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‚ÄĒand, more importantly, our culture‚ÄĒis 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‚ÄĒwe 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‚ÄĒthe law itself explicitly states this in clause 3, regarding religious marriage‚ÄĒbut 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‚Ķ 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‚Ķ)

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.

15 thoughts on “What should the church expect as same-sex marriage moves forward?”

  1. I’m having trouble with this post. It seems to be saying that since Canadian churches didn’t make a fuss, then American ones shouldn’t either, because the whole thing is inevitable. Perhaps I’m missing the point, especially since this is the first of your blogs I’ve read, so I don’t “know” you yet?

    If we as Canadians are wondering what all the fuss is about, then shame on us. When I saw that several mainline Christian leaders in the States recently sent a letter to the Supreme Court threatening civil disobedience in areas that will be affected if things change, I said “Hurrah.” What if the bakery that has recently come under fire in the US were located in Canada. Would we sit on our fanny’s and say “oh well. it was inevitable?” Maybe so, because we’re Canadians, but I certainly don’t see that as a shining example to use in assisting our brothers to the south.

    To my own shame, but in agreement with you, I don’t recall when gay marriage became legal. Did we as Christians not stand against it? Was nothing really said? And more importantly, because of the absence of noise in Canada, should we be promoting the same in the US, where they seem to have a lot more respect for Biblical values?

    I guess my concern is that we Christian Canadians will not notice as the water we’re paddling in heats to boiling point. Maybe that’s because we’re simply showing off our reputational colours. Apathetic!

    Or did I miss your tongue in cheek intent?

    1. I think you may have missed something in reading it, or perhaps I just wasn’t clear enough in writing it. (I’m inclined to think the latter, rather than the former.)

      What I’m not intending to do is advocate apathy at all. By describing the Canadian context and Canadian attitudes, it’s to remind us that, aside from sharing a language, we are very different people. Thus, Americans probably shouldn’t look at Canada for a direct comparison. Also, as another commenter noted, our government offered a form of amnesty in the civil marriage act, allowing for Christians to not perform same-sex ceremonies on the basis of our primary fundamental freedom in Canada (conscience and religion)‚ÄĒeven if those freedoms are under attack in recent days, particularly in the medical community. There currently is no indiction that similar amnesty will be offered in America (at least not based on reported statements by President Obama’s lawyers).

      While I do believe it is more or less inevitable that America will make the same move that Canada and many other western nations have, this doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t be concerned, nor should we stop teaching what the Bible says about homosexuality in light of God’s intentions for human sexuality. Instead, we are to be ready for the reality‚ÄĒand be prepared to contend for the faith in the face of a persecution we’ve not experienced in North America.

      1. I think Capn was right to be troubled. This article has troubled my spirit as well. Perhaps my viewpoint is different, coming from the states, but this whole article seems like a non-issue.

        If your ” freedoms of… ” include religion and beliefs, then I would say that the church moves forward as it always has, with the exception of now having a specific body of non-believers (and perhaps believers in all ways except what the bible says marriage is) that you now know you need to be praying for, individually as well as within the church body.

        Freedom of, is a 2 way street, is it not? You do not have the freedom to persecute them for their beliefs and they don’t have the freedom to persecute you or the church in general for Christian beliefs.

        If pastors of Christian churches want to decline officiating a civil union, they have that freedom, without the need for any amnesty, don’t they?

        And why in the first place, would a same-sex couple even come to a Christian church and request that they be joined by a Christian pastor, if they don’t believe in Christianity?

        Again, it seems unlikely that it would be an issue. But if it ever was, all that pastor would have to do is decline the request, based on their freedom of beliefs, right?

        Why wouldn’t same-sex couples naturally choose to be joined in a non-religious setting by a non religious person that perhaps has gotten their officiating license from the internet? (is that legal in Canada, like it is here??)

        Anyway, I won’t drag this out any further, other than to say as Christians, we are to pray for the non-believers- not fight them, persecute them or otherwise impose our will on them. That is not Christ-Like. We the church, should remain Christ-Like in all we do and towards all people we encounter, whether we agree with their beliefs or not.

        Haters gonna hate, but we are called to love all people into the kingdom- not force any beliefs on them.

        If you had non-believing family members, that were in a civil union and as a Christian, you were called to love them and show love to their partner, even though you did not support their beliefs and they did not support yours, I think you’d have an entirely different perspective on how the church should move forward.

  2. Another reason that we Canadian Evangelicals, although living with more of what might be called “anti-Christian laws” have less life experience to show for it, is that generally Canadians are more apathetic than our American neighbours.
    In fact, I would suggest that this one fact alone is what has seemingly protected the church from laws which could’ve been used to shut us down years ago.

    No one much cares what the church says. To be truthful, no one much cares what anyone says.
    I can’t tell if we like big government because we don’t care, or we don’t care because with big government it wouldn’t matter if we cared anyways. But still, the fact remains that if the US had our laws, life would be worse for you than for us.
    Because Americans are passionate about more things, and when you do things, you do them BIG.

    Now if only we could drive that apathy out of the churches.
    Perhaps we will. Just as quickly as Americans drive the flag out of theirs.

  3. I would add a third reason for the lack of witch hunting. A clause in the civil marriage act of 2005 which prohibits discrimination against persons or organizations for holding the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. Probably the judge that ruled for TWU in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court was thinking of that law when he told the Nova Scotia law society that they couldn’t ban graduates from TWU simply because of TWU’s code of conduct prohibiting sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage relationships: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/trinity-western-ruling-protects-the-freedoms-of-all-canadians/article22716743/

    1. Yes, the clause regarding the distinction between civil and religious marriage is a very helpful defence mechanism for us (though one often overlooked or ignored by many). It will be interesting to see where America goes on this front and if it causes politicians here to consider removing it.

      Re: TWU, they more likely had the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2001 ruling that asking people to abstain from behaviours outside the moral code of the organization does not constitute discrimination, one that Ontario and BC’s courts have conveniently ignored.

  4. Well said! As the world (not just America!) grows increasingly antagonistic toward anything that even slightly reminds them of Christ, it is more important than ever for those of us who follow Him that we shine brightly in the darkness. This is our opportunity to BE the church, following Him no matter what.

  5. Interesting article, just a point of clarification in your scripture citation at the end it’s [Peter] and John. Not Paul. I only aware of this because we recently read it in family devotions (and I clicked on the link to double check).

  6. Very interesting, Aaron. As an America living in Canada, I appreciate this thoughtful discussion of the distinctions between our two countries and how it applies to gay marriage. Will be sharing this!

  7. Good post Aaron. It’s hard for Americans in a democratic society to take it lying down when we’re encouraged by our government to vote on these issues and to express our beliefs.
    But I also think it will be good when Christians finally realize that historically most cultures have never abided by a Judeo-Christian value system– and why should ours be any different? Democracy is defined as “government by the people; especially : rule of the majority” so what do we expect when the secular majority and even churches reject the authority of Scripture? We’re called to live righteously in this present world and preach the Gospel – not to change the culture.

    ” As strange as it is to say, this has the opportunity to be a refining tool.” Agreed!

  8. Well written Aaron. I am from Georgia which is often referred to being part of the “Bible Belt” We have a church on every corner. Needless to say the same-sex marriage issue is a hot topic. I often teach our congregation that we can pass all the laws we want we really can’t expect those who don’t have a relationship with Christ to act as though they do. Especially since we Christians often have a hard time living that way. I suspect that even if the Supreme Court was to uphold the states right to make same-sex marriage illegal, it will eventually be over turned.

    We live in a society where the contrast between the world and the church needs to become more clear. We just need to find a better way to stand apart for Christ and still be able to lovingly share the gospel.

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