A story getting a fair bit of traction in the news involves the federal government’s summer jobs program. Many churches getting funding through this program to employ youth in a wide variety of ways. This year the government changed the application to include a declaration that the organization applying for the funds respects the charter of human right including reproductive rights. For those Christian denominations that are pro life this is a problem. They cannot in good conscience make such a declaration.
Now as a minister in a liberal protestant denomination I am pro choice. It makes me nervous to have an absolute rule governing an area of life with frequent complexity. It makes me more than nervous to think of the institutional church, an organization traditionally quite paternal, creating a rule that is then applied to women. I offer these statements to make clear my biases when it comes to this issue.
Some media commentators have compared the Liberal government’s position to the tactics of the Roman Empire during the persecutions of the early church. I believe this is extreme and unhelpful hyperbole. The state is not dictating to Christians what they can or cannot believe, it is simply not funding organizations whose central purpose goes against the state’s core principles. The church can show its independence by not relying on state funds. (My church certainly relies on state funding through the waving of property taxes on our building and so I am aware that I am taking a stand that would hurt my own community.)
Another approach the churches could take would be to agree to respect the charter of human rights and freedoms as the document governing the rights of the citizens of the country. They could then differentiate between the rights of the citizens of the country and the choices made by their own members. It seems to me that a problem arises when the churches want their stance to hold sway over people who are not a part of their faith. We can respect those outside our faith even when their values differ from our own. If the issue of reproductive rights is so deeply held that a church cannot offer such respect than said church should not be taking money from the society it holds in such contempt.
The church held a powerful position in Canadian society for a long time. That time is past. The transition to relative powerlessness is hard for us but important. The state no longer supports our Sabbath rules, our anti gambling stance which means we must live out our faith more intentionally. We stand out from the rest of society more often. That is ok. If there is any parallel with ancient Roman times it is that we are once again a counter cultural movement. To be a part of a church is to live by a different set of values than the mainstream of society. The main stream should not have to fund our choice. It is enough to be free to live it.