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Christians in the Emerging World Order

A Paper Spoken to by David Kilgour
at a Panel Discussion Sponsored by Augustine College and Redeemer College
Saint Paul University Amphitheatre, Ottawa, March 2, 1999

Two good questions have been put to us three panelists (others: Dr. Justin Cooper, President, Redeemer College; Dr. John Patrick, Professor, Augustine College) so I’ll attempt to deal with each immediately. It is hopefully clear to all that I’m speaking in a personal capacity rather than on behalf of the government.

(1) What is the place of Christian faith at the end of the second millennium?

An answer at one level would be that Christianity has probably never been stronger around the world since AD33. Statistically, one reads estimates (source: The Universal Almanac 1997 on World Religions) that there are worldwide today 1.5 billion Christians in a total population of 5.8 billion. By region, the estimates are: Europe – 420 million; Latin America – 392 million; Africa – 236.3 million; North America – 227.2 million; South Asia – 125.9 million; former USSR – 102.2 million; East Asia – 22.3 million; Oceania – 21.5 million.

It has been my immense good fortune to travel widely since the Cold War ended in 1989. In virtually every country I’ve been, including China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan in Asia, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey, Bulgaria and Albania in Europe, approximately 25 countries on the continent of Africa and most nations, large and small, in the Americas (including the Caribbean), I’ve been struck by the vigour, confidence and optimism of local Christians.

This is not to say for a moment that in some of these lands Christians have it easy – quite the contrary – but at least there is now more tolerance and growing congregations even if they must meet in secret as in the days of the Roman Empire. For example, several of us Canadians were permitted to speak of Christianity at a private dinner with National Peoples’ Congress officials in the Beijing room of the Great Hall of the People in China’s capital. In Moscow, the Christian Embassy of Canada hosted a brunch for members of the State Duma. One of those attending had earlier distributed Bibles to a fairly large number of members of the Russian army.

The collapse of ideological competition has virtually everywhere made it easier for both Christians and other faith communities. The "crisis of the soul", to use the phrase of Aleksandr Yakovlev (the advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev and former Ambassador to Canada), which inflicted the Russian people for decades has clearly begun to change. There are plenty of bumps on the road, but an important process has begun.

No one here needs to be reminded that the persecution of Christians is undiminished in other parts of the world. A recent series of very troubling articles in the Ottawa Citizen by Bob Harvey reminded us that fully half the Christians who have died for their faith since AD33 probably have done so since 1900. The estimate of those martyred in the 20th century is more than 35 million – about 163,000 per year at current levels. Harvey’s recent pieces on the treatment of Christians in Sudan have distressed many readers of the Citizen greatly. If all Christian denominations around the world were to speak out everywhere with one voice on this phenomenon, we’d have a far greater impact than speaking as individual denominations. Why not establish an inter-denominational task force on persecution in all countries with significant Christian populations?

For Canada herself, a fair answer to the question is also difficult. None of us is prevented legally from practising our Christian faith. The Charter of Rights protects freedom of religion, but believers of most faiths, including our own, have plenty of constant critics in the media and elsewhere. In fairness, both the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post today show a good deal of positive interest in religious issues. Ottawa Christian News is a welcome addition to the scene as is Ottawa Christian radio station CHRI 99.1.

Statistically – they are particularly dangerous in the hands of politicians – I understand that more Canadians attend church services weekly than sports events. Lots who don’t are non-practising believers, although others would argue that it’s impossible to be a Christian all by yourself.

Last year, this community enjoyed a very successful crusade by Billy Graham and members of many Christian denominations worked to make it a great success. In the past two years or so, I’ve seen two very large Evangelical churches open in the Mill Woods suburb of Edmonton. One seats about 1,400 and it was almost full at the dedication service recently. Some denominations, as we know, are not growing; unfortunately, some are even losing members.

A national opinion survey in 1993 found that eight out of ten Canadians believe in God. Regular attendees of religious services were more likely than others to say they are happy and satisfied with their lives. The author Ron Graham concluded in his book, God’s Dominion, several years ago that "for all the talk of Canada as a secular and materialistic country there seems to be more and more attention to spiritual issues". Do you not agree here too with C.S. Lewis: "I have discovered that the people who believe most strongly in the next life do the most good in the present one."?

In summary then, this is the place of the Christian faith at the end of the second millennium as I see it.

(2) How will Christians engage the issues of politics and society in the third millennium?

A short answer here is "carefully". More seriously, I think a strong case can be made that the institution of democratic government and civil society in this and other lands ultimately depend upon, and come from, religious principles shared by many of the world’s great religions, including our own. Marxists, for example, are rarely democrats and vice versa.

It seems to be little known, for example, that there are quotations from the Bible carved on fully three sides of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. Elsewhere in the public square, numerous Canadians before and since Confederation founded schools, colleges, universities, and a host of other institutions out of religious convictions. The YMCA and YWCA are but two of many such institutions. The Christian faith sustains many of these bodies down to the present time.

Interestingly, however, one of the myths Christians of all denomination must often dispel today is the notion that being religious makes one intolerant. The American pollster, George Gallup, demonstrated years ago that practising Christians are much more accepting of other creeds and philosophies than are non-believers. Gallup’s study also indicated that people of what he termed "strong" religious convictions were more ethical in personal dealings, more tolerant of persons with different backgrounds, more apt to perform charitable acts, more concerned about the betterment of society and happier than others.

Data gathered by Reg Bibby, the Canadian researcher on religion, indicates that teenagers who attend church services regularly "are considered more likely than teens who never attend services to place a higher value on such traits as honesty, forgiveness, concern for others, politeness and generosity". Any thoughtful parent, teacher, legislator, social worker or young person should be interested in such a conclusion. Should we believers not share such information?

Sadly, Canada has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world; only New Zealand and Finland evidently are higher. The number of teen suicides in our country, moreover, has been rising steadily and has in fact increased about four-fold since 1960. Psychologists point at problems with relationships, depression and poverty as probable causes. Youth pastors and other Christians can often be helpful here.

Family issues generally, moreover, will continue to be important in the new millennium. One expert with 60 years of experience, Benjamin Spock, thinks voters in the U.S. and presumably elsewhere should influence legislators through letters, visits, etc. to assist mothers/fathers who would prefer to stay home with young children. He thinks American children get their consumerism, competitiveness and brutality from television. Spock: "parents can make a profound difference by teaching social and spiritual values – helpfulness, cooperation, generosity, love throughout childhood."

The Public Square Today

It is probable that a large majority of elected individuals in many representative democracies around the world today would identify themselves as Christians. If asked how their religious faith affects their daily work, however, a good many among this group might well reply truthfully: "not much". This nominal believer phenomenon today is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Early in the twentieth century, Abraham Kuyper founded the Christian Democratic Association in Holland on the conviction that there is no area in human life where Christ does not say "mine". Near the start of the 21st century, even politicians who take their religious faith seriously often differ on what the scriptures say on a host of contemporary issues. The Bible makes it clear that various acts are sins, but Jesus also warned his followers not to judge others. Are Christians, moreover, not to ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’? We also have a duty to be fair, especially when it involves applying our principles in the political arena (where truth is often the first victim).

In my view, believers should avoid saying: "the Christian view of issue X must be Y" on issues where it’s difficult to say with real confidence what Jesus himself would say. I believe it harms Christianity if its followers insist that the Bible requires us to favour one side or the other. On some issues – "ethnic cleansing", child pornography, slavery and environment degradation come readily to mind – Christians, like believers of other faiths, can be more confident.

My own view, doubtless induced partly by a long experience in the religious/cultural climes of Canada, is to be cautious about mixing church and state. If one wishes to make the case, say, that Hollywood values ("If it feels good, do it") have wreaked considerable havoc across the English-speaking world, why not do so on an empirical or common sense basis? There is good evidence that the media’s constant glamourization of violence has had very serious ripple effects, especially among the young. Is it not better advocacy to support tougher laws to fight, say, child pornography on the evidence of what it has probably already done to our communities? Believers of virtually all religions are already convinced on such issues.

In an age of almost daily regional violence somewhere in the world, believers are achieving much to resolve disputes peacefully. For example, in South Africa before the 1994 elections which brought Nelson Mandela to the presidency, a bloodbath was probably avoided when Chief Buthelezi agreed at almost the last moment to allow his Inkatha Freedom party to compete at the ballot box. Buthelezi, who might have missed a crucial meeting with a fellow Christian (Washington Okumy of Kenya) if his aircraft had not developed mechanical problems in the air, later used the Jonah experience in the Bible to explain how God had brought the two of them together. A South African MP later reminded an astonished Canadian parliamentarian: "Eighty percent of South Africans are Christians."

An important book, Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, offers other case studies from Asia, Europe, Central America and Africa in which spiritual factors played an important part in resolving conflicts and achieving non-violent change. In former East Germany, for example, where religion was persecuted severely for decades, a number of churches positioned themselves to play a major role in the peaceful revolution of 1989-1990. Part of the eventual success came from a steadfast insistence by their leaders following World War II that in view of the Hitler experience Christian churches must not be compliant partners of governments of any political stripe. A period of schizophrenia for some denominations occurred, but during the '80s a genuinely independent peace movement grew up among many East German believers. By 1988, large prayer meetings were being held weekly in a dozen cities across the country and the Evngelische Kirche was daring to call for the rule of law, limits on state authority, democratic elections, free media, and environmental protection. The "Magna Carta" for the revolution of 1989 was in this fashion prepared largely by Christians.

On October 9, 1989, fears of a Tiananmen-like massacre swept through Leipzig when several thousand police took up posts outside five downtown churches, most notably "St. Nicholas’ Church". An estimated 10,000 men and women met inside for their weekly prayers. The beatitudes were read and sermons stressed peaceful protest only. The crowd outside eventually swelled to 70,000, but miraculously the only violence was attempted by security officials of the regime seeking to incite the crowd. It was soon stopped by the protesters. The authority of the churches, which counted for more than all the government troops placed around the city, thus became a key factor in encouraging the peaceful transfer of power to the democratic side. A banner was later hung across a Leipzig street, evidently by non-believers: "Wier Danken Dir, Kirche" ("We thank you, church").


In summary, there is probably a greater need for committed Christians in every walk of life today than at most other points in human history. Christian politicians everywhere can help by acting as a brake upon forces that daily threaten to overcome civilization. In addition to speaking out or voting, we believers in our own lives must place a high value on the empathy, kindness and numerous other qualities associated with Christianity. Our lives must somehow manage to remind others that there is a Redeemer for our "tormented public and private world."

Should Christians each in our own way and space not also attempt to do what the Apostle Paul and millions of lesser-known believers have done down through the ages? We could use C.S. Lewis as a model for our age. If Lewis was the twentieth century’s most influential Christian author, was he not also, as Dorothy Sayers put it, "God’s terrier"? Believers in any situation should be terriers for our Saviour too. Each day presents new opportunities for ministry.

Thank you.

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