Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadians out there this weekend!
This is the weekend each year that we set aside to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to live so privileged. And we have a lot to be thankful for. This year, Thanksgiving falls a week before our federal election and I’m asking for you to be thankful for something very specific this year: religious freedom.
We should always be thankful for the food on our table, the people around us, and our health. We are told to be grateful every day for these things. And rightly so. There are millions of people who don’t have enough to eat, are isolated from their loved ones, or are dealing with health issues. You might be one of them. I don’t mean to downplay those issues. They are huge.
But the election this year has brought something up that seems to have emphasized an ugliness in our hearts, especially us white Christian types. Somehow we started a debate regarding wearing a niqab (a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the entirety of the face except for her eyes) to a citizenship ceremony. Then the debate grew to why do we allow Muslims to enter Canada and not assimilate into our culture. And it’s been ugly.
From “Stay the hell where you came from” to labeling them as terrorists, I’m sure Canadians who are Muslim have heard it all. And a lot of that hate is coming from my home province. I’ve definitely pared down my Facebook friends list because of it. Alberta is a hotbed of racist remarks probably because of the fact that many of the people in Alberta (specifically small-town folk) haven’t met a Muslim person in their lives. It’s easy to call a group of people “other” when you haven’t met someone belonging to that group. And when you’ve classified someone as “other,” they begin to seem less human to you.
I want to go back to our topic today: thankfulness. We, most of us, are immigrants here. If your ancestors are from Europe, there is a good chance that they came to North America to escape religious persecution. Europe in the 1700s believed that a society had to have uniformity of religion to survive and that the government had to enforce that uniformity. Anyone not following that area’s specific brand of religion could be arrested and killed as a heretic. So many people left and came to North America so they could practice their religion in peace.
Fast forward to Canada in the twenty-first century. Since the people who are most vocal about their distaste of Muslims in my experience are Christians, let’s look there first. How many different branches of Christianity are there? Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Unitarians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and the list goes on and on. Each practices Christianity in their own ways. And we are thankful for that, right? You are thankful that you get to pick a church, or not pick one if you don’t want to, as you please. Whatever fits you the best. And the government stays out of it (except, you know, enforcing Christian religious holidays on everyone and other topics I don’t want to discuss here).
Religious freedom and keeping religion and state separate is part of why our ancestors came here. It’s been such a big part of our culture, we don’t know any different. Somehow, though, we seem to think we are the only people who “deserve” it. Part of it has to do with racism. And, yes, part of it has to do with the conflict in the Middle East (though we exaggerate this second part to downplay the first). And part of it, in my opinion, has to do with controlling what a woman can and cannot do with her body (because we aren’t debating turbans or kippahs or hoods).
Whatever we tell ourselves, we have got to stop this. We need to stop dehumanizing people based on their religious beliefs. Let’s remember that religious freedom goes two ways. If we expect Muslims to be restricted in their freedoms as Canadians, there will be people who expect Christians to have the same restrictions. Let’s just not go there. One of my favorite religious quotes is “You can’t evangelize and antagonize at the same time.” And, granted, that pastor was talking about how the church treats homosexuals, but I think it’s true of ministry in general. You want Canada to be a wholly Christian nation? Evangelize. Share the love you were shown. Show that Christianity is a place of refuge, a place of forgiveness and love. Show the scars of the life you lived before and how you were healed. Make Christianity a place of redemption, not rules and regulations. We are not a bureaucracy, we are a living body of Christ. And where does that start? With thankfulness.