The following editorial by Canadian Lutheran editor Mathew Block was originally published Feb. 26, 2013, by Holy Post, the National Post’s religion blog. With millions of our brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith each day, including many Mennonite Brethren, will we stay silent in the face of intolerance against Christians – both around the world and in our own country? —LK
A newly formed Office of Religious Freedom will defend those persecuted for their faith around the world, but closer to home many Canadians seem indifferent or even hostile to the idea.
You’d think that dedicating Canadian resources to protecting freedom of conscience and religion internationally would be something most citizens could get behind. It is, after all, widely recognized as a basic human right. “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” reads the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”
And yet, basic as that right seems, response online to Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom has been mostly negative. “How about the Office of Not Wasting Millions of Tax Dollars On Something No One Wanted Or Needed,” says one commenter on a Winnipeg Free Press story. “Call it what it is,” writes another on a CTV News story: the “Office of Cult and Brainwashing.” And a CBC commenter declares: “This will merely become a taxpayer funded means of supporting Christian missionaries.” Every site you visit, the comments are the same: religion is either irrelevant (and therefore not worth spending money on) or it’s plain evil. This new office must therefore be evidence of some secret collusion between government and the Christian church.
As Canada becomes increasingly secularized, there is growing intolerance to people of faith. We see the trend prominently in recent news that the leader of the Official Opposition has publicly criticized a Christian relief agency for their moral beliefs on sexuality – something entirely unrelated to their humanitarian work. Such positions are “un-Canadian” we are told, despite the fact that millions of Christians (Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Conservative Protestants, and Evangelicals), Muslims, Jews, and other religious groups in Canada hold the same beliefs. Never mind that we are Canadian citizens; insofar as we fail to conform to a set of approved public positions on this matter, we are expected to be silent.
Faith, it seems, is now to be understood as a concession made to backwards, backwoods yokels. If you must be religious, then for heaven’s sake do it in the privacy of your own home, where no one else has to see or hear you; religion has no place in the public sphere. Having government step forward to publicly defend religious freedom abroad, therefore, has critics gnashing their teeth.
Even those who have been cautiously optimistic about the office have betrayed a surprising indifference to the plight of persecuted religious minorities. Some pundits have warned against the office spending “too much” attention on Christian issues. To be sure, other groups facing religious persecution – Buddhists, Muslims, Baha’i, Sufis, and, yes, atheists – must be just as vigorously defended. But what exactly is so verboten about speaking honestly about the severity of Christian persecution in the world and seeking to redress these wrongs?
We see churches in Nigeria being bombed, Iranian pastors being arrested for converting to Christianity, and Pakistani girls being charged with blasphemy. In numerous countries it is illegal to convert to Christianity, let alone gather as a church in private corporate worship or practise that faith openly. World Watch List suggests more than 100 million Christians worldwide are denied basic human rights because of their faith, and a 2010 study showed that Christians are the victims of 75 of every 100 killings motivated by anti-religious sentiments. We live in a time when Christians are undeniably the most persecuted religious group in the world. But sure, let’s not focus “too much” on their sufferings.
I am a Christian. I believe we live in a world broken by sin, unrepairable by human hands. I believe we are born in a state of alienation from the God who loves us. I believe he sent his Son to undo that separation and return us to fellowship with him. He took upon himself both our humanity and our sin, dying in our place at the cross. Most importantly, I believe that the Son of God – Jesus Christ – rose again from the dead, and that his resurrection promises new life, both in this world and in the next, to all who call upon him in faith.
These beliefs – in the existence of sin, in a Judge who distinguishes good from evil, in the mercy of a God who loved the world so much he was willing to die in its place – these beliefs make me who I am. They inform my decisions and actions in the world. Disagree with me? That’s fine. But do not silence me. Do not tell me my voice is not allowed in the public forum.
And do not tell me to be silent in the face of the sufferings of believers elsewhere – those who face not mere intolerance for their faith, but actual persecution. These people need Canadians to stand with them, to defend their right to freedom of religion, both in private thought and public expression. To that end, I offer Canada’s new Ambassador for Religious Freedom Andrew Bennet my sincere support. I pray that other Canadians, whatever their faith or non-faith, will do the same.
—Mathew Block is editor of the Canadian Lutheran.
Used with permission. All rights reserved. Visit http://license.icopyright.net/7.11150-17821 for details. Mathew Block is communications manager for Lutheran Church–Canada and editor of The Canadian Lutheran.