Prayer, Action, and Secularist Backlash in Winnipeg

Usually I try to take an analytical tone on controversies. However, the Canadian media has officially infuriated me enough to cause me to throw the entire internet. Heaven forbid journalism report, instead of opining gratuitously and viciously.

On Thursday, Oct. 11, ChristianWeek ran an article on newly-appointed Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis. In it, Clunis made several remarks that were subsequently nitpicked to death by the PC Media Hit Squad for their religious content.

“I’m a little tired of us…being ‘[the] murder capital of Canada,'” says Devon Clunis, who was appointed chief of police at the beginning of October. “People consistently say, ‘How are you going to solve that?’ It’s not simply going to be because we’re going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that.”

“What would happen if we all just truly—I’m talking about all religious stripes here—started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?”

Some of the nitpicking is cross-cultural misunderstanding. For instance, when a Christian says (as Clunis is quoted saying) that “God still cares, He’s still involved in our lives, and I believe without a shadow of a doubt the only reason that I am in this position is because God is involved in it.”

That’s an expression of a historic and foundational faith perspective: We cannot congratulate ourselves for our achievements, or allow them to fuel ambition when we’re granted the powers of responsibility. Or, in shorter form, Soli Deo Gloria.

It’s also a lesser-known thought: Ex malo bonum. God still cares, and good can still overtake evil.

However, the secularist media hear it only as superstition and a dangerous belief that one can do no wrong if the mystical signs are aligned in one’s favour. Their skepticism is important, because we see the outworking of such superstition all the time in our American friends’ politicized religion. We don’t need that contamination infecting Canadian faith groups.

That’s about the best I can say for the anti-religion crowd on this issue.

Take, for instance, the unthoughtful remarks of Gordon Sinclair, an opinion columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

Clunis, of course, is entitled to persuade the unconverted in his private time, but not from his pulpit as police chief, where his responsibility is to serve and protect, not to preach about the power of prayer.

Perhaps he would have been more sensitive if he had recalled it was men of prayer preying on First Nations children that passed down a lethal legacy that accounts for much of the violence that has infected so many aboriginal families in our city.

Well done, Mr. Sinclair. In one fell swoop, traditional aboriginal prayer and spirituality has been discounted (remember, Clunis said, “I’m talking about all religious stripes here”), and First Nations people have been singled out to be tarred with the brush of violence and criminality.

Funny how the mere mention of religion can bring out the latent bigotry in good, upstanding, middle-class white men.

Or, there’s the passive-aggressive headlines spinning Clunis’s reaction to the coverage as defensive, and offering up such tidbits as, “Clunis appeared to be advocating religion from a public office, Schafer said, something one might expect in Iran or other religion-based countries.”

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this message: In Iran, there would be no call to all faiths to pray and participate in building society and community. Shame on Arthur Schafer, a longstanding ethics expert, for failing to make the basic distinction between Canada’s religious freedoms and the constrictions of a theocratic regime.

The Free Press eventually got around to allowing Clunis’s original remarks some space, perhaps because their online poll soon showed over 4,000 votes in favour of or unopposed to community prayer, 1,100 skeptics and only 1,800 actively against it. (By the end of yesterday, that count was ~5200, 1,350 and 2240.)

But not before publishing a hatchet piece disguised as reporting, under the courageous byline of “Staff Writer,” sarcastically entitled “Man of Vision” and tarring Clunis as potentially untrustworthy for holding a spiritual belief in–gasp–public.

Lindor Reynolds ran a rational perspective on the same page as Sinclair’s, thankfully. It was entitled, “What’s So Bad About Having Faith in our City?”

A stunning question to have to ask. Welcome to Canada, where freedom of religion is legal, but the news media will do their best to convince you it’s a violation of something. Anything.

In the meantime, I believe in common grace (translation: the potential for good, with or without faith). So I’ll pray for the media, including “Staff Writer,” and take action with the pen. Because as it turns out, Canadian people of faith have the same legal freedoms as secularists, even in public.