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Why Churches Must Speak
There is a reluctance among churches to participate in public political debate, such as the one on marriage. However, our task is to bear witness to the truth.

The comments of a federal cabinet minister that churches should stay out of the debate about the redefinition of marriage were widely denounced. At a subsequent press conference, which The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) held on the legislation to redefine marriage, I said: "There is no strict separation of Church and state when it comes to marriage in Canada. To suggest otherwise is to misunderstand Canadian constitutional history, our traditions and practice. To suggest that churches remain silent thwarts civil society and is an expression of a form of secularism that is foreign to Canada. Civil and religious marriage have been fused in Canada."

… any claims to the transcendent will be spurned in a society that is committed to individual autonomy.

In 2002 more than 75 percent of marriages were performed by clergy. In Ontario it was more than 98 percent. Certainly churches and other religious institutions have a vested interest. Beyond this administrative service that they provide for provincial governments, they have a prophetic role to interpret government actions in light of Scripture and to encourage governments in their God-given mandate to do good (see Romans 13).

And yet there seems to still be a reluctance among churches to participate in the public debates. There are several reasons why this might be the case.

Some may be concerned that under the rules of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, charities cannot participate in political activity. It's true, churches cannot be partisan or contribute funds to partisan organizations or activities, whether directed to specific candidate or party. However, a church is well within its role to weigh into the debate and explain why the legislation would do good or ill. Both the EFC and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities have guidelines on their web sites, as does the CCRA.

Others may believe that the redefinition of marriage is a done deal so why bother getting involved. Of course the quick answer is that victory is in God's hands, not ours. Our responsibility is to be faithful. Whether we think we will win in Parliament or not, our task is to bear witness to the truth and, in this instance, about the nature and purpose of marriage.

Some may fear that a strong public stand will hinder their ability to be a place where all sinners—gay or straight—can find refuge and healing. They fear it will not only distract the Church from its true task but even hinder it.

How do we learn to speak the truth in love? Certainly, many of us have not done this well. The Church is often known more for what it is against than what it is for. Jesus was a friend of sinners. Why? Not because He did not speak the truth—but because He did. He did so in love, with compassion and understanding.

I wonder whether another reason may be that which also hinders us from evangelism. As Joe Boot points out, that which hinders us from taking a stand may be a loss of confidence before allegations of intolerance or self-doubt. Do we believe that biblical principles are true, that abiding by them will bring blessing and wholeness? If so, then we must commit ourselves to the hard and disciplined work of building an apologetic—realizing that any claims to the transcendent will be spurned in a society that is committed to individual autonomy.

As John Stott wrote: "In social action … we should neither try to impose Christian standards by force on an unwilling public, nor remain silent and inactive before the contemporary landslide, nor rely exclusively on the dogmatic assertion of biblical values, but rather reason with people about the benefits of Christian morality, commending God's law to them by rational arguments. We believe God's laws are both good in themselves and universal in their application because, far from being arbitrary, they fit the human beings God has made."

Bruce Clemenger is the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2005.




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