Jack Layton’s funeral is tomorrow, and I felt I should honour his contributions to Canadian society in some small way. His compassion and concern for the downtrodden was inspiring, as was his commitment to keeping his politics civil. Whatever one’s political inclinations, we can all thank God for that type of leadership.

Jack Layton and his wife Olivia Chow in front of St. Francis of Assissi Church (Toronto), during the 2011 Good Friday Procession. Image from Toronto Star.

As my blog is primarily focused on faith, and the relationship between faith and culture, I thought it worthwhile to consider Layton’s approach to faith. Layton was a practising member of the United Church of Canada (though he joked in one instance, “I don’t practise as frequently as I should”). The following are selections from Layton’s written and spoken words where he talks about personal faith, and the role faith can and should play in the political process. Make of them what you will.

“Faith and Politics: Party Leaders Respond.” Faith Today. Jan-Feb 2006. (co-written with Bill Blaikie). http://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/page.aspx?pid=1247

There is much common ground to be found and to be developed between the religious left and the religious right

The challenge for Canadians who want to practise a politics that is faithful to their understanding of God, of their Scriptures and of their own faith tradition, is how to do this appropriately in the secular, pluralistic and multi-faith society that Canada has become. For Christians this is particularly challenging, because this needs to be done in a way that preserves the right of Christians to bring their values into the public square while respecting the fact that in a post-Christendom context no policy can be officially adopted or rejected for explicitly Christian reasons, as might have been the case in a previous era….

There will always be a role for Christians, and for people of other faiths, to speak out of their prophetic traditions, challenging the rulers of their day to do justice, to love kindness and mercy, and to measure their political choices not in terms of how they help the rich and already powerful, but how they help the hungry, the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized and the environment that future generations will have to live in.

The prophetic voice may not always be welcome in public policy debates, but it is essential that its role be defended as one of the important ways that the spirit speaks to us in human history.

“Interview with Jack Layton.” Canada Kick Ass. October 11, (2009?). http://www.canadaka.net/article/673-interview-with-jack-layton

We’ve actually started a faith and justice commission in our party because we believe that this idea that people who have values that motivate them in politics derived from whatever their faith journey might have been, this idea that this is somehow the exclusive preserve of a far-right component of the population is just simply wrong….

Of course we also have a profound, not only understanding, but belief in the separation of church and state. That is a very very important principle in Canada. We’ve also chosen, however, to be a multi-cultural sort of society. So we’ve allowed for gray areas around the edges, and I think that’s part of working things out in a complex society, and ours is a little more complex than most.

“Jack Layton: Role of Faith.” listenuptv. August 22, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WuiHUQ8pBI

[Responding to a question about the role of faith in his life]: [Faith] has been an active role. My folks got us involved in the youth movement of the United Church right from the get go. I used to be in the junior choir – before my voice changed. We used to go to a group – in fact, my mom and dad ran the group – it was called the “Bible Study Class” at 9:30 on Sunday morning. Three of us went. One was because my dad was running it so naturally I had to go. And there were two others who went. And he said to us, “What would we have to do different?” And I’d say, “Well, you’ve gotta make it more relevant. For example, what if you made it Sunday nights? And what if you changed it from “Bible Study Class” to some other name? Maybe some of our friends who come.” So we came up with the name “Infusers” – the idea that you could infuse your ideas and your work and your enthusiasm into the community. And before you knew it, practically every kid in Hudson was coming (mostly because it was the only way you could get out on a Sunday night was to say you were going down to Mr. Layton’s Bible study class at the church). But we had all kinds of involvement, and… we would go out and meet seniors…. and we’d sing with them or bring them things that they needed. That whole notion of service. So what do I derive from all of that? It’s the concept of service – an optimistic opportunity to serve.

“How the leaders view religion and politics.” Globe and Mail. April 21, 2011. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/how-the-leaders-view-religion-and-politics/article1995302/

I believe that people’s ideas and promises should be the issues of the campaign. It shouldn’t matter if a policy idea [comes] from a place of faith or a practical experience – but people should judge for themselves how it will affect them and their community….

Any Canadian should be able to become prime minister by earning the confidence of the Canadians who elect them, no matter what their faith status might be. A prime minister needs [to] be able to reach out and talk with people from all kinds of different backgrounds – bringing people together from diverse backgrounds is an important leadership trait….

[When asked to describe “a time of personal or political crisis when your faith guided your or helped you”]: Some aspects of one’s faith and spirituality, especially in difficult times, really should remain private.

“Statement by NDP Leader Jack Layton on the Kirpan.” New Democratic Party. January 20, 2011. http://www.ndp.ca/press/statement-by-new-democrat-leader-jack-layton-on-kirpan

It’s time to stop playing divisive, political games with Canadian’s religious beliefs. Canada has a reputation of tolerance and understanding, and we must continue to work together and embrace our differences.

And now, some additional thoughts on Jack Layton’s faith, but this time from his friend Bill Blaikie, an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada, currently serving as an MLA in Manitoba, having served as an NDP MP from 1979 to 2008. His thoughts were published a day after Jack Layton passed away.

“Jack Layton’s strength had Sunday school roots: NDP stalwart Bill Blaikie remembers his friend.” Christian Week. August 23, 2011. http://christianweek.org/stories.php?id=1651

“Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

With these final words, penned just days before his untimely death on August 22, Jack Layton expressed the firm foundation of his worldview. It was a way of looking at the world that had its roots in his United Church upbringing – a spiritual inheritance he cherished and nurtured as his life progressed….

Jack Layton’s light always shone for a more inclusive, loving, environmentally sensitive world. He dared to believe God’s will could be done on Earth as it was in heaven if those who wanted to anticipate the kingdom and its justice pursued it with discipline and courage.

Canadian Christians, whatever their politics and whatever their disagreements might be, should recognize that in losing Jack Layton we have lost a great example of a public life significantly shaped by the church.

Jack ran the race set before him and fought the good fight. I am as sure as one can be in this life that the words “well done, my good and faithful servant” welcomed him into God’s care and keeping.

Layton’s final thoughts on faith and life will be revealed tomorrow at his funeral. The Globe and Mail reports that he had begun planning it with the Rev. Brent Hawkes more than a month ago. Rev. Hawkes says that Layton asked him to deliver a couple of specific messages during the service. We will have to wait until then to learn what they are.