Canada Summer Jobs: headed to a courtroom near you?

These have been an interesting seven days for those with interest in Canadian religious freedom. Two important decisions in regard to violations of religious freedom demonstrated that decision-makers are not necessarily listening. A third suggests, it is possible.

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Hope – adventus as Jürgen Moltmann referred to it, the need for something new to come from outside to change the situation, like the advent of Christ, the Hope of the World – was high that the Canadian government would hear the united voices of over eighty religious leaders and thousands of calls, emails and letters to Members of Parliament, Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about problems with changes to the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program that bar participation for many religious organizations.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister posted photos of himself observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. Surely he would hear the pleas of Canadian rabbis in regard to CSJ. Any concern for the marginalization and exclusion of an identifiable group of religious Canadians, including Jews, precipitated by the CSJ attestation requirement did not, apparently, change his mind.

Two days later, the Prime Minister attended the ceremony observing the first anniversary of the attack at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy where six Muslim men were killed and nineteen seriously injured while participating in worship. Surely the Prime Minister would listen to the pleas of Canadian imams in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? Not yet.

The next day, Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada will officially recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent. The day after that, he issued a statement celebrating Black History Month. The significant and continuing contribution of Christian black leaders, including congregations and ministries that have a history of accessing CSJ funding to benefit vulnerable communities must have come to mind. Perhaps, he would hear these leaders in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? He did not.

Having committed to be in the House of Commons for Question Period each Wednesday when Parliament is sitting, it was reasonably anticipated we would that day get answers from the Prime Minister to the questions with which Canadians have inundated Members of Parliament since the CSJ announcement in December. This week, however, the first week Parliament is sitting after the government’s announcement of the revised CSJ attestation clause, Prime Minister Trudeau opted instead to leave Ottawa following his morning caucus meeting, skip Question Period, and fly to Winnipeg for a town hall Q&A at the University of Manitoba.

The response of Minister Hajdu and Prime Minister Trudeau to the repeated efforts of Canadian religious leaders, from across the spectrum of faith communities, has been to repeat government talking points, like the tourist speaking slowly, louder and more assertively in a foreign land, as if religious leaders did not understand them the first time. Core mandate and student hiring conditions as defined in the new for 2018 requirements from the federal government for CSJ funding insist religious leaders and communities must compromise their beliefs, surrender the constitutional right to ‘freedom of conscience and religion,’ and relinquish the right granted under provincial human rights legislation to observe religious beliefs and practices in the hiring of co-religionists, even summer students, for their work.

Each summer, many CSJ summer students have worked with religious charities to serve, among others, the needs of those with disabilities, or identified as underprivileged, or the most in need and at risk in our society. Without question, they have also provided services that benefit co-religionists, equally Canadians.

The mandated checkmark may have seemed innocuous to government officials, but the response of religious leaders made it clear the attestation statement to which that checkmark is affixed was a demand to betray their beliefs. In addition to calls, letters and emails, the concern was expressed at town hall after town hall. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s response at those town hall gatherings suggest he is more concerned about talking than listening.

Thursday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage issued its report Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination including Islamophobia, in which it recommended consultation with religious organizations on government action that affects them. (There is some good stuff in the report, for a later blog. There are Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs who consider listening to religious perspectives by government to be both possible and beneficial.) On the matter of Canada Summer Jobs funding, such consultation might have prevented the current predicament. Actively listening to after-the-fact communications from religious leaders and Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast would also have led to a solution.

The last time I was as disenchanted by government refusal to hear legitimate concerns about taking action that will have damaging impact on employment opportunities and services for Canadians living on the vulnerable edge of our society was the previous government’s decision to cancel the national census. The Canadian census is internationally recognized as one of the most accurate. It is valuable to government at all levels (federal, provincial, municipal, school boards), charities and businesses for their program and financial planning. The people most impacted by the cancelled census were those who became the invisible disadvantaged, because they did not show up on the national household survey. The same holds true for those who will lose out on the benefits of summer jobs and the programs conducted by summer student employees across the country. Many are students on the edge of being able to pay for their education. Others are those living on the edge of poverty who will lose the option of supervised activity for their children during school vacation, and those caring for special needs children who will lose the one or two weeks of respite provided by summer camps or a few hours each day provided by local church-run day camps.

While the clock ticked down to the Friday midnight (Pacific Time) deadline for CSJ applications, Minister Hajdu offered her own form of compromise. To those asking for a change in the attestation clause and an extension for application, she conceded a one-week extension, but kept the clause. Is there still hope that the many voices, and more voices, might be heard over the next week and the necessary adjustment take place?

Hope had also been high that three judges of the Ontario Divisional Court would sort out the law, accurately apply the Charter, and protect physicians from being forced to choose between violating their consciences or leaving their current medical practices. Thursday, in its decision, The Divisional Court concluded the beliefs of physicians were indeed violated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy requiring all practicing physicians in the province to participate in ending-life medical procedures. But, the court also found it justifiable to require this standard as a condition of patient care in the province. (Yes, patient care was defined to include intentionally ending the patient’s life.) Ontario is the only province refusing to accommodate physician’s personal beliefs on this matter.

Unchallenged, the decisions of government and court will mean those in greatest need will be those who suffer most.

The shortage of summer opportunities for those in need – whether student employees or student clients – means the vulnerable, perhaps the most vulnerable, will pay the cost Canada’s government has so far declined to fund because of an ideological transformation of a previously non-discriminatory successful program.

The violation of physicians’ beliefs will result in a different kind of shortage. Doctors have said they will retire or move on from meaningful work that was, for them, always about healing, easing pain, and saving lives.

If either or both decisions are to be contested further in the courts – the guardians of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it were– there will be a different cost. The litigation process is expensive.

If you believe these freedoms are deserving of continuing protection, i.e. equal treatment of all applying for summer employment grants (of our money from our government) and recognition of the conscience rights of those who have taken an oath to do no harm, then you will want to follow the status of these situations. In addition to prayer and writing your MP about the CSJ, or your Member of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly about the policy of the government regulatory College of Physicians, you may also want to make an encouraging financial contribution to those fighting the fight for continued recognition of our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion.

However these situations turn out, hope – adventus – is not sacrificed at the feet of Prime Minister or Divisional Court. We do need to keep praying for our Prime Minister, government leaders and the judges of our courts; appealing to Him who is our Hope, with confidence He is, in truth, the Hope of the world.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what the lawyer in Ontario’s physician rights case, Albertos Polizogopoulos, had to say about the book:

As a lawyer whose practice is largely focussed on religious freedom litigation, I read about the issues and cases referred to in Under Siegeon a regular basis. Don Hutchinson has been able to present a legal and political history of religious freedom in Canada in a manner that is not only easy to follow and understand, but also personal and engaging. It is written for lawyer or layperson and is equally accessible.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.

For Christians Only: About the Canada Summer Jobs Program

I know. I know. Another piece about the Canada Summer Jobs program. But this one’s different. This one is just for Christ-followers.

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Are you praying?

Are you praying for our Prime Minister, his cabinet, our government?

Mainstream media – the major television, radio and newspaper outlets – across the country have expressed a common opinion. Even Canada’s leading pro-abortion activist has publicly expressed her opinion that the government needs to change the now infamous attestation clause. Is there more to what’s happening?

St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us in chapter 6, verse 12 that, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Call me crazy, but this is about more than the nation learning what the word attestation means.

Stick with me.

Last November, Christian leaders from coast-to-coast-to-coast called the nation to prayer in regard to the Trinity Western University law school cases (Ontario and British Columbia) that were presented before the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30 and December 1, 2017. And, people were asked to keep praying until a decision is released. Here’s a part of that prayer request as I noted last November,

… 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.

Have you ever prayed about one thing and realized your prayer was impacting something else?

As Christians in Canada have shared in the prayer highlighted above, we have engaged a request for broader dialogue than the accreditation of a law school.

Step back from the politics of the Canada Summer Jobs situation for a moment. Ask yourself why self-described atheist and feminist Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, has asked Prime Minister Trudeau to make the correction that would enable faith groups to apply for funding without being asked to compromise the holistic claims of their religious beliefs?

The Canada Summer Jobs fiasco has resulted in the media – politically left, right and centre – giving more national coverage to the true nature of Canada’s abortion situation than the best organized pro-life group could ever have imagined. CBC, CTV, Global, National Post, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and more have all run pieces written by people who cover the political spectrum in which they have shared that the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Morgentaler did not establish a right to abortion in Canada. Canadians have been informed that because Canada has no law providing protection to the child in the womb at any stage of gestation, our nation is the only outlier on this issue among the world’s democracies. The media has reminded Canadians abortion remains an active political issue.

In addition, the mainstream media has championed the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression (speech), found in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadians from across the country are phoning, emailing and writing letters to their Members of Parliament and Prime Minister Trudeau.

This is amazing! Keep praying!

As Paul wrote to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2,

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.

And keep contacting parliamentarians. The application process is open until February 2.

Here are some excerpts from the letter I sent to my MP and the PM:

First, please be assured that I am praying for you, your family and the Government of Canada. Leadership of our nation is an immense responsibility.

… For many religious individuals and organizations that hold a position on the issues in question, that position has been formed based on an understanding of their religion’s sacred text. Their faith is comprehensive and all-encompassing of both beliefs and practices. There is no hierarchy of beliefs to which their practices are tied. Their core mandate includes all of their religion – both beliefs and practices – and cannot be compartmentalized into separation of one belief from their worship or community service. They cannot with integrity check a box that says their beliefs concerning abortion are not part of their core mandate, even though they may never have engaged politically on the matter of abortion or have any plans to do so.

… Both sides in this conversation seem convinced what they’re saying is reasonable and clear. However, as noted above, neither is being heard as such. Repeating the same words, a little slower and a little louder, will not resolve the situation. Movement is required. Under Canada’s constitution, that movement appears to be required of government, not the potential applicants.

A failure to correct the situation will result in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of agencies that depend on CSJ funding not receiving funding they rely on to serve the most underprivileged in our society, as well as those in the middle class. Countless community service programs from coast-to-coast-to-coast may be cancelled as a result, with the least privileged in our society suffering the most. It will likely also result in freedom of information requests in regard to CSJ funding recipients, continuing media coverage, and litigation. Many organizations have expressed a willingness to fight for the equal treatment that journalists, religious leaders, and lawyers have now publicly assured is guaranteed them in our “free and democratic society” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Please do not take our nation down this divisive path.

Please make provision for religious organizations to have a means of application for CSJ funding without requiring them to compromise their beliefs.

There is a saying that often “when we mix politics with religion, we get politics.” Let’s keep our religion faithful. And remember – like St. Paul whose appeal to his Roman citizenship was for fair treatment, equal to any other citizen – the rights of our citizenship are to be exercised for God’s glory, not political gain.

John Stackhouse has written this concise reminder for us:

The most important message we have to tell, of course is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That gospel, however, is nested within the great Story of all that God has done and said, and all that God wants for us. So we have much to say, of different sorts in the public sphere today. (Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World, page 183)

I couldn’t have said it better.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what Preston Manning had to say about the book:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms professes to guarantee freedom of conscience and religion to all Canadians. But in practice, freedom of religion in Canada is “under siege.” I wholeheartedly commend to concerned Canadians Don Hutchinson’s analysis of the challenge and prescriptions for engagement.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.

Christmas Time is Here

My childhood memories of Christmas include well-decorated trees, wonderful gifts, turkey and trimmings with  immediate family at the dining room table (with good dishes and silverware), and large family gatherings on Boxing Day. And, my heart was captured by “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965.

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When I hear the music from Christmas Time is Here, with or without Vince Guaraldi’s lyrics, those fond memories from childhood arise.

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

My favourite people were other children. Early on, my cousins, whose company was scheduled for a full Boxing Day celebration, and gradually drifting closer to neighbours along Birkdale Road and friends from school. Maybe because my busy single Mum was working and had three children under her roof; my sisters being eight and ten years older had friends of their own and little time for baby brother. Or maybe it was just normal for a child to find his happiness in the company of other children.

My Mum worked for the Coca-Cola Company, creating another connection with the Charlie Brown Christmas special which Coca-Cola produced. There is much in life for which I am grateful to the Coca-Cola Company.

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Carols everywhere. I now know that Christmas carols are not the same as twentieth century songs of Santa Claus and snowflakes in the air, but are in fact those ancient rhymes of love. Away in a Manger. Angels We Have Heard on High. O Little Town of Bethlehem. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. Silent Night.

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

The Western imagination has been captivated by thoughts conjured up by dreaming of a White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire, Jingle Bells ringing while riding in a one-horse open sleigh or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer making sure Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Even in tiny apartments without chimneys, the mind drifts to yuletide by the fireside and joyful memories there.

Growing up, we sang both carols and songs in school choirs or impromptu gatherings throughout December. I knew more about the Santa tale than the Christmas story, but was struck each year when Linus answered Charlie Brown’s question, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Although that was the sum knowledge of what I knew about the Christmas story, at twenty-one I realized it is in fact the heart of what Christmas is all about. The trees and gifts have meaning. Turkey and trimmings with family and friends have meaning. The memories created are special. The truth shared by Linus, found in Luke chapter 2, verses 8 to 14, is what Christmas is all about.

There is no Christmas without Christ. No matter how much effort is put into creating sentimental images of which we may catch glimpses in moments of real-life celebration, there is something missing from Christmas if there is no Christ.

It may be old-fashioned to watch the news on television, but I do. In the days leading up to December 25 there seems consistently to be an increase in reporting of good news stories. They tend to echo the theme of Vince Guaraldi’s final verse:

Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year

The spirit of Christmas is not in chasing shadows from Christmas past or imagined. It’s not attained in the efforts of men, women and children filling bags in shopping malls or dropping change into plastic bubbles on stands by the door as they exit. The spirit of Christmas is not even sealed by the aroma of turkey roasting and cinnamon-apple pie baking while the table is being set.

The spirit of Christmas is more than that. It’s more than memories, or moments of invention captured in song. The spirit of Christmas is the Spirit of Christ, present because the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger grew to be a man who gave His life on a blood-stained cross, then three days later rose from the dead.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas captured the tension found in an idealized vision of celebration sought after by Canadian – perhaps more broadly, North American or even Western – culture. But, the spirit of Christmas is not a flawless image that evokes the challenge to capture it. Charlie Brown, it’s not about the perfect Christmas tree.

The spirit of Christmas is found in the message that offers hope to the world; hope that God who created, God who knows the state of our flawed and broken humanity, has made a way for us to know His presence, His encouragement, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Oh, that we could always see such spirit through the year.

Pastor Lim’s Ray of Light

Originally posted at Convivium.ca on August 14, 2017.

For several days now, against the backdrop of escalating rhetoric between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Premier Kim Jong-un, mainstream and social media have been teeming with stories about a particular ray of light shining in the publicly intensifying political darkness.

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Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was set free from a North Korean prison on Thursday. He had served less than two years of a life sentence for subversion of the government through religion, a crime to which Lim had proffered a state-televised public confession. Detained in February 2015, life sentence decreed that December, Lim was suddenly a free man.

Concern developed when the official reason for release was stated as “sick bail” on humanitarian grounds. This was amplified when Lim’s family issued an early statement asking for privacy until his medical condition could be assessed. The world was well aware that just weeks ago, American Otto Warmbier had returned home from a North Korean prison in a walking coma, death arriving a few days later.

Apprehension abated somewhat when video emerged of the sixty-two year old Lim walking about in conversation on an airport runway in Japan, after disembarking an RCAF passenger jet. He looked leaner and somewhat aged from his last recorded appearance, but in apparent good health.

The consistent thread running through the reporting of this story, whether relaying the narrative of Lim’s personal health or the tale of secretive diplomacy, is that Hyeon Soo Lim is the pastor of one of Canada’s largest churches.

Initial scant reports on Lim’s release were followed by longer stories, several claiming to describe the inner political workings of international prisoner releases by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the nation established on the northern part of the Korean peninsula as one of several political divisions by Allied forces following WWII. As the ally then with authority over the DPRK (North Korea), the Soviet Union’s communist government installed as leader Kim Il-sung, father of his successor Kim Jong-il and grandfather of current Supreme Leader , Kim Jong-un. Without a diplomatic mission in North Korea, the Canadian government worked with a contemporary ally, Sweden. Reportedly, through the negotiation by the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, secret meetings with North Korean representatives at the United Nations headquarters in New York and a Sunday afternoon foreign minister to foreign minister conversation in Manila, a deal was struck.

Tuesday, a Canadian diplomatic team hurried to Pyongyang, with an envoy said to be carrying a personal letter from Prime Minister Trudeau to Premier Kim. Thursday, Lim was on the plane with them headed home. Saturday, he again descended the small jet’s steps in his own strength at CFB Trenton before hugging his wife, then lifting his nearly one-year-old granddaughter in his arms. His desired next stop? Tim Horton’s on the drive home!

The consistent thread running through the reporting of this story, whether relaying the narrative of Lim’s personal health or the tale of secretive diplomacy, is that Hyeon Soo Lim is the pastor of one of Canada’s largest churches. Reverend Lim had travelled to North Korea more than one hundred times over the last two decades. Born in Seoul a decade after Korea was divided into South and North, Lim knew the risks. So, why endanger his life on more than one hundred occasions? Particularly after American missionary Kenneth Bae (also born in South Korea) was detained and sentenced in North Korea on similar grounds in April 2013?

Lim was on a personal humanitarian mission, motivated by his Christian faith and his Korean origins.

Lim appreciates the people, whether living in the North or South, are his Korean cousins, and that they are imago Dei , created in the image of God. He understands Christians are obliged by Scripture to engage in works demonstrative of our faith (James 2:14-22) and to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Called to lead in the Korean diaspora, Lim found himself also drawn to serve as an ambassador of good works. Beginning with relief efforts following the North Korean famine in 1996, Lim initiated activity that has met real needs of real people in the northern part of his divided homeland. He engaged in food sustainability initiatives, as well as establishing a nursery, orphanage and home for the elderly among other humanitarian endeavours for which he raised tens of millions of dollars.

Hyeon Soo Lim understands what Jesus Christ and His earliest followers relayed in words, both spoken and written, and displayed in their daily lives. A faith that is focused on loving God compels loving our neighbours, both near and far, as well. Christ, the Light of the World (John 8:12) challenges us to also let our light shine (Matthew 5:16), assessing and accepting attendant risk.

Following Lim’s detention and sentencing, Christians in Canada and around the world, mobilized in prayer, and in practical pressure on the Canadian government, as meaningful service to Pastor Lim and his family, in the effort to secure his release.

Whether Premier Kim responded to Divine or diplomatic intervention, or some combination, we may never know. Neither will we know whether Kim’s act was a humanitarian goodwill gesture or motivated by sufficient awareness of Christianity that he preferred a South Korean born Canadian pastor praying from Toronto to the potential of a martyr inspiring North Korean Christians to greater works, greater boldness and greater numerical growth. What we do know is, in the midst of a war of words between Premier Kim and President Trump that has cast a threatening political shadow over the globe, there shines a ray of light in the release of a compassionate man who for two decades brought his own ray of Light into the darkness of people in need.

Hyeon Soo Lim understands what Jesus Christ and His earliest followers relayed in words, both spoken and written, and displayed in their daily lives.

Sunday morning, Pastor Lim arrived at Light Presbyterian Church to a crush of media, along with parishioners and visitors. Later, he stood in the pulpit to share about his ordeal and how it propelled him to a more intimate relationship with Jesus. He closed the meeting with prayer in his native Korean. I’m told he prayed for his adopted country of Canada, for the people of North Korea, and for peace.

Welcome home, Reverend Lim. We join you in that prayer.

A jealous mistress, a jealous God and strange bedfellows

“The law is a jealous mistress.” If a student hasn’t heard that quote before arriving in the hallowed hallways of her law school, she is likely to hear it on her very first day. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story coined the term in the talk he gave when he became a professor at Harvard University in 1829. Law students have been hearing it ever since. Story was noting the law, as study and profession, is demanding of time, thoughts and energy. Some have said, the law is all consuming.

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If married, be assured your spouse will not be enamoured of the idea that you have a mistress, whether another woman, the law or any other obsession, particularly a mistress jealous of other interests or pursuits in your life.

Stipulating ten life-enriching commandments to the nation of Israel, God doubled down on recognition he is the only true God before bridging to the other eight directives. In doing so, he referred to himself as “a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4). Jesus was unwavering on this point, stating the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with the four alls of our existence – all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength (Luke 10:27). That’s the covenant.

It was in 1870 that Charles Dudley Warner turned the phrase, “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Warner was comparing an American political situation with his summer garden. The intermingling of untended berry plants led him to riff off of William Shakespeare, who wrote in The Tempest (Act 2, Scene 2) that “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” Whether facing life’s storms or seeking to escape them, people not expected to cooperate with one another may end up doing so for a variety of unintended reasons, particularly when it comes to politics.

The danger with a strange bedfellow is one’s unintended bedmate may well become one’s jealous mistress. An interest in politics can easily become overly partisan, inflaming a desire to make law with one another. In the grips of such passion, we are tempted to set aside an earlier covenant made with someone else. Politics, as hobby or profession, may entice any one of us away from Jesus, who loves us, gave himself for us, and requires from us all, all, all, all.

Manifest political partisanship seductively woos us to regard one political leader as saviour, and another as devil. Both are simply human. Neither is to be to us an idol.

It seems our forgetfulness of actual Saviour and Devil may rival the impetuous collective amnesia of the Israelites who demanded a golden calf be fashioned as their god, despite having been clearly told not to do so. And then doing it within clear sight of a cloud-cloaked mountain where Moses was meeting with the Lord their God, who had only recently delivered them by the hundreds of thousands from centuries of captivity in a foreign land.

I cannot imagine that all of the two million-plus people at the base of Mount Sinai cried out for the calf. More likely, a vocal few rallied part of the crowd – some with convictions on the issue, others less so but inclined to go with the flow of friends or family – and the ensuing mob action pressured Aaron. There were, no doubt, a large number who looked to Aaron, a recognized leader in their community, for guidance. Aaron instead acted on the opinion of the enraged crowd, however misshapen or misleading. Aaron, a spiritual leader of the people, allowed intimidation to steer him to do something other than trust God’s word.

Today’s rallying cries may come through social media memes, tweets, blogs and videos or public statements by people we are convinced can be trusted. Perhaps, they are on the saviour’s team. Maybe they’re on the Saviour’s team, too. We need to dispassionately assess whether their agitation is intended to arouse in us desires that would lure us to join in the pursuit of a contemporary golden calf. What’s their motivation? Who do they want us to align ourselves with? Where will following lead us? We are to embrace neither idols, other gods nor a different saviour. We have one God. And he has commissioned us to be his ambassadors, ambassadors of reconciliation, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

The authors of the New Testament inspire our participation in society as good citizens. In a democracy, rendering unto Caesar (Matthew 22:21a) means our participation can extend to any and all stages of political involvement, but as Christians our participation must be accompanied by rendering unto God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21b).

Before we take action that will lead others who trust our voice, whether through speech, tweet or post, it’s our responsibility to ascertain if the expression is suitable to be shared by an ambassador of reconciliation? Or does the message originate from the tantalizing quest of a jealous mistress or strange bedfellow to stimulate within us a craving for their recommended golden calf?

The Lord our God is a jealous God. He encourages our contribution to the good of the world around us, and endorses no competitors for his tender affections.