: Religiously committed Canadians tend to be the most concerned about others, the happiest and most generous. So, why do Canadians have a negative view of religion? Arguably, the story of faith in Canada is not being well told. The narrative around faith is often negative. Religion is frequently presented as something that divides rather than unites people within communities.

That is part of the reason why Faith in Canada 150 exists, to showcase the role of faith in making Canada the country that it is. That legacy is a story worth telling.

Source: It is time to change the narrative around religion in Canada