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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Canadians Under Siege

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Yesterday, Immanuel Can and I discussed the potential fallout from Donald Trump’s election to the office of president of our esteemed neighbor to the south. For the most part, I think we’re actually pretty upbeat about being evangelicals in a country strongly influenced by a cultural environment that temporarily excludes compulsory politically correct gender pronouns and open hostility against all things Christian.

For Canadian Christians, our situation will probably turn on whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes his cues and influences from The Donald or from the inevitable moral drift of the last eight years of Leftist dominance.

Big, Beautiful, Heavily-Mortgaged Buildings

Tom: Right. So yeah, ten years from now could be a very different picture for Canadian churches that want to remain faithful to the teaching of scripture. We could be meeting in big, beautiful, heavily-mortgaged buildings like we are now, or we could be meeting in small groups in each other’s basements and keeping our voices down. It very much depends on how much legal influence our government decides to allow to “social justice” causes, and what sorts of penalties attach to perceived violations of the rights of special interest groups like gays and transgenders. What happens in the U.S. in the next four years will almost surely be influential in determining both those things.

IC: True. And that may be a serious problem for big, tax-exempt religious organizations and churches. Do you think it can ever become a problem for smaller churches, house gatherings or Christian individuals?

Tom: Well, certainly it has at times. If we were to consider the whole of church history or even churches elsewhere in the modern world, I see no reason why it couldn’t turn that way with the right series of provocations and crackdowns even in a relatively liberal place like Canada. But I think it less likely than things like losing tax-exempt status or being compelled to use church- and denomination-owned buildings for causes many of us would find repugnant. Those will be the first steps.

IC: Hmm … well, people in Canada are going to be skeptical it can go that far. But maybe it can.

Tom: Most drastic social change is like that. Things are fine … until they aren’t.

Where Do I Come In?

IC: What’s our role in all this?

Tom: I like the part where it all gets delayed for a few years, hence the current appeal for me of Trump over Hillary. But possibly that’s a little too Après moi le déluge. On the assumption that some sort of generalized persecution of North American Christians does occur within our lifetimes, it doesn’t hurt to figure out which aspects of our faith we’re prepared to go to the wall for, because some of them will eventually cost us.

IC: That’s good advice. Can you suggest where you would take your stand, Tom?

Tom: On the transgender issue specifically?

IC: On any issue. Where do you suggest we should be drawing the line?

Tom: That’s an awfully broad question. If I have to address it that generally, I’d say with the truth.

Holding the Line

IC: Well, what I mean is this: apparently evangelicals (broadly considered) don’t seem to believe that distinctions of role are important with regard to men and women in the church, or at least they don’t care to hold the line on that. Apparently, the same church group has decided abortion is something we might be against privately, but few of us think we want to challenge openly. On the gay issue, we seem to have decided opposition should be local and muted ... and so on. Is there a line at which we ought to know beforehand we ought to firm up?

Tom: I think I see where you’re going, but let me ask you: Do you see a biblical role for groups of churches acting as a formal, organized bloc against the decline of society? Because I can’t speak for evangelicalism or Protestantism generally as to what it should do. Nobody can. Each of us can only talk about “me and my house”, wouldn’t you say? And maybe those of us in leadership at a local church can talk about the position their elders have taken on any given issue, assuming they’ve officially taken one. But beyond that, even if we could get Christians at the national level to come to some sort of unified position on an issue (which is a pipe dream), what scriptural mandate would we have to act?

The Political is Personal

IC: You’re right. I’m not thinking of political action, but personal response and local-church decision-making. Right now, both personally and in the local church, it seems we’re trying to stay under the radar, carrying on with our own business.

Tom: Oh, yes. I totally see what you’re saying there. To make it practical, I know of a couple of local churches that used to post their Sunday messages on their website. In one case they elected to stop doing it entirely, and in the other they purged their online list of audio files in which the speaker said anything that might potentially draw the fire of the gay or transgender community or lead to potential lawsuits (the woman’s role comes to mind).

While I understand the legal concern — and it’s quite legitimate — to the extent they do so they are voluntarily diminishing their own witness in the world. Anyone genuinely in spiritual need in these areas and searching for help has to look elsewhere for someone courageous enough to break with the social justice narrative and tell them the truth.

I almost suspect if we didn’t have so much in the way of material financial assets to protect, the churches might be a little more courageous about these things.

Thus Far, and No Further

IC: I think we’ve mistakenly assumed that compromises we made in order to keep peace with the public world would not undermine our confidence or cost us in terms of private obedience to Christ. I’m just looking for the point at which we say, “Thus far, and no further” in terms of our personal and collective compromising.

Tom: I understand. To assent to the concept of something like gender fluidity or gender self-determination is, at its core, to willingly perpetuate falsehood. It is to leave the world in darkness — on that issue at least. Christians cannot do that. Where you draw that line in the sand will depend on the individual believing conscience, but you have to draw the line, don’t you.

Personally, I’m not likely to be out picketing gay marriage in the streets or talking about the destructive lies told by third-wave feminists on street corners. But I believe it’s very important to be ready to answer queries about these subjects kindly and honestly. After all, how can we effectively teach our children the truth about any of these issues if we’re unwilling to take the heat that comes for believing them?

Not Giving Assent to a Lie

IC: I like your concept of “not giving your assent to a lie”. That’s very useful. Anytime a Christian allows others to think he’s going along with such distortions of truth, he or she is really actually guilty of having an anti-testimony.

But I also think that maybe we’ve already sometimes been a bit guilty of that, perhaps. We need to believe, say and practice that God always made men and women for different roles; that men never had any right to abandon the spiritual leadership of their homes and churches, and that they have been sinning in doing so; that abortion was always killing a human baby; that raising children in the knowledge of God is commanded us by God; that homosexuality was always a sin; that transsexualism was always both sin and mental illness, and so on. Maybe we need to rewind the tape on a few of these things, and take a new stand, no?

Tom: And I’d like to think we’d behave the same way whether the President of the United States is named Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. This is a problem for evangelicals that will not go away in a single election cycle.

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