Under Siege: how and why I authored this book

This is a shorter version of the blog Under Siege: What it’s About originally published March 22, 2017 at Word Alive Press.           UNDER SIEGE: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867-2017) is my first book.

Writing and publishing Under Siege was intimate and personal, and also not possible without intentional interaction with others in the Body of Christ.

under siege HR

In April 2016 I was invited to speak at a pastors and spouses conference taking place in October 2016. The request was for two keynote talks on religious freedom, a subject that has been woven into my adult life through education and experience. One talk would be about religious freedom in Canada and other about the global persecuted church.

Somewhat uncharacteristically, I started work on the project early. Long before the deadline was even on the horizon, I was praying, outlining, researching and capturing thoughts—I sleep with a notepad on the nightstand. Waking early one morning with the idea of turning the Canada talk into a book, I scribbled out three section heading ideas and many of the chapter titles before going back to sleep. Beginning that morning in May, work on the talk was combined with work on the book.

At the same time, I was finishing teaching a course on living a public faith; part of the apologetics training year at Ottawa School of the Bible—OSB is a practical understanding and application Bible school that is an initiative of the Lifecentre, and is accessed by students and pastors from across the city. I was teaching those in or interested in Christian leadership, and in October I would be speaking to pastors and their spouses. As a result, I found myself writing for Christian leaders, pastors and their spouses.

There are well written books on religious freedom in Canada for lawyers and academics. Distinct from those who engage the courts and in universities, missing was something designed to equip the troops who are engaged in the daily frontline spiritual warfare of 21st century Canada. Christian leaders minister in a human rights minefield, both real and imagined. They are the people who will primarily benefit from an accurate understanding of the Canadian situation. Under Siege is written for them, for us.

It wasn’t until late August or early September that I convinced myself I was actually writing a book for publication and willing to accept the responsibility to finish the task. I’ve written blogs, opinion pieces for newspapers, and had a regular column in Faith Today. But I hadn’t written a book until Under Siege. As a result, I started seeking advice from people who had written, edited, published and marketed books.

When I was about seventy percent of the way through the writing process (and thinking I was ninety percent done) I invited input into the process from members of my target audience, pastors and Christian leaders, and some constitutional law lawyers. The lawyers were qualified to review my comments in the specialized constitutional law area of religious freedom. The pastors and Christian leaders gave me feedback on how to better communicate various concepts I was writing about.

Finally, when the draft was complete, I invited a couple of dozen people to read and comment on the full unedited text, including most of those who had input at the earlier stage. They had a four week deadline, which coincided with the deadline for approving the final edit of the text. I am exceedingly grateful for all who accepted, including those who ran out of time.

As each one was also invited to consider writing an endorsement, I ended up with seventeen endorsements from a good cross-section of Christian expressions and experience. I was excited— I cried when I read them all together at the deadline.

For editing, it was a privilege to work with an experienced, young Christian author/editor who was interested in the topic of my book. He held me to task on improving my footnoting, strengthened grammar and made good suggestions for adjustments in the text. Cover design and layout were done with similar thoughtfulness and professionalism.

Throughout the process I asked for advice from both the Word Alive Press team and a small group of personal-friend advisors—people praying for me while I was writing—who shared their thoughts on what they read, and were also invited to comment on cover design and layout.

In the end, Under Siege is available in offset and print-on-demand paperback, and a variety of electronic formats.

I applied for and received a license to use the Canada 150 logo based on the theme of the book, which only allows printing with the logo until the end of 2017. Extra fees would be required to remove the logo from print-on-demand and electronic formats effective January 1, 2018, so the offset press paperbacks printed by Word Alive Press are a kind of special edition Canada 150 cover. Get ‘em while they’re here!


Responding to persecution

originally published March 1, 2017 at Spur Ottawa

Ansero unites believers to stand up for religious freedom

Elizabeth Mabie
Spur Ottawa Correspondent

Christians around the world face dire persecution. Even in the West, long a haven of religious freedom, anti-Christian sentiment is on the rise. One Ottawa-based ministry, Ansero, hopes to forge partnerships to shore up this essential freedom in Canada and around the globe.

Ansero’s facilitator, Don Hutchinson, relates Ansero’s objectives with the Old Testament story of Nehemiah. When Jerusalem’s walls and gates were destroyed, Nehemiah was moved and rallied the people of the city to repair them. With this notion, Nehemiah ultimately united Jerusalem’s citizens as they worked together.

Don Hutchinson speaks from Parliament Hill.

Don Hutchinson speaks at a rally on Parliament Hill

“As we face the challenge of religious freedom in Canada and around the world, the idea of these partnerships is to bring people together, for the people to find the solutions to rebuild or strengthen the walls or gates,” says Hutchinson. “It is amazing what we can accomplish when we work together.”

Hutchinson is a pastor, a member of the Law Society of Canada, and the former vice president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He is currently the only team member of Ansero, but has partnered with One Way Ministries until the project is independently established.

Hutchinson explains that one of Ansero’s aims is to help strengthen relationships among Canadians working to safeguard religious freedom in Canada. Ansero also works with members of Religious Liberty Partnership, a network of Christian ministries working for the benefit of the global persecuted church.

“The idea of these partnerships is for the partners to identify what each partnership’s purpose is and how they can make use of that partnership to benefit the shared ideology in the pursuit of religious freedom,” explains Hutchinson.

Hutchinson sees forming these partnerships as a necessity to fill the gap left when the Canadian government closed the Office of Religious Freedom. He says the Office’s closing created the need for the Church to rebuild relationships with parliamentarians and Global Affairs Canada on behalf of persecuted Christians.

His goal is for Ansero to introduce new relationships and partnerships that will cooperate together and complement each other’s work.

“I hope we will create an environment where we can cooperatively enhance our religious freedoms in Canada, or at least secure them,” explains Hutchinson.

Hutchinson notes that secularism is increasing rapidly in Canada. He says Christians need to respond by strengthening their relationships with God on a personal level, then sharing their experiences and their strong faith with the rest of society. He emphasizes that the role of believers is to share God’s love, in good times and when it’s hard.

“What we are facing now is kind of a challenge more than the final stages of persecution. Christians in other countries are facing imprisonment and even death for their beliefs. That’s not happening to us yet,” explains Hutchinson.

The additional issue is the persecution of Christians in other countries who are facing severe punishments for their faith. It is important to address the issue of religious persecution in Canada, but the situation is more severe outside. While the typical repercussions for persecution in Canada are ridicule, harassment, and discrimination, Christians elsewhere face imprisonment, physical torture, and martyrdom.

“The role of Christians in the current Canadian context, I see as the role that Paul described: that we’re ambassadors of reconciliation,” says Hutchinson. “We are to become ambassadors seeking to reconcile individuals and our culture with God. Being ambassadors determines our approach, our demeanor, and our style of engagement. It also means that we are standing for and standing up for Christ in this society and in this culture.”


Medical Assistance in Dying: Venturing into the Shallow End

This blog was originally published on May 2, 2016 at Do Justice, a conversations space for justice in the Christian Reformed Church.

When I was a tyke, my older sisters had one key responsibility on summer vacation. Make sure the boy did not drown in the hotel pool.

On one occasion, a sister followed me over the edge and into the shallow end, despite being dressed for dinner. On another, a lifeguard (who wasn’t fond of me) pushed me into the deep end. I found out I could tread water. He lost his job. We expect lifeguards to pull us out, not push us in.


In February of last year, the Supreme Court of Canada undid the legal prohibition on assisted suicide with a somewhat muddled, but unanimous, decision in Carter v. Canada that contradicted its comprehensively reasoned 1993 split decision in Rodriguez v. British Columbia. The Court set a drop dead date of 12 months later for new legislation. The justices had to know their timeline was unrealistic. Parliament was headed for summer break in June and an election in October. It was surely not a surprise that an application for extension was made by the new government. The surprise was that the extension granted was a mere 4 months, with a host of exceptions provided to the existing prohibition.

One year after Carter, a joint parliamentary committee issued a report that was equivalent to recommending lifeguards be authorized to push non-swimming six year olds into the deep end of the pool. The Government of Canada responded with Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying), something more akin to following someone into the shallow end. It’s dangerous. It’s just as wet. But at least we can stand. The lifeguard, however, is authorized to hold a consenting adult under the water until death.

The conditions drafted for medical assistance in dying (MAD) require the patient be over the age of 18 years, capable of making a decision in regard to their health, and have a grievous and irremediable medical condition with a prognosis of natural death being reasonably foreseeable. Most often, the patient must make the request, in writing, on their own initiative. The medical or nurse practitioner receiving the written request must get an independent, written, second opinion confirming the conditions for MAD have been met and ensure a (waivable) 15 day waiting period has expired without the patient changing their mind.

Complaints concerning C-14 have and will come from both sides of this shallow end position.

Like the majority of the joint parliamentary committee, there are those who desire MAD be accessible for psychological suffering, patients lacking capacity who have advance directives, children with poor medical prognoses and more – the deep end.

There are also those who hold fast to the principle of the “sanctity of life” – staying out of the pool altogether – that was recognized in the 1993 Rodriguez decision, which had considered similar circumstances and the same provisions of both the Criminal Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms at issue in Carter. This principle was the ground on which one person was not permitted to kill another, and no person could consent to being killed.

This side has already challenged Parliament to uphold the existing law, regardless of the Court’s decision. This could be done using the Constitution Act, 1982 ’s recognition in section 33 that Canada remains a democracy in which Parliament holds constitutional supremacy above decisions of the Supreme Court. Section 33 is known as the notwithstanding clause. Essentially, Parliament would note that the Court had no business authorizing the pushing of people into the pool, shallow or deep end.

In deciding to depart from the “sanctity of life” principle, the Supreme Court of Canada has set up a situation where the state – not just government, but all Canadians as a society – necessarily becomes complicit in endorsing the killing of one human being by another. In legislating agreement, Parliament will express concurrence. Failure to act will leave the confusing Carter decision guidelines as the nation’s position – a checkerboard of provincial/territorial legislation and scattered court decisions on individual cases. If nothing else has been learned from nearly three decades without federal restrictions on abortion, it’s that even minimal legal constraints offer protection for a range of liveable lives.

Absent from C-14 is vital recognition of other Charter rights. Every Canadian, including medical practitioners, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists, is guaranteed freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. There are members of these professions who will legitimately refuse, for reasons of conscience or religion, to participate in MAD. These lifeguards only want to pull us out when we’re in distress. Recognition of these rights would involve adding a provision acknowledging them, as has been done in other legislation.

Bill C-14 provisions for ending life should not become an alternative to providing caring care for those who value living until natural death. Proper palliative care and the hope offered by life affirming physicians, family, friends and institutional settings must not be ignored in this debate. Whether or not government chooses to offer swimming lessons and life preserver vests should not prevent the Church – and others – from doing so.

Although our government proposes taking the nation legislatively into the shallow end of medical assistance in dying, these waters are uncharted in Canada. Even in the shallow end, the consequences of a misstep may be irremediable. Similar waters have proven demonstrably unsafe, hitting the steep slope and sliding rapidly from the shallow end to the deep, in the few jurisdictions that have sought to navigate them.


Stop signs, speed limits and civil disobedience

“Civil disobedience” is generally considered to be the publicly expressed refusal to obey certain laws, regulations or commands of government in order to draw attention to, and seek change to, government policy that is considered morally offensive. It is not usually a rejection of the political system as a whole.


So, what does civil disobedience look like?

People who roll through stop signs instead of stopping, looking carefully and then proceeding, rile me. For me, this is a moral issue of road safety.

Drivers who travel at or below the speed limit on a highway, especially in the passing lane, also irritate me. I routinely travel up to 20 km/h over the speed limit on roads signed at 100 km/h.

For Gloria, my wife, both situations present occasions to remind me that the people in other cars cannot hear me admonishing them.

This traffic hypocrisy on my part may be troubling to some, and laughable to others. However, this inconsistency illustrates the error made when the moral decision about civil disobedience is made based on personal preferences rather than principles.

The biblical principle of submission to government authorities is repeatedly stated in the New Testament. (Matthew 22:20-22; Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14) It is reflected in Western democracy’s expectation that citizens will generally adhere to the laws of the land – from traffic laws to the prohibition on taking the life of another person. This social contract is vital to our life together.

But what if laws are inherently evil or harmful to our common good? And, how does one assess whether laws are good or evil?

For Christians in Canada, our first public effort in dealing with a harmful law is to seek to amend or replace it using democratic means. Similarly, we approach unjust laws in other nations first through diplomatic means.

Civil disobedience may be justified when all other peaceful options have been tried, and failed.

Two prominent examples of 20th century Christian pastors stand out. One, the participation of German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was hanged in the Flossenbürg concentration camp as a result. The other, Martin Luther King Jr. who led marches and other acts of civil disobedience in pursuit of change to American laws that discriminated against black Americans. King even received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, before leading the massive marches that resulted in passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1968, which became law a week after his assassination.

What resulted in these two men, both trained in systematic theology and holding earned doctorates in theology, making the decision to break the law in the ways they did?

Jesus’ statement that we are to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s” was later supplemented by a statement He made to Pontius Pilate, the representative of the government of the day. Jesus said Pilate had no authority except that given him “from above.” (John 19:10-11) The concept of the state and the Church having separate spheres of authority granted them by God has long been held. Ultimately, each must answer to God for the exercise of their authority. Both are intended to serve people, but in different, although sometimes overlapping, ways.

There is a widespread belief in the Church that, despite the principle of submission to authorities, there is a biblical basis for using civil disobedience, particularly to oppose policies that dehumanize, oppress or brutalize people. The theological support for civil disobedience in such situations is considered in light of several Bible passages. Here are some:

• the Hebrew midwives saving the lives of Hebrew boys ordered to be put to death at birth by Pharaoh (Exodus 1:15-22), murder of children being commanded of them;
• Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to obey Nebuchadnezzar’s law requiring all citizens to worship a golden statue (Daniel 3), worshipping this false god being the law for all, including these high profile devout Jews;
• the wise men disobeying Herod’s directive to return and tell him where Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1-12), having had it revealed to them that Herod intended to kill the child;
• the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), in which Jesus endorsed breaking of religious law to help someone in dire need.

John H. Redekop identifies seven considerations for a Christian community before engaging in civil disobedience. I pose them here as questions:

1. Has the religious community concerned made a careful and balanced assessment of the situation, including the risks of potential harm that might result from the civil disobedience?
2. Is what’s at stake of great moral seriousness?
3. Has a specific goal been clearly identified that is indisputably of benefit to the common good?
4. Have all other reasonable steps been exhausted?
5. Will the behaviour planned to challenge the policy in question still demonstrate a general respect for government and the principles of lawful behaviour?
6. Will only suitable means, that make sense to non-sympathetic observers, be used?
7. Are participants prepared to accept the consequences for breaking the law that may be imposed as a result of their civil disobedience?

These questions address well the situation in which King became leader in a movement, promoted from member of the committee that made the decision. Redekop does not explore the matter of an individual decision making process or the complexities of violent civil disobedience. But, his process does parallel that followed by Bonhoeffer.

After Hitler used his position as Chancellor to secure control of the Lutheran Church’s elected leaders, Bonhoeffer co-founded the Confessing Church, which declared its obedience to Christ before Führer. He travelled to the USA and England to demonstrate that not all Germans supported the Third Reich and to appeal for help for the German resistance. And, Bonhoeffer was involved in establishing underground seminaries for the Confessing Church, to train Christian leaders who would put Christ ahead of the state (Lutheran) Church.

Bonhoeffer was a pacifist, until he evidenced the escalating atrocities being perpetrated by the Third Reich. He was particularly impacted by the treatment of Jews. John G. Stackhouse Jr., succinctly states the turmoil surrounding the significant personal decision made by Bonhoeffer that would ultimately cost him his life. Bonhoeffer joined the small group inside the Reich’s department of military intelligence that ended up plotting Hitler’s assassination because of the evil they had witnessed; and, the apparent reality that stopping one man would end the reign of terror.

He did so, to be sure, only with the strongly conflicted sense that this was the thing God wanted him to do and yet he was doing something evil for which he needed – and hoped for – forgiveness.

Bonhoeffer did not play a direct role in the ensuing failed assassination attempts, but he knew of them. When arrested, he refused to reveal his co-conspirators and declined the opportunity to escape; choosing instead to put his life fully in God’s hands.

Two well-known 1st century Christian leaders engaged in what may have been the first incident of Christian principled civil disobedience. When ordered to stop teaching about Jesus, Peter and John stated, ““We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:17-42) This was not a general statement authorizing Christians to engage in civil disobedience when preaching is restricted by government, but resolution of a genuine dilemma between obedience to God for the good of others and obedience to authorities. These men were numbered among the disciples when Jesus told them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:8) They had been in prison for doing so and were prepared to go back in order to obey Christ’s command to them.

In addition to the general principle of submitting to government authority, Christians are urged to pray for those in authority and lead quiet lives. (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Prayer is an appeal to the authority that Jesus said is above that of government; and, the first action for Christians considering challenge to an immoral government policy. Civil disobedience is the last.

Laying down our lives before the courts

Many consider an appearance before the Supreme Court of Canada to be the pinnacle of practicing law. I’ll admit, I was a little giddy about it the first time. Cool and composed, I sat, listened, made notes and took it all in… for the simple reason that someone else on the team had the responsibility of speaking.

Don Hutchinson

But, the first time I was the one doing the talking before the Court may well have found me at my most nervous, although hopefully somewhat controlled in my appearance and expression. Truth be revealed, I had to watch the video later to really take in and enjoy the experience.

In the moment, it was difficult to remember that such appearances are simply rendering unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. The only reason I was there in the first place was because of rendering unto God what belongs to God. It wasn’t about the pinnacle of a legal career, as I am not a litigator. The cases in dispute had arrived before the court in a way that presented circumstances to serve the Church because of a mix of employment, education, interest, commitment and opportunity. These are the very things in each of our lives that present openings for any one of us to serve where we are.

Sometimes, as in the ancient Roman Empire, Caesar – who in contemporary democracy is embodied in government and the courts – asserts that he is the supreme authority; not only in the rule of his law, but in the judgement of his courts and the limits on what his subjects may do with their lives.

Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada stated the opinion that it is the responsibility of courts to find somewhere “in the comprehensive claims of the rule of law, a space in which individual and community adherence to religious authority can flourish.” The Chief Justice’s conclusion that “the law has been charged with the responsibility for creating this space” was expressed in her 2004 essay “Freedom of Religion and the Rule of Law: A Canadian Perspective,” found in the book Recognizing Religion in a Secular Society.

The assertion that supreme authority resides with the state is not unique to one judge, one court or even one government; and, stands in contrast to the Christian understanding that God makes an all-encompassing claim to our lives, because Jesus is both Saviour and Lord, while creating space for individual and community adherence to law.

So, when it comes to rendering unto Caesar, what then is the relationship between Christianity and the courts? And, what about our constitutional rights?

On multiple occasions, both publicly and privately with his disciples, Jesus said he would lay down his life for the benefit of those who chose to follow him. In one brief discourse he mentioned it three times (John 10:1-18). People didn’t seem to understand what he was saying. Even with the benefit of two millenia of hindsight there are many who read or hear his words and don’t get it.

At the Passover dinner that we now refer to as “The Last Supper,” Jesus again noted to his disciples that his death was imminent. Later that night, he was arrested and taken for trial because of his claim to be Messiah, in Greek “Christ,” the Son of God. Jesus submitted to the High Priest and the authority of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious council and tribunal in Jerusalem). But, the region of Judaea and Samaria was under the control of Rome and the Jewish tribunal had limited powers, which did not include the death penalty, so they took him to the court of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. You can read this part of the true story in chapters 18 and 19 of John’s gospel (also in Matthew 26 and 27, Mark 14 and 15, and Luke 22 and 23), including this fascinating part of the exchange between Pilate and Jesus as recorded in John 19:

10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

Jesus acknowledged and submitted to the authority of Caesar’s courts in Caesar’s realm. He also proclaimed the higher authority of his Father. More on those two realms in a future post.

The last time the apostle Paul was in Jerusalem, he was speaking to a crowd about Jesus when the crowd took offence at Paul’s words. It seemed they were on the verge of rioting. A Roman tribune (a senior police officer in the Roman military) took Paul into custody and was going to flog him for inciting this incident. Paul appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen by birth. There was no flogging. But, there would be court.

Paul, like Jesus, first appeared before the Sanhedrin; because, he was a Jew making statements about a matter of religion. He then appeared before Roman tribunals – the courts of Felix, who by that time had become governor of Judaea and Samaria, Festus, who succeeded Felix (Felix had kept Paul in custody for over two years before Festus arrived), and Agrippa, appointed by Caesar as King of Syria (Acts 21:27 to 26:32). In his appearance before Festus, Paul appealed to be heard by Caesar. This was his right as a Roman citizen (Acts 25:10-12). His journey to Rome is a great story that finishes out the Book of Acts.

In the 21st century, courts come in many forms, just as they did in the Roman Empire. We have human rights tribunals, employment tribunals and arbitration boards, among others, as well as superior and appeal courts and the Supreme Court of the nation. But, in one respect, today’s courts remain little different from those of the ancient world. They are charged with adjudicating the right application of laws established by government.

Whether or not we agree with decisions of the courts is not determinative of whether we abide by those decisions. And, there is no fault in appealing decisions with which we disagree. However, those appeals are to be within the confines of the rule of law – e.g. courts and legislatures. You may be wondering when civil disobedience is an appropriate response to a decision of the courts or government. Civil disobedience, and the forms it might take for a follower of Jesus, will be addressed in a future blog. For now, it’s important to recognize that as Jesus and Paul acknowledged the authority of Caesar, so should we.

When we stand on our rights as a citizen, those rights are interpreted by the courts. Similar rights may be interpreted differently by courts in different jurisdictions or by tribunals with differing degrees of responsibility and authority.

We may be unhappy about decisions of the courts, including how they interpret our rights as citizens, but the example set for us by the One we follow – and recorded as the understanding of his early followers – is submission to their authority. Laying down our lives before the courts.