Warnings and Betrayals

Growing Up Evangelical in Canada

Growing up Evangelical meant drinking from the firehose of popular Christian media that was pouring into Canada from the United States. The propaganda machine was big business, and there were a lot of people who wanted to cash in on the phenomenon.

My father’s entrepreneurial ventures included a Christian bookstore, but it was not the financial success that similar local enterprises seemed to be. I suspect it served as more of a business expense for tax benefits, as it was usually being subsidized by other sources of income.

On occasion, there were Canadian artists represented by the large Christian media conglomerates, but these seemed to be rare. I remember a Vancouver band, called Quickflight, and another band from Ontario, called elim Hall. There was another recording artist, who happened to be the daughter of the major music distribution label in Canada that was featured prominently for a time. Carolyn Arends paved the way for a new generation.

For the most part, Christian books and music were imports from the U.S. For those of us who remember those days when Christianity was its own distinct media subculture, somewhat akin to the much touted distinct society of Québec, we can recall how much church life was something that was an all-consuming lifestyle that involved religiously attending morning and evening church services on Sundays, with youth groups continuing later into the evening, and Bible study groups on Wednesday evenings, with other extra-curricular activities scattered throughout the week and year, including basketball, volleyball, skiing, and summer camps. The language we used in these gatherings reflected a common understanding of theological interpretation that revolved around one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ, an extra-biblical concept that had become the central theme of all of our Christ-centred activities. The goal of all of these activities was spiritual conformity and social assimilation. Serious questions about differences in political and religious views were indications of deficiencies in one’s faith that would cast doubt on whether one really belonged.

As I reflect on the cultural changes, looking back over 25 to 30 years and comparing those times with the ideas, beliefs, and attitudes I am hearing recently from all ages, I sense a reaction in protest to the monolithic culture created by the Evangelical Christian media environment of the time. The branding and marketing machine has, over the years, proven to be ineffective as a business model for spreading the gospel of the privatization of faith and the compartmentalization of the moments of daily life into sacred and secular, devotional and mundane. More importantly, the movement failed to create, in many cases, an enduring and authentic sense of a community growing in love and unity. In that sense, the lifestyle failed to deliver on the promises of the brand, because, at least from my reading of what Jesus was hoping for, love and unity were intended to be the distinguishing marks of those who are called by his name.

But, the sense that something was amiss in the culture is nothing new. Bruce Cockburn admonished us to listen to the poet. He seemed to regard the musician as the modern day prophet, warning the culture to turn from sin, to recognize its own betrayal of its reason for being, and to be the people that they were called to be. It had always seemed to me that the culture was completely missing the point of its own existence. The only evidence I had, though, was my own internal struggle. If that is the only proof that one has, one tends to keep it to oneself.

Still, I indulged this internal belief by the artists that I was most attracted to for their honest and authentic articulation of the human condition. Rather than being drawn to the fluffy pop and worship songs often played on Christian radio, I tended to find solace in the artists who explored themes of dissonance, alienation, and social disintegration. These were the prophetic warnings about the betrayals of our generation against our Sovereign King.

A 1980s Standing Rock Playlist

I have been unsuccessfully fighting off a throat infection over the last few days, so, naturally, as sleep eludes me, I am spending all my time binging on Netflix, social media, and the news from Standing Rock.

We have been watching The Crown and Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of The United States.

The Crown on Netflix
Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of the United States

As I explore the ideas of American exceptionalism and imperialism, I now consider my Evangelical upbringing to be a reflection of an age of American cultural colonialism and assimilation, enacted through overwhelming media bombardment, which was counteracted only by the existence of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which could independently preserve at least some semblance of a Canadian identity by using our own tax dollars to fund our own cultural content. Our nascent Canadian music industry was also bringing our nation notoriety as artists asserted our distinct identity on the international music scene.

Now that the American experiment is revealing its own moral bankruptcy in the recent Presidential contest, it appears to be only a matter of time before the American Christian Evangelical/Republican voting block completely loses any shred of moral integrity after overwhelmingly bearing the responsibility for the election of a candidate who, whether or not he is personally culpable, stands for racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny, or, stated differently, anti-intellectual, capitalist, white supremacy. The difference between Clinton and Trump amounts to the difference between Henry Wallace and Harry S. Truman. In both cases, the American people selected the trigger happy candidate to be given access to the nuclear capabilities of the Great American Empire. Now, it seems, we can only pray the results for the Trump election will not be quite so disastrous as they were with Truman.

The fastest growing segment of the American Evangelical population is a group called the Nones. These are the people who self-identify as those who are religiously unaffiliated, who no longer believe that institutional religion has a relevant place in their own lives. I would suggest that these are the remnant, the true believers who have already recognized the moral bankruptcy of the American establishment, but are currently engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Christian Right’s culture war through the ongoing work of social entrepreneurship and social justice.

Meanwhile in Canada, I would suggest that we most identify with the Nones of America. For the longest time, we have thought of ourselves as a people without an identity beyond the universal assertion that we are NOT American.

We are the Nobodies above the 49th parallel. In Canada, we have the impression that people have made up their minds about religion and assume that we are already a secular nation with various minor representations of a plurality of faiths, ethnicities, and cultures. Rather than enforce assimilation, we see ourselves as far more enlightened, in that we would rather recognize and respect our diversity as a multicultural society.

Canadians have, over the years, carved out for themselves an identity that represents a strong sense of unity characterized by basic human decency.

We celebrate Canada and what our nation represents.

We have attempted to shed the cultural baggage of hierarchical religion, to become a largely secular nation. Yet, according to our own Charles Taylor, in his book, A Secular Age, we assume a secularity that has, in fact, never existed.

And, in spite of our claims of moral superiority, we are only now recognizing our own need to come to terms with our racist past and our deep social and economic divisions.

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design. https://stephenbau.com

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