Rev. DeVries is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Wingham, Ontario, Canada.
This year Canada observes the twenty-fifth anniversary of its adoption of the “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” This document has a nice sounding title, but it provides the sincere child of God and the faithful churches in Canada little reason to celebrate. For, rather than protecting religious freedoms, the Charter repeatedly and increasingly has been used by courts and human rights commissions to infringe upon our religious liberties and to create “rights” and privileges for certain special interest groups.
Recently a perceptive journalist detected what may well develop into a serious attack upon conservative Christian churches and other religions as well. This attack would appeal to the Charter’s requirements for inclusion and equality. Deborah Gyapong reports in Canadian Catholic News, January 31, 2007, warning churches to remain vigilant:
A prominent Canadian public intellectual has set off alarm bells for suggesting the Catholic Church and other religions that don’t comply with so-called Canadian values should lose their charitable tax status. Daniel Cere, who heads the McGill University Institute for the Study of Marriage, Law and Culture, sees “troubling features” in the “growing conversation about religious freedom” in Canada, especially in an article in the Fall 2006 edition of the Literary Review of Canada by Janice Gross Stein, a political scientist who directs the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Affairs.
Entitled “Living Better Multiculturally,” and headlined “Whose values should prevail?” the essay raised a series of questions about multiculturalism and religious freedom, when religions have values that go against what Stein described as Canadian values or Charter values. Focusing on equality for women, she wrote mostly about her own conservative Jewish synagogue and her efforts to change its traditional attitudes towards women. She questioned whether religions like her own should get charitable tax breaks.
“If religious institutions are able to raise funds more easily because governments give a tax benefit to those who contribute, are religious practices against women a matter only for religious law, as is currently the case under Canadian law, which protects freedom of religion, or should the values of the Charter and of human rights commissions across Canada have some application when religious institutions are officially recognized and advantaged in fundraising?” she wrote. “Does it matter that the Catholic Church, which has special entitlements given to it by the state and benefits from its charitable tax status, refuses to ordain women as priests?” she asked. “That’s new,” Cere said. Five years ago, any mention of charitable status would have been a taboo topic, but now a mainstream public intellectual is talking about using the courts, the “weapon of rights” to pressure religions to conform to so-called Canadian values . . .
. . . Constitutional lawyer Peter Lauwers said Stein’s article reveals her as a “convergence liberal.” “Convergence liberalism says that pluralism is an accident that is going to be erased by the flow of time,” he said, describing a “brave new world in the future where we all think the same . . .”
. . . The Stein article, Lauwers said, is advocating the abrogation of freedom of religion as we understand it. “Freedom of religion is about creating social space in which religious bodies can be themselves.” “The role of the state is not to impose its views about religion on anybody,” he said, noting religious issues are to be worked out within the community of faith.
Lauwers said Stein “crossed the line” in advocating the power of the state to force change on religious bodies. “The state is no longer being neutral but coercing religious bodies.” He warned convergence liberals might also want to see the power of the state used against those religions that advocated traditional marriage or opposed abortion and euthanasia. . . .
Ted Byfield, a bold columnist on religious issues, commends reporter Gyapong and comments on her article in The Calgary Sun, February 11, 2007. He explains how this attack will likely unfold:
From her account, the following scenario becomes probable. The human rights movement is now preparing a direct attack on its toughest and most unyielding enemy, notably the conservative Christian churches who have stubbornly opposed the two greatest human rights “achievements” of the late 20th century: The legal acceptance of abortion on demand, and the public acceptance of sodomy as an “alternative lifestyle.” The rights crusaders will now insist, says Gyapong, that Canadian churches either stop preaching against abortion and the gay life and conform to the principles read into the Charter by the Supreme Court, or forfeit their long-established recognition as charities under the tax laws, and be deprived of their exemption from property taxes . . . .
. . . Thus the line of attack becomes clear. Some woman with adequate academic credentials can be expected to apply to a Catholic bishop for ordination to the priesthood. Since the Catholic Church in Canada could not unilaterally begin ordaining even if it wanted to, she will be refused. She will then take her case to the Supreme Court, most of whose judges were specifically chosen for their known support of liberal causes. So the court will order the church to ordain her and the church will have no choice but to refuse. This refusal will provide grounds for a suit against the church as a renegade institution defying Canadian law. That in turn will provide grounds to cancel its charitable status and remove its property tax exemption.
Further cases will then follow against Protestant churches that insist on basing their teachings on the Bible rather than on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Any church that yielded to such coercion would, of course, lose all spiritual credibility, as Professor Stein well knows. If, on the other hand, it defies the court, it will lose much financial viability. In other words, the ideological left has figured a way to deliver a grave blow to its most-determined enemies.
If this scenario plays out in the years immediately ahead, you have to wonder if the authors of this initiative really understand the devastation they would be causing, not to the churches but to the country. Canada in effect would be classifying those Christian churches that put the Bible before the Charter as undesirable institutions in this country, purveyors of an alien and contemptible teaching, that do not see the undeniable right of a woman to put to death her unborn child, or the inherent beauty of sodomy . . . .
The obvious question is what, if anything, can be done to avert or withstand such an attack? Harry Antonides provides an answer in an article entitled, “Multiculturalism: The New Trojan Horse,” which appeared in the March 14, 2007 issue ofChristian Renewal. He suggests that we should see this as a historic opportunity; we should not just resignedly wait for the axe to drop. We should prepare for a carefully thought-out strategic “counter offensive”:
I suggest that our times call for extraordinary measures, and we should be thinking of the kind of public address to the Canadian government and people in which the best Christian apologists compose a clearly-written and substantive declaration of the Christian faith for our times.
We should be thinking of the sort of public summation contained in Augustine’s City of God (A.D. 426), John Calvin’s address to the king of France in 1536, and the Barman Declaration of 1934 (German churches’ rejection of Nazi ideology). All of these historic documents had in common a rejection of the then prominent paganism and a rearticulation of the Christian faith and its relevance for those times.
They were written in times of great turmoil and impending civilizational upheavals. We now live in such times, and they call for a similar kind of response.
Who will take on such an assignment? How do we break through the existing barriers and divisions within the Christian community itself? By not concentrating on them, but by building on the sort of cooperative alliances that have quietly been built among a variety of Christian leaders and institutions in this country.
The three things required to bring the participants in this project together are an unapologetic commitment to the historic Christian faith, insight into the spiritual/moral conditions of our culture, and a desire to serve the well-being of our nation at this critical juncture.
The envisioned declaration/-address to the government and citizens of Canada needs to be of high quality, depth, and eloquence, so that even its critics will want to read it.
It should contain the following: (1) A robust articulation of biblical religion; (2) An in-depth analysis of the secular forces now shaping our culture; (3) An introduction into the relevance of biblical teachings for the right ordering of a free and open society.
Finally, the tone of this public document must not be one of anger and revenge, but one of love and servant-hood. It must reflect the truth that Christ did not come to condemn the world but to save it,
Brother Antonides deems it necessary to “break through the existing barriers and divisions within the Christian community” in order to compose “a clearly-written and substantive declaration of the Christian faith for our times.” In this instance the end certainly does not justify the means. Making use of a false ecumenism for the sake of combating a potential blow to religious freedom in Canada is certainly not legitimate.
Besides, how substantive could such a declaration be? I believe he is sorely mistaken when he suggests that this cooperative effort by the Christian community would result in a “robust articulation of biblical religion.” Certainly the large mainline Canadian churches, but also many other evangelical and even “Reformed” churches, have already compromised or completely capitulated on many moral issues as well as doctrinal truths.
A clear, bold, biblical (Reformed) testimony to the powers that be and the Canadian populace that a church might submit must necessarily set forth the principles of Scripture regarding such issues as marriage, divorce, remarriage, abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment, euthanasia, gambling, unionism, discipline of children, and others. Sad to say, but little sympathy would be evoked from government or populace. Few politicians in Parliament show strong moral or spiritual conviction. And recent surveys estimate that only 35 percent of Canadians attend a religious service at least once a month. Clearly such a testimony would be a cry in the wilderness. And it may well itself be condemned as “hate literature.”