It’s not too late to Pray: Trinity Western at the Supreme Court of Canada

Sunday afternoon, I had the privilege of joining a group at the Laurentian Leadership Centre as part of a nationwide concert of prayer for religious freedom in Canada – focused on the Supreme Court of Canada hearing scheduled for this Thursday and Friday. It’s not too late to pray, and to add this to your prayer list for this week and for the coming months.

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In 2013 Trinity Western University, a private Christian university, satisfied all academic requirements of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the body approved by all law societies to assess accreditation standards for new law schools. That approval was followed by accreditation from the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education. In 2014, three law societies balked at their agreement with the Federation, but not for academic reasons. The law societies of British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia objected to TWU’s Christian nature, particularly it’s Community Covenant which stands in place of the codes of conduct found on other university campuses. TWU’s staff and student covenant expresses a Christian standard of behaviour that is best summarized by Galatians 5:22-23, and includes a prohibition on sex outside of marriage between a woman and a man.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

As it turns out, even when “against such things there is no law” it doesn’t necessarily mean that a bunch of lawyers will accept your standards as legitimate. The law society in Nova Scotia was unsuccessful in that province’s courts and decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. In B.C., the law society was also unsuccessful, but appealed to the nation’s highest court. In Ontario, the law society was successful and TWU has appealed to the Supreme Court. Both the Ontario and B.C. cases will be heard together at the end of this week on November 30 and December 1. Both cases will be webcast live by the Supreme Court of Canada.

So how can you pray?

First, thank God that you are joining a symphony of prayer from coast to coast to coast. Sunday’s concert may have ended but the symphony goes on.

Second, thank God that we live in the nation of Canada, where our fundamental freedoms of freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief and opinion, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association – all freedoms that benefit religious freedom for all Canadians – are recognized in our constitution and have been upheld by government and the courts.

Then, please pray for the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada who will hear this case. In order of seniority: Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, Justice Rosalie Abella, Justice Michael Moldaver, Justice Andromache Karakatsanis, Justice Richard Wagner, Justice Clément Gascon, Justice Suzanne Côté, Justice Russell Brown, Justice Malcolm Rowe. They will hear the case this week, but will deliberate on it for several months before issuing a decision. The Chief Justice retires December 16 of this year, requiring any decisions she participates in to be issued within six months of that date. Please consider joining in regular prayer until the decision is issued. We pray for the Justices in accordance with 1 Timothy 2:1-3, as people in authority in our nation. May they have ears to hear. May they be wise and impartial in their judgments.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour… (2 Timothy 2:1-3)

Pray for the safety of all those traveling to and from Ottawa for this hearing, for their health, and particularly for the lawyers to have wisdom in their presentations before the court.

Pray for TWU’s legal team: Kevin Sawatsky is Dean of the TWU School of Business, and a lawyer; in Ontario, TWU is represented by Robert Staley and Ranjan Agarwal; and, in B.C. by Kevin Boonstra and Jonathan Maryniuk. Brayden Volkenant is a student who would like to pursue a law degree at TWU and also a party to the B.C. case. He is represented by Kevin Boonstra, Jonathan Maryniuk, Andrew Delmonico and Anne Cochrane.

Pray for the lawyers of the interveners supporting TWU in their arguments before the court: Barry Bussey and Philip Milley for the Canadian Counsel of Christian Charities; André Schutten for the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada; Bill Sammon for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; Derek Ross and Deina Warren for the Christian Legal Fellowship; Gerald Chipeur, Jonathan Martin and Grace MacKintosh for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada; Albertos Polizogopoulos, Geoffrey Cowper, Kristen Debs and Geoffrey Trotter for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Christian Higher Education Canada; Gwendoline Allison for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, the Catholic Civil Rights League and the Faith and Freedom Alliance; Avnish Nanda and Balpreet Singh Boparai for the World Sikh Organization; Eugene Meehan for the International Coalition of Professors of Law; and, Eugene Meehan and Daniel Santoro for the National Coalition of Catholic School Trustees Associations.

In addition, representatives from TWU have asked for prayer that there will be a healing of the hurts revealed through this process. The request is particularly that the dialogue between all people who live together in the shared free and democratic society of Canada might continue with respect and acceptance, even when there is not agreement. May our sins also be forgiven – perhaps, considering some sins to be worse than others, speaking words of condemnation rather than invitation, or simply as broken people allowing our brokenness and rough edges to cause hurt to others.

 If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Will you pray?

Speaking remarks: Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage – M-103 – religious discrimination

Written submission to the committee linked here:

M-103 CHPC study on Religious Discrimination (E)

M-103 CHPC study on Religious Discrimination (Fr)


Thank you Madam Chair for the opportunity to participate today. My comments will follow my written submission.

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Anti-religious discrimination in Canada has not been confined to any one religious community. And, such incidents cannot be considered to be of greater or lesser significance based simply on which religious community is targeted.

While unfortunate that M-103 highlighted one religious community, the motion did spark national debate and provided a mandate for this committee that goes beyond the concerns of or for any one religious community.

I will set aside comment on the use of the uncertain term Islamophobia; except to suggest that the concern of this committee ought to be in regard to mistreatment of people from any and all religious communities. Islam is not a race. Muslims, and people in any other religious community, are from a variety of races. My comments will address the committee’s study in regard to mistreatment of people based on their religion and reducing systemic discrimination based on religion.

Canada is a nation with a history steeped in religious tension, religious accommodation and the development of robust political, legal and constitutional principles in regard to freedom of religion, including prohibitions on discrimination based on religion. A brief history of that religious tension and accommodation is set out in paragraphs 8 to 16 of my written submission, particularly noting the Constitution Act, 1867 did not assign responsibility for religion to either the federal or provincial governments. Although, both jurisdictions impact on religion.

The federal government assumed a role in regard to religion through its criminal law and taxation powers. The provinces, through constitutional jurisdiction over civil rights, enacted human rights legislation that includes recognition of religious rights to belief, association, assembly, teaching, practice and worship.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was included in the Constitution Act, 1982. The Charter applies between all levels of government – federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, school boards, other government agencies – and Canadians.

The first freedom in the Charter is “freedom of conscience and religion.”

In decisions on Charter cases, the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed several pre-Charter legal concepts in regard to freedom of religion and religious accommodation which are briefly described in paragraphs 17 to 20 of my written submission.

In the Charter, freedom of religion is intimately connected with the freedoms that follow it in section 2. “Religion” is also a stated ground on which discrimination is prohibited under section 15 equality rights. Section 27 requires the Charter to “be interpreted in a manner consistent with… the multicultural heritage of Canadians,” which necessarily means a multi-religious heritage as well.

The Supreme Court has asserted a robust definition of “freedom of religion” that aligns with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, stating:

A truly free society is one which can accommodate a wide variety of beliefs, diversity of tastes and pursuits, customs and codes of conduct. … The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is 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.

The Court continues:

… Freedom in a broad sense embraces both the absence of coercion and constraint, and the right to manifest beliefs and practices. Freedom means that, subject to such limitations as are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, no one is to be forced to act in a way contrary to his beliefs or his conscience.

The right applies to individuals, groups and institutions, because religion is practiced both individually and in community.

Canada does not have a doctrine of separation of church and state, a constitutional concept in the USA. The Supreme Court has ruled the Canadian state is to be “neutral” in regard to religion, not permitted to act as arbiter of religious beliefs or to favour one religion over another. Nor is government permitted to require “no religion” in its relationship with Canadians. All Canadians are constitutionally welcome to participate in Canadian life from the perspective or worldview that informs the way they choose to live, without fear of mistreatment or punishment for doing so.

Statistics Canada confirms that our nation’s largest identifiable religious community comprises simply the largest minority religious community in the country. Catholics, including Roman Catholics, comprise under 40% of Canadians. We are a nation of minorities.

2015 data on hate crimes notes 35% of reported incidents were motivated by anti-religious bias. 37% of anti-religious incidents were directed against the Jewish community, which comprises 1.1% of the Canadian population. 34% were directed against the Muslim community, which comprises 3.2% of the Canadian population.

This brief historic tour and commentary is offered in a context expressed by a Mi’kmaq friend. Look back to learn how the issue has been considered in the past. Assess the status today. And then look forward seven generations to consider the future impact of actions taken today. Looking forward seven generations would take us from #Canada150 to #Canada300. If that seems a stretch, at least look to #Canada200, which will take place within the lifetimes of many in this room, rather than be overly concerned about scheduled federal elections in 2019 or 2023.

The following recommendations are made in the spirit of the Constitution Act, 1867’s provision that the federal government “make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada,” the Constitution Act, 1982’s description of Canada as a “free and democratic society,” and a whole-of-government approach.

Parliamentarians are encouraged to engage openly with people of various religious beliefs, including connecting with faith-based organizations in the community and those participating in the process of policy development.

Continue to Protect

Remove from Bill C-51 its section 14, the proposal to eliminate section 176 from the Criminal Code. Section 176 protects the ability of religious officiants and congregations to celebrate religious services, without threat, interference or disruption. If the Criminal Code did not already contain such a provision, adding it would be the kind of recommendation anticipated from this committee.

Retain section 30 of Bill C-51, the proposal to remove section 296, the Criminal Code’s blasphemy section. Blasphemy laws in other nations have led to persecution of religious and non-religious minorities, counter to the values of a free and democratic society. In Canada, all beliefs and practices, religious and non-religious, must be open to critical evaluation and peaceful dialogue, debate and dissension.

Retain Criminal Code provisions dealing with hate propaganda and with mischief relating to religious property.

Progress from Protection to Promotion

Seek opportunities to educate Canadians about our constitutional and legislated positions on religious freedom. It is important to move from protection of rights to promotion of understanding rights.

Ensure religious representatives are participants in appropriate government activities, including public events and situations such as donation matching for emergency disaster relief.

Continue working with religious organizations, whose work provides public benefit.

Maintain and develop appropriate historic markers that recognize the contribution of religious individuals and communities to the development of the nation.

Continue to collect and share data in regard to religious observance by Canadians.

The Government of Canada is encouraged to hold a First Ministers’ Conference with an agenda committed to promotion of religious freedom.

The Government of Canada is encouraged to establish guidelines that facilitate faith-based activities across the public service with consistent application within all government departments.

Encourage Canadians to continue support of religious and religiously-based organizations that provide public benefit, including by means of the personal tax credits.

Continue to provide a well-funded chaplaincy for inmates in Canadian prisons and members of Canada’s military.

Continue military briefing on religion relevant to theatres of engagement.

Re-establish the Office of Religious Freedom or a similar dedicated office. Matters of political theology and religious literacy are essential to global engagement.

Re-establish Global Affairs consultations where representatives from religious and other communities of concern may comment on developing global situations.

Canadians are affected by religious freedom challenges, and systemic religious discrimination, that happen in Canada and globally, requiring a whole-of-government approach.

Law Society of Upper Canada, Statement of Principles on Respect for Religious Beliefs

From “The Law Society of Upper Canada, Respect for Religious and Spiritual Beliefs: A Statement of Principles of the Law Society of Upper Canada,” March 10, 2005, at pages 23 and 24, paragraphs 49-52:

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The incidents of religiously motivated discrimination and hatred outlined in this report and the Canadian and international condemnation of discrimination and hatred based on religion reinforce the importance for the Law Society to adopt a Statement of Principles that recognizes religious diversity.

Therefore, the Law Society adopts the following Statement of Principles.

The Law Society of Upper Canada, recognizing that:

a. Respect for religious diversity advances the cause of justice;

b. The rule of law is enhanced when religiously motivated discrimination or hatred is not tolerated;

c. There continues to be a disturbing number of incidents of religious discrimination and religiously motivated hate crimes in Ontario and in Canada, as well as in the world;

d. The laws of Ontario and Canada guarantee freedom of conscience and religion, and prohibit discrimination and the wilful promotion of hatred on the basis of religion or creed;

e. The international community has condemned religious discrimination as harmful and unacceptable, and has recommended that measures be undertaken to combat religious hatred and discrimination; and

f. Although particular groups may be frequent targets of religious discrimination, religious hatred and discrimination is a problem of Canadian society as a whole;

The Law Society of Upper Canada condemns in the strongest terms all manifestations and forms of hatred and discrimination based upon religious and spiritual beliefs. Although current circumstances centre predominantly on issues of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the Law Society condemns all forms of religious intolerance directed at any group or community.

The Law Society of Upper Canada undertakes to promote and support religious understanding and respect both inside and outside the legal profession.

Lawyers Won’t Bow To Law Society

Originally posted at Convivium.ca on October 2, 2017.

Thirty-six years ago, negotiations between Canada’s federal and provincial governments about the patriation of Canada’s constitution followed on the heels of a close referendum over the potential separation of Quebec. It was Ontario’s Bill Davis who led a group of premiers insisting the preamble to the nation’s proposed constitutional guarantee of human rights acknowledge “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

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Don at the Supreme Court of Canada

The sitting Prime Minister’s opinion was expressed to his caucus as, “I don’t think God gives a damn whether he’s in the Constitution.” Pierre Trudeau may have had a point, but Davis’ position carried the day in the Constitution Act, 1982 .

In addition to affirming an expansive understanding of religious freedom for individuals andreligious organizations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in more than a dozen decisions, the Supreme Court of Canada has commented specifically on the language in the preamble, stating:

… the preamble to the Charter itself establishes that “… Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”. According to the reasoning espoused by Saunders J., if one’s moral view manifests from a religiously grounded faith, it is not to be heard in the public square, but if it does not, then it is publicly acceptable. The problem with this approach is that everyone has “belief” or “faith” in something, be it atheistic, agnostic or religious.

To construe the “secular” as the realm of the “unbelief” is therefore erroneous. Given this, why, then, should the religiously informed conscience be placed at a public disadvantage or disqualification? To do so would be to distort liberal principles in an illiberal fashion and would provide only a feeble notion of pluralism.

The key is that people will disagree about important issues, and such disagreement, where it does not imperil community living, must be capable of being accommodated at the core of a modern pluralism. [Justice Gonthier, endorsed by Chief Justice McLachlin, in the 2002 decision in Chamberlain v. Surrey School Board .]

As the fall session of the Supreme Court begins its sittings, the Government of Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario) have filed written arguments to challenge the establishment of a law school by a Christian university. They will appear later this year to state their position verbally. Trinity Western University’s proposed school of law complies in all respects with academic requirements agreed upon by members of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, including Ontario’s.

Still, both the government and law society argue (to use the Supreme Court’s language above) there is a need for them to put the private university “at a public disadvantage or disqualification” because the law society and government disagree with the university’s “religiously informed conscience” on the matter of a faith-based community covenant for staff and students. Both particularly object that the covenant prohibits sex between students or staff outside of marriage between one woman and one man.

It’s worth noting that in 2001 the Supreme Court supported Trinity Western’s community standards in a similar scenario when the challenge was brought by the British Columbia College of Teachers. The Court concluded the university met academic requirements and could offer an education degree, acknowledging not everyone would want to attend the private Christian university. Graduates who decided to teach in in B.C. would be subject to the B.C. College of Teachers’ rules of conduct. The Court noted, “if TWU’s Community Standards could be sufficient in themselves to justify denying accreditation, it is difficult to see how the same logic would not result in the denial of accreditation to members of a particular church.  The diversity of Canadian society is partly reflected in the multiple religious organizations that mark the societal landscape and this diversity of views should be respected.”

In its 2004 decision in Reference re Same Sex Marriage , the Court expressed its position that there would be genuine differences of opinion about marriage. Protecting the right of religious individuals and communities to hold a definition of marriage at variance with that of the State, the Court observed, “The right to freedom of religion enshrined in s. 2 (a ) of the Charter encompasses the right to believe and entertain the religious beliefs of one’s choice, the right to declare one’s religious beliefs openly and the right to manifest religious belief by worship, teaching, dissemination and religious practice.”

In its submission to the Supreme Court in the law school case, the Law Society of Upper Canada bases its objection to Trinity Western operating a law school and the licensing of its graduates to practice law because the Law Society considers the Christian university to be “a private institution” with a “discriminatory admissions policy.” Effectively, the Law Society of Upper Canada contends the graduates of a law school that fulfils the academic requirements established to competently practice law in Canada may do so anywhere but Ontario, because the operating ethos of the school is Christian in belief and practice. The Government of Ontario has intervened in support of the Law Society’s position: no school, no graduates.

Consistent with this distortion of “liberal principles in an illiberal fashion” (to go back to Justice Gonthier’s words above about placing the religiously informed at disadvantage), in recent weeks the Law Society has initiated an extension of its submission on Trinity Western for application to currently licensed lawyers in Ontario. The Law Society has issued a directive requiring all its members “to create and abide by an individual Statement of Principles that acknowledges your obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in your behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public” before January 1, 2018.

The new decree is framed within efforts to address racism within the legal profession, but the language chosen leaves little doubt that the promotion of “equality, diversity and inclusion generally” goes beyond the question of race.

As a Christian, I believe and practice the Biblical recognition that all persons are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) with inherent dignity and value, and are worthy of respect.

As a licensee of the Law Society of Upper Canada, I am obligated to abide by the laws in the Province of Ontario generally, particularly the Ontario Human Rights Code . Under the Law Society’s Rules of Professional Conduct I have “a duty to carry on the practice of law and discharge all responsibilities to clients, tribunals, the public and other members of the profession honourably and with integrity” as well as to “be courteous, civil, and act in good faith with all persons with whom the lawyer has dealings in the course of their practice.”

I expect to find myself among a group of lawyers from a variety of faith communities who consider our religious beliefs, commitment to the laws of nation and province, and obligations under existing rules of professional conduct – which is a mandatory community covenant for all who desire to practice law – as sufficient to address the Law Society’s concerns. There really is nothing more to add for purposes of an individual Statement of Principles.

However, submitting a statement that says my faith beliefs and existing obligations are more-than-enough may fall short of the Law Society’s expectation for members to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally.” Perhaps, only because we may have different understandings of what the words “promote,” “equality,” “diversity,” and “inclusion” mean. If adjudged that this more-than-enough is too little, I will likely find myself in the companionship of a substantial number of lawyers who, like potential graduates of Trinity Western University’s proposed school of law, have satisfied all academic requirements to engage in the practice of law, comply with Ontario’s laws and our obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct, but will not bow religiously informed consciences to the god of 21 century political correctness.

Thirty-five years after Canada’s new constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms expressed its guarantee for the fundamental freedom of freedom of religion, it appears officials at the Law Society of Upper Canada and political leaders in the Government of Ontario might now well be the ones who don’t give a damn, this time concerning what the rule of law has to say about those who recognize the supremacy of God.

The 20th Century Belongs to Canada

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.”

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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 Canadian Church in The 19th Century

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 Canadian Church in The Early 20 Century

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.

The Canadian Church in The Mid 20th Century

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.