The Blaikie Report: An Insider’s Look

"God takes sides": Veteran politician Bill Blaikie advocates a social gospel

Bill Blaikie is a big man with a bushy beard and the bearing of an Old Testament prophet. It's a fitting image. He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada who served as a prominent and stalwart champion of the social gospel during his three decades in politics.

As a youthful student activist he learned that "God takes sides" and embraced the prophetic tradition. "It stirred in me a hope that I could bring biblical faith and my real world experience into a helpful dialogue." It's been his calling ever since.

With his career as a politician winding down, Blaikie remains a public figure with a keen interest of the role of faith in Canadian institutions. He currently serves as adjunct professor of theology and politics at the University of Winnipeg.

In The Blaikie Report, Blaikie provides a political memoir that explores a wide range of tough political issues—including various culture wars, Medicare, First Peoples, environmental and global concerns—through the lens of his biblical and prophetic sensitivities.

As he relates details of the political wrangling over each of these issues, it's clear that the basis of his care for the world and his ongoing activism is firmly grounded in Christian scripture and tradition. His very career gives testimony that religion has much vitality and wisdom to contribute in the political arena.

Critical of conservatives

In his book Blaikie shares his struggles with both a fickle public and a partisan system. He also attacks the indifference of the secularists to religious considerations on the one hand, and the individualism of religious conservatives on the other.

He is very critical of Christians whose response to poverty, for example, minimizes the role of government and promotes the idea that "if we get Jesus into the hearts of the poor, they will get themselves out of the slums."

Blaikie turns instead to the prophets. "Did Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos and other biblical prophets bemoan the spiritual life of the orphan, the widow, the stranger and the needy, and say that if only they returned to God, they would be alright? Or did they address the inadequacies and injustices of the king, and the elite, and the court prophets who told the powerful what they wanted to hear?"

The question is not rhetorical.

Blaikie is keenly aware that the spectrum of religious belief in Canada is much more diverse than a simple dichotomy between left and right, conservative and liberal. "The task for the faithful politician is to sort out the two God squads, and articulate a third kind that is challenging for the right reasons," he insists.

And this, he observes, necessarily involves positive engagement with perspectives from other religions.

The concluding chapter of The Blaikie Report begins to articulate how biblical faithfulness in the public sphere will operate in the world of post-Christian pluralism. "Religion should not be treated preferentially, but neither should there be a negative prejudice against it on principle."

Return of the social gospel

Blaikie is an engaging writer whose personality infuses the pages. He relishes his relationships with many people, and has a very fond spot for his mentor, Tommy Douglas, the Baptist minister who was the first leader or the federal New Democratic Party of Canada. When Douglas died in 1986, Blaikie officiated at the funeral.

Despite his general magnanimity, some political peevishness seeps through. This is seen in his few comments about Preston Manning, whose current activities are somewhat baffling to Blaikie. "Reform Party leader Preston Manning now runs an institute to train budding religious conservatives how not to turn people off," he writes.

"He claims to be operating out of the spiritual injunction to be 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves' (Matthew 10:16). I am not convinced that this was what Jesus had in mind when he gave such advice to his disciples."

All the same, Blaikie now sees the growth of evangelical Christianity as "creating the spiritual capital of the next social gospel."

He firmly believes that "as a younger generation of evangelicals begins to explore the systemic causes of the problems they wish to address and the powerful interests that stand in the way of needed changes, as they begin to see there are sinful structures and not just sinful people, they will have entered into the social gospel, whether they immediately recognize it as such or not."

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