On a sun-dappled Saturday in the summer of 2008, a thousand young people throng the lawns of the Parliament Buildings in a classic picture-postcard tableau. Against the iconic backdrop of the Peace Tower, toddlers race through the crowd trailing rainbow streamers and a fresh-faced blonde stretches out under an umbrella to breastfeed her plump newborn. As the compelling rhythms of an electronic keyboard pound over the loudspeakers and a dance troupe swoops across an impromptu stage twirling oversized maple-leaf parasols, an onlooker might be forgiven for assuming that Ottawa’s tourist bureau orchestrated the idyllic scene. Then a young woman in a maple-leaf T-shirt shatters that perception with an anguished wail. “Father, save us!” she implores from the microphone, tears coursing down her cheeks. “Hear our cry!”
As her sobs erupt into the incantations of an old-time revival, it suddenly becomes clear that this is no occasion for celebration or national pride. For the conservative Christians who have flocked to Parliament Hill for this day-long fast and prayerfest called Thecry, it is a concerted, eleventh-hour plea for the repentance and reformation of a nation they believe is headed straight to the hellfires of damnation for having betrayed its divinely appointed destiny—a destiny spelled out in the national motto, Psalm 72:8, chiselled around the neo-Gothic windows of the Peace Tower: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
Never mind that Old Testament scholars attribute that snatch of ancient Hebrew poetry to a desert patriarch whose entire cosmos was circumscribed by the Mediterranean and the Euphrates River. For Faytene Kryskow and a growing number of evangelicals whose faith is founded on the inerrancy of the Bible, the seventy-second psalm offers irrefutable proof that, thousands of years before Confederation and even before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, God fingered Canada for a key role in the final days preceding the Battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.
Now, as they chart the signs and portents that seem to signal the advent of those end times, as global warming thaws the polar ice caps and the global economy reels from another sort of meltdown, they are driven by an increasing imperative to reverse the moral impediments blocking the country from its scriptural fate. Despite decades of attempts to establish God’s dominion north of the forty-ninth parallel, Canada remains one of the few countries in the developed world without an abortion law and was among the first to legalize same-sex marriage. But on the promotional video for Thecry, Kryskow, the event’s chief organizer, ticks off a longer list of transgressions—from “gross moral decay, family breakdown, immorality and perversion” to “general cultural demise”—all of which must be set right. At the microphone, her voice is hoarse with emotion, her thin frame wracked with grief. “Lord, we pray for the sins of this nation,” she pleads. “Heal our land.”
The only hope for national redemption, as she sees it, lies in the strategic prayers of born-again believers to prod the country back onto a righteous legislative track. Turning to face the Supreme Court down the street, then toward all three wings of the Parliament Buildings, she leads her followers in an hour-long anti-abortion rite, their arms outstretched like kung fu masters channelling spiritual vibes—“prayer bombs,” she calls them—and their mouths plastered shut with scarlet duct tape inscribed with the word “life” to symbolize the stifled screams of an imperilled fetus.
But Thecry is not merely another pro-life rally attempting to storm Parliament Hill. Its agenda is much broader and far more radical: nothing less than restructuring Canada as a devoutly Christian nation governed by biblical literalists according to principles selectively plucked from the Old and New Testaments. That theocratic vision provides the underpinnings for a new Christian nationalist movement emerging in the capital, where Kryskow has become its most public face, the winsome front for a handful of militant evangelical groups determined to infiltrate the political system and, as she puts it, “reclaim Canada for Christ.”
Exactly what that phrase entails is as hard to pin down as Kryskow’s sketchy explanations of the country’s end-times role, but its implications for public policy are worthy of note. Establishing a Christian government in Ottawa—or re-establishing it, as Kryskow insists—would mean not only putting Bible believers in political office, but returning control of such services as education and social welfare to those institutions that Christian reconstructionists regard as the bedrock of a godly society: the family and the church.
While most of the teens and twenty-somethings in this crowd have been drawn to Kryskow’s calls for a Christian revival in Canada, few realize that she is part of a charismatic renewal movement that aims to wipe out the distinctions between church and state around the globe. Even her hyperbolic brand of righteous patriotism has been lifted from an American template: Thecry is patterned directly on TheCall, a daylong fast and prayer rally that drew fifty thousand Christian youth to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., only a week earlier. On TheCall’s website, in fact, Kryskow’s gathering is listed as the chief Canadian event sponsored by Missouri revivalist Lou Engle, the controversial pioneer of the red-duct-tape ritual that has become a staple of U.S. pro-life protests.
In Ottawa, Kryskow downplays those American ties, cultivating her reputation as a homegrown dynamo whose effervescence and impressive political connections have transformed her into one of the leading figures in this country’s emerging Christian right. At a time when the press corps routinely gets the cold shoulder on Parliament Hill, she sails through the corridors of power with an official security pass, popping up in the House of Commons’ gallery to cheer on the Conservative government’s initiatives and huddling with members of Parliament in the privacy of their offices to tout traditional values while joining hands with them in prayer.
At the prophetic conferences Kryskow runs under the banner of her youth lobby, 4MYCanada, she seldom fails to snag a guest appearance from one of the evangelicals in Harper’s caucus, and this edition of Thecry is no exception to that rule: Conservative MP Bev Shipley has trekked back to Ottawa during the Commons’ summer recess from his southwestern Ontario riding specifically to deliver greetings on behalf of his colleagues. A fellow Christian nationalist, Shipley has arrived fresh from a controversy of his own. Weeks earlier, he had been pilloried for handing out Canada Day bookmarks that asked constituents to pray for “godly” leaders who would govern “according to the Scriptural Foundation upon which our country was founded.”
Still, his endorsement pales in comparison to Kryskow’s chief public-relations coup: an effusive letter from the prime minister himself, which she reads to the crowd. In it, Harper lauds her youth movement for cultivating “thoughtful, faith-filled citizens” and praises its political activism. “Faith has shaped your perspective on the world and strengthened your resolve to make a political difference,” he writes, signing off with a beneficent “God Bless.”
What makes the letter noteworthy is that it arrived, unsolicited, from a politician who had spent years scrupulously avoiding any suggestion of coziness with the country’s Christian right. All through the 2006 race that brought him to power, Harper had barred his evangelical candidates from airing their contentious views on same-sex marriage and deftly sidestepped the minefields of the culture wars. Yet here he was in the summer of 2008, about to call an unscheduled election,openly currying favour with that constituency.
Was he simply trying to energize a new cadre of Conservative foot soldiers for the upcoming campaign? Or had there been a more profound shift in his strategy? Was Harper now secure in the assumption that, after two years of muzzling the most rambunctious believers in his caucus, he could count on the mainstream media not to notice that the religious right was alive and well—indeed thriving—under his government, where it had already begun to change the nation in ways that are far-reaching and perhaps irreversible?
For most Canadians, the first clue that they had a born-again prime minister came on election night in January 2006 when Harper capped off his victory speech with a three-word closing, “God bless Canada,” that sent commentators into conjectural overdrive. Some speculated that it was merely a case of rhetorical exuberance momentarily trumping his fabled cerebral cool. Others insisted it was yet another indication of his amply documented admiration for the American political system, a shameless imitation of every U.S. president within recent memory, no matter what their political stripes. Even among his intended audience, not everyone was thrilled. John Stackhouse, one of the country’s leading evangelical scholars, decried the gesture as a “sop” that had managed to miff both non-believers and committed Christians like himself. “It remains so vague, it has no important political purchase,” he argued. “It’s done very little except to irritate people.” In fact, Harper had used the phrase in some speeches as leader of the opposition, and for Preston Manning, his old Reform Party boss, the fuss was infuriating. “It&rsquo...