As I walked through downtown Ottawa in early February, I was disturbed by signs saying ‘God Supports the Truckers’ and ‘Stand Up for God’. Leaders of the blockade spoke statements of hate and lines from the Lord’s Prayer in the same breath. Prayer sessions were mixed with calling down God’s judgment on a restaurant worker for wearing a mask. A Christian fund-raising program for youth mission trips, GiveSendGo, is being used to raise money for occupying Ottawa. It is another one of those times I do not want to say I am a Christian on the streets of the capital city where I live.
How did it come to this? Opposition to vaccine mandates has turned into an attempt to overthrow elected governments through brute force. Big rigs have become weapons to terrorize residents of Ottawa and hold daily lives and legitimate businesses hostage. There are many layers to this moment. But bouncy castles, picnics, and street theatre with jerry cans cannot disguise serious threats to the peace, order and good government at the core of Canadian society. And signs equating God and Christianity with this occupation are an equally serious threat to our Christian witness and to the gospel.
This is Jesus and John Wayne culture on steroids. The gospel is being co-opted by forces entirely opposite to it, similar to what is described as Christian nationalism in the U.S. Ironically, as it bleeds over the border, it is being subjected to increasing critique south of the border. In the U.S., Christians Against Christian Nationalism, a loose coalition, released a new report on Christian Nationalism and the January 6 Insurrection. It documents how Christian language, symbols, and practices provide the “permission structure” for ongoing violence and destruction. It argues that dismantling Christian nationalism is essential to save U.S. democracy. In the same week, well-known, moderate commentator David Brooks, in an article in the New York Times, articulates the need and suggests a way for U.S. evangelicals to now take distance from what they earlier supported. While Canadian pollster Michael Adams provides evidence to show that religious values in Canada have been substantively different, that may not last if U.S.-style public witness takes over in Canada.
In Ottawa, freedom is the rallying cry. As discussed in my last column, freedom for whom? Freedom for what? The “every person for themselves” ethic on display is modern-day anarchy – nothing Biblical about that. I do human rights work and engage in protests; this is not a human rights protest. I agree with the call for a national summit on protest and human rights when this is over.
Ethics for messy issues
Pandemic policies, like most public issues, involve balancing tensions between various good things; that calls for wise discernment by Jesus followers, not brute force. What we can offer society is an ethic of sacrificing self-interest for the good of others. The individualist, self-centered ethic in the Freedom Convoy manifesto is the opposite of the ethic encapsulated in Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.”
A Different Path
If Christians in Canada want to preserve the integrity of our public witness in Canada, it is time for hard in-house conversations and taking intentional, explicit, public distance from this distortion. A public letter by the Bishops of the Lutheran and Anglican churches in Manitoba explicitly calls out the dangerous spirit behind this movement and provides wise guidance to its members. Hopefully more church leaders in Canada will end the silence that allows non-believers to equate what they see on the streets of Ottawa with Christianity.
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