God Bless Toronto: The Piety of Rob Ford


“God bless the people of Toronto.”

 So ended Mayor Rob Ford’s apology before the press assembled outside his office this afternoon.

And there were audible giggles and laughter from the audience.

He had just said,
“I sincerely, sincerely, sincerely apologize.”

Followed by,
“God bless the people of Toronto.”

Then came the laughter.

Incredible rudeness from the press?
An anti-religious secularist arrogance mocking religious sentiment?
Laughter at the only too obvious allusion to another discredited leader who was always invoking the blessing of God on America?
Or just the involuntary laughter at this cheap faux spirituality at the end of a faux apology?

After a threefold ‘sincerely’ maybe the insincerity of this little bit of piety at the end of it all was just too much.

Let’s be clear about something here.

Rob Ford was clearly embarrassed and it was incredibly difficult for him to make this apology. He said this was one of the hardest things that he has ever done. He said repeatedly how very, very, very sorry he is.

But what was he sorry for?

He was sorry that he had been a drunk.
He was sorry that he had smoked crack.
He was sorry that he kept his substance abuse from his family.

And all of this was very hard for him.

But the truth of the matter is that he is sorry that he got caught.

And if he was really sorry, if he really wanted to come clean with the people of Toronto, if he really wanted to begin to address the damage of what he had done, then he had a more important apology, indeed a more important confession, to make.

He should be sorry that he lied to the people of Toronto.

He should be sorry that he engaged in a cover up.

He should be sorry that his closest associate in all of this has been charged with extortion.

You see, the damage done by his substance abuse, while significant, pales in comparison to the damage done to the public trust by his deceit.

And then he has the audacity, the spiritual hypocrisy, the false piety to say,

“God bless the people of Toronto.”

How exactly might God do that?

What would God’s blessing look like if Rob Ford’s little prayer was to be answered?

Maybe it would mean that we would have politicians who did not betray the public trust.
Maybe it would mean that we would have a mayor who did not lie to us.
Maybe it would mean that honesty and transparency would replace cover ups.
Maybe it would mean a civil discourse which did not demonize one’s political opponents.
Maybe it would mean that we would have a vision for the common good that went beyond ‘saving the tax payer’s money.’

The City of Toronto has been living under a curse.

Maybe that curse could be lifted and we could start to make some steps towards blessing, if Rob Ford would do the right thing, the true thing, the honest thing.

It is time for Rob Ford to resign.

Of course we all know that this will not happen.

So please, please, please, Mr. Ford,
leave God out of this.

Do not insult the people of faith in this city for whom the name of God is sacred.
Do not take this God’s name in vain.
Do not insincerely invoke the name of God as a spiritual coating for your own deceit.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

19 Responses to “God Bless Toronto: The Piety of Rob Ford”

  1. R

    You sound like a Lewinsky era Republican, appalled at Clinton’s going -to-church/seeking-spiritual-counsel routine.

    • B. Walsh

      Well there might be some parallels here. It wasn’t just Republicans who were appalled at the lies of Bill Clinton in relation to the Lewinsky affair. In fact lying in this way was proven to be an impeachable offence. But the question you raise is one of the religious facade that is put up. Whether Clinton’s seeking spiritual counsel was a cheap ‘routine’ or not, I don’t know. But note that Mr. Ford is seeking neither spiritual counsel nor help with substance abuse. I find that sad, but not in itself offensive. What is offensive is that he tacks on a bit of faux spirituality onto an apology that goes nowhere near to the deepest betrayal of the public trust. Unlike the public piety of “God Bless America” Canadians do not generally evoke the name of the Deity so lightly. There is something to be admired about a secularist society that abandons the pretence of religiousity.

      • r

        Sure, but when either a slick PR-machine-groomed lier or a troubled lie-by-the-seat-of-his-pants trainwreck make a reference to the residue of their faith tradition, shouldn’t Christians encourage him to seek that path, rather than go on a holier than thou tirade? There are plenty of broken people within and without the church. We shouldn’t join the piling on.

        Also, I’m not convinced we’re better off without the pretense of religiosity. Embers are better than ashes, perhaps.

        (On the pretense issue, both the US and Canada have current heads of gov’t who joined religious communities right before making a run at office. Ford may not quote Niebuhr, but his faith statements, unlike his apologies, don’t seem cynical. )

  2. yohwtf

    Excellent summation of the Ford debacle – one wonders if he has given thought to what people will remember about his time as mayor. He might hope it will be about stopping the gravy train but he’d be wrong.

  3. yohwtf

    Reblogged this on Yoh! WTF? and commented:
    I read this article and, to quote Rob Ford, I felt like a 1,000 lbs had been lifted off my shoulders. I thought I had been alone in thinking that this man had unmitigated gall is saying God bless Toronto, but this is so beautifully addressed here that it brought tears to my eyes.

    • B. Walsh

      If wtf means what I think it means, then I’ve got to admit that while the press corp was laughing, something like wtf is what I was thinking. Glad that I lifted some weight off your shoulders.

      • yohwtf

        Yes, WTF! is EXACTLY what you think it means and it has consistently been the acronym I have been using since this Sandro Lisi’s name first came to be connected with Ford’s name. I am sure, like the both of us, it will continue to echo around Toronto until Rob Ford does the right thing and resigns.

  4. dennisjhassell

    Ford’s farce is not as disturbing as the 30% of TOrontonians who still support him. Like so many middle class italians said of Mussolini “well, he makes the trains run on time”. Never mind he’s a fascist in league with the Nazis.

    • B. Walsh

      Well if Mr Ford could actually have come up with a transit plan that got Toronto moving in ways that were efficient and cost effective, then he might actually be like the aforementioned Italian fascist. Alas the transit portfolio has been a total mess since his election. And we need to also note that Ford was elected with 47% of the vote, which by any standards in our system is a landslide.

      And he was elected on four words and $60.00. The four words: ‘stop the gravy train’ tapped into a deep sense of distrust of politicians and of government structures. The fact that he found very little gravy at City Hall and little fat to cut really doesn’t matter. It was the tone of those four words that caught the imagination of the population.

      More disturbing was the $60.00 Vehicle Registration Tax that he axed on his first day in office. While most major cities have such a registration tax, the car-loving mayor railed against the ‘war on the car’ and promised to rescind the tax and put that $60.00 back into the tax payer’s pocket. That was a pretty cheap vote. You can buy votes in this city for $60.00.

      Democracy is the best system in a messy world. But we do get the leaders that we elect, and if our vision of the common good is limited to $60.00 in our pockets, then we deserve to have a mayor like Rob Ford.

    • joy karney

      You Got it! It is troubling that there are so many still supporting him in spite of his crass meanness and deception. I don’t get it!

  5. Brent Stiller

    The reality is none of us (probably) really know what Rob Ford was apologizing for…

  6. Dawna (@switcherdawna)

    God might be one of the few people who’ll show the patience to listen to him… not necessarily believe him, but to listen to him.

  7. Brendan Peters

    The fact is, God never answers any prayers. The entire idea that “God answers prayers” is an illusion created by human imagination.

    How do we know that “answered prayers” are illusions? We simply perform scientific experiments. We ask a group of believers to pray for something and then we watch what happens. What we find, whenever we test the efficacy of prayer scientifically, is that prayer has zero effect:

    It does not matter who prays.
    It does not matter if we pray to God, Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, Ra or any other human god.
    It does not matter what we pray about.
    If we perform scientific, double-blind tests on prayer, and if the prayers involve something concrete and measurable (for example, healing people with cancer), we know that there is zero effect from prayer. Every single “answered prayer” is nothing more than a coincidence. Both scientific experiments and your everyday observations of the world show this to be the case every single time.


  8. Gareth Inkster

    Love it. Thanks, Brian.

  9. David

    Thank you Brian for making it very clear what Rob Ford ought to have apologized for. I too found myself shaking my head and thinking “unbelievable” when he brought my God into his dark, ugly, twisted story.
    David from Caledonia, ON.

  10. andrew

    In moments like these, I imagine the god invoked to be some sort of rag doll tucked underneath the politician’s arm. They know perfectly well that the god they invoke is nothing but a toy, something to trot out and put on display to shift the gaze, attention and blame from themselves for a few moments.

    But Oh. My. God. Was it a verbal tic? Was it calculated? The laughter in the background was revelatory. Even though God no doubt loves Rob Ford, it is abundantly clear by his actions that the god he invokes is not the same one I might call Lord, Saviour, Creator or Friend.

    Dorothy Soelle’s famous line “show me how you think and act politically, and I’ll tell you what god you believe in,” is altogether appropriate here. A character sketch of Rob Ford’s god would be fascinating.

    • David

      Well said Andrew, but I fear your God was in fact the god toy he was he referring to regardless of how trite, or inappropriate. At the dawning of tomorrow’s new day, you said it quite accurately, our God still loves Mr. Ford, regardless of his idolatry. It is his idolatry our God hates. What Mr. Ford fails to understand is that our God is no toy.


Leave a Reply