No doubt for many of the Canadian Christians the world nearly ended on June 15, 2018. The headline in BBC was “Canada Court Ruling Boost for LGBT Rights.” Other interesting – and quite suggestive – titles betrayed a biased slant one way or another.
“Religious freedom is officially over in Canada,” I over heard from more than a few.
First of all, I am actually a TWU alum and I have some thoughts on the matter. I was not one of those individuals who has been sheltered in a Christian cocoon my entire life either. I have been to other “secular” institutions. With that said, I very much appreciate TWU. The profs and people are truly lovely and mostly helpful. TWU has a gloriously good academic reputation in a wide variety of fields – actually, nearly every one that it touches, just as it should be. And unlike some of the other religious organizations which focus mostly on biblical studies, TWU is truly a liberal arts school as it was meant to be. There is a most meaningful plurality of opinions and approaches and views – and that’s good! If you go to TWU it is likely that you will rub up against some world views and theological views that will bother and offend. How excellent. After all, each member of the body will not experience life in the same way, just as there are various spectrums of light to be seen at different angles.
In the world, not of the world
So what of religious freedom and its erosion in Canada? While I think the majority of Christians, evangelicals especially, received a well needed wake up call as concerning how we are really perceived in our Nation – this should make us think carefully about what we are known for instead of being known for what we are against. The gospel of Jesus was riotously expansive (how we live in all aspects, and especially towards our neighbour) whereas some of us have been guilty of making it callously constrictive, especially in terms of Christian unity, the very things that Jesus prayed we would be known for.
Here is something for us to consider about the TWU law school: Jesus did not pray for us to be taken out of the world. Rather, to be sent into it. We know this. Furthermore, all us Christians know we are to be salty; in fact, the consequence of not being salty seems a fair description of our relative cultural position now: “to be trodden under by the foot of men.” But is that the world’s fault or our own? I don’t know, but sometimes I wonder. Either way, what we are to be in our world – salty – can only be accomplished when we are actually living and dwelling and swimming about in our culture: you know, like being in every part of it … including the law schools.
Cities instead of citadels
As a person who loves TWU dearly, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t a forced “opportunity” for us Christians to worry more about how we are going to live within any given culture (academic, scientific, artistic or whatever) rather than feeding into the perception of trying to always be separate. Again, my bible tells me that I am to be in the world, just not of it. I am to be salty, just not spoiled. I am to be a city on a hill. If we are to be cities on hills, why are we often worried about building citadels?
I think that our best loved Christian heroines and heroes were loved and respected because they refused to safely hide and scheme in citadels: instead, they, like Jesus, dwelt among us. While there, they made the world a better place. We have these characters who absolutely refused to be cloistered up and “unspotted.” Whether we think of Thomas Beckett, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, William Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Dorthey Day or Mother Teresa. These people were active within the culture they wanted to exercise change in.
Seeing the opportunity
I think we should take the loss of a TWU law school as an opportunity. An opportunity to demonstrate to the world what they should be (rightly) expecting: a community of Canadian Christians who aren’t afraid to get our feet a bit muddy on the walk of life; a community of Canadian Christians who are more carefully concerned about demonstrating love and neighbourliness, in even the nooks of culture which might bother us, than in keeping themselves unsullied.
If we aren’t invited in certain aspects of the world it might well be that we make them uncomfortable – good, Jesus made people uncomfortable too. With that said though, we are also supposed to be known for our good works. And here is another scary thought: might the world have taken our good works for granted because we aren’t showing them as much as we think we are? Let’s take our reputation back. If a young fellow Christian wishes to become a lawyer, maybe we as a community (what churches ought to be), as a unified body of Christ, need to be supportive enough to send them – big breath – “into the world.” We need to send them into the secular university. But more importantly, be comforted that they are not going in alone, but instead have the strong support of their family. Let us as Christians be unafraid to do what Jesus did – enter into the world that needs us.
BY MATTHEW AND JOY STEEM
Matthew Steem is passionate about exploring the intellectual, imaginative and emotional vibrancy at the heart of the Christian tradition: a tradition all too frequently perceived, from both inside and out, as drab and bereft of true joy. Matthew has written for Our Daily Bread, Relief Journal: Art and Faith Unbound, Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice, and many more publications both online and in print. You can find more at www.elicitinsight.com Matthew’s sister, Joy, cowrote this article with him.