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Pressure to Conform

In North American society, and particularly in Canada, Christians have come under increasing pressure to conform to mainstream social norms. Governments, courts, educational institutions, and the media have pushed Christians to change their positions and practices on variety of issues, including homosexuality, sexual morality, abortion, assisted suicide, the authority of the Bible, and their belief in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

There is an interesting parallel in the Bible in 1 Kings 22. There the prophet Micaiah was called before two kings sitting on their royal thrones at the entrance to the city of Samaria. This newly erected capital city was built on a hill, dominated by an ivory palace gleaming in the sun. The kings were dressed in royal robes of gold and purple at the edge of a vast parade ground. They were surrounded by an array of courtiers, officials, and soldiers. In front of them were 400 prophets shouting, dancing, and performing. Also watching were a large crowd of spectators, mesmerized by the spectacle. Altogether, the scene portrayed the power of the royal governments.

Micaiah, a prophet of the Lord, was also summoned to stand before the kings. He was counselled ahead of time to “Let your word agree with theirs” (verse 13). In other words, he was advised to conform to the message being given by the combined forces of the kings, bureaucracies, and religious establishments.

But, even though he knew the kings could order him to be killed at any moment, Micaiah answered that he could speak “only what the Lord tells me” (verse 14). And then Micaiah explained the reason for his confidence: “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left” (verse 19). Those who have seen the true God know that all of the powerful rulers and authorities of the earth are weak and insignificant in comparison to Him.

The prophet Isaiah said something similar (in Isaiah 40):

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales

Before him all the nations are as nothing

He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Those currently in power don’t understand this. They think that time is on their side and that the few backward traditionalists known as evangelical Christians will either fade away or be brought around to their way of thinking. In a sense, they think they are gods, that they have ultimate authority. But theirs is a short-term perspective, and they do not reckon on the possibility of a God who is greater than they are and who will ultimately have the last word.

 

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A Black Day for Human Rights in Canada

Friday, June 15, 2018 was a black day for human rights in Canada. On that day, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that provincial law societies can refuse to accredit graduates of a law school proposed by Trinity Western University, an evangelical Christian university. In practice, it means that TWU will not be allowed to train lawyers. The reasoning behind the Supreme Court decision is that TWU’s community covenant forbids students to engage in sex outside of heterosexual marriage. The Supreme Court ruled that this discriminates against LGBTQ students since their sexual orientation is intrinsic to who they are, their essential identity.

It is worth noting that earlier Supreme Court decisions allowed TWU to train nurses and teachers. It is open to question whether the Supreme Court will now overturn its earlier decisions in those cases. It is also open to question whether other organizations and institutions will refuse to recognize degrees and certificates granted by any Christian school with a covenant similar to Trinity Western’s. Supreme Court decisions set a precedent.

The effect of the Supreme Court ruling is that in future in Canada LGBTQ rights will always trump religious rights. (I refer to them as LGBTQ rights because gender rights in general were never in question in the court case.) Furthermore, it is likely that evangelical Christians will be on the losing side of a number of other legal and constitutional issues. Why is this so? Because of the long-term effects of the decision. Several decades from now, an evangelical Christian institution such as TWU will likely not even be able to defend its case in court. Why? Because TWU will not be able to find a lawyer to take its case. From now on, all lawyers (and hence all judges) will be trained to value LGBTQ rights over religious rights.

The law societies argue that TWU discriminates while mainstream law schools treat everyone equally. But this is not true. Would a mainstream law school hire a professor who argued for TWU’s position in the recent court case? It is highly unlikely, particularly given the Supreme Court decision. Would a mainstream law school hire an evangelical Christian professor? It is highly unlikely—unless he agreed to change his beliefs. Would a mainstream law school accept a student who did his or her undergraduate work at a Christian university such as TWU? It has happened in the past but is far less likely now. Going further, would a mainstream law school accept an evangelical Christian as a student? Possibly, especially if it was not evident that the student was an evangelical Christian. Law schools are unlikely to establish rules and policies specifically banning evangelical Christian students. On the other hand, admissions are decided in secret, and that means that discrimination can be practiced with virtual impunity. And if an evangelical Christian student were accepted, would that student be allowed to present a paper arguing in favour of religious rights over LGBTQ rights and get a passing grade? Would that student be allowed to graduate?

From my perspective, it appears that mainstream law schools generally have an unwritten value system every bit as rigid as TWU’s written one. I suspect that this anti-Christian bias in mainstream law schools was one of the reasons TWU decided it needed to start a law school in the first place. LGBTQ students have many other law schools to choose from, other than TWU’s. Evangelical Christian students likely do not.

If it is argued that mainstream law schools would not discriminate in this way, consider that it is graduates of these law schools who make up the membership of the law societies and that it was these societies that voted to exclude TWU graduates from membership.

The law schools will likely argue that lawyers should be expected to “respect human rights” by accepting and abiding by recent decisions of the Supreme Court, but this argument is spurious. The Supreme Court has reversed many decisions made by earlier versions of the Supreme Court. This means that many law school graduates have felt free to disagree with Supreme Court decisions. It is necessary in a free society for people to be able to question the status quo.

To fully understand the far-reaching implications of the Supreme Court decision, consider that the Supreme Court decision was decided by a 7 to 2 vote. This means that two people who are currently Supreme Court justices in future would likely not be allowed to become lawyers.

The long-term effect of the Supreme Court decision is that evangelical Christians, who make up over 10 percent of the Canadian population, will effectively be denied legal representation. The courts will now be prejudiced against them, in the literal sense of the term. That is, the cases will already be prejudged, the decisions already made. One side in any dispute between religious rights and LGBTQ rights (and one side in a number of other disputes) will always win because only that side will allowed to be lawyers and hence judges. Controlling who makes decisions determines the decisions themselves. And this is why the LGBTQ community pushed so hard to prevent Trinity Western from being allowed to start a law school.

The situation will be as dire for evangelical Christians in Canada as it is for Christians in many Muslim countries, where virtually all of the lawyers and judges are Muslim and where crimes against Christians frequently go unpunished.

Of course, it is possible that Trinity Western University could get approval of its law school if it discarded its community covenant or amended it to satisfy the recent Supreme Court decision. This would be fine with the Supreme Court since it apparently believes that sexuality and sexual practice are intrinsic to who people are while religion and religious practice are not and can easily be discarded. But for Trinity Western to follow that route would be troubling from a human rights point of view. It would mean that the Supreme Court would be deciding which religious beliefs and practices are acceptable and which are not. When a court starts deciding which beliefs and ideas are permissible, then it threatens the human rights, not just of evangelical Christians, but of everyone and anyone.

 

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Guardians of the Dead

They hurried to tell the news,

a tale of light and power and life,

to unbelieving believers

hardly daring to hope,

the well-known story

told by women to fishermen.

 

Others also reported the news,

with less haste and eagerness,

a tale of lightning and shaking and fear,

to believing unbelievers,

the lesser known story

told by soldiers quaking before priests.

These hearers

accepted the news without question

and responded with scheming,

burying

rich hope with money,

truth with lies,

and life with death.

Their report

continues to be widely circulated to this day.

 

But so does the other, better one.

 

Matthew 27:57-28:15

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Away from the Puck

He is a young, professional hockey player, highly valued for his ability to score goals. For this reason, he has the potential to have a long and successful career as a professional athlete. He can be a star. But this season the coach has been constantly pressuring him to put more focus on how he plays when he is “away from the puck.” He does not think this is very important. His strength is scoring goals, he can only do that when he has the puck, and he wants to concentrate on his area of strength because that is where his future success will lie.

After a recent game, the coach took him aside for a talk. The player had played about 16 minutes in the game, and the coach asked him how long he thought he had possession of the puck. He said about two minutes. He had actually had the puck for 29 seconds. This means that he was playing without the puck about 97 percent of the time. This is why the coach has been hounding him. Since the player does not have the puck most of the time, it is that time that will ultimately determine his success or failure.

There is a life lesson for all of us here. Most of life is lived out of the spotlight, when no one is watching, as we go about our daily tasks, as we do our work, as we fulfill or do not fulfill our responsibilities, as we act wisely and properly or unwisely and improperly, as we harbour love or hatred, justice or injustice, deep in the recesses of our hearts. It is how we act when no one is watching, what we do in secret, that will determine our ultimate success.

We may think there is no one watching. But just as the coach is watching, recording, and judging everything the hockey player does, so there is someone watching us. That someone is God.

Jesus Christ said, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:2-3) and “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:4, 18).

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Homegrown Penicillin

For the past several years, I have been part of the natural homegrown penicillin movement. Scientists officially identified penicillin in the 1920s. However, people have known for a long time that naturally occurring substances such as bread mould will attack and kill the harmful bacteria that cause many human illnesses and infections. For instance, Wikipedia states: “Many ancient cultures, including the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and in ancient India, already used moulds and other plants to treat infection.…Russian peasants used warm soil as treatment for infected wounds.…Soldiers in the army of king Dutugemunu (161–137 BC) are recorded to have stored oil cakes (a traditional Sri Lankan sweetmeat) for long periods in their hearth lofts before embarking on their campaigns, in order to make a poultice of the cakes to treat wounds.”

So, for the past several years, I have been cultivating my own bread mould and using it to treat various illnesses. This mould can be grown quite simply by placing moist bread in a basement or any warm, damp place. Many users report that homegrown mould is an effective treatment for headaches, nausea, constipation, and depression, as well as more serious diseases. These testimonials from people who have survived the treatment are indisputable proof that it works.

Many people prefer to use the natural, homegrown mould rather than go to a doctor and have him prescribe refined penicillin or some other antibiotic. They don’t really trust the government, the medical profession, or big pharmaceutical companies. Who knows what the big companies put into their drugs? Mostly a bunch of chemicals. Like many other people, I prefer to use something more natural. And the homegrown mould is much cheaper.

More recently, I have sometimes found it easier to buy the mould from a guy I met down on the corner. He swears that what he is selling is pure bread mould, and I have found it to be as good as any I made myself.

I don’t worry too much about the dosage. I just sort of play it by ear. I mean if some is good for you, then it stands to reason that a lot will be even better. In fact, I have started to use some every day as a means to prevent illness. At first, I just ate the mould on a piece of bread. However, recognizing that many illnesses enter the body through the nose, I have found that snorting it up the nose is even more effective.

The homegrown penicillin movement is growing rapidly and gaining increasing acceptance. This is the wave of the future. After all, if this logic works for the marijuana industry, it should work equally well for penicillin. And growing your own pencillin is perfectly legal.

 

Disclaimer: This is something called satire. Please do not try this at home. And if you do, please do not blame me for your stupidity or sue me. (I am a writer and have no money.) In my opinion, people who ignore scientific evidence and medical safeguards and self-medicate are idiots. Why is this disclaimer necessary? In the 18th century, Jonathan Swift could publish his A Modest Proposal (recommending the skinning and eating of Irish children) in the firm expectation that people would take it seriously but not literally. Today people are much more sophisticated and better educated (and possibly high on marijuana) and will believe any ridiculous thing posted on the Internet.

 

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The Politics of Hate

Barry Neufeld is a school board trustee in Chilliwack, just east of Abbotsford where I live. He has recently gained notoriety for his stated opposition to the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) guidelines issued by British Columbia’s Ministry of Education. These guidelines are not part of the school curriculum but are intended to guide schools in how they handle issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result of Neufeld’s stated position, there have been calls for his resignation from British Columbia’s Minister of Education, the Chilliwack School Board, and others. The non-teaching employees of the Chilliwack School Board have filed a human rights case against Mr. Neufeld and the school board, arguing that his “homophobic” and “transphobic” comments have deprived them of their right to a safe workplace.

I have never met Barry Neufeld, and I don’t know him personally. I don’t know whether he and I would agree on every issue. However, I would like to comment on several issues involved in the current controversy.

 

  1. Name Calling

Social theorists have rightly opposed applying pejorative and derogatory labels to such groups as racial minorities and homosexuals, pointing out that such labels dehumanize people. However, social theorists on the left wing of the social spectrum, who have often been most vocal against the use of such terms, have sometimes been guilty of using pejorative labels of their own. Almost without thinking, they dismiss those who disagree with them by applying labels such as “bigot,” “Islamophobic,” “homophobic,” “transphobic,” and “anti-choice.” For instance, BC Education Minister Rob Fleming called Mr. Neufeld “bigoted” and “hateful.” Such labels are used to dismiss people like Mr. Neufeld so that those who disagree with him do not have to deal with the issues that Mr. Neufeld raises. They are used to shut down discussion. Mr. Fleming has absolutely no evidence that Mr. Neufeld hates anyone other than that he expressed misgivings about a government policy. Disagreeing with something does not necessarily imply hatred. Disagreeing with the doctrines of Islam does not mean that one hates or fears Muslims. Disagreeing with homosexual practice does not mean that one hates or fears homosexuals. Otherwise, anyone who is not a Christian could justly be labelled Christophobic.

 

  1. Child Abuse

Mr. Neufeld has said the government’s SOGI guidelines amount to child abuse. This issue needs some consideration. One aspect of this policy is “gender identity.” One provision in the guidelines states that a student should be treated as whatever gender he or she identifies with. So, if a boy thinks he is a girl, he should be treated as a girl and be allowed to dress as a girl and use the girls’ washroom and changing room. This is problematic for both elementary and secondary schools, but for somewhat different reasons. I think the “child abuse” argument relates especially to elementary schools. Pre-puberty, a student doesn’t have a sexual orientation. Moreover, young students are in the process of trying to understand many things, and gender is one of them. Confusion is part of that development process. To increase that confusion is not helpful. I agree with Mr. Neufeld that to encourage an elementary student to choose a sexual identity or make any other binding adult decision is child abuse. I have a grandson who thinks he is Spiderman, but I don’t encourage him to jump off buildings. I have another grandson who says he wants to be a firefighter. This is completely unrealistic as he is not likely to have the physical strength or aptitudes for this occupation. Of course, I haven’t actively discouraged his idea, but I haven’t enrolled him in firefighting school either. I know that he is likely to change his mind many times before he becomes an adult.

And what about the effect on other students? Think about the girls who now have to share a washroom and changing room with a boy who thinks he is a girl. What kind of confusion and discomfort will this cause them? Or does their right to feel safe and comfortable in school not matter?

When someone such as Mr. Neufeld raises questions about policies such as SOGI, those questions should at least be discussed and answered rather than simply dismissing him as “hateful.” Maybe discussing the issue will convince Mr. Neufeld he is wrong, or maybe the discussion will lead to changes and improvements in the policy or how it is implemented. But shutting down the discussion and shunning people like Mr. Neufeld does not solve anything. It suggests that the SOGI guidelines are so flawed that they cannot stand up to criticism and debate.

 

  1. Track Record

Defining Mr. Neufeld as “hateful” means that any other qualities he has can be ignored. It dehumanizes him. But a little research reveals some interesting things. Mr. Neufeld has been a school trustee for 24 years. Among other qualifications, he has a BA in adolescent psychology from Simon Fraser University, a certificate in conflict resolution from the Justice Institute of British Columbia, a certificate in life skills from the University of the Fraser Valley, and an MA in chaplaincy from Associated Canadian Theological Schools. He is apparently a member of an Eastern Orthodox Church, where he occasionally preaches to an Arabic congregation. On the school board, he says his most fulfilling work was being part of the First Nations Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee looking for ways to increase the success of Aboriginal students. He has also served as an interfaith prison chaplain and in a Christian ministry to inmates in correctional institutions. He is also heavily involved in a ministry that helps people recover from divorce. This is hardly the picture of someone who is hateful, bigoted, or overly judgemental.

 

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Racism and the Gerald Stanley Jury

Put yourself in the place of the jurors in the Gerald Stanley trial. (Stanley is the Saskatchewan farmer who shot Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man who was on Stanley’s property.) Out of a sense of civic duty, you agree to spend weeks away from your family and your regular job in order to sit on a jury. As compensation, you are given a ludicrously low payment—nowhere near minimum wage, let alone the many thousands of dollars the lawyers and judge are paid. For weeks, you listen to detailed evidence and testimony. You wrestle with what should be the proper verdict in a complex and murky case in which none of those involved is blameless. When you finally reach a verdict, the prime minister of Canada, who has not spent all that time listening to the evidence, declares that your verdict is wrong, implying that you are a racist since you are a white juror who unjustly exonerated a white defendant. Under Canadian law, you cannot even defend yourself against this very public accusation by the most powerful man in the country. And he is not alone in making the accusation.

Given all this, who in his right mind would ever agree to serve on a jury?

Racism is a serious issue, and there are significant racial tensions between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan, as well as elsewhere in Canada. But accusing the Stanley jurors of racism just because they are white is unwarranted. Racism does not exist only among white people, and not all white people are racist.

The jurors might be racist, but none of the critics has produced any evidence of this by checking into their backgrounds and attitudes. They have just assumed it because the jurors were white. In this case, it was not the jurors who saw a complex situation only in terms of race. It was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the other critics.

As an aside, it seems that it is not even known for sure that the jury was all white since that information is not made public. The Boushie family complained that “the jury didn’t appear to have any visibly Indigenous people.” Even if it is true that there were no Indigenous people on the jury, it does not necessarily follow that the jury members were all white. After all, Canada is a multiracial country, and some might have belonged to other races or have had mixed ancestry.