He’s done the impossible

I never thought I’d see the day when the Canadian media would start talking about Canada’s position on abortion. Or rather, it’s lack thereof.

See, Canada is one of the only countries in the world with no restrictions on abortion. This isn’t because there are very progressive laws in place. It’s explicitly the opposite. There are no laws in place, with the preexisting ones struck down in 1988 following the Supreme Court’s decision in R v Morgentaler. Since then, it’s been a more-or-less untouchable subject. Unless a politician upholds a progressive view (i.e. is in favor of unrestricted abortions), the official alternative is silence, or to confidently state that you would vote in favor of legislation limiting abortion, knowing full well that such legislation would never be brought before Parliament.

And then the Summer Job Grant controversy began, which places an ideological test on grant applications. In the application, your organization must affirm, by marking a box on the electronic form that they respect Canadian charter rights, including “women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights.” Don’t check the box, and you’re guaranteed to not receive funding.

In the two weeks or so since the story broke, it’s been fascinating to see how pundits on the moderate/Right-ish side of the Spectrum[1. Politically speaking, Canada has no socially conservative political party, at least no in any meaningful sense.] and the Left have lambasted the law as ideologuing, particularly in officials’ use of language that insinuates that to not affirm abortion or women’s reproductive rights, you are in violation of Canadian law (which, again, you’re not).

Some of the most fascinating articles on this include the following:

I try to avoid politics in my writing whenever possible; generally speaking, I find it unhelpful. But this is not a post about politics. It is a post about hope—one I’ve harbored since shortly after becoming a believer. Something I shared elsewhere is that, prior to becoming a Christian, I affirmed that there should be a right to have an abortion. I mocked the pro-life view, largely out of ignorance. But as I grew to understand the value and dignity of human life, I could no longer affirm my former views. I turned my back on them because I was convinced it was wrong. It wasn’t because I heard multiple sermons on the subject.[2. I actually don’t recall ever once hearing the subject addressed in a worship gathering in all my time as a believer, aside from when I brought it up when preaching.] It was that I was constrained by the Word of God. I was convicted by Scripture’s view of human dignity and value, of our being made in the image and likeness of God.

And so now, I find myself praying for the nation of my birth—the nation that until recently I called home. I don’t know what’s going to happen as this conversation continues, or even if it will continue at all. I don’t pretend that there will be a sudden turn away from the views that have guided Canada for more than a half-century. Instead, my prayer is for those who are watching the story unfold. That they will recognize the problem in Canada for what it is. That they will begin to call for real laws, not simply the absence of them. But more than that, my prayer is that Canada’s collective conscience will be stirred to uphold the rights of all Canadians—especially those without a voice.

Am I still a Canadian blogger (and does it matter)?

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I think I am.

I hope I am.

But I’m kind of not.

My passport says I’m a Canadian. And that’s not going to change anytime soon.

But there’s something different.

I was reading about an ongoing issue in my home province of Ontario, one involving a new taxable tax that’s being foisted upon a population that’s being declared “bad” for not doing enough to save the environment and reduce emissions.

Evidently going to work is a bad thing in Ontario.

But the tough thing for me is, as I was reading it, I felt less outraged and more grieved for those who have to live with it (because I don’t). Maybe it’s just my self-righteousness or my ongoing culture shock and/or assimilation. Instead, there’s a strange and growing disconnect between what’s happening there and my daily life.

And I’m not used to that.

I’m used to caring more. I’m used to being incensed, at least as much (if not more) than any of my friends and former colleagues. To knowing what the right answer might be to the problem—or at least, the right thing to start a conversation (and potentially stir the pot/light a fire).

But I’m less invested now, and I don’t quite how to process that.

There’s part of me that fears eventually not feeling like a Canadian. Of, eventually, not having a strong sense of the challenges local churches face there. Of not being considered a Canadian blogger—but instead being a blogger from Canada. Because I don’t live there. I don’t breathe the same cultural air.

It sounds trivial, and it probably is. It probably doesn’t matter in the least. But it is yet another thing that reminds me of my greater citizenship—my belonging to Jesus, who will one day usher in his kingdom and put an end to all the sadness and death we experience each day. A citizenship where I won’t have to worry about being double or triple taxed.

That’s the identity I keep reminding myself to cling to. Eventually, Canada will pass away. So will the United States. But the Heavenly City will come, and it will last forever. And at that point, I probably won’t care if I was a Canadian blogger or a blogger from Canada. I’ll be too busy standing before the throne of Jesus, in awe of all he’s done for me.

Empty threats, release valves and a healthier way of dealing with fear

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Yesterday, actress Lena Dunham boldly declared that if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States of America, she’s leaving America and moving to Canada, joining the tens of celebrities and dozens of average Americans who’ve made similar threats in every election cycle since at least Bush v Kerry in 2004.[1. Though there may have been some in 2000 during Bush v Gore, but I don’t remember.]

But let’s be honest: no one who is making this threat is going to move to Canada. Ever.

You know how I know? I live here. And I know you won’t like it.

Come to Canada… but get ready to wait to get here (and wait when you are here)

Sure it’s pretty and we have lots of maple syrup, but Canada is a socialist state, albeit qualified as a democratic one. This means we have a shrinking population demanding a higher level of service from an inefficient (and financially irresponsible[2. Our federal debt is more than 622 billion dollars as of this writing.  My own province holds an additional $300 billion of debt of its own. Our combined federal and provincial debt is expected to exceed 1.3 trillion dollars in 2016. For a country of 35 million people, that’s kind of a big deal.]) government, whose only recourse is to charge higher taxes and borrow more money.

Our publicly funded healthcare system is on the verge of collapse, with shocking wait times and now news of the federal government outsourcing treatment for certain patients to US hospitals. You must wait anywhere between five and twelve hours to be seen by a doctor. You can sit on a waiting list to get a family physician for ten years or more. You might be able to see certain specialists—say a neurologist—once a year, or, if you’re particularly blessed, twice. And you have no other alternative.

Then there’s the fact that, despite what Hollywood tells us so frequently, Canada is, in fact, a country. It’s funny to think of Canada’s citizenship requirements as being like this:

  1. Do you want to be a Canadian?
  2. Really?[2. Credit for the joke belongs to the writers of How I Met Your Mother. But mostly Neil Patrick Harris for his delivery.]

However, we have a real immigration process, and not just for citizenship. So if an American is going to come to Canada on a visitor’s permit, it’s going to take 13 days on average to process which isn’t too bad. But here’s the bad news: visitors can’t work, legally. So unless you’re independently wealthy, and/or have no plans on working at all during your (limited) stay, you’re probably not going to want this option. If you want a work permit, it’s going to be around three months (assuming you have an employer sponsoring you). If you’re self-employed, though—you’re looking at 105 months. That’s 8.75 years, for those who don’t feel like doing the math. So if Trump wins, and then wins again in 2020, you’re through his two terms and into the next presidency before you’re welcome to come to the land of poutine and the superfluous U.

(Also, in all of my research, I have yet to find a permit or visa for which “I don’t like [insert name of politician here]” qualifies as a valid reason. Not even for humanitarian or compassionate reasons. Sorry.)

But let’s say you do find a way to come to Canada. And you fall in love with our passive-aggressive ways, our broken social welfare system, and our insistence that you pronounce “foyer” correctly. If you want to become a citizen, I have good news! You can—so long as you are willing to pledge your allegiance to our ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth II and all her heirs. (And despite what you might have heard, she’s not just a figurehead.)

What’s behind the threat?

But, again, let’s be honest—almost no one who is making the threat is going to make good on it. You know it and I know it. So why do people do it?[4. And by people, I mean “normal” people. There are some people just want attention. Generally, this is where I put most celebrities, who seem to revel in saying silly things, which people then write about, thus giving them a greater sense of importance (or at least notoriety).] Why does the person who works at the bank, the public school or the gas station make these sorts of threats that they will never make good on? It’s probably the same reason that, despite our (I believe legitimate) concern/frustration over Target’s change to their washroom policies, many of us will still shop there.[5. Please do not read this as condemnation of those who are obeying their consciences and choosing to discontinue shopping at Target, because it is not.]

They are a response to fear.

These sorts of bold declarations—be it the threat/promise of moving to Canada, or boycotting a major corporation—act as a release valve for the fear we feel. Whether we’re socially liberal or conservative, whether we’re Christian or not, there’s a tremendous amount of changing going on in North America, and it’s more than a little terrifying. For some, the idea of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton being president, and others the continued push for radical inclusivism and the celebration of lifestyles out of step with God’s created intentions, are fearful prospects. And when those fears as dismissed as being irrelevant, unfounded or the fruit of bigotry—when people are afraid and believe no one is listening—they need a release.

But maybe there’s a different way for us to deal with this fear we feel.

A healthier way to deal with fear

Most of the time when we talk about fear as Christians, we become afraid that we’re in for a spiritual beating—we’re afraid of being afraid because we’re told to fear not. Or at least, fear God only. Now, this is true, at least in the sense that the Bible describes it. But as fallen, foible, and often foolish people, we’re going to have some trouble there because we don’t fear perfectly. We do succumb to a spirit of fear, and we do struggle with the fear of man. But we also don’t know what to do with our fear. This is where the Psalms are so helpful to me because they show me what a faithful “release valve” looks like. And it starts with prayer.

Consider Psalm 17. In this psalm, David writes of surrounded by enemies; he is mocked and belittled. He is chased by those who oppose him. No doubt as he hid in caves and ran from the swords of his countrymen, David would have felt tremendous fear and anxiety. But what he does is astounding: he tells these fears to God. He gives them to him, not in a pat “let go and let God” sort of way, but by laying them out and preaching the gospel to himself:

  • He reminds himself, as he speaks with God, that the Lords is the “Savior of those who seek refuge” (Psalm 17:7).
  • He asks that God continue to show his steadfast love, and “hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8).
  • And he declares that, whatever the circumstances, that he “shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

I’m sure in praying these truths, David didn’t necessarily feel them right away, or that his confidence didn’t waiver periodically. Given how often he prays such things—given how often he needs to remind himself of the truth of God’s love for him regardless of the circumstances—there had to have been some pretty dark moments spiritually. But still he prayed. Still he turned to his Savior. Still he turned to the one who would give him refuge.

And perhaps this is where we need to start as well. When I look at the prospects of what’s happening in the world around me, I do get a little nervous. As a Canadian, I have concerns about the outcome of the next American election. I have fears about the state of our healthcare system in Ontario, and flagrant disregard for accountability and common sense so many of our politicians exhibit. I have moments when I’m tempted to find a quiet plot of land in the Deep North and hide until all the crazy dies down.

But I don’t do it because if I did. I’d still be afraid. Hiding doesn’t change my fears, anymore than boycotting a company, ranting on the Internet, or googling the requirements for a foreign work permit would (at least for me). But bringing these fears to God—telling him of them, reminding myself of his character and his goodness and his promises, really does help. And prayer is the faithful release valve I need because it reminds me of these truths.

I’m not saying prayer makes the problems go away. It doesn’t. But what it does do is help us see the situation with more clarity, as people not ruled by our fears and gut reactions, but as those who know a love that casts out fear, who find rest in the sovereignty of the One in whom we seek refuge. And perhaps that’s enough.

Everyone is equally unhappy together: musings on Christian faith and Canadian politics

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“So, who are you voting for?” It’s the question that, if I were prone to them, might make me break out in hives. Which is unfortunate, because today is Election Day in Canada, and I’m feeling super-awkward right now because I still don’t know how I’m going to cast my ballot tonight.

A land of compromise over conviction

Canada is a strange country, both socially and politically. We’re this weird in-between zone, not quite as far on the socially liberal trajectory as Europe (at least in some areas—they actually have laws regulating abortion in Europe), but further down the path than America. We are, as author (and fellow Canadian) Will Ferguson describes us, a nation that prefers compromise over conviction.[1. See his excellent book, How to Be Canadian, co-authored by his brother, Ian, for a number of hilarious examples.] That way, everyone is equally unhappy with whatever solution is brought forward—but we’re unhappy together, and that’s what really matters, isn’t it?

Today’s choices are a perfect example of this: we have three major parties, all vying to form the next government. After reading their platforms, it’s safe to say two are overtly opposed to Christian values (and those of socially conservative Canadians in general), while the third is the epitome of the Canadian dilemma: a party held together by compromise, rather than conviction. This presents some… challenges for me as a Christian, so much so that I don’t really know what to do.

Convictions will clash

Now, I don’t expect any of the parties to perfectly line up with my values, which I hope doesn’t surprise anyone. After all, Christianity is centered around certain convictions, specifically the conviction that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, and died for the sins of the world. But we also live under the conviction that,

  • as image-bearers of God, all human beings inherently have dignity and value, from the moment life begins until it ends;
  • God created gender, and that there are indeed only two—male and female; and
  • God intended marriage as a picture of the gospel, and this picture is only displayed in the context of male-female unions.

On and on I could go, but you get the point: Christian conviction is inevitably going to be at odds with the social-political climate. It’s been happening for 2000 years, even (especially?) when we’ve dominated politics (read some church history if you’re in doubt).

Playing by the world’s rules

So inevitably, a Christian is going to have to live with some degree of tension when deciding for whom to vote. Casting our ballots is always going to involve compromise in some way. But I’m concerned by what I see from far too many Christians on blogs, in articles and in status updates.

Setting aside those who choose to disengage entirely, more often than not, I see little difference between how Christians are talking about politics from how the rest of society does, and usually it’s the “yeah-buts”:

  • Yeah, I know they’re open to legalizing the sex trade, but they’re not entirely pro-abortion.
  • Yeah, I know they’re going to drive our economy into the toilet, but they want to help refugees.
  • Yeah, I know they’re fascists, but they care about the poor and/or the environment.

But the yeah-buts aren’t helpful because they oversimplify serious issues, and elevate one party while demonizing the others. It is worldly— it is playing politics by the world’s standards—and Christians should have no part of it. Yet, too many Christians don’t know how to think otherwise—they’ve been left undiscipled in this critical area, and so don’t know how to think Christianly about politics. (Rather than restating them, here are three points I wrote to help with that.)

But that still leaves us with a problem: what do we do when the tension becomes unbearable. If we’re not willing to play by the world’s rules, when does voting for the “least bad” option become unsustainable?

What do you do when there’s no good option?

This the tension I feel right now. I’ve been wrestling with how to vote for weeks, and I’ve not come to any resolution. (Though, in all honesty, if I could refuse my ballot, I would.[2. Refusing your ballot formally registers a vote of non-confidence in the options presented, rather than simply spoiling your ballot, which are counted but not differentiated from ballots that are accidentally spoiled. However, this option is only available during provincial elections in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. It is not an option in a federal election. Which stinks.]) Perhaps you’re in the same boat as me—with so many unappealing options, you have no idea what to do.

Some of us might choose how to vote based on our local representative. Although they’re still going to promote their party’s values and platform (which in some cases will or should disqualify them from being a viable option for Christians), their personal values might more closely aligns with our own. Others may choose, despite it not being counted as a refusal or protest, to spoil our ballots because the compromise is simply too great.

In any case, my hope is that, whether we spoil our ballot or however we cast our vote, whether we find ourselves represented by someone who doesn’t represent us or someone who kind of does, we won’t stop praying for the government we have as a result of the election. That we’ll remember that God rules over them, too. He is our hope, not politicians. And his purposes in the world will not be thwarted because of human authorities.


Photo credit: Ballot box via photopin (license)

Changing opinions on abortion when legislation isn’t an option

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I hate abortion. But I didn’t always.

Prior to my mid-20s, I was fairly certain that abortion was good for our society. My arguments were the typical “woman’s right to choose/health” related variety, but I doubt I would have been able to articulate any position terribly well. Why? Because the truth is, my conviction really had less to do with the good of another, and more for my distaste for “those people”—the ones who would be on the sidewalk outside the hospital with signs with Bible verses, ultrasound pictures and the occasional picture from an abortion (which I’m not entirely sure help, by the way…).

I didn’t know them, but I didn’t like them. And because I didn’t like them, whatever they were talking about was obviously wrong (because that’s how logic works, right?). I was the type that would make obscene gestures driving past, who would probably make a comment about being on “the wrong side of history”.

Then I meet Jesus.

After becoming a Christian, no one really had to tell me that abortion was wrong. No one had to convince me that life began at conception, and that the life growing inside a mother’s womb was a person. But I also didn’t realize my own complacency about the issue. I didn’t see my support by virtue of my distaste for people of conviction on this issue as participating in the sin of abortion, but also a sin against those people.

What woke me up, really, was a book I read a number of years ago, Innocent Blood by John Ensor, which I still feel is one of the finest books on the subject published to date. This was one of the passages that made me realize that I could no longer be privately pro-life, but publicly silent:

Being personally pro-life but otherwise passive is a cowardly and shameful position. Christ is trying to show this in the way he describes the behavior of the priest and the Levite in his parable (Luke 10:25-37). Seeing a man beaten and about to die, they let it stand unchallenged. They might well comfort themselves, “That is just horrible. I do not believe in that.” However, merely believing that murder is wrong does not qualify as obedience to the commandments of God… When you can live with death, work around it, or let it go unchallenged, you are not pro-life. (53)

Reading that hit me like a ton of bricks all those years ago, and it still does even now, particularly that last line.

I live in Canada, and one of the difficult things about being pro-life in this nation is how it’s more-or-less a non-issue here. Keep in mind, we are the only nation in the western world without any laws regarding abortion. Globally, we’re on par with North Korea on this issue. (And can we just agree that we shouldn’t be in the same category as North Korea on any issue at all, ever?) All but one of the major political parties in this country are staunchly pro-abortion, and the other party has no official position (which is, of course, a position).

In the hospitals where our children took their first breaths, innumerable were (and are) never given the chance to take theirs. Christians and all Canadians who are opposed to abortion have no ability to challenge our government to reconsider. We are forced to live with death. We might not be happy about it. We might accompany a small group of people and hold up a sign, but we also recognize that doing so won’t change the fact that there’s (currently) nothing we can do to change the legal situation.

So where does that leave us?

Interestingly, with an opportunity. We can’t legislate change here, but we can influence opinions. We can help people recognize the value of children (not merely the evil of abortion) through our love for children—which starts with having children in our lives! Our church, for example, is very pro-baby, with a nursery that’s bursting at the seems. More than a few guys have had certain procedures reversed (and paid for it out of pocket) because they’ve been convicted they ought to have more children. There’s even one family that, every time I see them, I smile because they are a living, breathing preview of the new creation.

But is also happens through showing true compassion to those considering abortion, or those who have had one. The last thing a woman who’s dealing with the emotional fallout of an abortion needs is to be told how what she’s done is wrong and evil. She already knows this. Instead she needs to know there’s hope for her and to have genuine love extended. Our city’s crisis pregnancy center—founded and run by evangelical Christians—provides alternatives for women considering abortion and counselling for those who have had one, as well as tons of education for prospective parents (including dads), and real sex education (the kind that talks about four new cases of Chlamydia being diagnosed daily, almost exclusively among high school and post-secondary students). Ministries like this one are not only helping people deal with the chaos of a surprise pregnancy, but helping them come to know Christ.

And no doubt there’s more going on that I’m unaware of and much more that could be said. There are lots of families who are doing pro-life things, and honoring Christ, but just don’t make a big deal of it. It’s just what they do, and what we should do as well. When we demonstrate that children really matter, and when we help people who are facing the decision to know they are loved by us and by God, that they and their babies have value and dignity, that’s our best opportunity to really make a difference. We can stand against the culture of death by actively engaging with those lives that matter.

What should the church expect as same-sex marriage moves forward?

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This probably is no shock to the Americans reading this, but Canadians don’t really get you.

We look across the border, and we marvel at the evil of your health care system (y’know, the one that has people seeing a doctor in emergency rooms within 15-20 minutes as opposed to eight hours or more.[1. According to 2014 figures found here.] But, y’know, “free” health care, or something). We are confused by your political structure (because you actually vote for the head of your nation, which is just weird). And we are baffled at how you keep having these wild, open debates about controversial issues like same-sex marriage.

Most of us here in Canada don’t get what all the fuss is about. In fact, even as the US Supreme Court deliberates on whether or not to redefine marriage in America (with a decision expected to come near the end of June), and despite it being the major news story for months in some way, shape or form, it barely merits a mention here.

Heck, you can barely get a mention of the fact that Ontario’s former deputy education minister plead guilty to charges of child pornography possession (and claimed a number of other horrible things to his chatroom friends on the Interwebs)!

But I digress (ish).

We’re not the same

Here’s the thing: we’ve already been through what you’re going through in Canada. Except not. See, we’re not a society that really has a great deal of open discussion about issues. There’s often a great deal of fiery rhetoric thrown about within a session of parliament, but it’s rare when people get hot enough to actually demand open discussion in the public square (though it does happen on occasion).

But we’ve been where you are, America (or so we think). And as many supporters of same-sex marriage will tell you, our society hasn’t apparently fallen apart.

And yet, many of us are unaware of what we’ve lost.

In some cases this is because we’ve never really had it to begin with.

It’s helpful to remember that Canada’s political system—and, more importantly, our culture—is entirely different than yours. The differences between us are much greater than socialized healthcare, maple syrup and superfluous Us. And despite what some Americans say, we’re not Communists. But we are socialists (note the lower-case). We have a form of democracy, but we are also a “freedom from” culture. We gleefully bought into the secular experiment and its values of personal happiness and the accumulation of wealth. We have determined that big government is best, because when the government makes decisions for us, life is certainly a lot easier (even if it’s not better).

Which takes us back to same-sex marriage. When it was officially made law in 2005, there was some public debate, but very little. And all of it was inconsequential. The decision makers had already made up their minds on what they were going to do, and went ahead more or less unscathed.

This happened because they understood that the best way to make a radical change is not to jump in with both feet, but to make subtle shifts over a long period of time. You introduce them through backdoor channels and get people comfortable with them, so they don’t even notice (until someone actually mentions it) that they’ve redefined the nature of parenthood, for example. Canadian children no longer have “natural” parents, merely “legal” ones (something Dawn Stefanowicz helpfully points out here). And gender matters not.

Further, though our Charter of Rights[2. The full document can be explored here. Witness the technological power of the Canadian Government—we can’t even bother to put a proper text version of the Charter of Rights online.] continues to describe our fundamental freedoms as being

  1. freedom of conscience and religion;
  2. freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  3. freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  4. freedom of association,

the free exercise of these freedoms puts you at risk of prosecution. You can still state your belief about what marriage is or is not, at least according to the letter of the law—the law itself explicitly states this in clause 3, regarding religious marriage—but the spirit of the law is to squelch dissent, a position reinforced by a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In other words, we are free to think what we want, and believe what we want… but it’s probably best to keep it to yourself.

How does it really affect the Canadian church at the moment?

And here’s what it’s meant for the church here, at least insofar as I’ve been able to see: evangelical pastors have been able to, at least to this point, conscientiously object to performing same-sex ceremonies. We have also, at least so far, been free to continue to teach what the Bible says about marriage and human sexuality, though technically I could be at risk for prosecution for simply having positively reviewed Kevin DeYoung’s latest book should someone feel that it represents hateful speech. There hasn’t been a great deal of witch hunting at this point.

To some degree, and in addition the aforementioned clause in the law, this is for at least two reasons:

First, many mainline denominations embraced homosexual unions long ago, so there was already a ready-made option for those seeking a religiously oriented ceremony, even if these denominations are all dying.

Second, and perhaps more significantly, evangelicals aren’t a much larger segment of the Canadian population than those identifying with the LGBTQ community. The best high-end estimates put us at around 10 percent of the population. Realistically, it’s probably about half that.

So we’re in an interesting spot. There’s not a ton of political pressure to make an example of us because there simply aren’t that many of us for it to really make a big difference. You can’t scare people into conforming when there are hardly any who need to be conformed. (Then there’s the whole passive aggressive thing that we don’t need to get into…)

In Canada, though, our charge is simple: we need to clearly communicate the truth of the Bible faithfully and winsomely, all the while prayerfully and willingly accepting the consequences of going against the prevailing cultural and political orthodoxy.

How the church in North America moves forward

There isn’t a desire to challenge the standing law in Canada, not from the majority of the population nor from our government officials. Thus, same-sex marriage will not go away in Canada any time in the foreseeable future. And should it come to pass in America, and it seems all but inevitable that it will, it will likely be there to stay as well.

While that seems rather defeatist, consider what awaits on the other side. As strange as it is to say, this has the opportunity to be a refining tool. The creature comforts we’ve become so accustomed to will inevitably be stripped away from us. We should be preparing our friends and congregations for this reality. Tax exempt statuses will inevitably be withdrawn. Some pastors will likely face heavy fines or even jail time in the years ahead. In other words, the church in North America will suddenly start to look a lot more like the church in other nations hostile to Christianity.

But this should not be a deterrent to us in speaking the truth. We would all do well to remember Peter and John’s response to the Sanhedrin’s demand that they stop speaking about Jesus: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). And just as their trials bolstered their courage in the gospel, we must pray that the same will be true of us.

The gospel spread like wildfire in a world that was openly hostile to it. Perhaps it can again.

The preposterous inconsistency of secular sexual ethics

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“Sexual preference is a human right.”

I read these words Sunday afternoon as CBC radio personality Jian Ghomeshi, best known as the host of Q, announced that he had been fired from theCanadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) because of his sexual preferences, and would be suing the taxpayer-funded broadcasting company for a hefty sum. Ghomeshi, as he revealed on his Facebook page, preferred to engage with ladies in BDSM, and a jilted ex had decided to take it public, saying he had abused her. (Note: use wisdom in determining whether or not to click the link. The language is fairly clean, but it’s a pretty frank discussion of all the events from his perspective.)

Now here’s the twist: though his employers agreed (based on evidence Ghomeshi provided) that his relationships were consensual, their problem was they believed “this type of sexual behavior was unbecoming of a prominent host on the CBC.”

This, friends, is secular sexual ethic at work, in all of its inconsistent glory. Consider a couple of ways it plays out, both in this story and in a broader context:

1. Preferences are a right… unless they’re too icky for us. The CBC has long promoted socially and politically liberal ideologies. In fact, they’ve been tireless advocates of all sorts of non-traditional sexual behaviors, and spent a good amount of taxpayer money getting us all acclimated to them. (Exhibit A: The Survival of the Fabulous.) So it seems a bit odd that they’d have issues with Ghomeshi’s behavior—especially given how quickly it’s been normalized thanks to a whole lot of people reading 50 Shades of Creepy.

(And as an aside, nothing is more disturbing than your teenage niece telling you how “romantic” those books are. Barf.)

So the question becomes, who draws the line when it comes to sexual ethics in the postmodern secular worldview? Is it purely individual? Is it a constantly moving target? Is the line drawn, as in some views, based on how “good” the fruit appears to be? In the end, it comes down to all sexual preferences being all equally fine, unless they’re too icky or inconvenient for us.

2. Sexual preference should be private… except when we think it shouldn’t. Pierre Trudeau, the father of the modern mess that is Canada, said, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” This was often quoted to Christians who advocated against the legalization of same-sex marriage here in 2005 (which, ironically, was a push into the bedrooms of the nation). And yet, we continually see the media—and by proxy, the state—push into our minds and bedrooms as they attempt to acclimate us to certain ideas. Remember how only 20 years ago, it was shocking that a gay character would be featured on a sitcom? Now, if you don’t have one you’re considered out of touch or worse.

So which is it? The problem is, the secular sexual ethic generally want to have it both ways: If you disagree with us, fine, but keep it to yourself. But there’s an agenda to push and by golly, we’re going to push it.

In the end, as grieved as I am that Ghomeshi’s lost his show (while I disagreed with much of what he said, he was and is a skillful and winsome interviewer), and that he had to share details about his personal life he’d have preferred remain private (although, as the investigation has continued since this was first written, his version of events were less than accurate, which brings up a whole different issue), these events reveal something very important: the secular sexual ethic, in all of its preposterous inconsistency, is like a snake eating its own tail. It will devour itself. It fails in practice because it doesn’t have a firm foundation. It just doesn’t make sense because we weren’t made to work that way.

And this is where Christians have the opportunity to show our non-believing neighbors something better: a sexual ethic that brings dignity, and builds up men and women. A way of looking at gender, marriage and sexuality that’s internally consistent. A tested and true ethic built upon an immovable foundation. One that, in the end, you can look at and realize “it just makes sense,” because it’s the way God made us.

When church people are nice like Canadians…

canadian-flag

If you’re from any other part of the world, you’ve probably heard stories of how nice we Canadians are. Like painfully, ridiculously, apologizing when you do something wrong nice.

While we do (strangely) apologize for things we didn’t do all the time, can I let you in on a secret?

Canadians aren’t really that nice. 

Canadians are actually a pretty passive aggressive lot. We generally avoid eye contact with one another. We don’t really speak to people unless we have to. We enjoy the benefits of being in close proximity to America while projecting our own issues slamming its people/government/fatness endlessly. We convince ourselves our “free” healthcare system[1. It’s not free. It’s paid for with taxpayer dollars, and quite a lot of them at that.] is pretty great when a trip to the ER usually requires a minimum five hour wait unless you’ve got a knife sticking out of your chest[2. To be fair, though, our socialized healthcare system is legitimately better than the Obamacare nonsense.]…

And we don’t really like it when people tell us the truth. 

One of the things we desperately need in our church cultures is a willingness to tell people the truth—people who are willing to speak plainly, rather than waffling about trying to find a “nice” way to say something, or outright lying to people altogether. This doesn’t mean we should be going about blasting people willy-nilly, nor does it mean we should be unnecessarily hurtful or rude…

It just means being honest people, and it’s something we clearly need more of. Church leaders need honest people around them who have the chutzpa to tell them what’s really going on. Church members need honest pastors willing to discipline them when they sin. And the lost need Christians who are willing to tell them that sin really does have consequences—that these ideas in the Bible about wrath, judgment and eternal damnation aren’t figurative, but the certain fate of those who remain apart from Christ.

And we also have to be honest about the good stuff, too—we need people willing to encourage pastors who struggle with a heavy burden. We need pastors who are capable of comforting grieving church members with the hope of the gospel. We need Christians willing to share the glorious benefits of the gospel—that it’s not simply a “get-out-of-hell-free” card, but a new identity and new life in Christ.

But what we really don’t need are more church people who are “nice” like Canadians.

The Promise of Change and the False Hope of Politics

Today—May 2, 2011—is Election Day in Canada. For those who are keeping track (or interested), it’s our fourth federal election since 2004.

Over the last several years, since I grew up and started paying taxes, I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with politics.

A big part of it has to do with Canada being strapped with minority governments for the last several years. Now, for those who don’t know, a minority government exists when the party that gains the most seats still has less than the combined total of the various opposition parties. So, as you can imagine, when you’ve got four “big” parties plus independents, it’s not easy to get a majority (though certainly not impossible). The upshot of this is the opposition can be an aid in keeping sketchiness to a minimum among the ruling party. The downside is that the opposition can also come together and prevent any good plans the ruling party might have.

(They can also form a coalition and take over the government. See, who says Canadian politics are boring?)

Nw, here’s where the love-hate thing comes into play…

What I Love About Politics

I love seeing people—especially young people—take an interest in politics. This needs to happen. When I was growing up, my mother gave me the following piece of advice: If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about what the government does. Stated positively, exercising your right to vote gives you a voice into shaping how you are represented on a municipal, provincial and federal level. It is extremely important to exercise this right that we have been afforded, particularly since millions of people around the world do not have the ability to do this thing that we take for granted.

What I Hate About Politics

I hate seeing people—especially young people—get caught up in the demonizing of political leaders that comes with campaigning. Sadly at this point, I just expect a whole whack of mud slinging from the party leaders. I don’t like it, but I expect it. But that doesn’t mean that we have to engage in it.

Through this campaign, I’ve seen people trying to encourage university students to vote this year by creating attack sites devoted to trashing the sitting Prime Minister. I’ve seen young idealists talking about the rights of the working class, but seeming to have no idea what those rights are. I’ve seen people across the board make assumptions about every party’s plans without even reading them. Heck, I saw one young guy (who is either ridiculously stupid or mentally unhinged) write that if you’re a “right-winger,” you need to be murdered in the streets.

I don’t care where you land on the political spectrum—whether you’re a hair over to the right of center, left, really left, or you’re upset that trees don’t have the right to vote—but the folks you don’t agree with are no more (and no less) evil than you are. And it is profoundly unwise to fall prey to demonizing those with whom you disagree.

Yet we all do it, don’t we?

I would suggest two reasons why: Read More about The Promise of Change and the False Hope of Politics

Canadian Youth and Christianity

Recently Ed Stetzer released some of his research regarding Canadian young adults and their view of Christianity & the church. After taking a look at some of the data, there were a couple of things that were interesting to me:

  1. Unchurched[1] Canadian youth are far less hostile toward the church than their American counterparts
  2. They’re far more open to a Christian sharing their faith than you’d think (89% responded positively), but far less likely to examine the Bible for themselves (51% say they’d be willing to study the Bible if a friend asked them, and only 32% would be willing to join a small group to learn about Jesus and the Bible)

Now, I get that stats and numbers aren’t all that compelling or even all that interesting for most of us; however, there’s something important for us to learn:

If people are willing to listen to us share our faith, shouldn’t we be doing so?

This has been the experience of some friends from church who are a part of our evangelism team. Every week, they’re out talking to people, sharing the gospel whenever they can, praying with people…

And the people they’re talking to are willing to listen.

So, what would happen if today—and I’m just saying if—we asked a random person if we could talk about our faith with them?

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

That they ignore you—or that they say, “yes”?

1: The “unchurched” are defined as those who do not belong to or participate in a local church