Southside Victory Church, Calgary, Alberta
Sunday, September 9, 2018 – 11:00am service
Gleanings from the mind of a Christian Leader and Lawyer
Southside Victory Church, Calgary, Alberta
Sunday, September 9, 2018 – 11:00am service
UNDER SIEGE: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017)
PART I: THE FOUNDATION
PART II: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AS INTERPRETED BY THE COURTS
PART III: FAITHFUL CHRIST-FOLLOWERS ASK “HOW SHOULD WE THEN ENGAGE?”
Conclusion: Fear Is a (Strong but) Poor Motivator
UNDER SIEGE is available from a variety of booksellers in paperback, Kindle, Kobo, Scribd, Google Play & Apple iBooks.
TGC Editors’ note: Canadian Evangelicals have largely lost their voice in the public sphere of Canada. It hasn’t always been this way. The pathway toward a distinctively Canadian secularism is an interesting story. Regaining some of what was lost will require us to understand that story and then to move forward in humble and yet decisive engagement in a country that has lost its way. There is almost none better suited for this task than Don Hutchinson, a man who has an intimate knowledge of the rise of Canadian secularism and the nature of religious freedom in our land. This article is part II of III (here is part I).
For the Dominion of Canada, the twentieth was a century of promise and fulfillment, challenge and response. The century would be nearly done – 1982 – before the nation would complete its quest for independence. In that time more than two dozen constitutional amendments were sought from the British Parliament at Westminster.
As the century started, there was rapid expansion from Atlantic to Arctic to Pacific in population, nationwide transportation networks, and the recognition of new provinces and territories. But even as the young nation asserted itself in North America, the decision to send Canadian troops to fight in Europe’s Great War was made in Westminster’s Parliament, not Ottawa.
On the battlefield, first at Ypres, then Vimy and others, Canada’s troops distinguished themselves as a formidable national fighting force. Congratulatory messages were sent to Prime Minister Robert Borden rather than his counterpart in London. The Canadians had won an identity of their own.
Soldiers came home in victory, despite the loss of nearly 61,000 Canadian lives. Canada’s churches strengthened with the post-war celebration, comforted those who lost loved ones and welcomed the influx of European immigration that followed.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s congregations and para-congregational missions were the backbone of voluntary and government networks meeting human need. The federal government extended the Income War Tax Act of 1917, initially a temporary measure, adding to it a deduction up to ten percent from taxable income for donations to charitable organizations such as churches and missions.
The trauma of the Depression reshaped Canadian politics. The prairies gave birth to the Social Credit Party and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, both led by ordained Christian ministers. Social Credit’s “Bible Bill” Aberhart, a Baptist, became premier in Alberta in 1935 (succeeded by evangelist Ernest Manning from 1943 to 1968). J.S. Woodsworth, a Methodist minister, was a leader in the social gospel movement and led the CCF into Parliament. Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister, led the first socialist (CCF) government in Canada when elected premier of Saskatchewan in 1944. In 1961 Douglas stepped aside from premiership to become leader of the federal party at the convention when it changed its name to the NDP.
World War II was different from the Great War (WWI). Canada’s Parliament declared the nation to be at war seven days after the British Parliament. Ottawa was still obliged to follow the lead of Westminster, but this was a symbolic but significant gesture of independence. Over one million Canadians distinguished themselves in service during WWII on the ground, in the air and on the sea.
The end of the century’s second war, however, produced a sense of uncertainty. Radio had brought the realities of war into the living rooms of the nation, and video into its movie theatres. Combat in the air and on the sea made the world smaller. Some enemy vessels had even made it to Canadian waters. And the development of atomic weapons spawned duck and cover drills in schools.
The Depression had outstripped the church’s capacity. The social gospel response of church-leaders-turned-political leaders encouraged the government to take greater responsibility. Uncertainty following WWII undermined confidence in the church and its God. This marked the beginning of the Canadian trend toward bigger government and smaller churches.
The Roman Catholic Church in Quebec was caught in a maelstrom brought on by Depression, WWII and its close affinity with the corrupt Union Nationale government of Maurice Duplessis, defeated shortly after his 1959 death. La Revolution tranquille (“the Quiet Revolution”) brought cultural and political change to Quebec.
The arrival of the “three wise men” from that province signaled a tide change in federal politics. Newly elected Liberal Members of Parliament Jean Marchand, Gérard Pelletier and Pierre Trudeau joined the government and cabinet of Lester Pearson in 1965.
Also in 1965, Pierre Berton’s The Comfortable Pew: A critical look at the Church in the New Age was a bestseller. The Anglican, United, and Presbyterian churches accepted former-Christian Berton’s opinion that they needed to step away from the Gospel, toward greater cultural alignment and social engagement.
Ten Protestant denominations had joined together in 1944 to establish the ecumenical Canadian Council of Churches. Over time they were joined by Orthodox and Catholic denominations. Most evangelical denominations avoided this early ecumenical movement, having retreated into a focus on worship and evangelism. But in 1964, a group of leaders concerned about cultural drift away from biblical principles formed The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as a place to build relationships and discuss their concerns.
Canadian society was in a state of flux. The elements of politics, culture, and the church – churches – were on a variety of disparate paths, all leading to collision in the public square. Some would entertain conversation at the nexus. Others would engage in criticism and censure.
Pearson, managing a minority government following the elections of 1963 and 1965, was obliged to Douglas to keep his government alive. Douglas’ influence resulted in government implementation of national plans for health care, pensions, and student loans.
Trudeau, a lawyer and intellectual Catholic, became Pearson’s Justice Minister. Influenced by concepts of individual rights from the writings of French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, who worked alongside Canadian John Peters Humphrey in drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Trudeau would begin to re-focus the law on the individual’s desires instead of the historic, biblically-informed, interests of the broader society. He introduced legislation that provided for no-fault divorce, qualified surgical abortion, and the decriminalization of homosexual sexual activity between adults, famously declaring “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
Following Centennial celebrations in 1967, in 1968 Trudeau succeeded Pearson as Prime Minister. He was quick to initiate pursuit of a constitutional bill of rights as part of bringing the Canadian constitution under Canadian control. A 1971 effort gave Ontario and Quebec each a veto. Quebec’s premier, Robert Bourassa, exercised it. Trudeau would not repeat that mistake in the next round of negotiations. A decade later, following the near constitutional crisis of the failed 1980 Quebec referendum on separation, all provinces except Quebec sided with Trudeau.
On the steps outside of Canada’s Parliament, on April 17, 1982, Prime Minister Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II signed the Constitution Act, 1982. Canada’s constitution was home. The British North America Act was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867. And the nation had a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Charter would change the Canadian legal system and influence the already shifting relationships between state, culture, church, and Canadians. The independence of a nation was established. The Charter became the foundation for a society whose citizens would become more focused on personal independence, individual rights, and private benefit than on the broader cultural and societal Canadian good. And much of the church offered little to counter that transition.
In its first decision on the Charter right to “freedom of religion” the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a “truly free society is one which can accommodate a wide variety of beliefs” and that freedom of religion was “the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination.” A Canadian, the Court ruled, was “free to hold and to manifest whatever beliefs and opinions his or her conscience dictates, provided inter alia only that such manifestations do not injure his or her neighbours or their parallel rights to hold and manifest beliefs and opinions of their own.”
Adjudicated in the context of a commercial dispute by a pharmacy that wanted to remain open on Sundays, that first case, R v Big M Drug Mart, established that government cannot support one religion over another and each Canadian is free to decide what he or she does or does not believe. This judicially-enforced personal autonomy has led to considerable litigation, particularly concerning disputes between individuals, organized religion and government, including undertakings such as education and marriage.
The independence of the nation by the beginning of the twenty-first century and a citizenship that embraced Charter assured individualism ushered in what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor termed “a secular age.”
The expressed desires of individuals often shouted down existing societal requirements. Politics became increasingly challenging and polarized. Growing numbers of Canadians began to identify as having either no religion or a self-determined spirituality. Those occupying pews on a Sunday morning decreased in number. Church buildings that were raised in an era of booming congregational growth survived as heritage sites, community centres or live-performance theatres. Even for Christian Canadians, congregational connection started to shift from traditional churches in which birth led to membership to those more focused on personal choice to follow Christ, perhaps a policy that better fit with the new individualism. Great Britain faced similar societal change and challenges but was no longer the arbiter of the Canadian response. The response was determinedly in Canadian hands.
Don Hutchinson has held leadership positions within the Canadian Church for over three decades. He has served in the roles of pastor, lawyer and consultant, as well as in government relations. Don is the principal of ansero, a ministry facilitating partnerships for those engaged on the issue of religious freedom in Canada and with the global persecuted Church. His book Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017) has been recently released. Purchase it here.
Originally posted at The Gospel Coalition Canada on July 24, 2017. (1st of 3 parts on the Canadian Church and the public sphere)
Sir Wilfred Laurier, Canada’s seventh Prime Minister, famously said, “The 19th century was the century of the United States. I think we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the 20th century.” Those taking hold of Laurier’s claim have frequently reduced his statement to simply, “The 20th century belongs to Canada.”
Shortly after winning the 1891 election, Canada’s founding Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald suffered a stroke and days later died. Five years later, his Conservative Party was still in disarray. On their fourth leader (and fourth Prime Minister) since Macdonald, the Conservatives fell to Laurier’s Liberals in 1896. Laurier would win four majorities in succession and lead the nation for fifteen years.
He had good reason for hopeful words about the future. Little more than three decades old, the original four provinces that linked together to form Canada at Confederation on July 1, 1867—Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—had been joined by Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871) and Prince Edward Island (1873). In addition to Manitoba, the process was in place to establish the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta out of the then vast Northwest Territories, acquired by Canada in 1870 from the Hudson’s Bay Company. A Mari usque ad mare, from sea to sea, the last spike in Canada’s transcontinental railway had been hammered home November 7, 1885. And Laurier had approved construction of a second and a third!
The political and industrial optimism of the nation extended to the Canadian Church. In 1867, Catholic and Protestant churches had their right to operate denominational schools secured in the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867). This security for future generations was repeated as each new province joined Confederation. The transcontinental railway system, with multiple provincial spur lines, introduced opportunities for evangelism and expansion from both east and west across the prairies.
Denominations sought ways to transition from colonial and regional activity to establish their presence throughout the budding nation. In his book, The Church in the Canadian Era, John Webster Grant described the challenge faced by the Church to keep up with the rapid progress. A number of theologically related denominations merged to facilitate administration of a national presence. Canada’s churches were enthusiastically engaging their membership in the formation and growth of the nation.
E.C. Woodley, in The Bible in Canada: The Story of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Canada, tells how the para-congregational British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), founded in 1804 by a small group of Christian leaders including British Member of Parliament William Wilberforce, expanded with Church and nation. At an early meeting of the BFBS, the decision was made to publish the Gospel of St. John in Mohawk. Active engagement in what would become Canada quickly followed. With Confederation, railways and substantial Indigenous and immigrant populations, the work of Bible distribution and translation multiplied. In 1904, fourteen independent auxiliaries of the BFBS joined together to form the Canadian Bible Society (CBS). CBS would find a place in the hearts of many through its supply of New Testaments and Bibles in a variety of languages to Canadian and other allied troops and prisoners of war in World Wars I (270,000) and II (798,000). The available selection of translations had been developed to meet domestic needs resulting from burgeoning, mostly European, immigration.
The Great War saw Canadians flock to churches to pray for victory. Whether because of answered prayer or seeking continuing comfort for lost loved ones, they stayed at war’s end. Those who returned from the front sought out similar support at home as had been provided overseas by chaplains, the Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and the CBS Bibles.
The national growth spurred a uniquely Canadian merger in 1925. The Methodist Church, Congregational Church, and two-thirds of Canada’s Presbyterian congregations joined together to form the United Church of Canada. At union, the United Church became the largest Protestant denomination in the country, quickly displacing the Anglican Church as the primary Protestant voice to counter that of the Roman Catholic Church in both politics and culture. Other potential church mergers, including between the Anglican Church and the new United Church, would be discussed actively among Protestant leaders for another half century.
Even the Great Depression of the 1930s could not slow the overall progress of Canada’s Church. Congregations and para-congregational missions became the backbone of both voluntary and government networks of meeting human need.
My stepfather soldiered at the front in World War II. He used to say that there were no atheists in a foxhole. However, that sentiment did not necessarily carry back to Canada with those who came home. World War II resulted in what had been known as The Great War being retitled as World War I. Questions about global political and military stability were rampant, as were mounting fears of a World War III. Trends in church attendance indicate soldiers returned home, but not necessarily to Sunday worship. Evangelism crusade ministries, such as Youth For Christ started by Charles Templeton and friends, were having a positive impact but traditional Protestant denominations became concerned about Sunday attendance.
Automobiles, air travel, radio and television were making Canada a more connected—might it be said, smaller—country. Occasions to be away from Sunday services, at the time still morning and evening for most congregations, increased as opportunities to visit family or friends for an afternoon or to watch Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour (or other early evening television programs) presented unanticipated competition.
However, it was the early 1960s which witnessed a visible decoupling of culture from church. In Quebec, after a decade and a half of rule by Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale, a party closely aligned with the Roman Catholic Church, the rallying cry Maîtres chez nous (“Masters in our own house”) secured victory for the Liberal Party of Jean Lesage. La Revolution tranquille (“the Quiet Revolution”) brought both cultural and political change. At the same time, a general cultural revolution (it was more than a sexual revolution) was sweeping across English Canada and a generation was emboldened to step away from the strictures of religion.
Concerned about the nascent trend, in 1963 the Anglican Church of Canada retained a former Anglican, author Pierre Berton, to conduct an assessment and write a general critique. The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity And the Religious Establishment in the New Age was published in 1965. The little book was an instant bestseller. After publication, Berton was invited to share his thoughts with the United Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
Berton’s diagnosis portrayed the church as wealthy, insular, and filled with people primarily there for social and business reasons; he also portrayed the church as endorsing a private and unchallenged faith and failing to offer guidance on issues of morality or public engagement—from business ethics to the major decisions of political leadership. His solution? Realign the church to engage the culture as part of the culture. This would necessarily involve reevaluating or setting aside historic principles of Scripture, which Berton considered to be no longer relevant to Canadian society in the century’s closing decades.
The greater portion of the Protestant Church in Canada embraced Berton’s recommendations and began to drift with the tide of culture.
At the same time politically in the 1960s, Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s Liberal government came to power, implementing new immigration policies that redirected Canada’s immigration tendencies. This redirection impacted Canada’s historic churches in an adverse way.
Pearson also envisioned the future of his Liberal Party being secured through establishing a power base in Quebec’s constitutionally-guaranteed minimum of twenty-five percent of seats in the House of Commons. He actively recruited high profile candidates from the province. One of those candidates, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, would become Pearson’s Justice Minister, then succeed him in 1968 as Prime Minister. Trudeau introduced legislation that made it easier to obtain a divorce, as well as decriminalizing abortion and homosexuality.
The culture that had grown with the Church was, like the Israelites of old, finding fresh distractions and new temptations. The traditional churches were in the beginning stage of what would become a rapid decline by century’s end.
Re-emerging would be denominations and congregations that placed primacy on orthodoxy (sound doctrine) and orthopraxy (sound practice), holding fast to the Word of God. Evangelicals, whether denominationally or congregations within traditional Protestant denominations, were holding their statistical percentage of an increasing Canadian population. That meant growth. Also growing were Eastern Orthodox communities, benefiting from immigration changes, and networks of immigrant-led ethnic Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations. For the most part, this new wave of immigrants observed a more conservative expression of faith than their European-origin Canadian forebears.
Canadian culture and demographics looked different entering the 21st century than they did when Laurier made his proclamation at the beginning of the 20th. So did the Church.