Tag Archives: rights

Manitoba’s Code Red Tweaks allowing drive-ins and a follow-up to the open letter to churches flouting restrictions

I am a pastor serving a congregation in Winnipeg. I am also a blogger, having blogged here since 2013. This blog is full of commentary on issues of the day as they relate to the Church and people of faith. 

Yesterday, (December 8th, 2020) the province announced some changes to public health orders. And as of this week, drive-in worship will be allowed again (for now). 

To be clear, the initial public letter was not about the relative safety of drive-in worship during a pandemic. I am not a public health expert, it is not my place to debate the application of restrictions.

I am also extremely sympathetic to the strain and difficulties that the restrictions on gatherings have added to our lives and communities. During these stressful times when everyone’s inclination is to gather, it is really hard to have to stay apart. So many of us have been apart from family, friends and community for a long time.

Rather, the issue I hopefully articulated, and that others signed onto in the letter, was the flouting of public health orders. It is about faith leaders and faith communities signalling that public orders are okay only as long as they aren’t too inconvenient. And if they are inconvenient it is okay to break them (be fined for it) and fight them in court. 

There is no debate that some faith communities have deliberately defied public health orders and that fines were issued for doing so. 

As the public health orders were “tweaked” yesterday, it might *seem* like a victory for those upset about the brief suspension of drive-in services. 

I think this is the wrong lens through which to view this issue. This is not about winners or losers. The only way to win during this pandemic is to save lives and to care for one another as much as possible. 

If the province changed the rules because of the complaints regarding drive-in gatherings that is problematic. It means that rules are being changed for small interest groups instead of for the health and protection of the public and the health-care system. 

But if, as Dr. Roussin says, public health orders are only in place for the shortest amount of time they are needed and they are being lifted because it is safe for our province to do so, then that is acceptable. 

And knowing that, I have to wonder what on earth was all the protest about?

Just as promised, the restrictions were temporary in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. They were not part of grand government design to stamp out Christian faith. 

Yesterday’s tweaks to the orders don’t reveal who won or lost in some perceived debate, instead they reveal some important questions about the past couple of weeks:

What did it serve to break the orders?

What was the point of incurring the fines? 

What was the point of the expensive legal battle? 

And why send the message that our inconveniences as churches and faith communities come before the greater good? 

(Unless the actual issue is that some don’t believe that this pandemic is real and dangerous). 

In my eye, the change in public health orders today only reveals how unnecessary all of this standing up for personal rights and freedoms really has been. 

If there comes a day when the government legitimately tries to stifle the practice of faith, I will be the first to stand up in protest. Today, and any day during this pandemic, is not that day. 

Follow up to the Open Letter

In regards to the Open Letter to Pastor Leon Fontaine and Springs Church regrading their objections to public health restrictions in our province, so far, 79 Clergy from across Manitoba have added their names. Leaders from many different denominations. 47 more clergy from a cross Canada and even the United States have also added their names. 

I have received many, many responses to the letter. Many comments on Facebook and Twitter, over 100 comments on my blog, and almost 200 emails. The majority are positive and supportive, but also many have been negative. 

I have received such gracious support from so many colleagues in ministry. There have been many messages from church folks glad that their faith leaders said something in response to the actions of the churches going against public health orders. And many messages from non-church folks grateful for the witness of the letter. 

The responses that hit me the hardest were from front-line healthcare workers angry and frustrated by the actions of churches fighting against public health orders. The letter and signatories were a welcome response. They helped to calm hurt feelings and anger. 

On the other side, I have also received many comments, posts, emails and voicemails from those who did not appreciate or agree with the letter. Many from folks who support the churches going against orders, and some non-Christians who are frustrated with public health restrictions.

Some have been polite, most have not. Most have accused me (and the other signatories) of acting in poor faith, being attention seeking, being un-Christian, being a poor pastor, not being a real pastor, clinging to a dying church. Some have even compared me and the other signers to the German church that collaborated with the Nazis. Some have tried to go around me and contact my congregation directly insisting that I be fired, along with any other church staff. And some comments I won’t share here at all. (Many of the comments are publicly viewable on my blog and Facebook page.)

Many have asked if I have been in touch with Pastor Leon from Springs. I posted to Spring’s Facebook page after the initial plans to proceed with their services, despite public health orders, were first announced. I also tried to find some direct ways to contact Pastor Leon through the church website, but there is no email or phone number that provides direct access to him. Most contact is initiated through contact forms, which are a way for businesses and organizations to obtain contact information like names, addresses, emails and phone numbers. Eventually, I found a generic church email address that let me email the church directly (without using a website contact form) and have emailed the church inviting conversation. I have not heard back. 

But just as importantly, the office of pastor is a public office. This means that the things one says and does while occupying that office are public. The instructions on resolving conflict in Matthew 18 correspond to conflict between siblings in faith. Yet, when Pastor Leon issued his press releases he was providing a public narrative that purported to speak for all Christians and communities of faith. This narrative needed to be addressed – publicly. 

John the Baptist preached publicly about his concerns with other faith leaders. Peter addressed other faith leaders publicly in the book of Acts. The Apostle Paul wrote public letters (which we have included in scripture!) addressing faith leaders and communities. Jesus often had public conversations with the faith leaders of Israel. 

Pastors are called, by virtue of our office, to speak publicly for our communities and that sometimes involves addressing other faith leaders in public.

Some Biblical Foundations

Some responses have claimed that the open letter was not biblical. So let me clearly address some biblical foundations. 

First off, the issue of personal rights is not a biblical one. Rather, as this excellent blog post by Dr. Brian Cooper explains, personal rights are a modern political concept. When the Apostle Paul addresses the issue of personal rights he talks about setting them aside for the sake of the gospel. 

Secondly, one approximate analogy to the suspension of in-person (or drive-in) gatherings in scripture is when Jesus heals the man with the withered hand in Mark 3. The Pharisees were trying to entrap Jesus into breaking the law on the sabbath day by doing “work” and healing the man. Jesus responds by saying, 

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”

The laws of the sabbath governed the way the people of Israel observed their day of worship. Yet, Jesus insisted on setting aside the rules in order to heal and care for people. He did not insist on setting aside the rules for his personal rights and freedoms. But always for the sake of the other. Always for the sake of caring for the most vulnerable in his community. 

Certainly, given Jesus’ consistent example in the gospels of transgressing boundaries and rules for the sake others, particularly the most vulnerable, Jesus would have been the first to forego in-person gatherings for a short time, in order to save lives. 

Thirdly, the Apostle Paul  also addresses the way a community worships in 1 Corinthians 11. The Corinthian church was struggling to discern its own membership and community. Some were eating their fill together before coming to worship at the Lord’s table while leaving other members of the church to go hungry. Paul admonishes this behaviour. He writes explicitly that the obligation is for the Corinthians to make sure that needs and well being of the whole community is looked after before gathering to worship. 

Paul writes that those who fail to discern the body – fail to understand just who is a part of their community and needs to be cared for – do so to their own condemnation. I don’t think this is prescriptive but rather descriptive. 

When we struggle and fail to discern who in our community needs to be cared for and put our own needs first, we are poorer for it as people of faith. 

Over the past 8 months, we have been asked over and over again by our community – by the leaders of the our province – to do our part to care for our community, even when that comes with personal sacrifice. 

As Christians and as people of faith, we should recognize this call as biblical and central to how we live out our faith during this pandemic. 

10 Lessons #YesAllWomen has taught this man

bodqhc2ciaawthw_19o506m-19o506tI am not sure I should even be writing this. I have written about women and inequality, especially as it relates to Christianity. But these past few days have felt different somehow.

Unless you have been under a rock, you will have heard of the twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. It was begun in response to Elliot Rodger’s killing spree, because he was feeling unfairly rejected by women.

Even a 30 second glance at the hashtag gives insight into the issues that all women face, on a daily basis, because of misogyny and patriarchy. If you haven’t done so, go to twitter and scroll through the hashtag by clicking here.

#YesAllWomen is primarily about women speaking to their experience. Unfortunately, too many men have gotten defensive about it and have responded with #NotAllMen. Defensiveness, or worse misogynistic trolling masked as defensiveness, just doesn’t help. The men who are loudly declaring that they aren’t the ones treating women badly have missed the point. No, not all men are rapists, cat-callers, abusers, misogynist or sexist. But all women suffer because of the men who are.

safe_image.phpI have been hesitant to write, because I have been worried about co-opting, as a white male, the issue of a marginalized group and making it about me. After reading articles and many tweets, I realize that I do have something to say because misogyny is about me. No, I am not the one victimized directly by it, but I suffer along with all women AND all men because it exists.

Perhaps more importantly, #YesAllWomen has taught me several lessons in these past days, lessons that I think are worth sharing. I hope they can benefit you too:

1. #YesAllWomen has shown me that the women in my life all suffer silently from misogyny. My wife, my mother, my sister, my friends, they have all been the victims of the entitled attitudes of men and they have not told me because getting a man they care about angry at another man seems not worth the effort. Especially not worth it when there are so many misogynists out there. Just trying to move past these experiences as quickly as possible feels like the best way to survive.

2. #YesAllWomen has made it clear to me, as a new father to a son, that he is the most important person to teach about misogyny and patriarchy. It is a sad reality that we have to teach our daughters to protect themselves from men, even sadder that we don’t teach our sons not be a danger to women. Each boy that grows into a man that we teach to work fight for, and not against, the women in their lives is so important. Lets teach our sons not to abuse, oppress or feel entitled towards women, at least as much as we teach our daughters to avoid these experiences.

3. #YesAllWomen shows just how blind men are to their behaviour. The fact that #NotAllMen exists shows just how much we suck at “getting it” as a gender. As of this writing, there is no one tweeting under #OnlySomeWomen, yet there are many men defending themselves with #NotAllMen. This only shows how far we have to go to get it.

4. #YesAllWomen has taught me that people will defend their privilege in disgusting ways. As a pastor, I have seen many privileged groups try to defend their position in all kinds of circumstances. Invariably, defending one’s privileged position never has good reasons. There are never justifiable reasons as to why I should automatically get more, be more respected and have more power than others. So to defend privilege, people resort to shame, ad hominem attacks, victim blaming, playing the victim card, verbal abuse, mind games, emotional manipulation, bullying and all sorts of absurd behaviour. It is all there is to defend privilege. And men have been doing it all in response to #YesAllWomen.

5. #YesAllWomen is for women to speak and for men to hear – a reversal of roles. Most men, myself included, are not used to others having a voice more prominent and more important than ours. We are not used to being talked over, interrupted or lectured (mansplained) to. We are not used to being called out and justifiably shamed. It is role reversal for us to listen and for women to have the megaphone. And it is time to hand it over.

6. #YesAllWomen is not about men solving the problem of misogyny. It makes me so angry to hear about people treating the women in my life badly, especially other men. My instinct is to hop on my white stallion and chop some legs off with my viking battle-axe. This is not realistic, of course. But neither would it help for men to resolve all conflicts for women. This only teaches those who behave badly, that as long as man is not around, they can continue behaving badly and that women aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Again and again, as I hear about people acting badly towards women, it is best to be an example of a man that treats women equally and with respect.

7. #YesAllWomen reminds me that I cannot help but take advantage of my privilege. As a man, I can basically go anywhere at anytime of day or night and feel safe. I can call people to task for their bad behaviour and a good deal of the time they change it. I can speak without being interrupted and know that my words are taken seriously. I carry an innate sense of authority, regardless of the actual position I have in a group. I know that my voice will always be heard and heeded. I also know that none of this will likely change in my lifetime. And deep down, I know that there is room for everyone to experience the world this way. More people living in a world of respect and equality, won’t mean I have less. Yet, so many of those (men) in the privileged position want to maintain their status, and keep the privilege to a few. This is because more respect for everyone feels like less privilege for me.

8. #YesAllWomen has taught me the absurdity of gender roles. Every time some person, some article, some meme, some thing tries to say, “Men are like this, Women are like that” it contributes to patriarchy and gender inequality. We can all sense the racism when someone says, “Black people are like this, white people like that” or the religious intolerance of “Christians are like this, Muslims/Jews/Hindus/Atheists are like that” or the arrogance of “university grads are like this, high school dropouts are like that”. Yet when we hear “Men are like this, women like that” so many of us knowingly nod along and smile. Knowingly nod and smile like many in my grandparents generation would have at racist jokes! As long as there is a gender imbalance we need to recognize that saying “Men are like this, women like that” really means “This quality that Men supposedly carry is preferred, and that quality that women supposedly carry is inferior.” We all should know that characterizing people in such broad strokes reduces our beautiful diversity to broken categories

9. #YesAllWomen has taught me that understanding this issue requires empathy. The difference between sympathy and empathy is this: Sympathy is feeling what someone else feels, empathy is understanding what someone else feels. Sympathy can be helpful when someone is happy or sad, joyful or grieving. But as someone who looks more like a victimizer tries to sympathize with a victim, it is patronizing and unhelpful. Empathy is hard. Empathy requires getting away from my feelings, away from my context, away from my experience and looking out of someone else’s window. Seeing and understanding what they are feeling, what their life is like, what they are experiencing. Like I said, Empathy is hard, but men need to learn it. All of us do.

10. #YesAllWomen has taught me what my role is in supporting the empowerment of women and ending misogyny. I should have made the connection sooner, as it is my job as a preacher. As a pastor I point to God, I name what God is doing in the world. That means pointing away from myself, that means getting out of the way. As a man who is a feminist, who supports gender equality it is my role to support by pointing to women. By lifting up their voices and by getting myself out of the way.

So these are the lessons I have learned. Now I am going to get out of the way. Go read #YesAllWomen on Twitter. Find the articles by women about how misogyny and patriarchy and sexism and sexual violence and abuse affects them. Read. Think. Be changed like I have been.


How has #YesAllWomen affected you? What is your experience? Share in the comments, on Facebook at The Millennial Pastor Page or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Special Thanks to my wife, Courtenay, who worked through these thoughts with me and is my brilliant editor. You can follow her on Twitter:  @ReedmanParker