Human Flourishing and Religious Freedom

Andy Crouch makes a compelling case for the role of religious freedom to enable human flourishing.  Religious freedom, in fact, is essential for human flourishing.  This is especially so in regards to the authenticating mark by which human flourishing should be measured:  how society’s most vulnerable are treated.

And religious freedom is not, not, not reducible to freedom to worship privately or believe personally.

It is the freedom to engage publicly with the implications of those beliefs.

Christians should seek religious freedom for all our neighbours.  We do this for a very good reason.  We should seek such not because it’s easy – it is not – but because it is hard.

 

* from Q Ideas conference, April 2015.

Truth & Reconciliation – and Prayer

T&RC

What follows is roughly what I shared as some pastoral commentary this Sunday with my own congregation, The King’s Fellowship.

This has been an historic week for Canada wherein the findings and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been released.  They, of course, address the residential school system that has been, and remains, a blight on our national heritage.  Our own city, Winnipeg, is at the centre of these historic events.  It is critical that Christians are aware of this cultural moment and respond with prayer for victims and for our country.

The report findings and recommendations have been made public.  Justice Murray Sinclair, an altogether impressive man, has said: “we have led you to the mountain, we’ve shown you the path, now you must climb”*  The report is a challenge that Canada must respond to.  The specific recommendations can be discussed/debated and perhaps should be but that is to be done by those better qualified than myself.  What I can say is that while all Canadians should be made aware of the T&RC, those of us of Christian faith should embrace a special duty.  At this historical juncture – why shouldn’t we pray for the healing of our nation(s)?

The residential school system is the shame of our entire country.  We shouldn’t step back from acknowledging the Christian role in this system.  It was not just bad public policy.  Churches participated and that was bad evangelization, bad theology, bad methods, with a bad outcome.  We ought to pray for mercy.

And yet the Gospel message should both correct the bad that came before and be of present help now.  The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, has truth and reconciliation at heart of its message.  It has the truth of who God is and the truth of the human fallen condition.  It offers reconciliation between humanity and our Creator.  By implication it brings reconciliation between women and men to one another.

Now both sides of this issue in Canada need truth and reconciliation.  Even if no one is Christian on either side, God’s common grace can extend.  We can pray for truth to come forth and for reconciliation to happen between the First Nations and the rest of Canada.  We can pray that as the people who have experienced the ultimate truth and ultimate reconciliation.

Tree of life - City of GodWe can also bear in mind the end, the goal, of the Gospel. That is, the coming City of God.  We await a renewed society of perfect peace and justice, where perfect truth and complete reconciliation exist between us and our Creator, and between all the redeemed.  The Apostle John describes this City of God in the final scene of the entire Bible.  He tells what lies at the City’s centre – the Tree of Life.  And we’re told that …the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:2)  In light of that final hope, we can pray for the healing of the nation of Canada and for the 600+ First Nations in our country.  Sin remains and so complete healing of the world will not happen until then.  We can, however, pray for partial but profound healing in our lifetimes.  If we care to read the findings and recommendations of the T&RC, we’ll know we need that healing.

 

 

 

* this is a paraphrase from memory of what I heard Justice Sinclair say on CBC radio.  It may not be an exact quote.

Winnipeg The Racist? A Response

racism-2One of Canada’s foremost news and cultural magazines, Maclean’s, has published a story by former Winnipegger, Nancy MacDonald, in which it is claimed that Winnipeg is the most racist city in Canada.  How racism can be objectively measured I do not know.  Nevertheless, as MacDonald builds her case it is a painful read.  For someone who has lived their entire life in Winnipeg, with all the benefit of membership in a demographic least likely to experience racism, it brought home to me what many Winnipeggers live with every day.  Fear, violence, dehumanizing prejudice, and loss of hope.

One does not need to have Christian faith to be able to see clearly the problem or to grieve over it.  Many of our neighbours, regardless of their beliefs, are able to bring wise commentary.  We should listen and learn wherever wisdom can be found.  But what can the Christian worldview bring that is unique in terms of response?  Here are some humble suggestions:

We can appreciate and value the authorities over us.  We are to do this, and to pray for themno matter what our leaders are like but sometimes good leadership makes it a pleasure.  Our new mayor, Brian Bowman, should be commended for not dodging, blame-shifting, excuse-making, and buck-passing.  He addressed the city alongside many civic and aboriginal leaders and set the right tone.  Words will need now to be backed up by real leadership – but words are often the beginning of action.  Authority flows to those who take responsibility and it flees from those who make excuses and blame others.  Our leaders, at least for the present, are earning trust.  We should give it.  And let’s pray for them.

 Let us recognize basis for the dignity of all.  Many people in our world value equality and the rights that flow from a shared humanity.  Less appreciated is that classical Christianity has given the world the firmest basis for this.  Even wise atheists can recognize this.  Christianity teaches that all persons are created in the image of God.  This is not something merited by birthplace, sex/gender, culture, or status.  It is also something that, although tarnished, can not be lost.  It means that dignity, respect, and protection must be sought for all without exception.  Perhaps less popular is the clear teaching that we are all, though image-bearers, completely sinful.  There is no one more or less advantaged in this.  There is no one better than another – no not even one.  This is the great equalizer – both individually and culturally.  Just as our individual sins give us no reason to look down on another, our collective sinfulness ought to humble us too.  European cultural failures and virtues are no greater than those of African or Aboriginal cultures.  There is difference and there is overlap but we are no better than each other.  Universal sinfulness may not be fashionable on the marketplace of ideas, but it does help to give a firm foundation for the equality of all.  And it humbles us.

Realize why we were placed in Winnipeg – Service and Prayer.  Nothing in life is by accident if God is King of the world and the Author of all history.  This means that Christians who live in Winnipeg were placed in Winnipeg.  A purpose must be in the mind of God.  Why does he want us here?  There is no better parallel than when God’s People (Israel) are sent into exile in Babylon.  While seeking to live as a minority in a pagan city, tempted to withdraw into their own little religious bubble of concerns, the prophet Jeremiah sends a letter, giving instruction.  Its content is as relevant now as it was then.  They are not to retreat from being part of the larger community, the city, though they live with many different from them.  They are to participate in the wider community and to love it.  God’s People are to love the city they’ve been placed in.  Pivotal is the command:  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  “Seek the welfare” means to seek, desire, work for the prosperity, peace, well-being, safety of every one of their neighbours – no matter who they are.  And they must “pray”.  Not just prayer for their own concerns and interests which is such an easy trap to fall into.  They are to pray so that their city – far from perfect – can become a better place for all.  The Christian church today is not Israel, and Winnipeg isn’t Babylon, but the command still stands and applies for us.  We have been placed in this troubled city for a purpose – to serve and to pray.

Be A Good Neighbour

We must love our neighbours.  This is a foundational command of Jesus and an obligation of every one of his followers.  It has always been so but maybe today it is especially important.  Our world is broken and full of hostility.  We live in an age where people, via social media, are so quick to give offence.  Or to take offence, and then quickly tell the world, via the same social media, how offended they are.  So we must love our neighbours.  Really love them.  But what does that require?

I could expand on this myself but in situations like this I like to defer to one greater than I.  Here is John Calvin’s encouragement to love our neighbours:

John Calvin by Titian (whom my wife insists is pronounced 'Tish-ian' but I prefer 'Tij-ian') was born July 10th, 1509.

John Calvin by Titian (whom my wife insists is pronounced ‘Tish-ian’ but I prefer ‘Tij-ian’)

“God not only forbids us to be murderers, but also prescribes that everyone should study faithfully to defend the life of his neighbor, and practically to declare that it is dear to him. . . . There are, consequently, two parts in the Commandment, — first, that we should not vex, or oppress, or be at enmity with any; and secondly, that we should not only live at peace with men, without exciting quarrels, but also should aid, as far as we can, the miserable who are unjustly oppressed, and should endeavour to resist the wicked, lest they should injure men as they list.”  

John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 5: Harmony of the Law, Part III

 

Think carefully on what is explained here.  How are we to love our neighbours?

-We must not murder them.

-We must defend their lives and their right to live in safety.

-We must be heard to say (declare) that their lives are dear to us.  We have to be vocal in our culture about the value of each and every human life.

-We shouldn’t antagonize or hold grudges.

-We must not pick fights with them.

-We must assume the best of them.

-We must help them, as much as we can, to be free from what holds them back (oppresses them).

-We must protect them from those who would hurt them (the wicked).

Love Is Not A Feeling – and – Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas

Landing of Columbus, by John Vanderlyn. It was certainly a landing; it was hardly a 'discovery'.

Landing of Columbus, by John Vanderlyn.
It was certainly a landing; it was hardly a ‘discovery’.

Once in awhile, I see the culture around me getting something right.  Really right.  This is because there is some wisdom which is given to all people that can be discovered no matter what one believes.  It is a gift from God, but might not be acknowledged as such.
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The Huffington Post’s Seth Adam Smith has written about love, commitment, and moving beyond feelings.  It’s good.  Highly Recommended.  It’s the type of thing that people who live in a culture saturated with self-seeking can read and feel compelled by.

Real Love Is A Choice – Seth Adam Smith, The Huffington Post

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Now, not taking away anything from Mr Smith’s wisdom, I feel like I’ve heard this stuff before.  I don’t know what he believes but I like what I read.  If you like what you read and think it’s new than we need to be careful that we’re not like Columbus ‘discovering’ the Americas.  Many people have been living here for a long time.  There is an ideal of love that is not based on what we get but what we give.  And there is an ideal of marriage which is about giving oneself to another and not seeking our own fulfillment.

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It’s almost as though we could use an ancient moral tradition which has been teaching this all along…