TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 17, 2012) - In a recent interview on CBC Radio, Senator Nicole Eaton said, "I don't think that churches should take political stands. I think they should be more about helping people and giving people succour."
Her comments were made on the program As It Happens, during an interview about her Senate inquiry into foreign funding of Canadian charities. Since Eaton launched the inquiry in February, concerns have been raised about the chill being felt by charities that fear their charitable status will be threatened if they participate in public debates that challenge government policy.
During the interview Eaton chose to single out The United Church of Canada as one she thought was involved in "political work."
"And so we are," says the United Church's Moderator, Mardi Tindal, in response to the Senator's comments. "We are very political, as was Jesus-that's why he was crucified."
Tindal adds, however, there is a very clear distinction between being political, meaning advocating for changes in public policy, and being partisan.
"It is a distinction that is often misunderstood-but it is critical, especially when a member of the Canadian Senate suggests that it is inappropriate for churches to participate in shaping public policy," she explains.
Tindal notes it was the deep Christian faith of Tommy Douglas, a Baptist preacher, that drove him to champion universal health care with such passion. Similarly, faith motivated Nellie McClung in the struggle to win women the right to vote.
"More recently, motivated by our faith, my church argued for equal marriage," says Tindal. And, she adds, "Increasingly we work with other churches and faith communities on public policy issues-and we also help people and give succour."
Tindal explains the United Church has been active in the public arena since its earliest days. "The founders of this church believed that ours is a living faith and witness to the ministry of Jesus Christ that is expressed in active, thoughtful involvement in society."
The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches, agrees.
"Canadian churches have always played a significant role in the arena of public policy debate and development," says Hamilton. "Laws, policies and legislative initiatives embody important community decisions. Public dialogues, respectful civil advocacy and debate strengthen social cohesion."
"Ultimately, public policy is about values and about working for the common good. The voices of all Canadians should be welcomed. When a government representative suggests that the voices of churches should be silent, that is a concern," says Tindal.