At Faith Today, we thought we would carry on the conversation about American and Canadian Evangelicals generated by our May/Jun cover story. So here we present the reaction of an American Evangelical to that story, and the response from our writer Sam Reimer.
by Dr. George Yancey
I want to thank Sam Reimer for his comparison of U.S. and Canadian Evangelicals. Such insight should be shared by Christians on both sides of the border.
It is encouraging to learn that we have so much in common with our northern brothers and sisters. It does make sense that theological similarity would unite us, given the social factors that have created the evangelical subculture that spans between the two countries.
Allow me to add another similarity that may not have been clear from the article. We Evangelicals in the U.S. are also astounded at the political success of Donald Trump. At least this is the case for those who take their faith seriously [as evidenced by church attendance]. For example, in the Missouri primary Cruz beat Trump 50 percent to 33 percent among Evangelicals who attend church at least weekly. On the other hand, among Evangelicals who attend church only a few times a year, Trump beat Cruz 48 percent to 29 percent.
So please do not accept the myth that Evangelicals in the U.S. are big supporters of Trump.
But of course there are important differences between U.S. and Canadian Evangelicals.
Reimer put his finger on one in the ways we approach politics. Yes U.S. Evangelicals are more conservative in a variety of ways than Canadian Evangelicals. In this I look at the social context of both groups. U.S. Evangelicals have historically enjoyed a measure of political access that has eluded Canadians. This has been good and bad: good because I do think in some important ways it has allowed us to protect society from the worst excesses of secularism; bad because it has led many Christians to rely on political, rather than spiritual, power to achieve their goals.
However, in recent years we have seen the decline of the power and influence of Christians. We have also seen the rise of Christianophobia, or unreasonable hatred or fear of Christians.
We may have much to learn from our Canadian brothers and sisters in learning to build subcultures as a religious group in exile than one that enjoys societal power.
Perhaps in undergoing some of the trials they have faced in Canada we will better relate to them and develop a more holistic political approach that is not married to political conservatism. With that in mind, I look forward to possible new alliances that can develop in the coming years with our spiritual brothers and sisters in the north.
Dr. George Yancey is Professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas.
And Sam Reimer, author of our May/Jun cover story responds:
Well said, George!
After I wrote this article, a variety of polls have shown that Trump supporters tend not be active Evangelicals, but those who are less active, or inactive.
This points to another difference between Evangelicals in Canada and the U.S. Particularly in the U.S. South, Evangelicalism (and particularly Southern Baptists) have been numerous enough to be culturally dominate, at least historically. Evangelical beliefs and attitudes are conventional (and often lack religious commitment).
Here in Canada, evangelical beliefs are about 100 years removed from cultural dominance, even in English Canada. This means that Evangelicals have accepted their minority status long ago, and therefore a conventional Evangelicalism is comparatively rare.
Dr. Yancey is also gracious to find what Dr. Mark Noll has called “the grass is greener” effect when looking north of the border.
But there are also things that we can learn from our southern brothers and sisters.
For one, Canadian Evangelicals should mimic their U.S. counterparts by being more willing to speak out. The pressure toward keeping religiosity private means that religious groups in Canada can be shy about letting their voice be heard in the public sphere (even if we use a more irenic tone!).
Second, I think the attitudes of U.S. Evangelicals toward their Canadian co-religionists is more positive than vice versa. If we are really to more tolerant and open society, then we need to be careful to watch our anti-American biases. Let’s remember that their loudest voices are not representative of the rank-and-file Evangelical in the pew.
Dr. Sam Reimer is Professor of Sociology at Crandall University in Moncton