Responding to religious violence

22 August 2019
Today is the first ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. It is the first time a day officially marked by the UN in recognition of religious persecution has been observed.

A report on religious restrictions around the world by the Pew Research Center released last month finds increasing social hostilities and increasing levels of government restriction on religions.

The report gives examples of organized violence against religious groups, such as two suicide bombings on Palm Sunday 2017 at Coptic churches in Egypt that left 45 people dead and an attack on a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai the same year that left 311 people dead.

This brings to mind the Easter morning bombings at Catholic and evangelical churches in Sri Lanka this year, as well as the situation of Uyghurs detained in China, violence against Christians in Nigeria, and so many others around the world who face violence and persecution because of their faith. Closer to home, we think of the Quebec mosque attack and the Tree of Life shooting in the U.S.

With this international context in mind, when we were asked this summer about religious freedom trends in Canada, we responded that Canadian Christians generally enjoy the freedom to gather, worship and live out our beliefs. (The question came from an organization that monitors persecution globally.)

But despite our relative freedoms, there seems to be a growing anti-religious sentiment in Canada that is causing concern. There is increasing friction between faith-based beliefs and the dominant culture. As we said:

Christians in Canada do not live in fear for their physical safety. In general, we enjoy the freedom to believe and practice our faith. But there is an increasing sense of marginalization as religious beliefs are given less room in the public square and religion is increasingly privatized.

There seems to be a trend to marginalize views from public discourse if they are not held by the majority, or to seek to withhold or deny public recognition, accreditation or benefit from those who hold those views. In fact, it is a trend toward silencing opposing views, not just marginalizing them. Canadian Christians feel this move towards marginalization and silencing of their beliefs.

Canada is seen as a nation that is multicultural, tolerant and inclusive, yet the climate is increasingly anti-religious.

One example of this trend can be seen in the 2018 Canada Summer Jobs attestation. Another is the requirement of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario that doctors provide an effective referral for medical assistance in dying, even against the doctors’ strongly-held beliefs.

As the EFC wrote in a brief to a parliamentary committee studying racism and religious discrimination in 2017,

Evangelicals are not as visibly distinctive, as wearing religious symbols or clothing are not mandated by evangelical faith and practice. Evangelical experience of an anti-religious sentiment and underlying religious discrimination tends to be in response to our beliefs and practices.

In that brief, we encouraged the government to commit to upholding religious freedom, allowing religious groups to hold their beliefs and practise their faith without being marginalized or penalized. We urged the government to take religious differences seriously, and we specifically recommended that it:
  • Allow faith groups to bring their perspective to bear in public debate.
  • Don’t compel or coerce Canadians to act against their beliefs or to celebrate beliefs that are counter to their faith.
But we believe there are also ways that we as individuals and churches can shore up religious freedom in Canada and influence change in anti-religious attitudes. One way is to proactively engage in our communities, serving others without tangible benefit to ourselves or our congregation. This is also a way we can be faithful to the biblical call to love our neighbour, by serving those who are vulnerable and in need.

Could God be calling us to mark this day by finding more ways to share the love of Jesus with our neighbours and communities in specific, tangible ways?
Author: Beth Hiemstra, EFC Policy Analyst