Christians in Canada face severe – and increasing – resistance for maintaining various traditional views and practices. But it should not surprise us
that such pressures exist and will continue. For it has ever
Societies around the world and throughout history
typically offer relatively small scope for deviance from
the norms mandated by those in power. Social coherence
is most easily achieved, after all, when everyone thinks
and talks and acts the same. Rulers love social coherence
and fear any significant division – and therefore diversity.
A native Canadian tribe, a Roman imperial colony, a
Chinese city, a Scottish village – in every case, strong pressures of conformity ensured little real variety of opinion
or behaviour. Indeed, only in ports, where the business
of everyone was business, and such business could be
conducted to everyone’s profit only by considerable tolerance of cultural differences, could you count on significant
liberty – or license. Normally, the norm is enforced.
Don’t let all the modern talk of “rights” confuse you.
The increasing acceptance of sexual identities and behaviours that until recently would have been condemned
without a second thought has not stemmed from some
rapid rise in Canadian commitment to human rights, diversity and multiculturalism in the abstract. Instead, such
language typically has been the wedge used to force open
a conversation about the legitimacy of such things.
And once the opening has been made, it has been a
short and crucial step to argue that such things are simply right and ought therefore to enjoy full affirmation.
Anything less than that – anything that smacks of mere
“toleration” of “second-class citizens” and the like – turns
out to be unacceptable. Only the final stamp of “right” will
do. “Rights” simply open the door.
Political philosophers have laboured to frame the prop-
er grounds for, and exercise of, the rights of minorities
– and especially of the tiny, crucial “minority” of the dis-
senting individual. We all care about what we care about,
and tolerating someone who insists on a different idea or
practice requires of us –
Well, what is required? A grand conception of human
beings as possessing a dignity and liberty that deserve
Only Good Is Good
Why “rights” don’t matter and only
protection. A humble conception of ourselves as very possibly wrong about even matters of great importance. A
recognition that requires us therefore to remain open to
alternatives and even correction from those who differ.
Christianity offers such a view of human beings, which
is why the idea of universal human rights arose in a Christian cultural context. But few other worldviews provide
similar resources. And, alas, we Christians too tend to see
all those who deviate from the norm as treasonous threats
who must be controlled if they can’t be converted. We, too,
rarely abide any significant differences of opinion in our
churches, ministries and families.
In sum, we ought to expect such treatment by our
fellow Canadians today – and we ought to be slower to
label it all as “persecution.” Some of that resistance might
well be prompted by genuine anti-Christian sentiment,
or by a more sweeping secularism that hates all religion.
But some of it comes from the natural human instinct to
promote the good and crush the bad.
To some of our neighbours biblical views look just like
racism or sexism, so of course they’re disgusted. It’s no
wonder they have trouble seeing a good reason to tolerate
such repellent ideas.
Some Christians are responding by advancing a more
sophisticated understanding of multiculturalism and liberty. But even among professions where this case ought
to be unnecessary – politicians, lawyers, jurists, professors
and journalists – too many still happily resort to the law
to promote the right with which they agree, not to protect
the rights of those with whom they don’t.
Instead of taking refuge in the flimsy shelter of Canadian commitment to “rights,” we are going to have to
engage in an apologetic of “right.” We are going to have to
show it’s in everybody’s interest to allow Christians to go
about their business, despite their weird and even archaic
views about sex, abortion and the like.
The evidence of social utility is there to be offered. Com-
mitted Christians can be shown to be more likely to form
stable and happy marriages, raise decent and productive
kids, give time and money to charities (including non-
Christian ones), and in other respects contribute to society
in ways in which any Canadian can approve. That’s going
to have to be our way forward – at least until Canadians
develop a fresh commitment to the tolerance of significant
JOHn STACKHOuSE teaches at Regent College in
Vancouver and is the author of Need to Know:
Vocation as the Heart of Christian Epistemology
(oxford university press, 2014).
Christ&CultureInCanada n BY JoHN G. StACKHouSE JR.