February 13, 2008


Reprinted with permission from the Canadian Adventist Messenger. All rights reserved.

capW hen 16 Fathers of Confederation convened in London for a third and final time on Dec 4, 1866, the new “united Canada” was as yet without an official name. Led by John A. Macdonald, most of them favored “The Kingdom of Canada,” but Britain nixed the idea, citing American dissent. What to do?

One of the Fathers was New Brunswick premier, Leonard Tilley, a 48-year old pharmacist who had been a leading proponent of confederation since the formal process began. Tilley had accepted Christ as his personal Saviour when he was 21 and had regularly taught Sunday school in his Anglican church. He was well-known as a temperance advocate, having introduced the New Brunswick prohibition bill that included the arrest and imprisonment of intoxicated people until they revealed their source of supply.

As the story is told, Tilley got up one morning at the London Conference, troubled by the problem of the new country’s name. He opened his Bible to Psalm 72, written by David for his son Solomon. Reading along, he came to verses seven and eight: “In His days righteousness shall flourish and peace abound . . . . He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth” (KJV). He went back to the conference and announced in effect, “God has given me a name for our country!” When Tilley suggested “The Dominion of Canada,” he was expressing his hope that Canada would accept the peaceful dominion of Jesus Christ, the second Solomon, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the St. Lawrence River north to the last inhabited islands of the earth. Later Canada took its motto, “From Sea to Sea,” from Psalm 72:8, and the same text is inscribed at Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Christian Spirituality in Canada
That was the hope. But how, in fact, has the nation fared spiritually since confederation? While only God knows the human heart, sociologists often use church attendance data as one way of gauging national spirituality. In 1945, a Gallup poll found that 60 per cent of Canadians were attending church weekly. But, by the 1970s the figure had dropped to 30 per cent, and in 2000 it reached a low of 20 per cent.1 Canada seemed to be following Europe on the pathway of secularization.

2008 1504 page32But during the first seven years of the new century, surveys have shown that Canada is beginning to go back to church! The first sign was a 2000 poll of teenagers which found 22 per cent attending weekly compared to 18 per cent in 1992. Then, in 2005, a Project Canada survey by Reginald W. Bibby, a University of Lethbridge sociologist, found that weekly church attendance by adults was up five points to 25 per cent.

There are other indicators of spiritual life. For example, 45 per cent of Canadians engage in private prayer either daily or several times a week. Only 25 per cent, however, read the Bible at least once a month—even though 34 per cent consider it to be the literal word of God. Seventy-four per cent identify themselves with a specific Christian denomination even though only 25 per cent are attending weekly services. Additionally, 82 per cent believe in God or a Higher Power and 67 per cent believe in life after death.

Modern and Post-Modern Canada
Since the 18th century Enlightenment, much of Western Christianity has grown in the soils of modernism and—for the last 50 years or so—postmodernism. Modernism holds that human reason is the only way to make sense of the universe. It questions the truth claims of anything that cannot be understood in scientific terms. It values “objective truth,” that which comes forth from observations and experiments based on the “scientific method.” It promised a golden era of progress made possible by scientific discovery and problem-solving technology.

But, in admittedly simplistic terms, World Wars I and II—and many kinds of other ills since 1945—have left many people disillusioned with the promises of modernism. The idea of unlimited progress has come crashing down, and secular people have had to try to live without hope. So we are living in a postmodern world where people are rejecting all the big stories that offer salvation or truth or meaning in life.

Canada, sitting culturally between Europe and the United States, has embraced postmodernism less than Europeans but more than its American neighbors. According to Bibby, postmodernism in Canada is defined by three core-values: individualism and the focus on the autonomous self, pluralism with its celebration of diversity, and relativism where truth is replaced by personal preference.

Postmodern people tend to distrust authority; instead they seek to construct their own reality. “Let’s live for today, for who knows what tomorrow might bring.” These people long for personal intimacy: Relationships are valued more than propositional truth. And with their rejection of the meta-narratives that haven’t seemed to pan out, many postmoderns are left vaguely seeking a spiritual foundation for their lives. They may be open to hearing about spiritual experiences in the lives of family, close friends, and neighbors.

Generational Canada
Our senior citizens (born 1925-1942) have been called “the silent generation.” Some fought in World War II, believing that their sacrifices would make the world a better place to live. Although that foe was defeated, other forms of totalitarianism have threatened world peace. Today the world lives under the threat of terrorism. The silent generation has been described by Howe and Strauss as “adaptive” and “flexible.”

2008 1504 page32Baby boomers (born 1943-1960) started out firmly entrenched in idealistic modernist values, but, as a result of the Vietnam war, some boomers began to question the agenda of modernism. They experienced a paradigm shift that helped to bring on the post-modern era.

Post-baby boomers (born 1961-1981), often called “Generation X,” have become the first truly postmodern generation. They reacted strongly to the broken promises of modernism and have been characterized by Howe and Strauss as being "cynical,” able to see through the hype. They want to be themselves, but reserve the right to be flexible in their identities. They are often skeptical toward authority holders, but highly value genuine grass-roots unity. They value relationships; fun, family, and flexible working hours are seen as means to balance life and work.

Millennials (born 1982-2000), sometimes called the “Net Gen,” comprise our largest generation, the children of the boomers. They have a tendency to reject the notion of expertise, probably because so much information resides at their finger tips on the internet. As consumers, they prefer the freedom to suddenly change their minds; they like many options to be laid out in front of them, and want free trials before committing to buy. They get their own personal, customized newspaper at regular intervals on the internet. Millennials insist on freedom of choice; limits are foreign to their mentality. Rather than being primarily readers or listeners, they are users.

The questions that the generations are asking about religion (see sidebar 1) loom large as the Seventh-day Adventist Church reaches out to these four generational groups with its message of hope.

Multi-Ethnic Canada
So we can analyze our country by generations, but another way to look at Canada today is to examine the various ethnic  groups that make up our nation. The estimated total population of Canada in October 2007 is 33 million. The table on the right shows the Canadian population of the ethnicities that comprise that total:

First Nations


North American Indians








European Background




Other Europeans


Visible Minorities




South Asians






Arab/West Asians


Latin Americans


Southeast Asians








(The above data is estimated by applying current growth rates to data gathered in the 2001 census. Data regarding ethnicity gathered in the 2006 census will be published in January 2008.)

The population of both aboriginals and visible minorities grew much faster than the general population between the 1996 census and the 2001 census data. The aboriginal count was 22 per cent higher in 2001, while the visible minority count was 25 per cent higher. During those same five years, the overall population rose by only 3.3 per cent. In 2001, visible minorities comprised 13 per cent of the total population, but, by 2017, one out of every five Canadians will be a visible minority, according to a recent study based on immigration trends and birth rates.

The impact of immigration is huge, particularly in the larger cities. Forty-four per cent of the population of Toronto is foreign-born, the second highest foreign-born resident rate in North America after Miami’s 59 per cent. Vancouver is fourth on the list with 37 per cent. (Los Angeles’ is third with 41 per cent.)

Of course, many Seventh-day Adventist congregations are multi-cultural, yet the church may wish to develop specific ways to reach aboriginal peoples, French-Canadians, each of the visible minority peoples, along with the 20 million Anglophone and Allophone Canadians of European descent.

Religious Canada
Forty-three per cent of Canadians identify themselves as Roman Catholics, up one point since 1871. Six million of these 12.5 million live in Quebec where monthly church attendance has declined drastically from 91 per cent in 1965 to 51 percent just a decade later and 24 per cent in 2005. Outside Quebec, it has gone up 10 points since 2000 to 53 per cent. Postmodern Quebecers seem disinclined to attend church simply because it is what “good Catholics” are supposed to do (Bibby, 2007, p. 15). At the same time, 97 per cent of Quebec Catholics who attend church less than once a week say they have no intention of switching to a Protestant denomination. Their loyalties are staunchly Catholic even though many attend services only at Christmas and Easter or for weddings and funerals.

2008 1504 page32Twenty per cent of Canadians identify themselves as “mainline” Protestants (United Church, Anglican, Lutheran, and Presbyterian). Their at-least-monthly attendance rate has gone up from 26 per cent in 1995 to 31 per cent in 2005. Evangelicals or “conservative Protestants” (Baptists, Pentecostals, Alliance, Mennonite, Wesleyans, Nazarenes, and others) now include 2,640,000 Canadians (8 per cent of our population). Their at-least-monthly attendance rate is 73 per cent. There are currently more than 50,000 Seventh-day Adventists in Canada. By contrast, Mormons number approximately 160,000.

It is estimated that there are now 800,000 Muslims in Canada, up 38 per cent since the 2001 census. Jews number some 350,000. Other world religions are also on the rise due to Asian immigration; Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism each claim more than 300,000 Canadian adherents today.

Sociologists measure personal religiosity in terms of attendance, identification, and orientation (toward a belief system). Those who consistently reply negatively to these three categories have been called “Nevers,” “Nones,” and “Nots”—which is to say that they never attend church, answer none on surveys of denominational identification, and say that they do not believe in God, life after death, angels, etc. Reginald Bibby’s 2005 survey produced the following figures pertaining to that group: 23 per cent of Canadians are Nevers, 15 per cent are Nones, and 7 per cent are Nots. However, only 4 per cent are all three. Many people believe in God who never attend church. British Columbia leads all four of these categories (38  percent Nevers, 34 per cent Nones, 11 per cent Nots, and 8 per cent all three), making it the most secular province in Canada. By the same criteria, Alberta is the second most secular province.

Psalm 72 Applied to Canada Today
“Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son. He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth” (Ps 72:1-8 KJV).

Even though David was not thinking of Canada when he penned these lines, Leonard Tilley was impressed to apply this psalm to the new nation in December 1866. How can we apply this psalm to Canada today?

David was celebrating the future reign of his son Solomon. First, we may pray and work to create a nation that compares with Israel during Solomon’s reign, when it reached the zenith of its spirituality, prosperity, administrative wisdom, and  peace. It was enough to impress the queen of Sheba who declared, “Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore [he] made . . . thee king, to do judgment  and justice” (1 Kings 10:9). Our prayer is that Canada will be just as impressive—a place where natives, long-time dwellers, and recent immigrants will be led to worship the true God!

Second, we may pray that Canada will be a “dominion” where Christ, the second Solomon, is allowed to continue on the throne, succeeding where Solomon failed and bringing righteousness and spiritual peace to the hearts of all who live here. Jesus said, “The queen of the South . . . came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Mt 12:42).

Third, Solomon’s name meant “peace,” or shalom in Hebrew. His was a reign of peace. Let us pray and work for peace among the peoples who are living in Canada. Verse three of Psalm 72 specifically mentions the mountains in connection with peace. We are thankful for our majestic mountains; we pray that they may continue to inspire peace as we invite the world to come and marvel at their beauty. Even as the leaves of the tree of life are “for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2), we may pray that the Canadian maple leaf may symbolize international peace in the world today.

When the Generations Question Religion . . .

Silent Gen and Boomers ask

Is it true????

Gen X asks

Does it work????

Millennials ask

Do I like it????
Does it fit me????

Fourth, we find the theme of justice for the poor and oppressed in Psalm 72. Canada has been a place where the downtrodden could find relief. May Seventh-day Adventist church members continue to contribute to that tradition through community service centers, support for parliamentary justice, and personal neighborhood projects.

Fifth, Psalm 72 points to the eternity of the reign of the second Solomon, “They shall fear thee for as long as the sun and the moon endure, throughout all generations” (verse five). Verse seven promises peace for “as long as the moon endures.” Our desire and prayer is that the people of Canada will find eternal, peaceful life through belief in Jesus Christ the Savior of the world.

Coming next month: Part II of this series will examine the question “What approach shall we take to connect the Canada that we know to Christ and church?”

1 These figures reflect a drastic drop in Roman Catholic attendance, a drop in mainline Protestant attendance, but a rise for conservative evangelicals.

Bibby, R. W., (2007). “Religion a la carte in Quebec: a problem of demand, supply, or both?” Prepared for a Special September 2007 issue of Globe. http://www.reginaldbibby.com
Bibby, R. W., (2006). The Boomer Factor. Toronto: Bastian Books. (See especially chapter 10, “Religion and Sprituality.”)
Bibby, R.W., (2002). Restless Gods: The renaissance of religion in Canada.. Toronto: Stoddart.
Howe, N. & Strauss W., (1991). Generations. New York: William Morrow.

Doug Matacio is an associate Professor of Religion at Canadian University College.