By Jojo Ruba
I still remember their chants as they protested, "It's time for you to go!"
In 2009, I was invited to speak at McGill University in Montreal. The room was booked by the pro-life student club and the booking was approved by the university. Around 50 people were in the room, attracted by the controversy around my talk. I barely got two sentences out when about 20 students and supporters began to disrupt the presentation. They sang songs, yelled slogans and kept me from finishing my presentation. In their minds, my pro-life view that abortion takes a child's life and that abortion is akin to other past genocides, was so offensive that I had to be stopped from speaking. You can still watch the video of the event here.
If you've been following what's been happening on university campuses across North America, you'll know that it's gotten even worse. It's no longer just pro-life presentations that are being censored. Legitimate discussions on rape culture, politics, and even Halloween costumes are being shouted down and censored because these debates may "harm" students. Many campuses have created "safe spaces" that purport to provide a space where no potentially offensive ideas are ever spoken or heard. Many include children's toys like Lego or Play-Doh to help students alleviate stress. All of them define a "safe space" as a place where no "harm," either physical or emotional, is allowed. Harm is so broadly defined that it can mean simply disagreeing with someone's beliefs. Today, this definition of safety is permeating into other parts of society.
At a gay conference I recently attended, several prominent businesses spoke about how they screen out applicants to their companies who may not agree with their views on homosexuality. Though it is illegal to do this, panelists talked about other ways they screen out people in their application process. This was to ensure they create a "safe" and "affirming" space where dissent isn't welcome. I hear stories like this all the time now.
Worse, this kind of thinking isn't confined to the secular community any longer. Even in Christian schools and churches that we speak at, "safety" has become a paramount value. Of course, wanting children to be physically safe, or preventing damaging and manipulative teaching from being promoted, is a good idea. But this version of safety means discouraging any speech offensive to students or members of the congregation. And "offensive" simply means ideas that may threaten the feelings of safety of some Christians.
I thought about this trend as I heard the first Christmas songs of the season playing at the mall last week. As I listened, I realized that all of those lyrics celebrating Jesus' birth often mask an important truth, namely, that the first Christmas wasn't safe.
Jesus wasn't sent as an armed warrior with a host of angels surrounding Him. Instead, He first grew as an insignificant human embryo, inside the womb of an unmarried young woman. She was likely still in her teens and could easily have been abandoned or worse by the man she was engaged to. Jesus could have been born an orphan. Even His birthplace wasn't a safe place. He was born into a race that was long ago conquered by its enemies and was now under their rule. Death was a common form of punishment in their society, a fate many other children in His town soon faced simply for being born in the wrong place. One has to wonder if Mary, as she cradled her Son, ever thought how she and Joseph could protect the child. Clearly the manger wasn't a safe space.
Rather than looking for a place to hide from any potential hurt, Jesus' birth reminds us that God's main concern wasn't our safety. The Christian message was never a call to remove any offending ideas or hurtful actions. Rather, His life, death, and resurrection show us that the gospel is not safe, but it is good. And He wants us to love people enough to say and do things that are risky and often painful, because that's what He did for us at Christmas.
 "A place where everyone can feel comfortable about expressing their identity without fear of discrimination or attack." MacMillan Dictonary, http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/safe-space, accessed December 1, 2016.