On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a hate speech ban against William Whatcott a self described “former drug-addict, petty criminal and homosexual-turned-Christian anti-gay activist.”
Whatcott’s pamphlets and flyers portray gays and lesbians “as a menace that threatens the safety and well-being of others, makes reference to respected sources in an effort to lend credibility to the negative generalizations, and uses vilifying and derogatory representations to create a tone of hatred,” according to one source.
Yesterday, Joe Carter made the following observation:
The ruling has potentially broad implications for the Christian witness in Canada. For instance, the court ruled that making claims which could be construed as “detesting or vilifying” homosexual behavior is enough to classify speech as “hate speech”:
Courts have recognized a strong connection between sexual orientation and sexual conduct and where the conduct targeted by speech is a crucial aspect of the identity of a vulnerable group, attacks on this conduct stand as proxy for attacks on the group itself. If expression targeting certain sexual behaviour is framed in such a way as to expose persons of an identifiable sexual orientation to what is objectively viewed as detestation and vilification, it cannot be said that such speech only targets the behaviour. It quite clearly targets the vulnerable group.
“The ruling also states that suppression of ‘hate speech’—such as claiming that homosexual behavior is immoral—is so important that it justifies infringing on religious freedom and provides a basis for a ‘reasonable limit on freedom of religion and is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,’” Carter explains. “The court also explained that truth was no defense since ‘Truthful statements can be presented in a manner that would meet the definition of hate speech, and not all truthful statements must be free from restriction.’”
Understandably, this has serious implications for Christians in Canada. As Carter observes in his article, according to the language of the ruling, that language that can be objectively viewed as detestation of a particular people group or behavior can be classified as hate speech, Christians in Canada are at risk of prosecution.
So how can Christians maintain a faithful witness in Canada under the circumstances? Here are three things I’d encourage us to remember:
1. Speak graciously.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” wrote Paul (Col. 4:6). Sharing the Christian view of marriage and sexuality should be a simple thing… but too often we’re painted with as hate-mongers thanks to false witnesses speaking in a way that is thoroughly anti-gospel.
“God hates fags” might have a certain rhetorical flair, but it misses the mark in terms of gospel witness.
While we must never compromise on the clear teaching of the Bible, Christians in Canada (and everywhere else), need to show great love and affection to those within the homosexual community. We need to remember that we are called to love our neighbors, who may also be our enemies (whether figurative or literal). Speak well, speak kindly, and understand that the root issue behind the rhetoric of pro-gay activists isn’t one of behavior, but of identity, something the ruling itself makes very clear.
Homosexuality truly is an identity issue and we must show that our identity in Christ is the only thing sufficient to deliver on what it promises.
2. Speak clearly.
Nevertheless, where Scripture is clear, we must be also. We do need to acknowledge that homosexuality is described as a sin within the Scriptures. Paul speaks of it as being the result of God giving mankind over to a depraved mind. It is, in effect, God’s way of saying, “If you think your sin will truly bring you happiness, have at it.” Paul writes:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie…. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:18, 21-22, 24-31)
Notice Paul’s clarity here: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness.” This “unrighteousness” isn’t limited to homosexuality in specific or sexual sin in general. It is all sin:
Envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossip, slander, arrogance, ruthlessness and so many other attitudes and behaviors—all of it, Paul says, is justly deserving the wrath of God.
Those who condemn homosexuality and sexual sin must also be equally incensed by the gossip, malice, greed, jealousy, strife and deceitful scheming that goes on in far too many of our churches.
But we must also be clear on the good news of the gospel: that Jesus’ death and resurrection is sufficient to atone for all the sins of men and women. No sin—not homosexuality, nor adultery, nor gossip, nor any other sin imaginable—is too great that the cross can’t overcome it. So speak both sides of the truth clearly.
3. Prayerfully accept the consequences.
Speaking the truth requires us to be courageous, now more than ever. The door has been opened by this ruling for serious consequences for Christians who speak the truth, no matter how winsomely. Inevitably one or more of us will face them.
But we need not fear. Our God is greater than any persecution, real or potential. If it’s His will that Christians come under fire in Canada, so be it.
We must remember that the church was born in an era of intense persecution—and grew from 120 believers at the time of Jesus’ ascension to around 20 million by 310 AD! While the consequences we may face will not be pleasant, we ought to consider them “all joy,” knowing that “the testing of [our] faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3).
The power that seeks to wipe out the Church here in Canada will only make it stronger—that’s how the gospel works in trial and adversity.
And who knows? Perhaps it will be the means by which God brings about revival in a land desperately in need of it.
So, Christian, speak graciously. Speak clearly. Accept the consequences and pray that God’s will be done.