The Christian Heritage Party: a newcomer on the federal scene
C. Van Dam, Clarion Jan 22, 1988
Principles, objectives and membership
Delegates to a political convention held in Hamilton, Ontario, on November 18-20 witnessed a truly remarkable event: namely, the birth of the Christian Heritage Party (CHP), a new federal political party. To be sure, this party was already officially recognized on June 17, 1986, but it was only after this founding convention that one could speak of a party with an elected leader (Ed Vanwoudenberg) and a national executive, as well as an officially adopted constitution and platform.
What does this party stand for? How should we regard it? It is the purpose of this and a following article to pass on some of the highlights of the founding convention so that we can get an idea what this party is and strives for from the official documents that were approved. Secondly, some related questions such as our attitude to this party will be considered.
The first official business that the 534 registered delegates dealt with was the Party Constitution. Important for our discussion are especially the principles and objectives of the CHP. I will let the Constitution speak for itself. First, the principles.
Party principles are based on these Biblical ethics and are unalterable:
(a) We believe there is one Creator God eternally existent in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
(b) We believe the Holy Bible to be the inspired, inerrant written Word of God and the final authority above all man's laws and government.
(c) We believe civil government to be under the authority of God.
(d) We believe the purpose of civil government is to ensure freedom and justice for a nation's citizens by upholding law and order in accordance with Biblical principles.
(e) We believe that decision-making processes by civil government must not in any way contravene these Biblical ethics. (Art. 1.2)
The objectives of this party are described as follows:
The aim of the CHP is:
(a) To provide true Christian leadership and to defend, promote and uphold Biblical principles in federal legislation.
(b) To contend for, and attain the leadership of the federal government of Canada through the existing democratic process. (Art. 1.3)
Membership requirements include subscribing to the CHP's principles and constitution, and signing the application form prescribed by the party (Art. 1.4). By doing the latter, one affirms belief in God, the Creator, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the inerrancy of the Holy Bible as the inspired Word of God.
The CHP also adopted a solemn pledge which must be endorsed by all those who wish to stand for executive or elected office.
The preamble of this pledge reads:
We, citizens of the Dominion of Canada, Executive Members of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada . . . adhering to the Christian faith, having as our desire the glory of God and the coming of the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as well as true liberty, safety and peace, pledge before the most High God to uphold the following principles.
These principles, briefly summarized, include: recognition of the importance of the family unit; opposition to abortion and euthanasia because God is the author of life; the recognition of laws of sexual morality as established by God; parental responsibility to educate their children; the different offices of church and state; the responsibility of the government to serve and protect the people whose duty it is to submit to God-ordained authority; and the need for Biblical principles in economic matters.
Statement of beliefs and party principles
In this statement the foundational convictions of the CHP are explained in greater detail. For example, under the heading "We Believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ" we read of the significance of Christ's death and resurrection and how all this was prophesied in the Old Testament. After stating that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Christ, the statement continues: "His Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom and His Lordship we acknowledge over every area of life. As His disciples we are charged to be righteously interacting with society until Christ returns in power and glory to make all things new (Revelation 1:8; 22)" (Section C).
Elsewhere in the statement the CHP affirms, among other things, "We believe that all civil governments - local, provincial, and national - derive their authority from God, not from the people (John 19:11). No man, therefore, has any rightful power over other men unless it is received from God. All human power, including all civil authority, is delegated and ministerial (Romans 13:4)." Later, also in Section E, the document states: "We reject a secular humanistic worldview that places man at the centre of reason, knowledge and insight for determining social policy."
Regarding authority and norms we read (in Section F), "We believe that God is the only ultimate authority: all other authority is delegated and therefore limited. Each sphere of authority should be recognized as subservient to God . . . .
Nothing could benefit a civil government more than to pass legislation which is in accordance with the Law of God. The Word of God should be the rule of law while the Biblical view of decency and good order should set the standard for any nation. That nation's citizenry is blessed which seeks to base its civil laws on the Bible. (Proverbs 8:18; 10:2; 11:4; 12:28; 14:34; 16:12; 20:8; 25:15)."
Resisting the temptation to quote the entire document, I will quote a few more sections dealing with key principles the CHP stands for in order that some appreciation of the direction of this party can be attained. "When a society rejects Biblical principles in favour of manmade community standards (e.g. national consensus) as the basis of its legislation, then that society advances toward legalized sinfulness and ultimate disintegration. It has made a god of a human idol and will therefore receive increasing judgment and social death. Being under the authority of God, civil government, therefore, has a duty to enact laws which make the pursuit of sin more difficult and the pursuit of virtue easier (Psalm 11:3)" (Section G).
"The reasonable limits of rights and freedoms are those limits expressed in the Bible. Without this safeguard, the danger is real that democracy becomes abused and freedoms violated when dissenters use their influence, whether by majority vote or manipulation, to abridge or abrogate fundamental rights to which every Canadian is entitled. Inevitably the result would be an amorphous, godless and authoritarian state, rather than 'one Canada under God.'
In order to resist further erosion of our Christian heritage we believe that any decision-making process (such as legislation, plebiscite, or referendum) must not contravene Biblical principles. In this way - insofar as it applies to Canada - God's will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. " (Section H).
To read the documents associated with the birth of the CHP is to experience a welcome breath of fresh air in the current overwhelmingly secular atmosphere of the federal political scene. Here the Scriptures are appealed to for direction and guidance. But, how well are the Biblical principles articulated into concrete policy?
It is beyond the scope of this article and Clarion to go at length into this matter. Some generalizations and examples will need to suffice.
Considering that the policy resolutions deal with the entire spectrum of federal jurisdiction, the CHP has made an impressive beginning on which in several cases more refined or detailed resolutions can be built in the future. As far as I am able to judge, the adopted resolutions form a very good start. There is an obvious and consistent attempt to undergird policy with Biblical thinking.
To illustrate some of the points just made, consider these examples on some current hot issues. As can be expected, a strong stand was taken against abortion and euthanasia and for capital punishment. The restoration of the Lord's Day Act is also desired. "A weekly twenty-four hour period of business closure should apply to all nonessential services and businesses across Canada. In respect of our Christian heritage, the day of closure should be Sunday; however, reasonable allowance should be made for those who, because of religious convictions, observe a different day of rest." (03.1.5 - cf. 06.2.6) The party took a stand against issues such as obscenity, certain forms of reproductive technology and universally state-funded day care. "Besides being prohibitively expensive, such a scheme would only serve to further encourage mothers to neglect their primary duty to rear their own children . . . ." (06.4.7).
On economic matters many diverse items are covered and the policy calls, e.g., for responsible free market economy, privatization, voluntary union membership and a balanced budget. Certain compassionate needs must be met. "We affirm that the civil authority must ensure that adequate provision is made for those in our society who are truly helpless or needy, or are neglected by those upon whom God has laid the primary responsibility for their care." (06.3.3) Further, "we affirm that Canadian citizens should not lack essential food, shelter, and clothing, but 'to be our brothers' keeper' does not establish an indiscriminate and universal claim on public charity for those able but unwilling to work. Welfare services should be provided by government only after the prior spheres of responsibility have been exhausted." (09.1.1) "We believe that the prevention of hardship (rather than its alleviation after it has arisen) is the key to reducing welfarism, and that the stability of the family is basic in this regard." (09.1.2) On private property, the CHP affirmed the privilege to private enjoyment of property, not for abuse or despoliation, but as a trust from God. (03.0.3) Further, the CHP also came out in favour of responsible stewardship of natural resources, control of environmental pollution and the family farm.
Concerning other matters, the policy on AIDS called for a national advertising campaign "which stresses that virtue is a necessity, not an option" (09.2.4). Educational media should be prepared accordingly. Furthermore, the need for mandatory blood testing and hospices specifically for AIDS patients was affirmed.
Because of the great importance of education and the justified high premium we place on it, I am passing on the complete text of what was adopted at the convention on this matter (09.3).
1. Primacy of Parental Authority
The particular responsibility of the parents for the education and development of their children must indeed be recognized by government. We affirm that parents have the primary responsibility of educating their children at home, or delegating this task to the schools of their choice.
2. Education and Values
As a consequence of its duty to protect the spiritual freedom of its subjects, government must base its educational policy on the principle of freedom in the choice of school, in accordance with the general guideline that the home and independent school should be the rule and the state (public) school a supplement. The parents' duty to be informed as to the content of their children's education must be protected by law.
3. Availability and Financial support It is a matter of public interest that there be adequate educational facilities, and that everyone be enabled to receive instruction and training suited to his aptitude and ability. The government must accord equal treatment, financially and otherwise, to independent and to state education in order that the freedom of private education is respected and guaranteed.
4. National Guidelines
Because of the significant role which education plays in cultivating the moral foundation on which the continued wellbeing of Canada depends, we suggest that all publicaly-funded education should be subject to national guidelines which uphold a basic respect for God, family, national allegiance and our national heritage. Safeguards and disincentives should be in place, at the federal level if necessary, to discourage any publicalyfunded institution from openly teaching neutral or positive attitudes toward abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, suicide, homosexuality, or extra-marital sex, "creative visualization," or any political ideology which favours world government at the expense of national sovereignty.
This extremely small and somewhat random selection of CHP policy will have to do as a sampling of the general direction of this party. Next time let us consider how we should regard this party.
Dr. C. Van Dam Clarion Feb 5, 1988
The Christian Heritage Party and our response
The character of the CHIP
The Christian Heritage Party (CHP) evokes different reactions in our circles, ranging from wholehearted acceptance to hostile rejection. It may be useful to pause and consider this matter. The purpose of this article is to try to think through some of the key factors that are involved. We will need to be brief and to the point, but that is often helpful in keeping the main concerns in sharp focus. Let us begin by considering the character of the CHP and the implications this has.
The church and the CHP
The CHP wants to be a political party that bases its policies on the inspired and inerrant Word of God and the principles found therein. The CHP does not have a confessional basis such as, for example, the Three Forms of Unity or the Westminster Standards. No one will deny that a party with a clear confessional basis has advantages. Then there is a common understanding of Scripture that can be appealed to in policy discussion. Also, it can be argued, such a basis could help keep a party faithful to Scripture. Besides, what could be better than to be able to work together with those with whom you agree not only on political matters but on all matters pertaining to understanding God's Word as the norm for our calling in this world. In the Netherlands, members of our sister churches have formed a Reformed Political Association (GPV) which as a political party has a confessional basis. In that sense they have more than the CHP can offer.
The CHP's lack of a confessional basis should, however, be placed in perspective. Such a basis is in itself no guarantee for being faithful to Scripture, as the existence of degenerating churches which still retain Biblical confessions testifies. Furthermore, the CHP does enunciate clear principles or Biblical truths important for politics and government. We are not left in the dark as to the character of this party. While not confessional, it is a party of principles, which as we saw the last time are Biblical and clearly outlined. This approach compares with Abraham Kuyper's Anti-revolutionary Party (ARP), which also had no confessional basis, but did have clear principles that were spelled out.
The principles of the CHP are also translated into policy statements. This party therefore has an obvious principled platform. Those who vote for this party or who join it have a good idea of what is involved. The CHP is not ashamed of its Christian testimony and policies. Indeed, the party's very existence came about precisely to provide this alternative to secular humanistic political thinking. Whatever objections one may have, one cannot but be grateful for the fact that there is now such a party on the national scene and that this is still possible in a time when wholesale disobedience to the demands of the King of kings is more and more considered normal.
In this area the discussions about the CHP can be quite vigorous, and it is good to discuss these matters. In such debates it is sometimes said that since the CHP is not made up of Canadian Reformed Church members who have come together on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity, we therefore cannot participate. To do so would go against Christ's church-gathering work. Pondering such an analysis of the situation I can only come to the conclusion that it is very confusing and overlooks basic distinctions that need to be maintained.
Two things should be kept separate from each other, namely, the place and office of the church on the one hand and that of the state and a political party on the other hand. It should be stressed that the CHP is not a church and does not present itself as such. It is a political party with specific objectives on a specific basis.
Now it is the duty and office of the state to preserve the civil order and outward peace. This task can involve tolerating false religion. The church's office, however, is to preach the gospel and strive for the inner peace, i.e., the peace with
God in Christ. This office implies that the church has a much lower level of tolerance. As "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15) it cannot tolerate false religion.' If we distinguish clearly between the task of the state and of the church, we should do likewise with a political party and the church. They are two different entities and should not be confused. A political party has an ultimate goal to have a say in governing the country. The CHP also has this aim. The church, however, has nothing to do with that. Its aims and tasks are otherwise.
All this is not being mentioned as if to suggest that church membership is of no consequence when one is busy in the political arena. Not at all. However,the different task and place of a political party (and state) does raise the question whether a political party needs to be made up of members of the Canadian Reformed Churches only. Is it not the nature of the task of governing (for which a political party aims) to seek as wide as possible cooperation in order to attain under God's blessing certain political goals? Neither Groen van Prinsterer nor Abraham Kuyper deemed it necessary that membership in a Christian political party be restricted to those of one church.2 To my knowledge only the GPV basically insists on this and this insistence is thus a fairly recent phenomenon. It should be noted that before the GPV's establishment in 1948 there was no difficulty in working together with, for example, members of the Dutch state church (Hervormde Kerk) in the ARP.
Such a cooperation with others does not take away one's obligation as a member of Christ's church to call all Christians to the unity of the true faith in one church. The differentiated task of the church and government (including political parties) makes possible the maintenance of our responsibilities as church members while at the same time being busy in a Christian political party with others.
To illustrate the distinctions that need to be kept in mind, think for example of participating in the Pro-life movement. When Canadian Reformed people today join Prolife organizations and alongside Roman Catholics fight against the evil of abortion, then one can do in a political framework what one cannot do ecclesiastically, namely, work together with members of a false church. This cooperation with Roman Catholics against abortion does not mean that now there is suddenly agreement with Roman Catholic dogma or that one denies that the popish mass is "an accursed idolatry" (Q. & A. 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism). Not at all. The sharp ecclesiastical differences remain. However, those differences or those particular points of our confessions are not at issue in the political battle to save the lives of unborn infants. The common desire to fight for and to protect God-given life in obedience to the sixth commandment is what makes an alliance with others on this point possible. Similarly, if a political party can present a set of principles and a platform that Christians from different backgrounds can agree on, then cooperation with others in the political arena for certain specific political goals is possible. Important is that one does not go against the Word of God and so deny the Reformed confessions and one's identity as a member of the church of Christ. That we must never do!
Joining the CHP involves signing a declaration acknowledging God the Creator, the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy of the Holy Bible as the inspired Word of God, as well as certain political principles.3 Affirming these truths cannot be said to involve a denial of the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions. If others, whether they be Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal or Baptist can agree with that same statement, fine. Then we can work together as a political party for political goals without denying anything which God has revealed to us in His Word. A political party is not a church. The offices are distinct from each other.
It is sometimes argued that cooperation with others would hinder Christ's churchgathering work. However, if a party with a Christian platform would have influence and would even be able to govern our country, precisely then the well-being of Canada would be served and the outward peace advanced because Biblical norms are followed. A consequence of such a situation would also be that the public proclamation of the gospel remains possible. Thus participation in a Christian party in these increasingly godless final years of this century can help advance the cause of Christ's church.
During its conception and gestation period, the CHP has not had an easy ride in the membership of the Canadian Reformed Churches. That can have both good and bad aspects. Let us concentrate on the former. There is something healthy in being critical. We should not automatically be ecstatic because of every new movement that comes along simply because it claims to be Christian. The baby with the name CHP has now just been born. If one is not ready for it, but wants to take a closer look at this new infant on the political scene before getting involved, he should do so. No one should sign up with the CHP if he is not convinced nor should anyone feel pressured to join. The issues should be carefully studied. By the same token we should not condemn those who have already joined and work hard in this way for a public Christian witness. We should tolerate differences of opinion in our midst and not be quick to condemn each other in such matters - certainly not at this stage of first beginnings. There are concerns that can be raised but they are not of such a nature to forbid each other to participate.4
It may be helpful at this juncture to mention three conditions (mentioned by Dr. J. Douma, Professor of Ethics in Kampen)5 necessary for responsible cooperation with others in the political arena. Firstly, the basis of the cooperation should not ask anything of us that is in conflict with our Christian faith. Secondly, we should not have to bear responsibility for everything that others, because of diverging convictions, may say or do within the organization. Thirdly, there must be interests or issues at stake that would be difficult or impossible to realize if the help of others was not used. Especially this last point calls for a certain flexibility if one wants to effectuate certain changes politically and work for bettering the present calamitous situation. Someone who wants everything his way, all or nothing, cannot be all that effective politically. Someone may either desire a Canadian Reformed political party or refuse to cooperate with anyone else. But, within the Canadian context such a party would be meaningless as a political instrument for change and very little of a political nature would be accomplished. If one is ready to adjust oneself to the Canadian political, scene in a responsible manner, keeping his integrity as a Christian, and work with others to achieve certain political goals that are in agreement with God's Word, then one can be active as a Christian working for change in a secularized worlds
It would seem to me that points like these need to be soberly thought through before dismissing the CHP out of hand. It is better to work under conditions that are less than perfect and to achieve certain political goals then to achieve virtually nothing in terms of concrete political change. These are life realities in this present dispensation that need to be faced in the light of our political responsibilities.
Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA)
As Canadian Reformed people we are no longer newcomers in this country. The growing awareness of our political responsibilities is also a clear indication of that. Although differences of opinion on political topics will probably never disappear in Reformed circles, yet on one thing we can all wholeheartedly agree, - namely, on the need to study the political issues carefully and that includes the CHP, its platform and any concerns we may have. Through such study and by making the results available, we can contribute a Reformed political testimony in this country. Ideally within each congregation there should be an ARPA as a forum where not only local political issues can be dealt with, but also political topics more generally can be discussed and debated on the basis of Scripture as it has also been summarized in the Three Forms of Unity. May we be spared apathy and disinterest in this regard. Perhaps Reformed "think tanks" can develop which can study pressing issues and so also be of service to the CHP. It welcomes constructive criticism and suggestions which are based on Scripture, for according to its own constitution it wants to speak out and act in accordance with the Word of God. Its short history has shown how responsive it is in Biblical argumentation.
There are wonderful opportunities for Reformed people who study the Scriptures and the political problems of the day to make a contribution to the CHP.7 Surely we cannot but wish it well as a political witness and vehicle for change and sympathize with the cause for which it stands even if we do not exclude possible criticism. May that attitude govern our words and actions with respect to the CHP.
C. VAN DAM
1 See on this subject my "The Task of Government Today," Clarion, 36:22-24 (1987).
2For this and what follows see J. Douma, Politieke verantwoordelijkheid (1984 ), 159íf.
3See my "The Christian Heritage Patty: A newcomer on the federal scene," in the preceding issue of Clarion.
4Besides differences of a religious nature in evaluating the CHP, other differences have also been voiced. For example, some may want to continue their Christian witness in an existing political party or prefer to support a particular pressure group. Evaluating these approaches is not our concern here.
5 In his Politieke verantwoordelijkheid, 1 70ff.
6See on these issues, ibid., 171ff.
7See E. Vanwoudenberg, "ARPA's Role and CHP's Goal," Reformed Perspective, 7:1, (1987) 8íf.