UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Teenage Stephen Harper grappled with God, remembers his confirmation class teacher

By Tim Johnson

Stephen Harper’s 1978 yearbook photo from Richview Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke, Ont. Toronto Star/CP Images
Stephen Harper’s 1978 yearbook photo from Richview Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke, Ont. Toronto Star/CP Images

“He wasn’t an outsider, exactly. He just wasn’t the life of the party,” Moulton adds, observing that Harper showed no particular interest in sports or music. Which is why he was so surprised when he heard that the prime minister, as an adult, had written a book on hockey. Moulton reasons that this was part of an intelligent political calculation, akin to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relationship with jazz music. “It’s not basic to his nature,” says Moulton. “He’s a serious person, and he needed that to humanize himself.”

Back at St. Luke’s, Harper rarely missed a confirmation class, which ran for one hour every Sunday morning, from October to April. But then, Harper made a decision — one that was his alone — not to be confirmed. “He had a hard time getting his mind around the concept of God,” Moulton remembers. “He just couldn’t figure it.” Moulton wasn’t offended — in fact, he respected Harper for his decision. “I understood how his mind functioned. I accepted that it was valid. It was more honourable than just going through to the end for the sake of it.”

Moulton notes that Harper’s religious ideas began to firm up once he moved west, to Calgary, and became close to Preston Manning. “He would send these long letters, 10 or 12 pages, in tiny writing, asking me how I could explain this or that from Manning’s speeches and sermons,” he says. “He had a lot of moral and theological questions.” Moulton would respond in kind, but it was a big job — analyzing his letters, then writing back on all the different topics was a time consuming process. “It wasn’t just an hour — it would take a whole day to respond,” Moulton remembers. With the passing of time, the two slowly lost contact.

And while Moulton enjoyed the meeting of the minds, they never really agreed on politics. He notes that Harper’s father always had conservative leanings, something that rubbed off on the future prime minister, and he moved even further right once he moved west. But Moulton doesn’t think Harper is a true fundamentalist — rather that his intellect, combined with the residual impact of the United Church, keeps him moderate. On the issue of abortion, for example, Moulton sees the pressure the prime minister feels from the right to prohibit the practice, but doubts Harper would ever support this. “He reasons it through. He sees both sides of the issue,” Moulton observes.

While Harper today is a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Moulton is convinced that the United Church had a lasting impact on the current prime minister. Years later, when Harper was already leader of the opposition, his father died; he sent Moulton a handwritten note, expressing how much the minister had meant to his dad and the family, along with a program from the funeral. “We may not see eye to eye on politics, but he had — and still has — a solid ethical foundation and moral stance,” maintains Moulton. “And I know he got that from the United Church.”



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image