In many ways, Americans and Canadians are so much alike. We watch the same movies and TV, read the same books, watch the same sports, listen to the same music, follow the same celebrities and (mostly) speak the same language.
We feel that we’re a lot like you, except when there is yet another mass shooting. Then we hear some Americans defending the right to own some of the most lethal weapons on the planet. That’s when we realize: We really have no idea what makes Americans tick at all.
To Canadians, the most obvious response is to get rid of guns, or greatly restrict the ability to buy them. Since that is a non-starter in the U.S., we can only surmise that, for many Americans, the regular shooting deaths of children at schools is the price they are willing to pay to be able to own guns.
But the difference between how Canadians and Americans view guns isn’t the only thing that divides us, as American author Lydia Bean discovered through her research into evangelicals in the two countries.
In her 2014 book, The Politics of Evangelical Identity: Local Politics and Partisan Identities in the U.S. and Canada, Bean studied two evangelical churches in the U.S. and two in Canada.
When it comes to politics, she found that American evangelicals have adopted a highly partisan and politicized religion, with many church leaders communicating that to be a Christian is to be a Republican.
Their religious identity was so allied with the Republicans, she wrote, that it has become “impossible for evangelicals to identify with the Democratic Party.”
In Canada, however, she found the opposite to be true. Political partisanship and evangelical piety were almost never combined or promoted in the churches she studied, and no political party was promoted over another.
Partisan rhetoric was also frowned upon, she said, and members of the two Canadian evangelical churches freely indicated they supported various political parties.
Another difference: American evangelicals often talk about wanting to return the U.S. to its Christian roots, but Canadian evangelicals don’t see themselves in a fight for control of their country.
When it comes to serving the poor, American evangelicals feel obligated to help because the Bible says so, she says, but also believe welfare is to blame for the country’s decline, along with a decline in faith, family life and values.
Canadian evangelicals, on the other hand, see the church and the government as having roles to play in assisting the less fortunate. They are particularly proud of Canada’s universal medicare program and viewed it as a complement to the work of the church.
“I think American evangelicals can learn a lot from Canadian evangelicals about how to be faithful in a pluralistic, multicultural, post-Christian and secular society,” Bean told me.
But Canadian evangelicals can also learn something from their American counterparts about speaking up, being bolder and not being afraid to “bring an alternative voice” into our country’s narrative, she said.
Bean’s book is about evangelicals. Would it also apply to Canadian and American Mennonites? Maybe not. But it would be interesting to explore ways we are the same and how are we different. That might make for an interesting study some day.
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.