Truth is, while Tommy Douglas was named the greatest Canadian of all Time, I hadn’t heard much about him, there was name recognition and that was it, which is a shame as one who prides himself in the study of history and the influence of Christians on society I am embarrassed to say I knew little more. Tommy Douglas was also a Baptist minister and as some may appreciate, he was also Kiefer Sutherlands Grandfather. His accomplishments were many, and during the debate currently taking place in America regarding Health Care, his story, the obstacles and the things that drove him are relevant for a new generation, for a different nation.
Prairie Giant covers more than a 50 year period in the life of Tommy Douglas, from his first pastors’ position in Saskatchewan to his years in the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. This three hour movie covers a great deal of history, and provides ample background to draw one into the life of Douglas. We see the deep love between his wife and him, as well as the challenges of standing up against the political powers of the time, the powers that represented the wealthy, the money, and the capitalistic powers that be. The thing that drove Douglas, even from the early years, was clearly the message and teachings of Jesus Christ. Douglas was an outspoken opponent and servant of the poor, from all walks of life. His experience in the pulpit and the ability to communicate with others would be a driving force to help in his long term success in the Canadian Parliament.
Douglas, while a pastor in Saskatchewan was forced to see the challenges placed on the poor. From the unimaginable working conditions placed on local miners, to the lack of food for the poor, and the need for health care. Many of the things I found challenging while watching this captivating mini-series from Canada was the arguments that were used some 50 years ago. Without getting into a debate on the policies currently under consideration in America, I found it mesmerizing that the arguments I hear now related to Universal Health Care, are the exact same arguments I saw presented in the movie. What is different though is the perspective of the one fighting for the rights of the poor, and ultimately universal health care in the movie has as a part of his conviction, conviction based on deeply held religious beliefs specific to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I can’t help but think some about the driving force behind much of the theology of many Christians in America. I have to wonder, is that theology based on politically held beliefs of political parties, or are those beliefs rooted and founded in the teachings of Jesus Christ. One can normally tell the difference when we start hearing things about founders, when in fact that information is not accurate or founded, or when we hear about capitalistic ideas as opposed to Biblical teachings. I am confident, if a belief is held deeply on the teachings of Jesus, then it seems that should be supported with the teachings of Jesus from Scripture. Yet to find excuse and reason to not use Biblical supports, or to even try to counter those Biblical supports without Biblical proof seems to me to indicate a belief in a system not based on Jesus teachings, but on political perspectives. Don’t get me wrong, if this is your foundation, fine, I have no qualm about that, but if your foundation is Jesus, remember this, “No servant is able to serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stand by and be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (riches, or anything in which you trust and on which you rely).” (Luke 16:13 Amplified) Tommy Douglas had to face this challenge from within his own denomination, it was clear to him that he had to follow the teachings of Jesus, specifically from the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25:31-46 where we are told of the importance of serving the ‘least of these.”
Douglas was a part of a denomination that told him he could not be involved politically and at the same time preach the gospel. He was clear, and to the point as to how he disagreed with them. This was the driving force that caused him to step down as a pastor and take on the political world he lived in, not however without the support of many within his denomination, his church, and those in the community he had shown a willingness to love by serving them. It was a call that lasted for over 50 years. The leadership within some in the religious community wanted his focus to be on sin, but one scene in the movie eloquently illustrates, that Douglas believed that when we refuse to stand up to the oppression of the poor, from a Biblical perspective we are allowing sin, in fact, to not stand up against the oppression of the poor, is in fact, sin.
Douglas was a man who knew the “common” man and woman and never lost sight of his calling. While many fight for the idea, he distinguished the importance of standing beside of, and fighting for the people. While he was a man who was deeply committed to his faith, he was also a man who understood the difficulties of real life because he lived real life. One scene in the movie has the young pastor, who in fact was a boxing champion; tell one of the young men in the movie that he should forget the rules of the ring in standing up to a bully. At the point when a bully is being a bully, he has already lost all respect for rules. This type of real relationship, with real people was what drove their love and appreciation for Douglas, but his standing by their side also drove and inspired him. He had seen people die for their convictions, whether a poor person without health care, or a union worker who had been beaten by union forces encouraged by the government to stand against those striking workers. Douglas you could say got his hands dirty, he wasn’t a Monday morning quarterback, he knew the convictions of his heart, and did what was needed to see changes take place for the people he believed all Christians were called to serve.
There will be many who will disagree with the positions taken by Tommy Douglas, but no matter what your position, one has to respect his dedication to the things he believed. He believed in them enough to dedicate and give his life. I am also amazed though at the reality that many will often say that those of faith, Christians in fact, have never really contributed to the cause and needs of the “common” man and woman. Yet, we know, it was Christians involved in the overthrow of slavery, who fought to protect and help many during the civil rights movement, and who fought for women’s suffrage among many things. Through the life of Tommy Douglas, we can see it was Christians who fought to establish rights not just for Canadians but North Americans on many fronts, not just Universal Health Care, but unemployment benefits, quality education for all, farmer benefits and much more. I believe the true measure of a Christian has to be measured in part by how important it is to place the teachings of Jesus in a place of precedence over every thing else, including political persuasion. As a measure of desire to follow those teachings has to involve what we do for the poor, or least of these.
I would encourage looking for this DVD, it is well worth the purchase, certainly worth the $5 I paid for it. The only major disappointment I had was that none of the special features advertised on the DVD were actually on the DVD I purchased. Thankfully there are many things related to the real Tommy Douglas available on YouTube and other web sources. I have found a new historical character to appreciate and learn more about. Despite your political views this is a fascinating historical viewing you can watch and contemplate, especially if a person of faith. If you are undecided about things like Health Care, I think this movie may be more educational than many realize, and more dangerous than others would want. One thing is certain, Prairie Giant, the Pastor Tommy Douglas Story is a story and DVD that could have the Tommy Douglas preaching beyond the grave, for that, I can’t help but believe that he and his decedents would be proud.
The following are clips from the movie and other appropriate aspects of Tommy Douglas. Just click on the video, if the video don't appear, click on the link:
The following video may be one of the best political speeches for the masses I have ever heard. This animated film, with a voice over of the real Tommy Douglas is introduced by Douglas' grandson, Kiefer Sutherland.
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