The Anglican Church of Canada’s special advisor for government relations on Nov. 14 gave a presentation to Council of General Synod (CoGS) about what principles should guide church involvement with government and how churches can best go about giving witness to their faith while trying to effect change in public policy.
The Rev. Laurette Glasgow, who was originally trained as an economist and served as Canadian ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg and as Canada’s Consul General in Monaco, started her presentation by explaining that at the heart of the government relations ministry is the belief that Christians are “co-creators” with God, and as such are called to take an active role in the life of the national structures in which they live. She stressed that government relations “is not about one person or one committee, it is all of us.”
She also noted that this is a time in which many institutions – including the church and the state – are losing credibility even as current generations face mounting economic and social challenges. Rather than backing off, Glasgow suggested, Anglicans must become even more involved. “I see a world that needs more engagement on this level rather than less.”
Motivated by the question of how people of faith can “bring the radiance of hope in the public square,” Glasgow’s presentation outlined some of the key points that must be kept in mind when navigating the delicate realities of church-government relations. Among these, she listed the importance of setting priorities, speaking with a coherent voice, and intentionally building relationships.
In regards to setting priorities, Glasgow stressed that “we cannot do it all.” Though there are hundreds of things the church could talk about, it needs to be discerning in choosing which issues it wants to bring to the table. “We have limited air time in the public square. You only have so many opportunities to voice what you want to promote.”
Speaking of coherence and consistency, Glasgow noted that the Anglican Church has a long history of holding ideas and opinions in “creative tension.” But she pointed out that this can weaken the church’s ability to speak out on issues, citing an example in which the national church made a statement about suggested changes to prostitution legislation while [some clergy and laity] voiced their own opinion in the Anglican Journal, making it seem like an official statement.
Relationships are an important part of all diplomacy, and Glasgow suggested that they take time and intentionality to build. But she also gave examples of how the extensive relationships that the Anglican Church of Canada already has allows it to be a player in international relations. She cited how her office was able to connect the Canadian Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Katherine Verrier-Fréchette, with the bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, to explore humanitarian projects in Gaza.
Finally, she stressed the “golden rule” or church-government relations: “We must be non-partisan.”
True to the message of her talk, the last part of the presentation was dedicated to active participation from the council. She asked CoGS members to imagine that they were politicians, and to think of three issues that would be part of their platforms. Then she asked them to imagine they were electors, and to think of what three issues would be the biggest priorities. Next, they were to imagine themselves in the position of primate [senior archbishop] of the Anglican Church of Canada: What would they exhort the church to keep in mind during the election? Finally, they were asked a somewhat more playful question: What slogan would they choose to have as a bumper sticker during the next election?
This exercise tied in with one of Glasgow’s presentation on ongoing themes: the looming 2015 federal election. The exercise, she hinted, was practice for the vital role the church has in the coming year to discern the good of the church and the good of the nation. As she put it at the beginning of the presentation, “We are a long way from the New Jerusalem.”