woman shouting - smallWritten by: Theodoric Nowak

I commonly receive email solicitations from concerned Christians who take offence with such-and-such an issue and feel ‘something must be said.’ For example, when the Free-Thought Association of Canada won approval from the Toronto Transit Commission to place its ads on the sides of buses and trolley cars and inside subway cars – ads similar to those of an earlier campaign which included the slogan “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” – not all Christians agreed with the decision. Dr. Charles McVety, president of both the Canada Family Action Coalition and Canada Christian College in Toronto opined:

“On the surface, I’m all for free speech. … However, though, these are attack ads …These ads are not saying what the atheists believe, they are attacking what other people believe …And if you look at the dictionary definition for … bigot, that’s exactly what it is, to be intolerant of someone else’s belief system.” (http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/jan/09012909.html)

McVety’s not alone in expressing concern when things don’t go as we might like. Over six thousand people – 77% of respondents – went to a recent Globe & Mail poll to express their opinion that the assisted suicide ads should be banned. (http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/jan/09012909.html)

I support both McVety’s and the Globe & Mail respondents’ right to express their opinions, but I wonder how many people are “all for free speech” only “on the surface” and how many have a more deeply held conviction? I wonder how many of those who opposed both of the above-mentioned ads were also appalled when Fredericton Transit in New Brunswick refused to run pro-life ads stating, “Nine months: the length of time abortion is allowed in Canada. No medical reason needed” and then presenting the question: “Abortion, have we gone too far?” (http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/jul/09073008.html). I wonder how you could generally support the right to display any one of these ads and not the other.[1]

Contradiction and incoherence is also apparent outside of the realm of advertising. While Chicago’s City Council was considering creating a 50 foot bubble zone for protestors outside abortion clinics, Ann Scheidler, a member of the Pro-Life Action League, opposed the ordinance, believing its goal was to scare pro-life advocates away from the sidewalks in order to save abortion facilities by protecting their business (http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/oct/09100705.html). However, when participants in a marriage renewal ceremony at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral were forced to pass by protestors who marched on the steps of the cathedral accusing Church hierarchy of hatred toward gays and telling parishioners to “stop funding the bigots!”, many wondered why bubble zone ordinances were not being enforced. (http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2010/feb/10022210.html)

In the movie “A Man for All Seasons”, there is a scene where St. Thomas More’s future son-in-law, Roper, urges him to arrest Richard Rich, the future Lord Chancellor of England whose vindictive and ambitious nature would later compel him to perjure More. However, at this stage Rich has not yet done anything illegal and More states that nothing ought to be done to Rich – even “if he were the devil himself” – until he broke the law. Roper is shocked that More would afford the benefit of the law to the devil, but the saint refuses to recant:

What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? … And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s, and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Man_for_All_Seasons)

More’s character recognizes that it is not Christian, but Machiavellian, to forsake coherent philosophical and theological principles simply to achieve an immediately desirable end. While laws may permit or even enable us to sin, there are few which compel us to do so (More, who so ardently defended the law as a corpus, died in opposition to one such rarity). It is not the law but our acts and how we abuse the law of God which results in sin. On the other hand, many human laws – be them private or those of the State – protect and shield us from those who would do evil against us. It may be necessary in some extraordinary circumstances to challenge certain laws, but never without consideration of the effect changing the law would have in other contexts and also of the principles which underpin the law.

While Christians readily see the sins of others and identify the circumstances which lead to an undesirable result, they are often blind to the repercussions of using any means necessary to pursuing an otherwise desirable end:

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” 25When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’ (Luke 11, NRSV)

No law of man can ever successfully rid mankind of sin. Salvation must come through belief in Jesus and his Word. Our manmade laws which permit freedom of belief and access to the Word enable us to follow the law of God. Attacking these pillars will never compel another to love God. However, if we don’t respect the dignity of others and God’s gift of free will, we do more harm then good. These rights are both biblical and constitutional and they must be upheld in all our struggles.


[1] I realize there could be relevant distinctions which might allow someone to make a coherent argument for one and not the other. If you have done so, then you’ve thought about this issue and you’re not the intended audience!

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