Written by: David Hood
Pastor of Southeast City Church Ottawa ON
I want to start by saying that I get it. I get peoples’ frustration with the current state of things. We are all emotionally and mentally exhausted from two years of uncertainty, endless pivoting, confusing and mixed messaging, inconsistent and contradictory protocols, lies and over-promises, family divides and fractured friendships, loss of all kinds, dashed hopes, and a steady stream of doom and gloom news. We have all been through a collective trauma and, at a time when it feels like things should be looking up, they seem worse than ever. I get that people are upset and done, and the sentiment that ‘enough is enough’ resonates with me.
I also get that this movement has given a voice to people who have felt disempowered and scapegoated, namely the unvaccinated. Regardless of your views on vaccine mandates, I think we can all agree that people who are vaccine-hesitant should not all be made to feel inherently selfish and uncaring or labelled as racists and misogynists with “unacceptable views.” The hateful rhetoric I have witnessed is shameful. Hear me, I am pro-vaccination (I have articulated why elsewhere). I think some people are anti-vaccine for reasons that are misinformed, misguided, and dangerous. I can’t support that. However, we can’t generalize an entire group of people, and we certainly shouldn’t dehumanize anyone, ever.
I also get that there is a lot about this protest that feels right and beautiful. Most people who have reported positively from downtown make special mention of the hugging, singing, dancing, and camaraderie. They talk about togetherness and being able to see people’s faces. These things are deeply moving because we’ve missed them desperately. For many, I suspect going downtown is a cathartic release regardless of the aims or objectives of the protest.
All of this to say, I get it. I get why people are getting caught up in this moment and are defensive of it. And I get that there are real concerns about government overreach, a two-tiered society, and creeping totalitarianism. I’m not here to say that there aren’t legitimate concerns and frustrations or that every aspect of what is happening is bad, but I do have some pastoral and missional concerns. Many are not exclusive to the convoy, but the events of the last three weeks give me an occasion to share them.
1) I am concerned about what people mean by the word “freedom.” As a Christian, I can’t get behind the type of freedom that says, “I should be able to live my life however I want regardless of how it affects other people.” That’s not the way of Jesus. I have not been masking nor did I get vaccinated and boosted because I am personally afraid of COVID. I know my chances of getting severely ill are low. I do it because people around me are vulnerable, or are in close contact with vulnerable people, and that is enough. Not wearing a mask only benefits me, it doesn’t benefit them. Who should I care more about? If I were vulnerable, how would I want to be treated by others? Many of the negative stories coming out of downtown are from people who walked through the crowds with masks. They were mocked for complying; labelled as slaves. There is a nobody-can-tell-me-what-to-do and I’ll-do-whatever-I-want pride that has been exhibited throughout this pandemic, and by some in this protest, that really bothers me, and I think it should bother other Christians. Christianity does not support hyper-individualism and absolute autonomy. Regardless of what our legal “rights” might be, there is a higher calling.
Also, do we want a better society or just our “personal freedom”? You can advocate for restrictions and mandates to be lifted, but don’t stop there. The pandemic was a gift in that we clearly saw inequities that have been there for years. I am concerned, and sense with this moment, that most people are only interested in advocating for their “personal freedom”, and if they get that they’re good. Protest over.
Lastly, while political freedom is good (I would much rather live in Canada than North Korea!), it is not true freedom. True freedom is living the way we were meant to with the One we were created for, and that freedom is only found in Jesus Christ. That freedom requires no laws, no judges, and no governments to uphold it. It is upheld by God in heaven and it exists regardless of earthly circumstances. We can have all of the political freedoms on Earth and still be slaves. We can have absolutely zero political freedoms and still be the freest we’ve ever been.
2) I am concerned about how undiscerning Christians have been in their alignment with this movement. There is enough that feels off about what’s happening that I think Christians should be careful how they engage. I am not saying don’t engage. I am saying exercise caution. Christians who decide to protest or support the protest should be very clear about what goals they agree with and are advocating for (i.e. ending vaccine mandates), and who they’re associating with. They should be equally clear about what their goals are not (i.e. the overthrow of the government and sedition), and who they are not associating with (i.e. White supremacists, insurrectionists, Qanon, etc…).
We need to be wise. I’ve seen some Christians condemn the whole movement as a cover for white nationalism, which is false and unnecessarily inflammatory, divisive, and dismissive; I’ve seen others act like the Holy Spirit has fallen on downtown Ottawa and this whole thing is sacred, blessed by God. Neither is true. There is stuff we can support, but there is stuff we need to distance ourselves from and even condemn!
3) I am concerned about the tone, posture, and language Christians are using with those who disagree with them. We cannot support those waving “f&*% Trudeau” banners in protest, nor those waving “go home inbreds” banners in counter-protest. Christians need to rise above this toxicity. We need to be better people than our leaders are being, and that many of our fellow citizens and neighbours are being. We are to be salt and light. Whatever you think of Trudeau, he is our Prime Minister and we must honour him. We must pray for him, and not imprecatory psalms but prayers for his good (1 Timothy 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Whatever you think of those who disagree with you, they are image bearers and people for whom Christ died. Many are our brothers and sisters in the family of God. Remember Jesus’ words, however you would want to be treated, treat people that way!
4) I am concerned about how Christians who support this protest have been dismissive about how it negatively affects their fellow Ottawans. Many people are experiencing this protest as an occupation. They can’t sleep. They don’t feel they can go out. They can’t get to work. Their commute to work or anywhere has doubled or tripled. Their place of business had to close…again. They’ve been harassed. Their yards have been urinated in and defecated on. They are subjected to a constant barrage of noise pollution and diesel fumes. Just recently, The Alliance to End Homelessness posted a letter detailing how this protest has harmed the homeless. There are hospitals downtown for people who are palliative or in rehab. Shelters for women fleeing domestic violence. Daycares for kids with autism and auditory sensitivities. We need to stop dismissing, belittling, or justifying how people are being negatively impacted. How would you want to be treated if you lived or worked or were hospitalized downtown? If you were a senior? Disabled? Homeless? Sensitive to auditory stimuli? Christians, more than anybody else, should care how their actions affect others and try to actively do good for everybody, not just their own group.
5) Lastly, I am concerned about how political aspirations are getting conflated with the Kingdom of God. There are Christians who act like this convoy is fulfilling some kind of Biblical prophecy. I’ve seen memes of trucks parting the Red Sea with a crowned lion (presumably Jesus?) leading the way, and people likening the truck horns blasting to the blasts of the trumpets that toppled Jericho. Trudeau is not Pharaoh, Canadians are not the people of Israel, and the truckers are not Moses leading us in a new exodus out of COVID slavery to the Promised Land of a mask-free Canada. The vaccine is not the mark of the beast and getting vaccinated is not bowing the knee to Baal. The truckers are not the answer to God’s call in Isaiah, who will go for us. Spiritualizing this protest needs to stop. The drawing of lines in the sand also needs to stop. I know that the unvaccinated are tired of the dehumanizing language that has been applied to them by our leaders and others, but I am also tired of people who see compliance with provincial and public health orders as unfaithfulness to Jesus; who see vaccines as a test of faith. It needs to stop on both sides. These things should not be tests of fellowship.
We need to hear afresh the words of Jesus: My Kingdom is not of this world, otherwise my disciples would fight (John 18:36). Or Paul’s words: our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12). Fighting for a restriction-free Canada or for western political freedoms is not the mission of the Church.
Our mission does not need a particular political leader or party in place, or a Charter of Rights and Freedoms to defend it. Our mission moves forward whether we live in a democracy, under communism, fascism, or an Islamic theocracy. Our mission has thrived in the unlikeliest of places: Iran, China, Afghanistan, Nigeria. Our mission is to love God with our whole being, love our neighbours as ourselves (even our enemies), love each other as Christ loved us, go and do for others what you want them to do for you, preach repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name, and make disciples of Jesus.
For many onlookers, this is not what Christianity is about. For many, Christianity is nothing more than a spiritualized conservative political movement. Its aims are purely political. It is a religion of this world. Evangelicalism has become synonymous with the right, Trump, the January 6 riots, the trucker convoy, anti-restrictions, anti-vax, conspiracy theories, Qanon, etc… For many at this moment, Christianity is synonymous with “my rights above all else”. This muddies the waters of our witness significantly and none of it furthers the mission.
I am not saying have nothing to do with this protest, but don’t conflate its aspirations with the gospel. Our hope is not in the liberals or conservatives or NDP or Green, Trudeau or Bergen or Poilievre. Our hope is not in the lifting of restrictions and mandates. Our hope is in Jesus. If all of the truckers’ demands are met most people will still be lost and no better off eternally because they don’t have Jesus. How much of our time and mental and emotional energy has been going towards that cause? How many of our conversations and how much of our social media feed proclaims Jesus, the suffering saviour, nailed to a cross, dying to extend life, forgiveness, grace, and mercy to His enemies. This is the Jesus our world needs. We need to get back to this.