This probably is no shock to the Americans reading this, but Canadians don’t really get you.
We look across the border, and we marvel at the evil of your health care system (y’know, the one that has people seeing a doctor in emergency rooms within 15-20 minutes as opposed to eight hours or more.1 But, y’know, “free” health care, or something). We are confused by your political structure (because you actually vote for the head of your nation, which is just weird). And we are baffled at how you keep having these wild, open debates about controversial issues like same-sex marriage.
Most of us here in Canada don’t get what all the fuss is about. In fact, even as the US Supreme Court deliberates on whether or not to redefine marriage in America (with a decision expected to come near the end of June), and despite it being the major news story for months in some way, shape or form, it barely merits a mention here.
Heck, you can barely get a mention of the fact that Ontario’s former deputy education minister plead guilty to charges of child pornography possession (and claimed a number of other horrible things to his chatroom friends on the Interwebs)!
But I digress (ish).
We’re not the same
Here’s the thing: we’ve already been through what you’re going through in Canada. Except not. See, we’re not a society that really has a great deal of open discussion about issues. There’s often a great deal of fiery rhetoric thrown about within a session of parliament, but it’s rare when people get hot enough to actually demand open discussion in the public square (though it does happen on occasion).
But we’ve been where you are, America (or so we think). And as many supporters of same-sex marriage will tell you, our society hasn’t apparently fallen apart.
And yet, many of us are unaware of what we’ve lost.
In some cases this is because we’ve never really had it to begin with.
It’s helpful to remember that Canada’s political system—and, more importantly, our culture—is entirely different than yours. The differences between us are much greater than socialized healthcare, maple syrup and superfluous Us. And despite what some Americans say, we’re not Communists. But we are socialists (note the lower-case). We have a form of democracy, but we are also a “freedom from” culture. We gleefully bought into the secular experiment and its values of personal happiness and the accumulation of wealth. We have determined that big government is best, because when the government makes decisions for us, life is certainly a lot easier (even if it’s not better).
Which takes us back to same-sex marriage. When it was officially made law in 2005, there was some public debate, but very little. And all of it was inconsequential. The decision makers had already made up their minds on what they were going to do, and went ahead more or less unscathed.
This happened because they understood that the best way to make a radical change is not to jump in with both feet, but to make subtle shifts over a long period of time. You introduce them through backdoor channels and get people comfortable with them, so they don’t even notice (until someone actually mentions it) that they’ve redefined the nature of parenthood, for example. Canadian children no longer have “natural” parents, merely “legal” ones (something Dawn Stefanowicz helpfully points out here). And gender matters not.
Further, though our Charter of Rights2 continues to describe our fundamental freedoms as being
- freedom of conscience and religion;
- freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
- freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- freedom of association,
the free exercise of these freedoms puts you at risk of prosecution. You can still state your belief about what marriage is or is not, at least according to the letter of the law—the law itself explicitly states this in clause 3, regarding religious marriage—but the spirit of the law is to squelch dissent, a position reinforced by a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In other words, we are free to think what we want, and believe what we want… but it’s probably best to keep it to yourself.
How does it really affect the Canadian church at the moment?
And here’s what it’s meant for the church here, at least insofar as I’ve been able to see: evangelical pastors have been able to, at least to this point, conscientiously object to performing same-sex ceremonies. We have also, at least so far, been free to continue to teach what the Bible says about marriage and human sexuality, though technically I could be at risk for prosecution for simply having positively reviewed Kevin DeYoung’s latest book should someone feel that it represents hateful speech. There hasn’t been a great deal of witch hunting at this point.
To some degree, and in addition the aforementioned clause in the law, this is for at least two reasons:
First, many mainline denominations embraced homosexual unions long ago, so there was already a ready-made option for those seeking a religiously oriented ceremony, even if these denominations are all dying.
Second, and perhaps more significantly, evangelicals aren’t a much larger segment of the Canadian population than those identifying with the LGBTQ community. The best high-end estimates put us at around 10 percent of the population. Realistically, it’s probably about half that.
So we’re in an interesting spot. There’s not a ton of political pressure to make an example of us because there simply aren’t that many of us for it to really make a big difference. You can’t scare people into conforming when there are hardly any who need to be conformed. (Then there’s the whole passive aggressive thing that we don’t need to get into…)
In Canada, though, our charge is simple: we need to clearly communicate the truth of the Bible faithfully and winsomely, all the while prayerfully and willingly accepting the consequences of going against the prevailing cultural and political orthodoxy.
How the church in North America moves forward
There isn’t a desire to challenge the standing law in Canada, not from the majority of the population nor from our government officials. Thus, same-sex marriage will not go away in Canada any time in the foreseeable future. And should it come to pass in America, and it seems all but inevitable that it will, it will likely be there to stay as well.
While that seems rather defeatist, consider what awaits on the other side. As strange as it is to say, this has the opportunity to be a refining tool. The creature comforts we’ve become so accustomed to will inevitably be stripped away from us. We should be preparing our friends and congregations for this reality. Tax exempt statuses will inevitably be withdrawn. Some pastors will likely face heavy fines or even jail time in the years ahead. In other words, the church in North America will suddenly start to look a lot more like the church in other nations hostile to Christianity.
But this should not be a deterrent to us in speaking the truth. We would all do well to remember Peter and John’s response to the Sanhedrin’s demand that they stop speaking about Jesus: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). And just as their trials bolstered their courage in the gospel, we must pray that the same will be true of us.
The gospel spread like wildfire in a world that was openly hostile to it. Perhaps it can again.