My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
Canada is facing a housing crisis marked by unaffordable houses, lack of homes, ridiculously high rental costs, and a dismal failure to build enough units to alleviate the crisis. And inflation and high interest rates pile on even more pressures. As a result, countless people are homeless, living in undesirable conditions, or even on the streets. It is a complete mess with no end in sight.
But as I recently discovered it is not the first time Canada has gone through a housing crisis. While recently reading some church periodicals from the later years of the Second World War and the immediate postwar period I discovered some commentary on what the churches considered to be a pressing and alarming housing crisis.
What follows are some brief observations on the churches’ response.
First, the churches saw it as their responsibility to identify the gravity of the situation. Here are some quotes from Presbyterian, Baptist, and United Church documents to give you a sense of their concern.
Second, the basic assumption behind such commentary was that the churches had a role to play in calling the state to action. The churches were not experts on economics or housing planning, but they knew that people were suffering due to the neglect and/or incompetence of various levels of government and were convinced that someone had to speak into the situation.
As has been noted by scholars such as Phyllis Airhart and others, the churches saw themselves as nation builders – meaning that, at times, they needed to speak prophetically against injustice. And the postwar housing crisis was deemed to be a grievous injustice felt mainly by the poor and struggling middle class, not to mention returning soldiers hoping for a fresh start after surviving the horrors of war.
Third, the commentary of the churches was remarkably well-informed. Perhaps the most researched and thoughtful response was the one formulated by the United Church and found in the publication Church, Nation, and World Order (this document is a stellar example of the depth of work needed by a church to speak intelligently to social and political issues).
Fourth, this commentary on housing was in the context of a larger concern for a host of social issues in Canada. For instance, the Baptists of Ontario and Quebec in 1946 had resolutions on housing, but also "postwar reconstruction," "world hunger," "temperance," “penal reform,” “social disintegration,” “churches and labour,” “loyalty to country and free institutions,” “toleration and fraternity,” “refugees and displaced persons,” the "United Nations," the "Vatican," and “guest speakers and hospitality.” Quite a roster for one assembly’s attention!
As we today in Canada face an appalling housing crisis, especially in areas close to major urban centres, we in the churches should think about how those before us in the past spoke to their housing crisis. Of course, being thoughtful and prophetic on such issues does not mean that various levels of government will listen (in fact, they often do not). Yet a thoughtful and winsome engagement with the issues of the day may just prick the conscience of some politicians enough to spur on a solution to the crisis.
Yet despite whatever politicians do, addressing the issue shows that the churches’ love of neighbor has not diminished but remains a vital component of its ministry to its neighbors.
 Phyllis D. Airhart, “Ordering a Nation and Reordering Protestantism, 1867-1914,” In The Canadian Protestant Experience, 1760-1990, ed. George Rawlyk (Burlington: Welch, 1990), 98-138.