Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Post Articles

I Too Remember Peter

March 30, 2002 Articles

It was during a time – the 1980s – when Canadian evangelicals felt that no one in public broadcasting were making any attempt to understand us. The American Right, led by Jerry Falwell had cast a pallor of religious fundamentalism across our nation. So when a Canadian evangelical or group surfaced in the news or on a public affairs program, they would be introduced as “fundamentalists.” As this was at the same time that Islamic and Seik fundamentalists were making waves around the world, the obvious linkage was to connect Christian “fundamentalist” with bombings and airplane highjackings.

To add to this, it was the time Jim Bakker was promoting his form of religious narcissism, and to our public embarrassment Jimmy Swaggert did his public tumble. To understate it, they were not the best of times.

Into that mess came an icon of elite power, Peter Gzowski who helped Canadian evangelicals.

My relationship with Peter began when I was asked to respond to the shenanigans and demise of Jim and Tammy Bakker: their financial dealings and Jim’s moral lapses had just been made public.

I recall – as I was driving down to the old CBC headquarters on Jarvis Street – wondering how I could turn a discussion of this sordid affair into something other than a public apology. I rehearsed what I thought might be the patter of conversation with Peter – as an avid listener to Morning Side, I hade a sense of his style of interviews. I knew he would first read out the litany of Bakker’s foibles, and then would probably turn and ask, “Brian, how do Canadian evangelicals feel about this?”

“How could I move this conversation into a positive direction?” I wondered.

It occurred to me if that after expressing sadness and embarrassment about it all, I could say, “But the media is missing the big story!” a reply I knew that good interviewer could not ignore.

I tried it and it worked. Predictably he asked, “And what is the big story?” I then pointed out the remarkable interest in spiritual issues which seemed to be sweeping across North America. From there we moved into the wider issue of “spirituality” and then to a question about evangelicals. I reminded him that his forbearer Sir Casimir Gzowski in the late 19th Century helped start Wycliffe College – the evangelical Anglican seminary at the University of Toronto – and whose son helped many evangelical ministries including in 1894, what today is Tyndale College & Seminary. This first interview helped foster a relationship which led him giving me further opportunities to try and clarify on CBC who evangelicals are and what they believe.

It was in the fall of 1993 – during the federal elections – that Peter asked me again to clarify evangelical concerns. It was when the Reform Party were threatening to substantially increase its presence in Ottawa. In the election debates there were public statements – especially against Preston Manning – which were mean spirited, unfair and nasty. A MP in Manitoba, in her attempts to generate support for her reelection, called Manning a “fundamentalist” implying all sorts of negative images. I wrote, asking for fairness in the debate and that people call us “evangelicals” and not resorting to unfair names and innuendoes which the term “fundamentalists” triggered. To get their I wrote, “To call me as an evangelical a fundamentalist is not unlike calling an African Canadian using the ‘n’ word, or a gay man a ‘fag: please call us what we call ourselves.’” Peter invited me to explain what.

As we prepared for the program I told him the problems being generated by unfair designation, and then asked if this could be raised on the air. He agreed and invited Dr. George Rawlyk – the great evangelical and Canadian historian who was professor at Queen’s University – who I knew would be of great assistance in bringing clarity to the issue.

The result of this interview not only led the head of CBC radio to promise to only use the word “fundamentalist” when a person called themselves that, but the Canadian Press also reminded Canadian reporters what “evangelical” actually meant.

It was Peter Gzowski who gave me opportunities to explain and defend the evangelical community. Peter went out of his way to ensure that I had a fair and unencumbered platform on which I could say what needed to be said.

After doing many interviews across Canada in which the interviewers would so often by way of pejorative language and tone of voice demean our faith and community, it was Peter who defended our right to get out our message. His radio pulpit he shared with us and by so doing modeled a fairness which we as evangelicals could do well to replicate.

Brian Stiller