In February 2022, the trucker convoy, referred to as “Freedom Convoy” by organizers, grabbed the attention of the media in Canada and beyond. It was comprised of truckers and people from various groups who gathered in Ottawa to protest government mandates regarding covid protection and pandemic related restrictions. Some convoy members explicitly self-identified as “Christians” as evidenced by biblical references displayed on vehicles, public participation by several pastors of Christian congregations and a regular morning ‘march around Jericho’ (the Parliament buildings).
Simultaneously in Christian churches across the country thousands of people, also self-identifying as “Christian”, worshipped, sang, participated in sacraments, and listened to readings and sermons based on the Christian gospel including the instruction from the book of Luke in the Bible,“ If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also”. Most of these parishioners followed government mandates for vaccines and mask-wearing; some congregations even went beyond government mandates. (For example, in Saskatchewan, the government did not order Proof of Vaccination mandates for churches but some churches there required proof of vaccination during the worst of the waves. Similarly when the government mandates requiring the use of masks in indoor gatherings ended on February 28, 2022, member congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (Saskatchewan synod) both encouraged and required masks into March, at the time of writing.)
Two groups of Christians?
Both groups call themselves Christian yet it’s hard to imagine groups further apart in terms of their action, motivations and objectives. On the one hand, “hold the line” was the clarion call of the Ottawa protesters while in churches where the words of Luke were being pondered, the context was one of selflessness and care for the other. If an alien were to land on earth, how much of this could we explain? Certainly the term ‘Christian’ would be difficult given the actions and evidence provided by these two different populations, not to mention some of the antagonistic commentary between the groups.
Religious literacy can help us understand Christianity in Canada
Religious literacy plays at least a two-fold role here. Much of the self-identity of Christian groups is bound up, not only with belief systems, but with the history of the people involved, how they understand their position in society, what socio-economic factors have brought them to this place, and what they view as their future. Religious literacy is a way to unpack that great diversity of what it is to be Christian in Canada, even as we discuss whether a protest and occupation in the nation’s capital was a good idea.
Also, religious literacy can help the participants, both the Christians among the protestors and those in the churches, understand the viewpoint of the other and talk with one another about their goals and aspirations. Such conversation is so badly needed among and between all religious groups in our world today.
Moving beyond a single story
It is clear that it is not possible to understand any group by only one set of characteristics, as doing so ignores the complexity in each one. In some ways this makes the pursuit of religious literacy an extremely difficult, yet even more important task for every person identifying with a religious (or non-religious) tradition; all traditions come with their own set of past development, present circumstances, and future aspirations. But following the threads of the traditions, their histories, the social, cultural and economic factors that contribute to these groups, whether they be in the Ottawa convoy or in the main-stream church down the road, gives us a richer understanding of our world and the neighbors who populate that world with us. It may also help us understand ourselves that much better too!