Vancouver Reachout

Front cover of program for Four Party Forum on December 2, 1975. MDM’s Collection.

The Political Forum (at the Agrodome, appropriately)

The program cover shown above came to me last week, courtesy of my old friend, Bill Reimer, bookstore manager at Regent College. Within it was outlined the program for the debate which took place on December 2, 1975 and was sponsored by the Christian Action Committee of Vancouver Reachout. The Opening Address was presented by Dr. Clark Pinnock, who filled the systematic theology chair at Regent College at the time.1 Interestingly, the local press didn’t even mention Pinnock’s address. I have heard from then-Regent College president, Carl Amerding (via Reimer) that Pinnock took as his topic the Kingdom of God and how it supersedes earthly politics.2

Following Pinnock’s talk, each of the four major political party leaders running in the provincial election (due to happen a week later on December 11th) spoke. Their subject was supposed to be the “moral and ethical implications” of the provincial election. Dave Barrett (NDP and incumbent): “We (politicians) try our best to behave as [if] we really are our brother’s keeper and that’s really what life is all about.” Scott Wallace (Conservative): “The principal role of the politician is to give fair play and justice to all groups in society.” Gordon Gibson (Liberal): “There must be morals and ethics in politics because government is here to unite people and help them.” Bill Bennett (Social Credit): “Government must be the servant of the people and never the master; government must do things for people and not to people.” (Province 3 Dec 1975). He later expanded upon this by proclaiming that “The enemy of the people is big government…” but he was apparently prevented from completing his statement by boos from the crowd (Province, 3 Dec 1975). Senator Ray Perrault was Moderator of the debate and one assumes he was an effective one, as he failed to earn any press coverage for his role!

Bennett’s attendance at the debate was iffy from the get-go. About a month before it was to happen, Bennett’s campaign team said he couldn’t attend due to prior commitments. However the Christian Action Committee must have had some clout as Bennett’s team said they would try to get him to the debate somehow. And he did ultimately attend it — the only all-party-leaders debate that he would participate in in that election campaign (Sun 18 Nov 1975).3

5,500 people attended the debate. Once Pinnock and the party leaders had presented their remarks, the audience was able to ask questions of the leaders. Topics ranged from abortion to juvenile delinquency to labour issues.

Finally, there was a “Response” section on the program (just before Rev. Roy Bell led the closing prayer). Just what the Response was is vague and must not have been considered newsworthy by reporters attending the event, as nothing was said about it in either of the local papers. The responders consisted of religion writer for the Province newspaper, David W. Virtue, and the following clergy: Rev. Calvin W. Netterfield of Ellendale Heights Baptist Church, Jon L. Jessiman, past president of the United Church of Canada in B.C., and Rev. Bernice M. Gerard, pastor of Fraserview Assembly. Of the three, the most well-known was doubtless Gerard. I haven’t heard of Jessiman or Netterfield before (nor of Ellendale Baptist – which appears to have been located in Surrey).

The Vancouver Reachout (read “Evangelistic Campaign”)

The “Vancouver Reachout” was the wider context in which the Political Forum took place. Indeed, the Forum seems to have been almost an after-thought, as it wasn’t mentioned in press accounts of the Reachout until November 1975.

The Reachout was, for all intents and purposes, an evangelistic campaign led by Leighton Ford and his team, which was, in turn, part of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Ford was a Vice-President of BGEA and Graham’s brother-in-law.4 During the Reachout, Ford traded liberally on his Canuck creds (which seem to me to have been a bit feeble; he was born in Canada). The Reachout included 150 local Greater Vancouver churches representing approximately 23 denominations.

The Reachout wasn’t a typical evangelistic campaign, however. At least, it was quite unlike the typical Graham campaigns with which so many of us are familiar (parachute the evangelist into the city, preach at the audience, and culminate with an “invitation” whilst umpteen verses of “Just As I Am” are belted out by the mass choir).

No, the Reachout was to be a two-year “people-to-people” effort.5 The inspiration for the project seems to have come from Ford’s involvement in a similar effort in Lausanne, Switzerland. A curriculum of material was prepared to assist Christians in the city to “reach out” to their non-Christian neighbours, family, and friends. There would also be a survey taken of Vancouver residents to get a better picture of who we were from a spiritual perspective. Findings of the survey included:

  • Roughly 2/3 of respondents were satisfied with “life as it is”
  • Only 7-9% felt guilty about or discouraged about the state of their lives
  • The primary motivation of most respondents was to “live the good life”
  • Most residents were not especially religious (only 22.5% claimed to be active in church)
  • 25-30% of those interviewed were agnostic or skeptical about Christian claims.

The two-year project concluded with traditional crusade-like gatherings. The first of four such gatherings wasn’t great from an optics perspective, attendance-wise. It was held in the Pacific Coliseum which holds up to 17,000; there was an audience of 4,500 (about 1/4 full). Leighton Ford spoke on the reality of hell on another night. And on all four occasions, he issued a Graham-like invitation.

It isn’t clear whether “Just As I Am” was sung.

Notes

1Pinnock would be replaced in that chair within a few years by J. I. Packer. Pinnock’s views underwent a shift as he grew older. For example, in his 70s, he embraced “open theology” This is viewed by some Christians as heretical.

2Email message from Bill Reimer to MDM, August 22, 2022. Reimer spoke to Amerding about Pinnock’s talk at the debate.

3The press seemed to have more than the usual number of typo errors when it came to Vancouver Reachout. In this newspaper article, for example, the “ethical and moral implications” of the election, which the leaders were asked to speak on became the “moral and liberal implications” when printed. In a related article, “Vancouver Reachout” was printed as “Vancouver Beachout“!

4There had been a Billy Graham crusade in Greater Vancouver in 1965.

5In July 1975, it was announced that Reachout was sponsoring Yellow Bird Taxi which would offer free taxi service to elderly and moderately handicapped residents (Sun 5 July 1975).

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6 Responses to Vancouver Reachout

  1. Lawrence Shand says:

    As it happens, I was in the audience for that political circus and remember thinking how appropriate it was to host it on the grounds of the PNE. And I certainly remember the boos from the audience when Wacky Jr. attempted a rhetorical flight on his broken right wing.

    And here we are, almost 50 years later, with the NDP holding sway in Victoria again. Seems odd that it would take that long to find somebody as likeable and charismatic as Dave Barrett to lead the provincial NDP out of the wilderness.

    But I note one significant change in the past 50 years. If the same event had been hosted by Evangelical Christian group today, it is highly unlikely that the right wing of the political bird would be booed.

    Great post. Thanks for the memories!

    Lawrence

    • mdm says:

      Re your final note: Agreed (sadly).

      • Lawrence Shand says:

        Our border with with the USA is like onion paper when it comes to spreading their philosophical (and theological) mind viruses northward. Always has been, but social media has made it far worse.

  2. Darrel Maisey says:

    This was an interesting and informative piece.

  3. Mary babowal says:

    Interesting stuff, M., thanks
    What is meant by open theology?

    • mdm says:

      For more details, see the link in this post. However, the (very) short answer is that Open Theists seem to hold that God is changeable.

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