Freedom of Religion in Canada
Part 3 – using our freedom wisely
by Marion Van Driel
Recognizing that all Canadians have a constitutional right to voicing, practicing and involving their faith view in the political landscape, how do we as Christians use that right in a compelling manner?
Trinity Western University President Bob Kuhn believes that we have taken many of our rights and privileges for granted, including our freedom of religion. He stresses that this particular freedom is foundational to the rest of our freedoms and rights, a fact to which certain people seem oblivious, in light of our current climate’s (lack of) appetite for bringing religious views into the public arena.
Previously in Canada, Christians have enjoyed certain religious advantage, exerting considerable influence on the country’s formation. “Now, that is considered a privilege we are no longer entitled to, and this has led to a sense that Christianity leads the list of least acceptable religious practices in a country that’s become more diversified and more religiously broad-minded or less characterized by Christianity itself,” observes Kuhn. Christianity has become almost a taboo subject – both Christians and non-Christians alike are reluctant to discuss religion in anything but broad terms; any world- view claiming truth at its core is considered unacceptable.
Christians and non-Christians alike are reluctant to discuss religion in anything but broad terms; any world- view claiming truth at its core is considered unacceptable.
Simply because the secular fundamentalism so rampant today is not perceived as a religion, (although comparable to one), doesn’t make it more logical, appropriate or beneficial to our country for that reason. In our pluralistic society, Christianity stands as a voice to be heard “without being disdainfully rejected as being unacceptable . . . recognizing that it has a lot to contribute on its own foundation, without necessarily adopting the all-inclusive focus that is seemingly accepted by a large percentage of our population,” Kuhn states.
Willing to be rejected
Christians often view the right to practice their religion in personal terms: owning Bibles, praying, meeting together, teaching their children in the faith, enjoying Christian education, speaking openly with their neighbours about their faith.
To tap into religious freedom – not just for our own private benefit, but also for that of our country – requires intentionality. It also involves the willingness to take a position that’s unpopular – a position that doesn’t simply meld Christianity into the definition of the broad spectrum of secularism, but stands apart. Kuhn says, “It’s a willingness to take a position that is likely unpopular, likely to be misunderstood, likely to be rejected – sometimes out-of-hand without any consideration, discussion or dialogue at all. To identify as a Christian in today’s political environment is often viewed with – at least – suspicion, and maybe entire cynicism.” He’s concerned about the inequalities between the treatment of people from different religions. For example: while the term Islamophobia creates a great deal of discussion, no correlating term exists to describe the clearly present phobia towards Christianity. The faith that influenced Canada’s identity has lost respect – indeed, has largely become an object of scorn – to the point that the scorn is not deemed intolerable.
Admittedly, in the not-so-distant past, Christians have used violent and hateful tactics that caused harm. Those who would discredit Christianity use that history to perpetuate the public perception of who we are. Today, we are seldom characterized as people who feed and clothe the poor, treat all with dignity and respect, and care for others with great love. So Kuhn adds, “If people don’t stand up for the value of Christianity in our society, then we can hardly complain that Christianity isn’t seen for what it really is, . . . beneficial in every respect.” Demonstrating that our beliefs are based on the work of a redemptive God is not for the faint of faith.
Following the apostles’ example
The early church grew despite hostility from all sides – Jewish leaders, Roman government and citizens of both cultures. Rather than behaving in an objectionable way towards their detractors, the apostles spoke the truth with a gentle boldness and without apology for their beliefs. Although the question of how to influence our public policy has no simple answers, Kuhn lays out these three foundations:
1. Knowing who we are in Christ, and being willing to love and sacrifice outside the realm of our comfort level
2. Seeking to understand what motivates our culture and why it reacts as it does to Christianity
3. Speaking into our culture in a way that reflects our deepest faith-based personal and corporate values.
Multiple actions can be taken to engage our culture:
• Praying for all levels of government, leaders, and guidance for personal and group action
• Researching groups in which to become involved and to support financially
• Writing letters to politicians concerning issues and supporting their positive efforts
• Using your gifts to engage others
“If Christ-followers do not recognize their place in society and take it up, then others will take it up.” On the other hand, Kuhn says that if we feel compelled to make a big noise, we need to follow up with action that justifies what Christianity is all about. Kuhn states that Micah 6:8 speaks loudly to him as the manifesto for Christian living in our present political climate:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?