Think of a nature special you come across on TV featuring an endangered species of which you know nothing, and about which you care little—the Hellbender salamander, say. I learned of it recently in just this way. Zoologists spent years researching this exotic creature. Nature cinematographers camped out for days to capture footage. All were driven in their efforts by the simple desire to raise awareness of the species' existence, and so attract sympathy and support for its survival.
At least in Canada, this is how I sometimes feel about Christians in this post-Christian or, perhaps more truthfully, pagan society. Most are like salamanders, wanting to be left undiscovered and alone, as long as their quiet, secure space under a rock remains undisturbed. Few Christians are like the zoologists and cinematographers, at least making the effort to see that a survivable habitat is maintained for their salamander friends. And broader society? Just like in my dubious analogy, they don't much care. Worse, maybe they consider the salamander a rather unpleasant creature that had better remain under some forsaken rock, while the people who seem so interested in their preservation should find something better to do.
(Admittedly, since not so long ago Christians were considered a majority in this country, with our laws and public institutions grounded in Judeo-Christian thought, the tragic tale of the North American bison may be more a more apt animal analogy than a sorry salamander saga, but I digress.)
The point is that Christians, even those active in the "public square," seem to have settled for a mandate of mere preservation. What happened to boldly declaring the dominion of Christ over every inch of the Dominion of Canada?
To focus particularly on where the Lord has placed me for this stage in my life—in law school, and here at Cardus—I do not argue for a return to Blackstone's Commentaries as primary reading for legal education or as a guiding influence in Anglo-Canadian law, as they used to be. But I do continually find myself and my faith on the defensive, inside the classroom and out.
Perhaps an example from one of my classes will explain. "How far should we go in tolerating institutions such as Trinity Western?" our constitutional law professor probed during a class discussion of Trinity Western University v. B.C. College of Teachers, a leading case on freedom of religion in Canada. In that case, the B.C. College of Teachers had refused to accredit TWU's teachers' college, for the avowed reason that their graduates could be reasonably expected to discriminate against homosexual students in schools since they were asked to sign a code of conduct that obliged them to abstain from a variety of things, including homosexual conduct. Yet, more discouraging than my professor's question were some of my classmates' responses. Tolerate? One girl pronounced curtly, "We shouldn't."
That professor's question epitomized, I believe, the general posture of legal academic elites towards religious individuals, groups, and institutions. They generally take an antagonistic stance towards religious claimants seeking to assert protection for a belief or practice that is deemed incompatible with "Charter values" (a rather nebulous term indeed). Sometimes they take a more accommodating (patronizing) stance, but only where religious protections entail mere inconvenience to society.
Yet both antagonism and patronage stem from an underlying mindset that sees religious freedom as a benefit benevolently bestowed upon backwards religious types by the secular state in the name of tolerance and, it seems, in the expectation (or hope) that "progress" will eventually erase the impact of religion in law and render religious groups impotent in future influence.
In my relatively brief involvement with Cardus, I have come to greatly appreciate its commitment to confront and overcome the above mindset that so pervades secular institutions. But I've also learned that the motivation for doing so cannot be to ensure that Christians in Canada continue to have it relatively easy.
If religious freedom is only about us, we Christians frankly don't even deserve a rock to hide under. A mandate of preservation accomplishes little for the kingdom of God and for his glory.
Our motivation must stem from a proper understanding of the cultural mandate God has given to us, and our courage must come from our trust in the truth and power of his word. But being motivated and courageous isn't enough. This is where the work of organizations like Cardus is invaluable: equipping Christians with adequate intellectual tools and resources is a necessary step in growing Christians as effective engagers of the cultures in which God has placed us.