Oh! Canada!


Some countries are birthed into existence amidst revolution and gunfire and large-scale re-alignments of the social and political order.  Canada, on the other hand, was negotiated peacefully into existence, not quite amicably but certainly without war.

Four British colonies decided amongst themselves that it was to their own self-interest to work together rather than to work separately.  And the United Kingdom agreed, given that administering colonies had become less of a wealth-producer and more of a drain on government coffers.  It wasn’t so much a revolution as it was an evolution.

When I was in university I took as many Political Science courses as I could because I was (and am) intrigued by how societies choose to organize themselves.  This choice is, after all, a response to God’s commission to humankind in Genesis 1 to make a “world” out of “earth”, i.e. to be fruitful and expressive and creative, making economies and political systems and arts and families and so on.

The way countries begin significantly shapes how they function, I think.  The USA came into existence in revolt against the colonial power which (it was said) unfairly imposed laws and taxation on its colonies.  This anti-government and anti-authoritarian bent still forms the American psyche.  It also explains why the USA wrote into its founding documents that “church” and “state” were to be separate, which did NOT mean that “faith” and “state” were to be different, but that the government could not establish one religion as the official religion of the state.  Too many people think that the doctrine of separation of church and state means that religious views or morality are not meant to influence public policy.  That’s absolutely not what it means!  It just means that the government can’t pick one religion and say that everyone has to follow it.  The USA valued “religious freedom” – people were free to choose the faith-system they would follow.  And the government would make space for that.  Given the oppressive state-run regimes in Europe from which many people fled to the New World, it is understandable that they valued religious freedom!

Interestingly, Canada was not founded with that in mind.  Canada’s founding did not have in it the doctrine of separation of church and state.  In fact, in some provinces the Catholic Church was privileged, even in terms of funding a separate school system.  And so I wonder whether “religious freedom” is at the heart of the Canadian psyche as much as it is at the heart of the American psyche?    I am musing about this just a week after the media reports on the high-profile struggle that Trinity Western University is having to establish its law school as a credible institution that will produce credible lawyers.  The notion of religious freedom did not seem to be a valued principle as the debate raged in the media and op-ed pages.  Rather, there seemed to be a public incredulity that an institution in Canada could hold to such (quaint) notions as a belief that sex was designed by God for marriage and that marriage is intended to be between a man and woman.  Now, I know that even within the Christian community there is an energetic and somewhat chaotic conversation about what the Christian ethic is when it comes to same-sex attraction.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  What I’m talking about is whether as a country we can live with a variety of faith-systems which have their various moralities, and find a way to co-exist in ways that don’t harm one another while still respecting the interior faith-journey of those who are different than we are?  That’s religious freedom.

As we move towards Canada Day, that’s my prayer for Canada!

P.S.  For my friends who tend towards being grammar/punctuation police . . . the title of this blog is an intentional play on words.   Before you email me to set me right . . . I know that the right words are of course “O Canada”,  but given the content of this blog post I felt that “Oh!” was more appropriate.