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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

Are Christians in Exile? Not Yet

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

The end of the school year nears. The disastrous decision by the Prime Minister to attach the Canada Summer Jobs program to his personal values—over a coast-to-coast and left-to-right chorus of disagreement—remains in place. (Let’s not kid ourselves that this is a “Cabinet” or even “Liberal Party” decision. Of course many of his colleagues share Mr. Trudeau’s views, but many others don’t, and none of that matters. This is a crucial example of the power the Prime Minister of a majority government has at his disposal, and it is daunting.)

Maybe next year, Minister Hajdu suggests, things will be different. But this year puts prolife individuals and organizations, and many more who differ with the Prime Minister on other matters, on notice. Don’t expect this government to defend much in the way of “diversity” if that means “dissent” on anything Mr. Trudeau holds dear.

How, then, should Christians respond to this straw in the wind?

Some Christians have used this occasion to proclaim the end of Christendom in Canada at last. Christians and Christian organizations, they affirm, should never have accepted government money, and certainly shouldn’t have become dependent upon it. State support for summer jobs at Christian institutions and businesses are among the last remnants of the dark bargain the Church made with Constantine all those centuries ago. We’re well rid of the whole package.

This kind of thinking dovetails with “the Benedict Option,” the metaphor of the Canadian church as being “in exile” as Judah was in Babylon, and the long-standing tradition of Baptists and Anabaptists, among others, to keep church and state strictly separate. We Christians have to learn again to get along on our own, to support our own institutions out of our own pockets, and to rejoice that the state no longer can govern what we do since the state no longer funds it.

Other Christians, however, are not ready to adopt such a binary position just yet. They agree that Christendom is over, and do not mourn its passing. But they have been dismayed at what they see to be their relegation to second-class status as citizens and as taxpayers.

It’s one thing for Christianity no longer to be privileged in Canada. It’s quite another thing—an undemocratic, illiberal thing—for Christians and others who disagree on this or that matter with whoever happens to be Prime Minister to be shut out of generic initiatives aimed at the common good. Such an initiative, of course, is the Canada Summer Jobs program, and it is simply discriminatory for the government to withhold funds from dissenting organizations.

This flap, therefore, speaks to a question far deeper than the success of dozens of charitable organizations and thousands of students, important as those all are, of course. It speaks to a basic question of civics: If we’re all citizens, and all taxpayers, and all participating in causes for the common good, why would we not all be supported out of the common purse?

Canadian Christians, I submit, are not (yet) like Judah in exile. It’s too early to wave the white flag, pull up the drawbridge, and retreat into splendid, self-righteous isolation.

We have votes. We have dollars to spend on politics. We have freedom to run for office and to campaign for others who do. We have voices that can still be heard in public. And we have friends and neighbours who, if they do not share our entire outlook, share our commitment to liberty, justice, fairness, equity—and all the other values suffering under the current régime.

So we can, and should, keep pressing vigorously for our rights in this case, not in the name of clinging to undeserved Christian privilege, but in the name of the rights of all dissidents, all minorities, and all free citizens who serve the common good in ways that do not necessarily please the supreme powers in every respect.

Much more is at stake here than summer jobs, important as they are. The future of Canadian society is being shaped in such controversies, and we still have opportunity to participate in that shaping. Let’s use it, rather than surrender before we have to.

Let’s also be sure, however, that we are ready, truly, to go to bat also for the rights of our prochoice, Muslim, and LGBTQ+ neighbours should the political wind blow in a different direction.

(And we haven’t yet compiled an outstanding record on that score, have we?)


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