It’s Not Persecution

When Preston Manning used to introduce new Reform Party MPs to the House of Commons, among the bits of wisdom he shared with them was one that went like this. “When you give your first speech, you are going to want to blister the paint on the ceiling with your words. If you do, you’ll set the cause back fifty years.” His point was simple. Inflammatory rhetoric may indeed send an endorphin rush to one’s brain causing momentary euphoria. It will not, however, produce consideration among honorable members on the other side. It may well, in fact, alienate sympathizers.

Manning’s advice has been on my mind as I consider Trinity Western’s proposed law school and the new sex education curriculum in Ontario. I don’t want to rehash the controversies here—they have been well reported in the mainstream and Christian media. I do want to reflect on how some of us in the evangelical community have chosen to talk about them.

But first, a little context. Being an Anglican priest means, among other things, I belong to a worldwide communion of churches. Because of that, I have been able to forge friendships with people not only in the UK, Australia, and the United States, but also Egypt, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, India, Pakistan and Mauritius. Through them, I have heard close-to-first-hand accounts of anti-Christian persecution. The accounts are brutal, violent, and, sadly, true. Persecution is common in many parts of the world and seriously underreported in the mainstream media.

Frankly, I am shocked at the rhetoric being loosely bandied about regarding religious freedom in Canada. Christians in Canada are not being persecuted. Our faith is not under attack. “The government” is not trying to take away religious freedom. Though this kind of rhetoric provides some sort of emotional release it is both false and finally unhelpful.

Its falsehood is clear when Canadian accounts of “persecution” are set aside stories of the real thing. Our churches are not being burned, our clergy are not being kidnapped, our laypeople are not being raped or beheaded, and communities are not being expunged. That is persecution. Some Canadian Christians are experiencing what is better termed soft discrimination. It may well be that over the next few years, such soft discrimination will become harder. Then again, given increasing immigration patterns and the accompanying growth of evangelical and Roman Catholic communities (and those of other religions) in Canada,[1] such discrimination may turn out to be short-lived. If for no other reason than religious people vote, too. Either way, though, we are not persecuted. We minimize the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world when we say otherwise.

This rhetoric is also unhelpful. Because it draws a false identification between us and groups of people who are really being persecuted, it drives otherwise sympathetic people away. The TWU case raises all kinds of interesting questions regarding the shape of religious freedom in Canada, the purpose of the Charter of Rights, and the relation of so-called “public” and “private” commitments. These questions need to be thoughtfully debated, not reduced to sound bites. The new sex education curriculum in Ontario also needs careful consideration, and as both a parent and a Christian, I would say thoughtful opposition at specific points. To do so, however, takes time, care, and deliberately chosen, accurate words. Too many people have “blistered the paint,” making the work of others more difficult than it needed to be.

Jesus called his followers to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Much of our language on these and other issues, however, reflects neither wisdom nor innocence.In our context, the language of persecution is untrue, unhelpful and, frankly, does not reflect the love of neighbour and enemy to which disciples are called.

[1] See “Religion isn’t dying. It may well be rising from the grave.” By Aaron Hutchins in the March 26 edition of Maclean’s available here: http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/what-canadians-really-believe/.

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