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Charting the way forward

Review of 'Politics and Faith in a Polarized World: A Challenge for Catholics' by John Milloy.

The post-pandemic recovery is an opportunity for the Roman Catholic Church to re-position itself in Canadian society and regain public trust. That is the central thesis of a small, strategic book by John Milloy, entitled Politics and Faith in a Polarized World: A Challenge for Catholics. While he makes his case directly to his own Roman Catholic faith community, which includes 40% of the population of Canada, his analysis and suggestions are also useful for other branches of Christianity.

Milloy is well-positioned to address the intersection of faith and politics because of his deep commitment to the Christian faith and years of direct experience in elected and non-elected political activity at both the federal and provincial levels. Milloy draws on his experience as an Ontario cabinet minister and a senior advisor to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. On a personal note, during that time John and I had many off-duty, coffee time discussions about the role of faith in public life in Canada. At present, he is Director of the Center for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College in Waterloo, Ontario.

Milloy cares passionately about the future of Canada and Christian witness in society. He lays out the challenges facing Canada; how politics works and doesn’t work well; and why it is important for faith communities to actively engage in shaping our public life at this point in history.

Unfortunately, faith communities have been largely sidelined and sometimes reduced to a media punch-line. Milloy focuses on how churches have played into the caricatures of Christianity that hurt them. He traces that to a shift within churches from a focus on the common good to a culture of identity defined by difference, leading to “us versus them” public postures. Milloy illustrates the negative impact of this strategy from his own experience and other evidence, such as polls that show a high level of support across the country for the kind of secularization expressed in Quebec’s Bill 21, which restricts religious expressions in the public square.

As well as a helpful diagnosis of our current context, Milloy offers practical alternatives that are equally rooted in Christian mission and theology. The extensive body of Catholic social teachings could provide a more positive public witness that is relevant for the issues Canada is facing. Building on these, Milloy suggests ways that faith communities could change the current negative public image of Christianity through a different form of active engagement in the current public debates about post-pandemic directions for Canada.

Milloy’s passionate plea to fellow believers has credibility because of his experience and because he doesn’t avoid difficult questions, whether it is challenging specific choices made by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Churches or abortion. He challenges the leadership of his own church to rethink their choice to be silent on many major issues and loud on a few “hot-button” issues. That strategy, he argues, is inconsistent with the Roman Catholic Church’s own teachings and directions for public engagement. He draws heavily on “Fratelli Tutti,” a recent Encyclical on Fraternity and Social Friendship, which focuses on the role of Christians in our current context. It is a thoughtful document that could benefit other faith groups as well.

All faith communities would do well to take up the discussion Milloy puts on the table. The book is short and includes discussion questions. While it was written ahead of the last federal election, the issues are still timely and warrant wider discussion.

Author

  • Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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