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To check off the controversial Canada Summer Jobs attestation or not, that was the recent looming question. As a pro-life Christian leader of a charitable religious non-profit, I’ve hesitated to speak up about the Canada Summer Jobs impasse — not to be passive, but to sift through the religious political uproar for some objective understanding. Taking a good honest look at our two only options (to agree or disagree) I’ve come to realize there is a vast grey area that polarizing voices are perhaps evading to make their emphatic point. It leads me to ask… Can a pro-life organization attest to a seemingly pro-choice agenda?
Before reducing my quandary as a last-ditch effort to justify Canada Summer Jobs for a coin, hear me out. The unborn are important and there is a need to speak up for the voiceless. However, as an advocate for life (conception to natural death) I am bewildered by the uncontested sensationalized rhetoric that opposing “respecting reproductive rights” has passionately mass produced in Christian circles. It is no longer safe for Christians, like myself, to dialogue on these issues without the authenticity of our faith being put on trial. The black and white verdict came in with boisterous certainty: attesting to Canada Summer Jobs criteria compromises Christian values. I find myself musing in this decisive crowd, clearly outnumbered to voice uncomfortable conversations without high risks of being misunderstood. But here goes…
To be clear, I am not comfortable with the recent changes that the Federal government has imposed on its applicants. It is an awkward pro-choice move that makes me wonder why it even needed to be stated in this way to begin with. Perhaps it is like the town in Ontario which legislated against attaching sirens to bikes. My guess is a few obnoxious bike-riding enthusiasts caused a ruckus so its governing authorities put an end to the public disgrace. Could it be that respecting reproductive rights, however inappropriately lumped in with human rights, is a response to a few pro-life organizations who have been a disrespectful nuisance? If so, it’s sad that we all feel the scrutiny but perhaps we shouldn’t take it so personal. I am not leading an organization that blows its horn at those not sharing our convictions. Forever Families of Canada continues to have freedom in carrying out our Christian mandates and to value the unborn. Funding is available for pro-life organizations like us, with the understanding in the now infamous fine print that we be respectful. I respect that.
Respect is a big word, often abused to impose one agenda over another, but also a virtue frequently ignored in reactive zeal for an opposing belief system. Could there be room in the murky middle for respect to simply be extending grace and kindness even to those who don’t share similar values? Could respect be a form of “loving our enemy”? Perhaps we’ve prematurely felt threatened that respect implies giving up our values for a coin. Jesus, when passing the baton over to his disciples, assured his uneasy followers they would be empowered to navigate the religious and political minefields they were called to minister in. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Like those disciples, we need God to empower us to navigate our religious and political minefield; not as one without moral values or with pluralistic theology, but as Canadian Jesus-lovers who are called to be in Canada but not of it. These waters didn’t just become murky in 2018 with Canada Summer Jobs; our tax dollars have been funding the killing of more than 100,000 precious unborn babies annually for years; medically assisted dying is now a human right; and the disgraceful genocide and oppression of Indigenous peoples can be traced since Canada was founded. Paradoxically, while truth and reconciliation is finally surfacing as a priority in our nation, the sanctity of life is increasingly becoming passé – a reinvention of human oppression. I’m not comfortable with this but it is the reality in which many have been rudely awoken to, thanks to an unfiltered pro-choice agenda of our government. While the Church has become louder against pro-choice, Indigenous peoples have been troubled by it ever since Religious Europeans first settled. Life gets tricky when one assumes superior rights over another human being. Oh Canada, our home on Native land.
What disturbs me most over the opposition to the attestation is that the Church has become more anti-choice than pro-life, more anti-government than pro-Kingdom. Since time began, the lives of children have been at risk; governments have been at odds with God’s people; and the innocent do not always win. Ironically, God is the ultimate giver of choice to all of humanity. One could argue that God is both pro-life and pro-choice. Though He is Life, creates life and values life, He also entrusts fallible humanity to make life impacting choices rather than hardwire us against abortion or genocide or medically assisted death or hatred (which Jesus equates as murder in 1 John 3:15). We all muddy the waters and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) so it takes humility and grace to respectfully advocate godly moral standards in a nation that is not bound by them. We are urged to “not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind, that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). In other words, tensions like ours provides opportunity for discernment, navigating the messy to discover the will of God and his perfect love – which casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Romans 12:9-10 urges us to love others genuinely, unconditionally, and outdo others in showing honor. What would it look like for the Church to love in this way? In what ways can we show honor amidst the tension?
How quickly the Church builds a pro-life politicized fortress while fumbling to be truly pro-life theologically in praxis. Let me explain my dilemma: When was the last time the government received an outpouring from the Church to open their hearts and homes to the thousands of vulnerable children, raped women, struggling teen fathers, crack-addicted babies and afflicted families in need of restoration and belonging? While many in the Church devote themselves for these causes, they are often considered special callings of a few, not the DNA of who the Church as a whole was created to be. Child apprehension rates are at an all-time high, demanding that provinces become their ill-fit parents; birth parents become childless due to apprehension or abortion; and families across our nation are breaking apart. Yet an assumption prevails within the Christian sector that government should do a better job and that conceiving teens and adults should get their act together, in isolation. Tsk, tsk on those who end pregnancies and on a government who is their only go-to. Where is the pro-life Church who respectfully opens her arms to the one struggling to see life as a better choice? Where is the pro-life Church who advocates her theological position on the sanctity of life and family values while emptying out the foster care system by restoring children to families and creating belonging for all? How many abortions continue to be chosen under a cloud of shame from within the faith community and in our neighbourhoods due to the lack of unconditional grace and compassion extended in dire circumstances? I could go on, but you get my point. It takes a healthy community to raise a child, not a loud group of protesters.
Church, I love you, but we have a problem. Like it or not, there are a 150 years worth of skeletons in our Canadian Church closet that demand our repentance and reconciliation before stepping back onto our pro-life soapbox and taking the mic. In pursuit of integrity as pro-life people, let us not dismiss the lifeblood of Indigenous peoples still on our hands and the in-utero lives that possibly could have been spared had we embraced parents with grace and dignity. Let us speak with greater humility as ones who also grieve the wrongs committed. I expose not our past and our present to humiliate ourselves into silence. I only state these points to invite the pre-contemplative into the murky grey waters that most protesters would dare not wade through. If God’s people, who are called by His name will humble themselves, prayerfully seek His discernment and turn from sinful ways, then God will hear and forgive and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
At the end of the day, it would be logical to argue that two wrongs don’t make a right; that we should move forward with strict pro-life integrity and not simply consent to the federal pro-choice agenda that seems to crop up in less and less subtlety. I commend the many churches and organizations who did not attest based on their conscience of this being more black and white than I see it. At the end of my day, I cannot unsee the grey that I see and dismiss my unorthodox quandaries to simply appease the Christian majority. What’s important is that we seek God first and acknowledge Him in all our way, so He can make our paths straight. My prayer is that our responses would be respectful and spur us to doing good rather than leave us disgruntled or self-righteous.
Unlike many, Canadian Christians have freedom and liberty to live out what we believe. We can worship God, read Scripture and live out our faith freely. But we see increasingly that the days of enmeshed kumbaya with our Canadian government are long over, hopefully for the better. Far from qualifying as persecution, the Church has lived in privilege for many years and seems caught off guard by pushback. We need some good Canadian tension to rediscover our resilience and refine our faith. Rather than take to the picket line in protest, our energy and resources are devoted to connecting, equipping, and mobilizing Church communities across Canada to effectively journey with vulnerable children and their families. Respect is not a politically correct term we need fear, but a guiding principle in how we navigate the messy. Respect is how we approach social services, even when things are not always as we wish they would be. Respect is how we come to understand clashing worldviews and are given the privilege of relationship with those who do not share our same values. We show up in those uncomfortable conversations with government leaders, Indigenous chiefs and residential school survivors, non-profit organizations, church leaders and parents (birth, foster, adoptive) in pursuit of the well-being of vulnerable children and families. It is better to shed light into darkness than get offended that darkness around us exists. It’s amazing how life-giving opportunities open up when churches exude love and respect.
Where has all this lead me? I did check the attestation and submitted our application and the positions we applied for were granted. With trepidation I promptly posted the positions and am listening to the awkward silence and getting some raised eyebrows. It’s OK, I wasn’t expecting accolades, nor did I check the attestation to make a statement to the Church. It was not for financial desperation nor passivity to government. I did it because I believe respect does not infringe on our organization’s ability to shed light into darkness and be true to the mission God has invited us into. I believe in offering jobs to students who can carry out the positions that I’ve transparently given to the government to approve. With the help of students, I hope more children will thrive in loving homes, more parents will find encouragement and support from local churches, and more churches will respectfully live out their pro-life values.
So this summer, I look forward to two students planning events in our community, like the Belong Summit 2018 that will empower churches to wade through the murky child welfare waters for the wellbeing of society’s most vulnerable among us. I look forward to employing a student to harness the power of technology and the internet, to cast a more effective net for networking across Canada. I look forward to hiring a student for community development as we look to create Canada’s first Family Restoration Centre, which will connect, equip and mobilize families, professionals, and churches in caring for Canada’s most valuable (and most vulnerable) asset – families.
You may continue to oppose the choice made by our organization. It’s OK. I write this not to persuade the naysayers nor take sides with pro-choicers, but to hopefully create understanding on what it’s like to wade through the murky grey with a deep love and respect for my neighbour, preborn to dying elderly and everyone in between. With all due respect, applying to Canada Summer Jobs has been one of the most soul-searching pro-life choices I’ve had the privilege to make.