Last week I wrote a column called Concerning Convoys, Protests, Tyrants, and the Christ-follower, trying to sort through my own conflicting thoughts and feelings about current events in Canada. If you haven’t already, read that one first!
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So it turns out when you try and find some balance and moderation in the middle of a contentious debate, people get annoyed with you on both sides!
But I don’t have the luxury of pastoring a church full of people who are only on one side of these issues, nor do any of us get to avoid people who are on the other side of these issues than we are. If we are paying attention, there are lessons to learn here for all of us in how we can hold to our convictions without sacrificing love and unity. It is difficult, but it is our job.
I imagine this will be my last time weighing in on this particular issue. It’s important to talk about these things, but not be consumed by them, so Third Way Christians will likely move on to other things from here.
But events have unfolded further, and time has been spent in prayer, conversation, pushback, and reflection, and so I wanted to share where I’m at a week later.
As with the last column, this is not a “statement” so much as it is me trying to give some clarity to my various conflicting thoughts on a complicated matter. If you are interested in wrestling with me, read on!
And away we go:
- Scripture tells us, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires,” (Jam 1.19-20). Human nature is to reverse this biblical command: to stop listening, to quickly speak back, to easily get angry. But the Christ-follower is holy, and acts differently. We sincerely listen to the other side, we slow down, we are thoughtful, we are prayerful. Quick and heated reactions fall short of Scripture.
- The search for truth becomes exhausting and confusing. For every article and post out there promoting one perspective, another article or post promotes the opposite. Our natural tendency is to latch on to what we agree with and quickly dismiss what opposes, but we need to do better than that. Our job is to search through all of it, give thoughtful and prayerful consideration to all evidence, allow our views to shift if evidence calls for it, and to hold varying views in tension as we wrestle. It’s definitely easier to not do this. But the sincere search for understanding calls us to exactly that: a search (Pr 4.4-7).
- Some asked why I didn’t condemn the racist elements of the protest in my first column. The main reason was that at the time I wrote the piece, I was finding it difficult to clarify what exactly had happened or not. At that point there were a few news reports that said things like “Some have reported seeing swastikas,” etc., without clear evidence. Since I wasn’t sure what the truth was, I left it out.
- That being said, as the week unfolded and there was more confirmation that at least a few in the crowds were acting inappropriately, it is certainly easier to see it and denounce it now. Those who support the convey should be able to do this as well. It is irrelevant that there are only a few in a large crowd. Even one swastika is too many, one Confederate flag is too much, one appropriation of the Holocaust is a gross dishonour to God’s chosen people. The media and politicians are absolutely right to call out even one case of these things. It is also irrelevant to say that the convoy can’t control what every attendee does. This is certainly true, but that just means that supporters should make known loud and clear that such people do not represent the movement. There are a few Christians out there who want to blow up abortion clinics. The fact that the number is miniscule compared to the majority does not make it any less reprehensible, and Christians should condemn such attitudes, without qualifier or defensiveness. Convoy supporters need to do the same, whether it’s the few racists or the few throwing rocks or the few yelling at mask-wearers, etc. Make clear that such actions are unacceptable. It doesn’t weaken one’s commitment to the cause at all to call out bad behaviour.
- Having said that, it feels unjust to brand any movement as a whole with the actions of a few. I know someone personally who has been protesting in Ottawa and have read enough first-hand accounts of other protesters that suggest that the vast majority of attendees are peaceful and respectful. There are bound to be exceptions in a crowd that size. Were you to gather tens of thousands of Christians in one place, chances are a few of them are going to act in ways that most of us would disagree with. We wouldn’t want to be dismissed as a movement because of those few. To judge a whole group by the worst actions of a few is unfair. Of course, as mentioned, the majority of the movement should still be making clear that the actions of these few are unacceptable.
- I have had approximately a million conversations with unvaccinated people over the past year. Even if the vaccinated disagree with them on vaccinations, empathy and Scripture call us to listen. We don’t need to affirm or agree, but we do need to listen. From what I have heard time and again, many unvaxxed feel that for over a year they have been called ignorant, selfish, anti-science, deceived, etc.; they have had to give up many things due to their decision; they have felt threatened and coerced; and some of them have lost their jobs. As I said last week, the Golden Rule (Mt 7.12) is the rule of Christ: treat others the way you would want to be treated. If you yourself had concerns about this vaccine, how would you want to be treated? Surely not like this. When we dishonour people that we disagree with, there is bound to be a reaction. Many are finding a lot of hope in this movement, that at least they are being heard. The unvaxxed, of course, are not innocent in the way they have spoken about the vaccinated. There are many lessons for everyone to learn here in how we treat those we disagree with – mostly, I think, learned through our mistakes!
- As the week has unfolded, what began as a protest has turned into more of an occupation, with part of Ottawa taken over by trucks and crowds, and protesters refusing to leave until their demands are met. Since the original aim of the protest (truckers fighting against vaccine mandates for their employment) has morphed into a completely different set of goals (the removal of every COVID mandate and restriction nation-wide), there is no way the government can or will acquiesce. The current goals are unrealistic, and it’s hard to imagine how this all ends. Meanwhile, Ottawa residents are giving testimony that the crowds and trucks means that there are businesses remaining closed, a school shut down, churches cancelling Sunday worship, streets blocked off, horns blaring loudly and endlessly, people feeling trapped in their homes, etc. I applaud peaceful protest, but once innocent bystanders are suffering because of it, you lose me quickly. If this movement is truly all about freedom, it needs a different strategy that doesn’t impact the freedom of innocent people in the city.
- The cry of “Hypocrites!” has been flung back and forth, so here’s my theory on hypocrisy: literally everyone is guilty of it (see Rom 2.1-5). I’ve never met a person who is totally free of this, although some are better at it than others. We are all hypocrites sometimes. I certainly am. No one perfectly practices what they preach at all times. No one has a belief system without some inconsistencies to it. No one is without bias, and no one approaches things perfectly fairly. Everyone is a hypocrite at times. That’s what makes it such an easy accusation to hurl at the other side; there’s often some truth to it. But the plank-in-the-eye teaching of Jesus calls us to look at our own hypocrisy first, before we start obsessing over another’s (Mt 7.1-5). Where do I say one thing but do another? Where do I give my own side a pass while calling out the other side? Where do I make excuses for my own shortcomings but demand an accounting of another’s? Jesus says to clean your own out eye first, and then you can begin to see what’s going on in someone else’s.
- Donald Trump’s legacy will be debated for decades to come, but one of the most significant impacts he had on American (and by virtue of proximity, Canadian) culture is accusing opposing or critical views of being “fake news.” He of course did not invent this, but it has received a resurgence. The other side is not just holding a different perspective; they are lying. Our reaction to things that challenge our opinion easily becomes, “Lies!” The lying media, the lying politicians, the lying people we disagree with. Sometimes there may indeed be lies. Often it seems to me that what gets called “lies” are simply natural differences of interpretation/opinion. If not careful, we will lose our ability to distinguish between disagreement and deception. It has become more acceptable to simply dismiss the other side as lying, or holding a “false narrative.” If our opening premise in disagreement is “You’re lying!” then it’s hard to imagine how we are ever going to work through an issue. But our commitment to honesty and integrity calls us to do better.
- We must maintain our ability to retain the proverbial baby while throwing out the bathwater. If you don’t like someone’s position on something, you don’t need to disavow everything that person ever said or did. Likewise, supporting someone doesn’t mean you need to support everything they ever said or did. You can criticize the protest while still seeing some good or important things about it, you can support the movement while still criticizing certain elements of it, you can disagree with someone on vaccines in either direction while still loving them and remaining in fellowship with them. There seems to increasingly be a pull towards “either/or,” “you’re with us or against us” thinking. We can and should reject that premise, other than in obvious examples (like racism). When Jesus taught on judging others, He warned us that the measure we used in judging others would be measured back upon us (Mt 7.1-2). Not one of us would want to be judged and dismissed entirely as a person because someone didn’t like some of what we believed; we should act accordingly towards those we disagree with.
- Finally, the Church is a place where human labels that divide us are removed. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal 3.26-28). It’s easy to skim over these listed distinctions if we are familiar with the verse, but all of these – race, gender, social standing – were reasons for culture to divide in the first century. You simply didn’t associate with people on the other side of these labels. Thus the Church became the most radical organization on earth, as Christians said, “Whatever label you are in life, Jesus is more important. We are family.” Christ united all. It may seem just as radical today to suggest that the Church be a place where race, gender, and social standing are swallowed up, but then also to add to that political opinions, vaccination status, feelings on the convoy, etc. These matters aren’t nothing, but they are so far from the most important thing. We will spend eternity together. We get to practice loving each other now, here on earth, even in disagreement. When we do that well, it becomes perhaps the most important witness to the world (Jn 13.34-35). This, by far, is the most important thing.
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