Well, first things first: I’m aware that this column may be a bad idea.
Image via Pixabay
I’ve worked in the local church for a little over 20 years now, and have never before witnessed anything as divisive to the Church in Canada as COVID-19 has been.
As I speak with many other pastors, it seems to be a universal experience. People have quit churches over COVID opinions, sometimes cruelly. Others have broken off friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ. No matter where a pastor lands personally on COVID issues, they have been attacked for it by one side or the other, or sometimes both.
Emotions are high, opinions are strong, exhaustion is real, and passion runs deep.
In a time when Christians could have modelled for the world that the cause of Christ is far more important than any other issue, I fear we have failed dismally.
We still have much to learn.
And that really is the point of this column: Let us commit to keep learning together. As we prayerfully process what is going on in our world, may none of us lock into our positions or close off respectful discussion or separate ourselves from those who feel differently.
There will likely be things here that you agree with, maybe some things that annoy you, and hopefully some things to get us thinking.
May every one of us listen well to one another, be humble, and remain teachable, as we attempt to get our heads around the times in which we are living.
So here’s the latest:
In Canada, our nation has been overtaken this past week by a large country-wide protest, the “Freedom Convoy,” with truckers beginning on the West Coast leading a long caravan of trucks across our land to our capital city of Ottawa.
In its initial form, this was being done specifically to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truckers to cross the US border.
Some truckers are not vaccinated, and such mandates would essentially end their employment.
So, the protest began upon that premise: a truck driver should not be forced to get a vaccine in order to feed their family.
As the plans for this protest were being prepared, many other people began joining in, and the movement very rapidly expanded from its original goals to include protest against just about any form of COVID restriction: opposing masks, lockdowns, vaccine passports of any kinds, etc. Thousands have gathered at Parliament Hill to make their voices heard. It really has been quite something to see.
The reaction amongst Canadian Christians, as with everything COVID, has been mixed. Some are thrilled and full of hope; some are concerned and full of dread; some land somewhere in between.
This is all fairly new to all of us, but here are a smattering of random thoughts on the matter, as we seek to process these things and find some clarity:
- Regardless of whether one agrees with the protest or not, there is a certain beauty in watching elements of democracy unfold. We all have the right to have our voices heard in a free society, and the rallying of the movement to air its opinions has been very cool to see. The sheer coordination of it all has been very impressive.
- The peaceful nature of this protest should be applauded! How very Canadian of us! As of this writing, the affair has generally been respectful (more on this below), and even in frustration and anger, it has for the most part been measured and reasonable. The ability for citizens to present grievances to their government is important in a democracy, and the nonviolent nature of this enterprise is admirable. Anabaptists always love the way of peace.
- In general, I am troubled by vaccine mandates that relate to employment. I am vaccinated, and I am personally at peace with this vaccine. But the Golden Rule (Mt 7.12) compels me to treat others the same way I wish be treated. If I had concerns about this vaccine, I would want my bodily autonomy to be respected, and would resent any coercion to have something done to my body against my will in order to feed my kids. Employment is essential. I understand the anger, and support the peaceful protest on this issue.
- I would add the caveat to the last point that there could likely be exceptions for health care, LTC homes, and other places where employees are specifically working with the sick and vulnerable. In those cases, the employees’ illness may well cause harm to those who need protecting. I recognize that the question of where to draw these lines is challenging.
- In a previous column, I looked at how Christians can disagree with one another with integrity. A crucial principle is this: if we are to walk in charity, and integrity, then we must present our opponent’s view in its most charitable form, with integrity. Very few people do this well. It is much easier to exaggerate what we’re mad at, accuse it, twist it into an unfair form, in an attempt to discredit it. But logic and reason should be able to speak for themselves, and if they can’t, then our argument needs work.
- Whatever the issue you’re arguing, whenever you start name-calling, you’ve run out of reasonable arguments. “Evil,” “tyrants,” “monsters,” “deceived,” “liars,” coming from the one side, “fringe,” “ignorant,” “selfish,” “fools,” “rebels” etc., from the other side. These are inflammatory words that angry up the blood on both sides, and which are not necessary in debate. If you can’t prove your point without such agitating language, then your point is not strong enough to stand on its own. We don’t tolerate name-calling in our children; we should not tolerate it in our adults. Such words are easy, and very effective at getting a reaction. But they are lazy, and dishonouring, and we can do better!
- I personally believe there are good intentions on both sides of this issue. Unlike the terms that both sides like to hurl at the other, I don’t believe that the government is tyrannical or evil, and I don’t believe the protesters are selfish or ignorant. I believe that the government truly wants to save lives as its top priority. I believe that the protesters are truly concerned about freedom and the future of our nation. Charity and integrity call us to be fair to both sides and not slanderous.
- Some of the rhetoric and actions of this protest are troubling. It appears at this point that this is limited to a small minority, which is good, but it doesn’t make it any less concerning. Banners and flags saying “F*** Trudeau,” people appropriating the Terry Fox statue, others disrespecting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, those issuing violent threats against government leaders, etc., should be condemned, especially by Christians, even if those voices are the minority. Cursing and threatening our leaders is never OK, no matter how angry we are (Ex 22.28; Ac 23.5).
- Much of the anger in this protest seems misdirected against Trudeau and Ottawa. The original protest concerning truckers crossing the border is certainly a federal issue; virtually every other complaint about health care, LTC homes, schools, lockdowns, masks, etc., are all provincial/territorial issues. Trudeau doesn’t have the authority to change these things. For those so inclined, perhaps peaceful protests should be happening at the provincial/territorial seats of government. If we are going to give voice to our frustrations, let’s ensure that we are directing it to the right place.
- That being said, Trudeau has obviously become something of a lightning rod for the frustrations of many understandably exhausted people, and throughout the pandemic he has not done Canada any favours with his rhetoric. Long before COVID, he has always had a tendency to dismiss people who disagree with him in disrespectful ways (common with many politicians, to be fair), and his continuation of that during this contentious time has not helped to bring the country together. In that sense, the anger towards him makes sense, even if it is somewhat misplaced.
- Having said that, what does it mean to love your enemy (Mt 5.43-48), even if you feel that your government leader is your enemy? Or if it’s the person who loves this convoy? Or if it’s the person who is troubled by this convoy? And especially if it’s the Christ-follower who disagrees with you on these things? And let’s not dodge this by saying, “I don’t think of them as an enemy…” The enemy is the person “on the other side.” The one who is not “one of us.” The one opposed to your views. How do we respond? 1Corithians 13 is still a great marker of what love looks like practically. We can certainly raise our voices, and loudly, and we can certainly passionately disagree, but the way we do so must be consistent with how Scripture defines love.
- In Scripture, David also gives us a master class in how to respond to governing authorities in the right spirit (see 1Sam 18-31). When Saul is king, he is an angry, jealous, violent, murderous, demon-possessed, witch-consulting, spear-hurling tyrant who spends years trying to kill David. It’s fair to say that this is worse than Trudeau during a public health crisis. Saul was undeniably a tyrant. David is bold in calling Saul out for his sin, but never dishonours him, never slanders him, never harms him, always respects the fact that God put him in authority (1Sam 24.6; 26.9). He challenged the man’s actions and errors, but always spoke and acted respectfully, and never forgot that it was God who had made Saul king. God has appointed Trudeau and all of our governing authorities as well (Rom 13.1-5). Peaceful and respectful protest is good. Slander and dishonour are sin. David’s actions are remarkable. We have lessons to learn from him.
- We always remember that we are Christ-followers first. Our commitment to Christ and to our fellow Christians trumps everything else. Our COVID opinions should run a distant second. Romans 14 gives a wonderful picture of how we are to disagree over “disputable matters,” and the key is that our personal convictions on these things do not absolve us from the command to love one another. As a pastor, I’ve been heartbroken to see how Christians are speaking and acting towards one another, on all sides. We have so much growing still to do.
We know, of course, the God is not worried about any of this, and that there is contentment and peace in Jesus available to us, no matter what circumstances we live under (Phil 4.6-7; v.11-13). If we are waiting for COVID to go away or restrictions to lift before we are expecting peace and contentment to return to our lives, then I think we are missing an opportunity to learn how to connect with Jesus and receive His blessings, even in the valley.
Perhaps the challenging work of the Holy Spirit in this time to is to stretch all of us in our love of neighbour and enemy; to press us to elevate the unity and mission of Christ over any other personal opinions; to strengthen us to persevere through hardship, as Christ did; to call us to model for the world what peaceful disagreement can look like; to help us learn to speak truth to power in the attitude of David and not the anger and slander of our age; and to set Jesus at the centre of it all.
I know we have all likely struggled and, at times, failed in many of these things, myself very much included.
But that doesn’t need to be a bad thing; each stumble is an opportunity to rise up again in the strength of the Lord, to humbly learn, to fix our eyes on Jesus, and to press onward once again.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3.12-14)
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