A Christian approach to social change
You can’t even order a cup of coffee anymore."
My companion grimaced at me across the restaurant table. He was recounting the story he had heard about a Christian getting a drink in a West Coast shop. He had asked for his coffee "black," and the barista replied that such a term was offensive. He would get his coffee "without cream."
My friend then confessed to worries about gay and lesbian alliances in public schools, bathrooms signed to accommodate gender fluidity, and teachers refusing to inform parents when children profess a new sexual preference or gender identity.
"What is it all coming to? What should Christians say about all this?"
Here are a few things we can say. Things had to change. In fact, a lot of things had to change and they had to change a lot.
Racism has poisoned American society for centuries, and we Canadians have our own chequered history regarding Indigenous Peoples, immigrants and sexual minorities. Criminalizing homosexual acts was a terrible idea. Shaming struggling adolescents into frightened conformity reaped only a whirlwind of alienated and angry survivors. When we Christians ran the Canadian cultural show, we gave other people less liberty, mercy and love than God does. That all needed to change.
Social change comes clumsily. Societies steer more like container ships than speedboats. Once a change begins it’s hard to get it to stop in just the right place.
When injustices are righted, we should offer our support or at least cheer from the front row.
Are we in the middle of a muddle? We certainly are as feminists contend with trans activists over who is a woman, what is the female experience, who should benefit from the hard-won gender battles of the last century and more.
We certainly are as educators indoctrinate children into progressive views of race, sex and gender at younger and younger ages over the protests of parents.
We certainly are as speech codes keep popping up while the correct term for this or that seems to change every week.
This is the price we must pay, however, for large-scale changes worked out by the faulty processes available to human beings. Realism should temper our fear and exasperation.
We should celebrate civil rights for all people. That everyone is entitled to fair, respectful treatment – regardless of their wealth or power or status or sex or family or nationality – is a Christian idea rooted in God’s creating and loving each human being. Christians should be known for the same trait – loving each human being. And when injustices are righted, we should offer our support or at least cheer from the front row.
We should adopt new wordings when helpful – or even just when requested. Kids shouldn’t be shamed by coarse references to their ethnicity or sexuality. It’s good that Canadians are less free now to injure each other with nasty epithets. And if someone wants me to address them with pronouns I think don’t fit, or even redefine how I order my coffee, what does it say about my values, and my regard for them, if I insist on my grammar? What does it mean to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile?
We should refuse to surrender the gospel – but only the gospel, its proclamation and our living it out. The New Testament says little about Christians defending ourselves. What the apostles say frequently is that we are to do all we can to live at peace with each other as Christians and with all people as loving neighbours.
"We must obey God rather than human beings" applied to preaching the Good News, not to every regulation we don’t like. Jesus and the apostles told us to pay taxes and otherwise get along with a regime as anti-Christian as the Roman Empire.
We live as citizens of a free country and there is no reason not to defend our every right – except that there frequently is a reason. Christian liberty according to the New Testament is about sacrificing our genuine rights to promote God’s Kingdom.
Are we putting first things first? Are we seeing the big picture? As Canadian life becomes both better and worse for Christian values, we need to answer those questions more carefully than ever.