Public Faith: A Conversation With Don Hutchinson

By Stephen Bedard

Originally posted at stephenjbedard.com | November 22, 2014 | Leadership Blog

I got to know Don Hutchinson when we were both working for the same organization. I have come to appreciate his passion for standing up for the rights of Christians both in Canada and abroad. I strongly encourage you to visit his website for a thought-provoking blog and other helpful resources.

Could you share a little about your background and how you came to faith in Jesus? 

Don Hutchinson

My parents immigrated to Canada from Barbados. I am the first member of my family that was born in Canada. My parents separated when I was 4 and then divorced a year later. In the 1960s that meant there wasn’t really a place for a single mom and three kids in the church, so I was raised without any kind of regular religious experience.

As a teenager, I had a sense of calling to be in God’s ministry; but didn’t know what that meant. I explored the idea with the minister who had performed my oldest sister’s wedding. He suggested I leave it for consideration after high school and then subsequently suggested I wait until after completing an undergraduate degree. He never suggested I start going to church; and I assumed as a Canadian that I was a Christian.

A few years later, I started going to a Salvation Army church just before moving to Vancouver to go to law school. I didn’t know attendance was optional so in Vancouver I attended two services on Sunday and the mid-week Bible study. The last week of November 1981 I told my pastor I didn’t think I was a Christian, despite my earlier assumption that all Canadians were Christians, and asked for something I could read – in addition to my Bible that I had read cover to cover – that would help me sort out the issue. She loaned me The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I read it straight through on Saturday, December 5, 1981. Finishing around 10:30 at night, I purposed in my heart that the next day I would go forward to give my life to Christ as both my Saviour and my Lord. From my limited experience, I didn’t know I could make that decision outside of the act of going to the “mercy seat” at the front of the Salvation Army church. I now realize I made the decision that Saturday evening.

What led you to a career in law? 

Don Hutchinson

Don at the Supreme Court of Canada    

I had gone to law school on the recommendation of a mentor as preparation for embarking on a career in politics. Of course, the encounter I had with God interrupted that plan. Knowing I was called to ministry, I completed my first year of law school and left to train for the church ministry. At the time, I had no concept that life is ministry and was focused on pulpit ministry.

My wife and I were in our first church appointment, home missions service on an isolated First Nations’ reserve in Northern B.C., when I was identified by the top leader in The Salvation Army in Canada at the time as a candidate to establish its national legal department. Returning to law school, I completed my law degree before establishing and leading The Salvation Army’s Canadian legal department for eight years.

What has been your most satisfying experience as a Christian lawyer?

It has been most satisfying to be involved in equipping others. I have served on various boards for community and Christian agencies and been blessed to play lead or supporting roles in legal and public policy endeavours that I believe are a benefit to Canada; from standing up for religious freedom domestically and internationally to influencing public policy in a caring and compassionate way to advocating for motorcycle safety and fundraising for the local hospital. Throughout those experiences, it has been my privilege to do so with others in a way designed to make myself expendable, so to speak.

What are some of the critical challenges for the Church when it comes to public policy?

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the Church today is complacency. History has demonstrated that the counter cultural captures the imagination of the complacent culture. The Church was once the counter culture and has become the complacent culture; losing the interest of many in our society while holding the interest of others who often find themselves “too busy” to get involved in life outside of family and church. The result is that much public policy is being determined by people with counter-biblical values who are engaged in a process of undoing Canada’s traditional biblically-based legal and public policy foundation.

For example, school boards and provincial ministries of education determine more than how to teach reading, writing and arithmetic. They decide what foundational beliefs and values will be taught the vast majority of the next generation. How many committed Christian leaders are engaging with parent councils, sitting on school boards or engaged in provincial politics to ensure that there are sound principles underlying the values being taught? How many Christians review the policies of candidates or political parties for principled alignment before casting their vote? How many vote?

The traditional media and social media play a significant role in influencing culture. How many Christians who are actively engaged with their faith are also actively engaged with these media in a significant way?

We can’t continue to pretend that our role is simply to attend to our homes, take the kids to school and sports and worship in a faith community for an hour or two a week and all will be well. We need to get out of our stained glass closets and engage with our neighbours. Failure to do so will see us imprisoned in private worship with the principles of our faith unwelcome in the public sphere.

What is the best way for a Christian layperson to make a difference in the public sphere?

The best way for a Christian layperson to make a difference in the public sphere is to get involved.

There are so many different ways to get involved. Are you sharing your faith and concern for God’s world around you with your children? Are you involved with your children’s school? If you’re a business leader, are you a community leader, i.e. involved with a community association, service club, sitting on the board of your local hospital or another charity? How about getting involved politically by supporting good people running for office or running for office yourself? Please remember to pray, prayer is action, but don’t allow prayer to become a substitute to separate yourself from other action. And vote. In a country where voter turnout ranges between 40% and 60% every vote cast has double the impact.

Jesus called us to love God and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. If you love your neighbour, what are you doing to demonstrate it? I’m all for evangelism and prayerfully informed, principled activism. It begins in the home and the church, but it has to be extended into the community of our neighbours. That’s the Great Commandment.

Thank you Don.