Christians worried about pandemic restrictions are missing far more serious threats

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.

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13 thoughts on “Christians worried about pandemic restrictions are missing far more serious threats

  1. Nathan Zekveld says:

    Thanks for sharing this, brother. It is good to see allies working together to promote the truth of God’s Word.

    These are timely warnings when there really is so much shortsightedness. Pastors and elders need to lead their flocks in matters of both the 6th commandment (Bill C-7) and in matters of the 7th commandment (Bill C-7) and in respect for men like Premier Jason Kenney (5th commandment). An honor and a respect for Premier Kenney’s office will go a long ways in a world like this.

    Nevertheless, we should not be short-sighted with regards to the centrality of Christian worship. Politics, gender issues, life are downstream from the true worship of the living God. The gathering is where Christians come together for means of this kind of encouragement (Heb. 10:24-25). It is in this community that the care and concern for the image of God flows outward and ought to touch down in society.

    It is in this coming together for the nourishment of the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments that we are also strengthened to go out and to be the hands and feet of Christ in a dying world. It is when we are transformed into the image of Christ that we go out and minister to those who are made in the image of God with the love and mercy of Christ.

  2. Navi says:

    I would agree that the panic over COVID restrictions is largely overblown. It probably doesn’t even crack the top 20 problems we have in Canada. And I appreciate Premier Kenney’s actions to preserve free speech on university campuses. But other than that, he’s been a disappointment every time. In 2019, the first year of his premiership, there was a private member’s bill that would’ve protected physicians’ freedom of conscience and ensured they wouldn’t have to perform or refer for abortion or euthanasia. It was a very modest bill, one that should’ve passed easily under a majority conservative government (as a similar one did in Manitoba a few years back). All it would’ve taken was some leadership – sell the bill to the public, or spend some political capital knowing that potential UCP voters aren’t going to be mad about the bill passing four years down the line. Ideally, there wouldn’t be a private member’s bill at all but one put forth by the cabinet. Instead, Jason Kenney was silent. After only mild protests, cabinet ministers balked and came out against it. The bill failed in committee and would’ve been voted down on the floor had the session not been interrupted by a euthanasia activist killing himself in front of the legislature as a publicity stunt.

    This is only one example. When Rachel Notley’s government criminalized peaceful protest and sidewalk counselling in public spaces outside abortion clinics for purely political reasons, Jason Kenney led his caucus to boycott the debate and all votes on the bill rather than defending the charter rights of pro-life activists. Then when he got into power, he did nothing to repeal the law. And as premier, he’s done nothing to limit tax-funded abortion (despite being pretty happy about privatizing actual healthcare). It’s one thing to be upset with Kenney for not making Alberta a pro-life province (an impossible task for now, given the culture) but it’s quite another to expect policies that better protect minority groups or mild, popular policies that move us in the right direction to the extent possible (expanding the Overton window in our favour if nothing else). Especially given that Alberta is supposedly Canada’s most conservative province and the only one with a nominally pro-life premier.

    It seems the main difference between Patrick Brown, Scott Moe, Jason Kenney, Doug Ford, Stephen Harper, Andrew Scheer, and Erin O’Toole is one of degree, not kind. And they’re different only in rhetoric, not in terms of actual policy. They’re happy to virtue-signal to pro-lifers when they need to win a leadership race, but once they win they completely abandon us as they know so-called “social conservatives” can be taken for granted in a general election. And they’re hardly any different from the likes of Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau. A vote for one of them is a vote to drive over babies at 115 km/h rather than at 120. Jason Kenney might not be in the mess he’s in right now had he done more for the people that got him to the premier’s office. And a credible threat to Kenney’s leadership could hold his feet to the fire, persuading him to actually do something for pro-lifers.

  3. Roger Armbruster says:

    Thank you so much, Jonathan Van Maren, for this very timely and penetrating article which I fully agree with. I have given a link to this site from my own Facebook page. To those who would agree with you but who still emphasis their disappointment with Jason Kenney, may be we need to face the fact that in view of where Canadian culture is at today, that we expect too much from our politicians, with the heart of the issues go back to the issues of the heart.

    Take the abortion issue, for example. This past Sunday morning (March 7), a young man from our congregation, Daniel Fewster, was sharing the word, and here is what he shared, something that is opening the eyes of some pro-life people who have been looking only to our politicians to fix this mess.

    “We are so focused on the outside, but we don’t know how it got there. We want to change it, and we want to fix it, but we don’t know how it got there.

    “A great example would be the abortion issue. I am not against lobbying government, and I’m not against going and picketing, and doing whatever your thing is, but we have to understand that the laws of the country reflect the heart of the people.

    “Laws are external. That’s on the outside! That’s just a reflection of what is already happening on the inside of the people in a given culture. We lost this battle for the hearts of the people back in the 1970s already when we started to give into the sexual revolution piece by piece. Our own minds were often too carnal to live that much differently.

    “However, today, we still think that the battle is about “who is in charge,” and “who makes the laws of the land.” We tell people to “Vote right! Get the right legislation! You do all of the things to make that happen!”

    “Meanwhile the entire culture has been subverted at a heart level, and now it is bearing that fruit, and the church throws up its hands, and says, “Whaaat? We need to get a certain guy into power because…” It’s way too late. Way too late! Sorry. I am not being mean.

    “I am not saying that God cannot change things, but if He does, it is going to be because of changes that take place in the hearts of the people! Because we have to understand how things are birthed into this world. It starts in the heart of men and women, and what they are doing upon the earth.

    “We can’t go outside! We can’t go into the outside world and try to bring changes into the heart of the people by imposing our views externally. We have to grab hold of the faith on the inside of us, and bring it out! We have to birth it. We have to engage people at a heart level, because that is where the problem lies to begin with!

    “It is through the pain, through the struggle, through the embarrassment, through the trial that something is born. It is born through adversity, but in the midst of trial, that little faith seed somewhere in there grows and gets stronger.

    “Something has to change from the inside, and it will manifest on the outside. It is so much easier to lobby for external legislation than it is to go through the birth pangs of transformation at a heart level, birth pangs which will change us before we will change the beliefs of others!

    “We are expecting to make these changes on a cosmic scale, and yet too often we have zero self-control in bringing our bodies into subjection to the Word of God. Of course, we go after the promises that are in the Word, but we have to first deal with the heart issues within us which do not yet truly believe the Word of God at a deep heart level, and we must deal with the hardness of heart that is inside of us.”

  4. Dr. Nancy C. Goddard says:

    I totally agree with Navi’s comments and hope that Kenney will be voted out quickly…he is a dangerous man who wishes us to be just like the US in so many ways. I am a Christian, but believe that there should be a separation of church and state. I believe in the sanctity of life and am appalled that the UPC has not made more of an issue about this bill…I didn’t like the imposition of MAuD, but now…we are talking about euthanasia being acceptable with individuals who are depressed, mentally ill, or who just want to die…this is huge, but we hear little about Kenney’s opposition. Yet, he wants to make deep cuts in health care, eliminate health care positions (really?…in a pandemic?), destroy pension plans, privatize health care…I could go on and on…I cannot wait until they get turfed from office. I have never been NDP, but would vote for them, just to get rid of these clowns. The UPC is damaging this province beyond belief. Just because I believe in separation of church and state does not mean I am not a Christian. I want to see preservation of life, expansion of health care, control over pensions that we have contributed to, and maintaining our Canadian way of life…not copying all the mistakes of the US system. As a healthcare professional with graduate education, I am appalled by the attitude towards healthcare and the lack of respect for physicians and front-line workers. Having worked in UCU myself, and witnessing first-hand the devastation of COVID, I cannot believe that so many Christians feel exempt and believe they will be protected themselves, yet refuse to protect others…what ever happened to “love the neighbour as thyself”? Being reckless puts others at risk! Additionally, what ever happened to “render unto Caesar”?…and ‘obey your leaders’? As a Christian, I believe that the actions of some are harming the church and dissuading those we wish to attract. So, don’t tell me that the UOC and Kenney are helping this province with their rhetoric…time we found someone who epwants to lead this province in an ethical manner…time for Kenney to go!

  5. Roger Armbruster says:

    To be replaced by who? If you think that it cannot get any worse, it will. That is the whole point of this article, and the problem is in the hearts of the people who elect the politicians who try to represent the electorate, and to reflect where their hearts are at.

    I lived in Alberta when Earnest C. Manning was the Premier of Alberta, and I wish we could go back to those days, but we cannot.

    Before he resigned in 1967, he saw what was coming with the demands and the pressures that the public was applying to the politicians back then already, and he stated unequivocally, “We are living in an age in which we see the defects inherent in human nature coming to their climax…precipitating a crisis on the greatest scale that humanity has ever known.”

    He saw back then, already, that the crisis was with human nature more than with politics, because the hearts of the people is reflected in their culture, and the cultural beliefs of a society are upstream from their politics.

    So, I repeat, if we get rid of Jason Kenney, he is going to be replaced by who? By Rachel Notley? Brian Jean? David Khan? The knives are all out there until we consume one another, only to find that what we replace the old with is really the same old same old because we do not mature through crisis, and start to rise above the polarization.

    When will we learn that ALL politicians are fallible people, human beings like you and I with strengths and weaknesses who are elected by other fallible human beings, and yet we expect them to do for us things that we as a society should be taking collective responsibility for instead of just blaming them for everything that is wrong.

    This blame game is a big part of the problem among fallen human beings, and it is not any part of the solution. Jason Kenney has done as good as most and better than some in trying to be respectful of all perspectives, an impossible task, and we all have to face the heart issue that the total of reality is bigger than my bias, and bigger than my individual, self-centred perspective.

    If we are truly Christian, our worldview is not about “me,” but it is about using authority that seeks to serve others by love instead of getting into power struggles with them.

    • Navi says:

      How about an improved version of Jason Kenney, one that knows he can no longer take his voters for granted just because the other guy is (marginally) worse? That would be one possibility. And politics may be heavily influenced by cultural beliefs, but the reverse is also true. If all of the important politicians say that abortion on demand is a settled issue, as they’ve done for the last 30 years, the culture will accept that and people that oppose it will gradually be further and further marginalized. Conversely, a political figure can shift the culture by taking a stance that’s outside the mainstream of politics (see Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, two outsiders that severely disrupted the Bush-Obama era two party system). There are many other good examples in this article.

      https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/12/culture-is-downstream-of-politics

  6. Dr. Nancy C. Goddard says:

    I agree that being Christian is not about “me” or any other individual person and I agree we should be serving others through love, but that is not what I see. How does destroying and then privatizing health care serve those in greatest need? How does taking over peoples’ pension plan help those who have worked hard to save for their retirement? Government does not need to be destroying some of our infrastructure. I cannot believe that any of this helps Albertans. Also, if Kenney is doing “as well as anyone else has done”, then I’d rather have the ‘someone else’…I’d rather see Notley back than keep
    Kenney in power…and I do think he’s more about positioning himself for a run as PM (heaven forbid) than he is in serving Albertans.

  7. honest abe says:

    well thought out and i agree with much here. yet, a pastor is in jail for holding sunday services, and was told they would release him if he didn’t preach. if you look at the alberta covid game plan, you will see that churches are of a lesser level of importance than banquet meetings: that seems to be oddly targeted. that said, this is a nice blog friend. keep up the good work!

  8. Wayne Bernakevitch says:

    There was a large faction of evangelical Christians in the USA who thought voting for Biden would solve many problems in their country. Big surprise. They are now feeling betrayed and forgotten by what he is doing. This is a good lesson for us regarding the progressive left agenda.

  9. Mike Delaney says:

    Like any argument in written form, it is left up to the reader to pull out the authors bias, to research his/her points and to make up your own mind.

    This is a very well written engaging piece but fundamentally flawed in its logic and dangerously misinformed when it comes to Bill C6.

    First of all – I want to say good job pointing out the useless fight and fear mongering against the governments “draconian” restrictions. The restrictions while not perfect, have all been aimed at protecting us in the worst pandemic/ health crisis in generations, and any mistaken restrictions or missteps for the most part have been rolled back or corrected after consultation and conversation with the public.

    If you read the bill, actually read it and it’s tenets, you’ll see that this article is more about twisting facts to stir up an argument (see https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/pl/charter-charte/c6b.html for a summary from the Minister of Justice)

    The bill does not prevent you (as claimed) from praying for someone, from sharing your beliefs or as suggested at the height of ridiculousness in the blog that the government can ban the sale of the Bible. That’s just not true.

    Our right to Freedom of Religion is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Period. Look it up.

    There is a limit to anyone’s individual rights in Canada, and that limit is tested when your rights and beliefs begin to infringe on the rights of others.

    This Bill is focussed centrally on that premise. The goal is to eliminate FORCED conversion therapy. The aim is to protect the vulnerable from misguided attempts to stifle someone’s fundamental right to their own sexuality (ironically protected by the same piece of legislation) If an individual of their own free will is vexed by his/ her sexuality, he/she can still 100% seek advice, mentoring and counselling from any avenue of their individual choosing including Pastors, Priests and churches. This bill limits the ability to force someone into this against their will. In our wonderful country all of us have Freedom of Expression (not American Free Speech) and Freedom of Religion , both of which are still fundamentally protected and unharmed through this bill.

    I’ve been a Christian for over 40 years and I have always struggled with these types topics and how they are handled by our community and faith. Is it so hard to imagine that someone would want to love another of the same sex? And ext that those individuals could then also love God? You may not agree, and that’s YOUR choice, but those Individuals also need to have their Freedoms protected from the very type of prosecution the author here is worried about! These are not mutually exclusive events (identifying as LGBTQ and believing in God) and can absolutely co exist in society wonderfully. Christians spend too much energy trying to limit the rights of others (Gay marriage, gender rights, or like here conversion therapy.) and not enough time showing love and kindness to the world.

    The WWJD movement from years back helped us focus on the basic premise of being a Christian; to follow in His footsteps. He didn’t judge the sinners around him and try to make laws to limit their existence, limit their choices and suppress their rights. He showed love and kindness to ALL regardless of their perceived flaws and faults by society.

    We could use more of that in our world today.

  10. Alanna v W says:

    Thank you so much for this incredibly informative blog, Jonathan! I highly respect your opinion and agree with the main points of this article; that we need to seriously consider our political options, treat our leaders with respect no matter how much we disagree (even wicked leaders have received their authority from God!) and that the “level of vitriol” is completely unacceptable and terribly unchristian.
    Yet I think you miss the point that while Bill C-6 is looming as a very real danger on the horizon, our religious liberty has already been majorly impacted with the covid restrictions and all Canadians are currently enduring very real oppression.
    We don’t have to wait until Bill C-6 is passed and enforced to see a pastor put in prison for disagreeing with the government. We don’t have to wait for Bill C-6 to be prevented from gathering to worship. We don’t have to wait for Bill C-6 to see families estranged from one another because of government laws. This is happening TODAY!
    As Christians, we have a DUTY to resist oppression, give voice to the vulnerable, and stand for truth, see Isaiah 58:6-8 and 59:1-4. (I know you agree with me on this Jonathan, that’s exactly why you do what you do, and why I esteem you and your colleagues so highly!) Maybe you’re right that this is temporary, but with the fearmongering about new strains of the virus and predictions of “third waves” it sure is starting to look like it’s not going to go away anytime soon.
    The general public may not see these restrictions as oppression and tyranny, but that is because they are being badly misinformed regarding the effectiveness of the lockdowns and restrictions and the seriousness of the virus. All Canadians feel the pain of these restrictions. In fact, I think many Christians are suffering less than the “average Canadian” because of our faith and our strong families and communities.
    It has always been the duty of the church to stand up for the needy and oppressed. Unfortunately, by bowing to the restrictions and going along with it all, the church is missing a golden opportunity to show love for our neighbour in a very practical way and be a witness of God’s goodness and grace. Read Isaiah 58:8-12 regarding God’s promise of what will be the result when we stand up for truth and justice and help the oppressed. The people are suffering and being lied to, and it is very unbiblical to silently let this great injustice go by unchallenged. It is crucial that we stand up for truth and justice, but we MUST do it with an attitude of love, humility and respect!

  11. Nancy Leguijt says:

    Thank you Jonathan and Roger Armbruster! May hearts change including my own, the culture of this land is very similar to the time in Judges when God’s people ignored Him and His Good ways and God gave them up Romans 1. Culture indicates who you worship.

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