A forum on the intersection of religion and politics planned for next Monday has its roots in a town hall meeting last year during the run-up to the federal election, according to the event's organizer, Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O'Mahony.
At the town hall meeting, federal Liberal candidate Diane Janzen was asked whether, given her strong religious convictions as a Christian, it was possible for her to also be a Liberal.
O'Mahony, the federal NDP candidate at the time, wasn't asked her opinion, but as a practising Christian, she couldn't forget the exchange.
"It just kind of made me think, Is that it?" she told the Times. "If you're a part of a political faith you have to be part of a particular political leaning?"
O'Mahony, who attends Freshwind Christian Fellowship in Abbotsford, says her religious values do shape her work as a politician and emphasize the need for compassion. She said they also inform her thinking on politics as "servanthood."
But O'Mahony says a person's religion doesn't have to mean adherence to a particular ideology or political party.
"This is exactly one of those areas where I think a discussion needs to take place," she said, and cited a conversation with a local minister who said "this is the white elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.
"There's a lot to be discussed in terms of some of the stereotypes that exist that are wrong, quite frankly."
O'Mahony will moderate a forum called Beyond Secularism: A new view of religion and politics. The event will feature a panel of three expert scholars: Bill Blaikie, a fellow at the Knowles-Woodsworth Centre at the University of Winnipeg and former NDP MP; Ron Dart, a professor of political science and religious studies at the University of the Fraser Valley; and Paul Rowe, an assistant professor of religion at Trinity Western University's Religion in Canada Institute.
O'Mahony said the idea is to foster a con-rsation around the topic.
Of course, there is an election just around the corner and in Chilliwack-which boasts a large number of practising Christians-it's good politics to be known as a person of faith. But O'Mahony said the religion/politics forum has been on her to-do list since claiming victory in the spring's byelection. After hosting a town hall meeting on the closure of Chilliwack General Hospital's sub-acute/rehabilitiation ward, she said she was encouraged to organize more community discussions.
The forum is also timed to coincide with the United Nation's Human Rights Day, which marks the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. O'Mahony said both the declaration, and the fact that we can talk about religion and politics in a peaceful manner, are worth celebrating.
"It's a reminder that we can have this discussion in our country," she said. "It's a blessing to be Canadian.