How to respond when the divide widens between government and churches (e.g. changes to Canadian Summer Students Jobs)
I’ve been taking a break from this blog recently so that you and I can engage with the Imaginative Hope blogs as they are released. However, today I’m back on this blog to speak to a relevant issue that I know many of you are concerned about too.
In recent days we had heard that the Canadian Summer Student Job Program will require groups seeking to hire these students to sign a document stating their mandate as well as the duties of the job respect human rights in Canada. That is not concerning. However, news articles indicated more specifically organizations advocating against abortion rights or the equality of LGBTQ Canadian would be refused funding. One article clarified “that an organization affiliated with a religion does not itself constitute ineligibility.” Here is one news article about this: https://globalnews.ca/news/3914528/canada-summer-jobs-anti-abortion-anti-gay-groups/
I called my local Member of Parliament office on Friday December 15 to clarify if and how it applies to churches and faith-based camps. I heard back from the office on Monday December 18 and was assured that “there is no truth to it.” Nothing new will have to be signed and nothing stating that the organization is pro-abortion or believes certain things about LGBTQ will have to be signed.
For the sake of our students and summer ministries that is good news.
UPDATE: (italicized added to this blog the evening of December 19) However today (Dec 19) I see the government has changed the Summer Student Job website and application. It explains at length:
"CSJ applicants will be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
The employer attestation for CSJ 2018 is consistent with individual human rights in Canada, Charter rights and case law, and the Government of Canada’s commitment to human rights, which include women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.
The government recognizes that women’s rights are human rights. This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions. These rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies.
The government recognizes that everyone should have the right to live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose, free from discrimination. The government is committed to protecting the dignity, security, and rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians." See https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/funding/canada-summer-jobs.html
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is also aware and figuring out next steps. Here is a link to the EFCs page on this specific issue. We will be following the EFCs lead on this, so follow their recommendations: https://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/Topics/Religious-Freedom-in-Canada/Canada-Summer-Jobs-Grants-Policy-Change
We will be posting next steps and updates from the EFC. Watch our CBACyf Facebook page.
I want to ask if something can be proven as a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement (BFOR) of a job (e.g. you need to follow the same religion as the organization you'll be working for if it's a religous organization) will that be ok?
The rest of this blog was written before I knew that update:
However, this has stirred my thinking. How should we as followers of Jesus respond if/when government makes decisions that appear to be moving in the direction of excluding Christians, churches or faith-based camps?
The purpose of this blog is not to debate abortion or LGBTQ. The purpose of today’s blog is to think through how to respond as Christians, as a church, when the government changes policies and even laws we used to enjoy as Christians.
1. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world.
Christianity has been most authentic when it has been counter-cultural and grass-roots.
As followers of Jesus we should not expect the government or the culture of the day to believe or act as we think they should. Christianity from the very beginning was counter-cultural.
The early Christians did not have the support of Rome, far from it. They were often persecuted by the government. They spent more time in trouble with the government than in agreement with the government. Following Christ often put them in direct conflict with living under the rule of Rome. The early Christians in the Roman Empire were seen as defiant, even accused of committing treason, for declaring and following a King other than Caesar.
Jesus, Paul, and Peter did not try to change the government or to try to get them to change their laws. They never expected the government to do such a thing! They knew that wasn’t their job. They did however, even in the presence of government, invite people to recognize for themselves who Jesus was, the Saviour, the King of the world.
Even when Jesus was asked to do so He did not take over the government of His day. He continued to work with His Heavenly Father for a different Kingdom that was and is often subtly but significantly breaking into this world. We must do the same. The Church is meant to be counter-cultural. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world.
Take a fresh look at the Gospels and early Christianity, Christians were in the minority and in places with diverse views politically, culturally and religiously.
2. Canada is touted to be a nation that celebrates diversity, a cultural mosaic, not a melting pot.
This is where I would challenge our government, as a concerned citizen, to remember its values. Celebrating a cultural mosaic means finding ways to listen to, include and even value divergent views. A government that says it is for diversity but then slowly brings changes so that only those that believe what they believe are listened to or supported will end up driving us to be a homogeneous society, and becoming the very thing they fear. A government has to be careful what it labels as hate-speech and discrimination; if that becomes “You don’t believe what the government believes” they’ll definitely become the very thing they hate. For example, if a person or organization argues for not only the rights of a mother but also the rights of an unborn child should this exclude them from receiving grants to hire summer students because the government sees it as against human rights? This does not mean we should fund or support terrorists or extremists. It does mean if we truly value diversity we’ll listen and give a voice to all, even those we disagree with. Christians are not off the hook here - we too have to be willing to listen, respect and value the diversity within our communities. We can hold fast to Jesus while learning from all others. As a Canadian who values diversity and freedom of religion (all religions, not just mine) I will continue to remind the government of these values as a nation.
3. Post-Christian or pre-Christian Nation?
We live in a post-Christian era if we ever were a Christian nation or there even was a Christian era to begin with. If or when government makes such decisions for exclusion of churches/religious leaders I would not label it as persecution. The fact is we, as Christians, have been privileged for a long time, and we have not done well with it.
This era, post-Christian, presents a great opportunity.
I have heard others argue we could consider it instead to be a pre-Christian era. Christianity is not about governments, nations, societal support; it is about people surrendering their lives to Jesus and seeking to follow Him and His ways daily. We have this great opportunity to figure out how to be Christian without the trappings of the favour of society (or even with the hostility of society), without the favour of government, perhaps even without buildings, titles and other privileges. Christianity has been at its worst when it has been politicized, nationalized and in a place of power.
For example, I actually don’t want forced prayer back at the beginning of the public school day. That just leads to nominalism and perceived privilege. What I do want is our students who are followers of Jesus talking to God regularly throughout their school day (praying) and living with such care for others around them and such an openness about God’s love, that they have spontaneous opportunities to authentically explain their faith within their schools.
We are not going back to a Christian nation (if we ever were one) and we shouldn’t expect to or want it. This should drive followers of Jesus to be carriers of the Good News, bearers of God’s light wherever they go, shining brightly and acting differently than the culture of the day. This should call followers of Jesus to costly obedience, being willing to live differently, give up privileges, and to take up our cross and follow Jesus daily.
4. We cannot hold non-Christians to a Christian standard
We have no right to hold someone that is not claiming to follow Jesus to the ways of Jesus. If Jesus isn’t their Lord, then really, they can do whatever they want with their life. The same goes for our government - they are not claiming to try to follow Jesus’ ways and we shouldn’t expect them to. We (as Christians, as any concerned citizen) can argue our point of view, we can argue what we think is best for a just society including rights for all, but we can’t expect or hold non-Christians to Christian standards.
However, I also expect the same respect in return, in that I do not want our government telling us what to believe. This is the classic separation of church and state.
I believe God has given everyone freedom, a mind, a heart and a will. I believe in freedom of conscience and freedom of belief for everyone. I listen and respect others beliefs, and give them freedom to examine both their and my beliefs. I even give them freedom to choose and act differently than I do, especially if they are not claiming to follow the Jesus I follow. I also have the freedom to argue my beliefs, hopefully graciously, passionately and winsomely. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms also states we have freedom of conscience and religion.
5. Plan ahead, for the sake of the students and our mission as churches
In this particular scenario, should it ever come to the place that churches and faith-based camps are denied funding, the biggest victim is the students. Students would not get the opportunity to experience these engaging jobs and opportunities for leadership development. Our churches and camps do a really great job of giving students meaningful work experiences - programming for children, neighbourhood projects, youth programs, maintenance, visiting seniors and more. We have been very thankful that churches have been able to give students these opportunities. Furthermore, people, churches and communities would miss the significant work these students do. Our churches do significant work for the betterment of our communities - caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, welcoming the refugee, supporting single parents, providing children and youth programs and more.
If we can benefit students and our communities by using government funding and programming, without compromising our beliefs, we should. Keep applying for provincial and federal grants.
However, we shouldn't expect the ongoing support of our government forever - so if/when it disappears be prepared to continue on. If it comes to the place where you’d have to sign something you can’t agree with, don’t sign it, but find a way to carry on. Find creative ways to still give these amazing opportunities to students - who are doing such amazing work to bless people and communities.
It is not only this benefit that could disappear from our government - churches get ready to go without these benefits and continue to be on mission. The church is at its best when it is on mission in the world, revealing the Gospel in word and deed. The church is at its best when it isn’t at a place of privilege in the government or society of the day but focused on joining God in His redeeming work in peoples’ lives and communities, revealing a different Kingdom, another way of living, that is different than the culture.