A Canada Worth Celebrating
I recently asked a Christian friend what he was doing for Canada’s 150th anniversary. “I don’t know if I can celebrate Canada Day this year,” he responded. “There is so much going wrong.”
I had to nod in agreement. We talked about how Christianity (and Christians), seems constantly under attack in Canada. In Alberta, a Christian school has been told by its school board that it cannot teach the Bible when it is deemed “offensive.” In Ontario, Christian parents who refused their six-year-old’s request to change their gender, could have their children taken away. A medical doctor told me that Christian medical students are routinely discouraged by their professors from pursuing fields such as gynecology or end-of-life care, because they don’t want them objecting to abortion or euthanasia.
Frankly, I’ve not wanted to celebrate Canada in a while. When I was working for the pro-life group CCBR, we stood on the streets of Ottawa to educate people on abortion during a federal leaders’ debate. Each political party was represented there, and spent time chanting against each other. When the Liberal Party supporters saw our pro-life signs, they chanted against the Conservative Party members, “Your friends are over there,” pointing at us. In other words, Christians who care about pre-born children are so toxic to our political class that even associating with us, is seen as an insult.
It’s hard to celebrate a country that doesn’t welcome your contributions, or kills its children.
Perplexingly, some Christians welcome this kind of persecution. I met the president of a Bible college to introduce our ministry to him. He seemed cold when we started and was genuinely surprised that our ministry would talk about things like pornography and transgenderism. I explained to him that apologetics is about bringing practical worldview training to Christians. We want to help equip them to talk about these tough issues because Christians are being ostracized over them. But he was not upset by our loss of influence. He argued the church grows when it is persecuted and he welcomed it.
As I left his college, I was discouraged. Here was a man of influence over the church, who didn’t seem to care that our ability to do good is being limited. He didn’t seem to understand that our loss of influence, also meant that we weren’t able to bring ideas to the culture that benefited everyone. In the past these ideas included free public healthcare for the sick (for good or bad), fighting against slavery and racism, and even education for all.
As I thought about the history of the church, I was further convinced that Bible college president was wrong. There are plenty of historical cases when persecution silenced Christians. Persecution in places like the Middle East or under Communism, are able to wipe out Christianity for an entire generation. There are a few faithful Christians in North Korea for example, and their government policies have potentially led millions to Hell. What the college president didn’t realize, was that the church throughout history didn’t grow because of the persecution itself. The church grows because of what it does despite persecution. Persecution, gives Christians the impetus to tirelessly proclaim the truthfulness of our faith, regardless of how badly they are mistreated.
We can see this attitude in the way the early church grew, even as thousands were killed and tortured for their faith, many rose to the occasion and stood firm. We can see it today in the work of Middle East Christians, who feed the hungry Muslim community that kills them. We see North Korean Christians who are grateful to God even in poverty, while praying for believers in the West not to be distracted by their wealth.
This kind of faithfulness is also true about many of the heroes who built Canada. Over the last 150 years, countless Christians have prayed, fought, sacrificed, and stood on guard for Canada. Here are just a few examples:
John Sunday, or Shah-wun-dais, meaning "sultry heat," was a Mississauga (Ojibwa) chief and Methodist missionary (1795 to Dec. 14, 1875). This hardened warrior, a veteran of the War of 1812, only knew 3 words of English before his conversion to Christianity: "pint," "quart," and "whisky." After he joined the Methodists in 1826 he immediately stopped drinking and won back his self-respect, and the respect of his tribe. An eloquent speaker in Ojibwa, he was a travelling missionary in the Lake Superior region, and later in 1836 was ordained a regular minister. Elected chief of his band, the Ojibwa of the Belleville and Kingston area, he presented their land claims to the government of Upper Canada. After his return from a missionary tour of Britain in 1837 he served for 20 years at missions in Canada. Among his Methodist brethren Shah-wun-dais was in constant demand as a speaker at church gatherings.
George Brown, the former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and founder of the Globe newspaper (which later became the Globe and Mail), was a devout Christian who helped start the Presbyterian church of Canada in 1875. Lord Monck, governor-general in the Confederation years, termed Brown “the man whose conduct in 1864 had rendered the project of union [of the British North American colonies], feasible.”
Egerton Ryerson shifted from Methodist minister to civil servant and established a system of public education in Ontario that became a model for other English-speaking provinces. He is still known as the father of public education in Ontario. Ryerson University is named after him. By the age of forty-one, he had served as a revivalist preacher, acted as the chief debater for the Methodists, learned five languages, been the editor of a prominent newspaper, received an honorary doctorate, and been appointed the superintendent of education for Upper Canada. Ryerson believed that his primary task was ‘to make men Christians—Christians in heart and life, in temper, word and work.’
Monica Melanie Storrs was a British-born Canadian pioneer and Anglican missionary. Monica, at two years of age, developed a medical condition which left her unable to walk for ten years. Not physically capable of attending school during this time, her parents educated her themselves. She was later educated in London. After her parents died, Storrs arrived in Fort St John, BC as the Great Depression began. She was the first missionary to teach Sunday school and take regular Christian services. Although intending to work for one year, she stayed as missionary for more than 21 years in Peace River County, British Columbia. She was nicknamed 'God's Galloping Girl' for her marathon rides in all weathers and over rough terrain, to visit remote farm families and promote their welfare. Storrs and the other workers were all women, and sometimes are regarded as feminist pioneers. She continued her work until 1967, when she suffered a stroke and died.
David See-Chai Lam, a devout Baptist, was a Hong Kong-born businessman/philanthropist who served as British Columbia’s lieutenant-governor from 1988-1995. He said of his appointment, “I felt intimidated because English is my second language and I am not a native of Canada. Finally, after discussing the invitation with my pastor, I said ‘yes.’ I decided that if God wanted me in the role of lieutenant-governor, I would do it for his glory and be used by him (Decision Magazine, January 1992).”
As Canada becomes a darker place for faith, we can’t forget that God’s people have always served this nation faithfully. This is our nation, too. Regardless of where others want to take it, they can’t escape the powerful contributions of Canadians who loved God, and wanted to serve Him by building this nation. Rather than fearing the growing persecution of the church, we can instead embrace these days of hardship as further opportunities for us to share the light of the gospel to all Canadians. History may not remember all the trite and hurtful ways we are treated, but it can remember that for 150 years, Christians have faithfully prayed for God to keep our land glorious and free, and that God has constantly answered this prayer and prospered us. This Canada Day, it’s our turn to celebrate the simple truth that our brothers and sisters who’ve gone before us knew, that regardless of what happens, God still has dominion over our nation, from sea to sea to sea.