By Jonathon Van Maren
Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched the Christian and social conservative response to the second wave of lockdowns as well as the restrictions on church attendance with some concern. I have many issues with what is going on, and could probably write a dozen pages on my problems with what the federal government and various provincial governments are doing. But the level of vitriol, hyperbole, and short-term thinking is also very worrisome. With that in mind, I’d like to pose a few points for consideration.
The primary argument I’m seeing on social media and that people are posing to me personally is that the pandemic restrictions will never go away; that governments do not relinquish power once they take it. This is an ideologically satisfying argument, and I can see where it comes from. But believing that the pandemic restrictions have been inconsistent, poorly conveyed, and even cruel in many cases (which I very much do) is not the same thing as believing that the federal or provincial government has some sort of Marxist master plan. We live in a Westminster parliamentary democracy, and our governments will lift restrictions when they believe they can because it is in their self-interest to do so. They want to get re-elected. The fact that they have different views on when it is safe is legitimate disagreement, not necessarily nefariousness.
It is fascinating to me that while people worry about government overreach with regard to the pandemic, comparatively few seem to be as concerned about Bill C-6, the so-called conversion therapy ban. (There are notable exceptions, but in many if not most cases I’ve seen those dedicated to raising the alarm about encroaching tyranny almost entirely ignore this law or making a mere mention of it before returning to doom-posting about COVID restrictions.) This is a law that actually will persecute Christians—and it isn’t a temporary health restriction, either. Pastors will be forbidden to share the hope of change with same-sex attracted people. Those with unwanted same-sex attraction will see their ability to receive any sort of counseling—or even prayer—banned. This law dictates what Christians can or cannot say in specific circumstances; the proposed Saskatoon bylaw could ban the sale of the Bible.
This is happening right now, and it is a genuine threat to religious liberty. It has passed second reading in the House of Commons. It will certainly become law at this point—our only hope is to get some amendments to blunt the effect on religious freedom. But instead of focusing on this, the energy of many is instead dedicated to venting anger and frustration towards government policies that will (unless you genuinely believe that democracy will soon be abolished, our system of government destroyed, and the entire Canadian public will happily put up with that) come to an end at some point. You might hate these restrictions, as I do. You might believe the government is using a club where a pencil would do; I would agree. But that is different than claiming that this is the same sort of threat that we currently see ready to become the law of the land.
To put it as bluntly as possible: What is a greater threat to Christian freedom? Current health restrictions and lockdown orders that apply to the entire population? Or a piece of legislation specifically targeting Christian beliefs that is, right now, in the process of becoming law? Why does this clear threat receive so much less attention? The answer, I suspect, is that a lot of this backlash is less about religious liberty than it is about our dislike of how all of this is personally impacting us (which, I’ll add once again, absolutely applies to myself as well.)
There is another point to this. Several people I’ve talked to have, again, pointed out that we should be wary when governments take power because we must look to the long-term. I agree with them that we should be both cautious and vigilant. But I am confused as to why those concerned about these restrictions are not considering other potential long-term scenarios that could result in direct attacks on Christian communities. Let’s take the current predicament of Premier Jason Kenney, a conservative Catholic with a 100% pro-life and pro-family voting record who appointed social conservatives to his cabinet, immediately halted the NDP’s war on Christian schools, and delayed using lockdown measures as long as he thought possible.
He is now in an impossible position as the Crown has decided to arrest Pastor James Coates, who believes he cannot abide by the restrictions in good conscience (it bears mentioning that Coates also believes that the government might not “permit” the pandemic to come to an end, a specific judgement about our elected leaders with no grounding in fact.) Kenney’s Christian supporters are outraged and many are demanding he step in despite the fact that he has no legal authority to demand that Coates be released.
I see that many of Kenney’s Christian supporters are out for blood, unleashing accusations and vitriol on social media that must make Kenney wonder how his erstwhile allies could so swiftly believe such vicious things about him. But what is the endgame here? If this destroys Kenney’s political career—if Christian voters stay home; vote for someone else; stop volunteering—what is the likely outcome of that strategy? Do we really think we have the votes to elect someone even more conservative than Kenney? Has it not occurred to us that there might be just enough of us to be able to cause Kenney to lose, but not enough of us to elect someone better? That, after all, is what provincial polls are indicating.
Surely if we’re going to think about hypothetical long-term outcomes, we should also consider the potential outcome of how we react to events. And I’ll tell you what would likely happen: Rachel Notley will capitalize on all of this and win. As I recall, she and her extremist allies were busily making Alberta a hostile place for Christian communities, and had she not lost her election, over twenty Christian schools would have been shut down for refusing to accommodate unbiblical clubs.
This almost happened, and a very short time ago. Christian schools were nearly shuttered by the government for refusing to bend the knee to LGBT ideology. The only reason this did not happen is because providentially, Jason Kenney was elected. If Christians would now like to destroy his career because they disagree with his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic or believe he is guilty of “persecution” or has secretly become part of the Great Reset or converted to Marxism or whatever, they should know that they are ensuring that Christian communities will be under immediate, direct, and actual threat. Christian schools that have opened during the pandemic will be closed for good. After the rage-posting on social media dies down, Christian communities will be left in a far, far worse position than we were in before—and it will be because we refused to consider the long-term effects of our actions.
Indeed, I’ve been genuinely confused over the past couple of months by the reaction of many Christians to what is going on. We are being urged by many to consider the long-term, but from where I’m sitting, very few people are considering the long-term. Broad conspiracies; distant potential outcomes; constant insinuations of secret political plans that are being hidden from us; all of these are being discussed. Few seem concerned that the biblical injunction against slander also applies to politicians and those we dislike. But there is little concern about the shorter term. Who is the alternative to Jason Kenney? Who is the alternative to Erin O’Toole? Who is the alternative to Doug Ford? I happen to think that O’Toole is inept and couldn’t organize a car accident in a busy intersection, and that Doug Ford is in way over his head. But that isn’t relevant to the central point here: Who are we going to get if we end up with, say, Justin Trudeau again (as is extremely likely)?
Many who believe that progressive politicians are preparing to usher in the Great Reset are also happy to attack the only politicians we have to replace them. I wish we had a better Conservative leader. We don’t. There is no leadership race in the offing. We’re going to get Trudeau, or O’Toole. We’re going to get Notley, or Kenney. We’re going to get Andrea Horwath, Steven Del Duca, or Ford. You don’t have to like any of those people. But it would be smart to trade wild speculation about the future for a considered look at our actual choices, and what those choices would mean for Christian communities. Christians pack a huge punch politically considering the fact that we are a tiny minority in Canada—a full 89% of Canadians attend no form of religious service weekly—but we should not allow our social media bubbles to give us the illusion than we have more influence than we actually have.
We must face the reality that pandemic restrictions remain popular in most places in Canada; skeptics are a small minority. The governments enforcing them, as hard as it might be to hear, are actually implementing the will of the vast majority of the Canadian people. I want to emphasize here: This is not my view. But it is reality. COVID-19 restrictions were—and thus far, are—supported by the majority of Canadians, even in Alberta. Leaders implementing them had a democratic mandate to do so, despite what many of us think of them. Some leaders, like Jason Kenney, felt forced into implementing them. It is unrealistic for us to expect leaders in a crisis to adhere to the views of a small group over the vast majority—even if those leaders are sympathetic to those views.
It is true that progressive politicians will likely be eager to take advantage of the economic devastation wrought by the response to COVID-19. Justin Trudeau has said as much, stating that: “This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts, to re-imagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality and climate change.” So, realistically speaking: How do we stop Trudeau and other progressive politicians from using the pandemic to accomplish their ideological agenda? By attacking the only other political alternatives that we have? Sometimes, you vote for someone not because of what they will do but because of what they won’t do—which is why many will decide to vote for those who are not Rachel Notley or Justin Trudeau. If you are one of those who believes progressive politicians need to be stopped, then it is time to consider how to realistically accomplish that.
Deciding to destroy Jason Kenney might feel briefly satisfying to you. But in the process, you’ll also be guaranteeing that Christian schools will once again be under direct and sustained attack—and then we’ll be reminded of what actually being targeted for our beliefs looks like.