Canada is a nation rooted in faith. The preamble to our Constitution expressly recognizes "the supremacy of God" and all versions of our national anthem evince a trust in Providence. Contrary to public perception Canada has no laws dictating the separation of Church and State. Six in ten Canadians describe themselves as moderately or highly religious. The very language of everyday life reflects cadences and concepts from Scripture.
Yet Canada has avoided the religious conflict and much of the intolerance seen in other nations. To at least some degree we believe Canada's tolerance is a result of the broad inclusion of all faiths in the Canadian mosaic and the expression of those faiths publicly. Canadians know, at least in general, what their neighbours believe and can see the divine reflected, albeit perhaps through a glass darkly, in other’s faith traditions.
The work of respectful religious engagement is an essential element of Canadian tolerance. Bus Stop Bible Studies is one such case in point. By posting short, pithy ‘Bible studies’ inside buses on several of Canada’s transit systems, this evangelical Christian organization brings Scripture into people’s daily commute. They intentionally do not post any ‘hell, fire and brimstone’ messages, focusing rather on Bible verses that focus on God’s love and redemption. Significantly, now in their fourth year of operation and after more than one half-billion individual impressions, the transit companies have received fewer than ten complaints from the public.
Following the controversial Atheist Bus Campaign, Bus Stop Bible Studies has just launched their next major initiative. Posting forty displays with attention grabbing graphics on the sides of Toronto’s streetcars, twenty different God and life questions are asked, for example, “God, why am I here?” The public is directed to a website www.answerme.ca to find a Christian perspective and engage in an ongoing dialogue.
But evangelizing is not enough. It is true that Christians, Jews and Muslims do not believe the same things about God. There are material differences between different faiths and those differences will inevitably inform believers as to what God calls them to do in society. But that does not mean that believers are to stay in their houses of worship and otherwise remain silent. Martin Luther King marched with Rabbis and Priests; and they all marched as believers in the equality of humanity. A serious engagement of religion in society does not lead to a wall of separation between religion and secular culture. People of faith must speak out and act because of, and not in spite of, their faith.
That speaking out can be difficult. Canada is tolerant of religious differences but not so tolerant of religion in the public square. Speaking out is not without cost; that said, there are things that must be said and we, though of differing faith backgrounds, see one issue that must be addressed.
In Canada, despite our wealth and freedom, the First Nations largely live in a separate world where disease, poverty and abuse are standard. To take one dreadful but telling statistic, the suicide rate for young aboriginal men in Canada is six times that of the general population. Ignoring the apartness of the First Nations is not possible for the believer. Finding people to blame is no solution; working to a solution is. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."
Believers must not be silent in the public square. Religion is the rock upon which social justice is founded:
"Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks."
It is time for Canadian believers to focus their efforts on working together to build as just a society as can exist in our times.
James Morton is a lawyer at Steinberg Morton Hope and Israel LLP with aboriginal and Metis clients in Ontario and Nunavut. He teaches evidence at Osgoode Hall Law School. David Harrison is president of Bus Stop Bible Studies and Board Chair of DayStar Native Christian Outreach which serves native communities located around the Great Lakes..