Brian Mulroney, prime minister of Canada from 1984 to 1993, passed away last week at age 84.

Mulroney was known as a leader capable of pushing big ideas. But he also opened doors for evangelicals in Canada to engage with the government on major issues. His encouragement was very important, coming at a time when Canadian evangelicals were wrestling with how to present a gospel witness to civil society.

One year before Mulroney became prime minister, I was invited to lead the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), the Canadian affiliate of the World Evangelical Alliance. Prior to my arrival, the EFC had been relatively inactive. It was largely a collection of files accompanied by an occasional public meeting.

I had grown up as the son of a Pentecostal pastor on the Saskatchewan prairies. For us, politics was considered outside the orbit of Christian concern. However, two provincial premiers, both Baptists, saw things otherwise, and their actions provided fodder for earnest conversations as to what Jesus meant when he said, Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

On one hand, Tommy Douglas, a pastor with socialist leanings who became premier of Saskatchewan, introduced the first universal health care system in North America. Meanwhile, in the neighboring province of Alberta, E. C. Manning was a free-enterprise capitalist who also preached every Sunday on the radio.

Despite their influence, our church had no interest in public engagement, apart from bringing people to Christ and preparing them for eternity.

However, as the EFC president, I perceived that the evangelical community could not stay out of issues boiling within our political spheres. Abortion was becoming a major topic of debate, one that we could not ignore.

Eventually, in 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that provisions in the Criminal Code requiring the involvement of a hospital in an abortion were contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This decision left Canada in a vacuum, as the only country in the West with no laws restricting abortion. The EFC could hardly be silent in such a situation.

Up to this point, the only Canadian churches that had significant contact with the government were Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants. Evangelicals were simply unknown. Moreover, in the 1980s, we were victims of what I called “the Jerry Falwell effect,” meaning that our reputation was being harmed by how the Canadian media portrayed US evangelicals as angry “fundamentalists” and assumed that Canadian evangelicals were the same.

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Our task was obvious in Canada: to dismiss that myth, establish a public understanding of who we were and what we believed, and then figure out how we might make useful contributions to our country.

Brian C. Stiller of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada pictured with then-prime minister Brian Mulroney
Image: Courtesy of Brian C. Stiller

Brian C. Stiller of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada pictured with then-prime minister Brian Mulroney

What I didn’t know was that the new prime minister would be open to engaging with evangelicals. When Mulroney formed his government in 1984, a number of evangelicals were included: Jake Epp became minister of national health and welfare, Len Gustafson was parliamentary secretary, and Mennonite John Reimer, along with other evangelicals, entered parliament as members of Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative Party.

Epp, highly regarded by both his party and those in opposition, helped us understand not only how we might speak to the government—especially on the issue of abortion—but how to build credibility.

For one of my one-on-one meetings with the prime minister, I arrived with an agenda that our senior staff had worked on. While waiting for Mulroney to call me in, I mulled over my early-morning Bible reading of Daniel chapter 11: “And in the first year of Darius the Mede, I took my stand to support and protect him” (v. 1).

It seemed to me that I should put aside my planned agenda and instead offer words of encouragement. A few minutes later, I was invited into his office, and after some pleasantries, was asked about my agenda. My response was simply, “Mr. Prime Minister, I have no agenda today but to encourage you.” We spent a few minutes with some Bible verses and prayed, and, after the customary photograph, I left.

The next week while I was boarding a plane, the minister of justice, Ray Hnatyshyn, invited me to sit with him for a minute. He promptly asked, “Brian, what happened with you and the prime minister last week?” My heart sank. Had I gone too far? I wondered. “Minister, was there something wrong?” I asked with trepidation.

He smiled and said, “No, not at all,” and then proceeded to tell me that the prime minister had extended his time with me, delaying his meeting with the Cabinet members waiting for him in the next room. After joining the Cabinet meeting, Mulroney told them of my visit and our conversation and prayer.

As Hnatyshyn recalled, “The PM said, ‘If we as the government misunderstand or ignore the evangelical community, the country and this government will be the losers.’”

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That simple meeting opened more doors for important and substantive conversations with people at all levels of the government, giving us opportunities to understand how to relate in a God-honoring manner to “Caesar,” than many protests or editorials might have accomplished.

When I heard about Mulroney’s untimely death, I was reminded of the lessons I had learned from him in seeking to understand how our public witness fits within the agenda of Christ and his kingdom.

In my global travels, this question is often among the first that Christians ask me, as they seek to understand how our commitment to Jesus as king should shape our interaction with government.

Brian Mulroney opened the door for us to flesh out our mandate and to embody what the apostle Paul instructed: “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good … Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Rom. 13:4, 7).

Brian C. Stiller is global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance and the founder and former editor in chief of the Canadian magazine Faith Today.