Skip to main content

People hold signs during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Parliament Hill on Jan. 30.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Michael Coren is an author who is ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada.

There is a video circulating on social media of a group of truckers in Ottawa discussing their plans. They exchange views in a quite heated manner, and then suddenly one of them begins to recite the Lord’s Prayer. In direct obedience and observance, all of the others remove their caps and follow suit. It’s being posted by supporters of the convoy who see the enterprise as God’s work and want to emphasize the piety of all concerned.

There is another clip online, less laudatory, of a man demanding a room in an Ottawa hotel. He is unmasked and becomes increasingly angry as those at reception calmly and politely tell him that the policy requires that he cover his mouth and nose. He calls them “pathetic in life” and then, as he is being escorted out, says, “You will answer to God,” and warns that God will send them to hell.

While some would conclude that these scenes represent different versions of the raw faith that is so prevalent among the truckers and their friends, I’d argue the opposite. From the well-attended prayer service held on the first Sunday of the occupation to the placards with Christian symbols and Biblical texts that are so common, what we’re seeing is the co-opting of the Gospels by the political hard right.

I’ve no idea of what was in the hearts of those men who suddenly turned from bellicose plotting to telling God they “forgive those who trespass against us,” but judging by the ubiquity of vulgar anti-Trudeau signs and images of nooses, I’m a little cynical. I’m a priest – the Lord’s Prayer is central to my very being – but it’s more than just a collection of words. It’s what Jesus taught us to say. Jesus – who owned nothing and lived communally – reserved his harshest words for the wealthy and legalistic, redistributed food and preached tolerance, inclusion and grace. He could be as gentle as a watercolour in his love and compassion, but fierce as a lion of Judah in his demand for social justice.

There’s nothing new of course about the politicization of Christianity; it’s been happening ever since church and state began to mingle 1,700 years ago. But it was the ostensible threats of the civil-rights movement and the so-called permissive society in the 1960s that galvanized Christian conservatives in the U.S., and today the Republican Party has become framed by a movement and a philosophy that it once regarded as a mere useful machine.

Fear plays a major part in all this: fear of change, fear of the new face of Canada and America, and fear that any questioning of scripture is somehow a threat to belief itself. That’s particularly sad, because a genuine relationship with God should embrace all sorts of experience and learning. To reassess belief isn’t the same as to doubt.

The Christian left still exists, and it could well be that most people who regard themselves as Christian are progressives, but at a political level the narrative is overwhelmingly dominated by the right. They even have their very own semi-sacraments: opposition to women’s choice and equal marriage, determined support for traditional family values, loathing of liberalism, and adoration of what they see as freedom. It’s this last one in particular that has so permeated the convoy phenomenon. The state is a threat, the lockdown is the state at its worst, to oppose the lockdown is to stand for freedom, and freedom is holy.

It’s a strange interpretation of the New Testament, because when the word is used it’s almost always in relation to being free from sin, free from the yoke of spiritual incarceration. What we’d regard as freedom from laws or government restrictions isn’t the teaching of Jesus or St. Paul at all – often quite the contrary. Combine this with dangerously eccentric ideas about vaccines being the mark of the beast or an attempt by some mysterious one-world government to reduce the population, and it’s an acid brew.

That some of this should bleed over to Canada was inevitable. It’s loudest in the People’s Party, increasingly confident within the Tories, and blatant in the Ottawa protests. Canada could never be as polarized as the U.S.: It has a much smaller and less fundamentalist evangelical community, and a radically different self-perception. Political and spiritual certainty is compelling, however, and with God on your side you can apparently even abuse people in a Canadian hotel.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.