My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I also blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
Government responses among Western democracies to the pandemic have been a rude awakening to what the rest of the world experiences on a daily basis. Civil and human rights that were assumed and believed in the West to be protected by law were quickly denied or run roughshod over.
Lockdowns, curfews, forced closure/loss of one’s livelihood, travel restrictions, violent suppression of protests, two-tiered citizenship, limits on how many people you can have visit your house, parameters on the number of worshippers in churches, temples, or mosques, coerced injections of experimental medication, threats of loss of job if one does not follow government mandates, and aggressive censorship is certainly not the usual experience of living in a democracy. Yet that has been the case for a while now.
But we should not be surprised.
Even a cursory examination of the twentieth century - or of the current legal system - indicates that during war and/or a health crisis our cherished rights and liberties can be overridden by politicians, often at the urgent behest of general or doctors. Legislation exists that can trump civil rights in order for the “greater good” of winning the war, or a medical emergency may be declared with the same negative impact on civil rights. Even the courts will ignore the normal rules regarding human rights, and statements such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or provincial Human Rights Codes can be seen as not applying to wartime or pandemic conditions.
So what should we do?
First, we need to recognize that the God-ordained role of the state is to look after temporal affairs, such as a military or medical crisis. And we must let the state do just that.
Second, we need to recognize the God-ordained role of the church in time of crisis is to comfort, to pray, to alleviate suffering, and to provide assistance when appropriate.
But churches are also to speak prophetically to any abuses or overreach of the state. As for churches in the West, they should avoid unnecessary and foolish provocation in times of crisis, but, at the same time, they should speak to injustices and state overreach leading to the loss of rights and the demonizing of minorities and dissenters. That being the case, here are few comments related to being prophetic in times of crisis.
One church leader at the start of the Second World War made the astute observation that in wartime everything changes: “Let us remember that now our news is censored. No longer do we read or hear other than that which the governments desire us know. News, columnists’ articles, and all other such writings serve only as propaganda. Let us keep that in mind, realizing that the so-called enemy hears just the opposite point of view. Sometimes his information may be right and ours wrong. It is significant that on this first day of September one source – the government controlled radio – is supplying nearly all the news of the crisis which we get over the air.”
Governments are out to win the battle, often by hook or by crook. Leaders will tell a “noble lie.” Legitimate alternative voices will be cancelled. Industry will seek to make a profit. And many secular newspapers – at least in my nation – act primarily as uncritical propaganda machines for the state. But Christians must be sensitive to being exploited in a crisis and be discerning readers with eyes wide open. Of course, at the same time, they must also avoid being drawn into the dark conspiracy theory world of the web.
The danger is to rush to the book of Revelation over every negative event during the present pandemic. Christians have been denied rights for centuries – so why is it only when we in the West are denied our rights that Jesus is suddenly coming back again? It seems odd that centuries of unfathomable misery, suffering, persecution, and genocide of Christians around the world was not a sign of the end times – but our relatively benign hardships in the West now mean the end of the world.
Politicians must avoid the myopic approach of generals and doctors, and, instead, consider the host of responsibilities of a political figure. And we must remind our politicians that while the battle needs to be won, they are – as much as possible – to protect human flourishing in the midst of the struggle.
Of course, certain exceptional measures must be enacted to overcome an exceptional crisis. But we must make it clear that we will not forget government overreach. And, if politicians go too far, or do too little to protect our rights and dignity, we will make those politicians pay in the courts and/or by voting them out as soon as we have a chance.
The increased control of our lives may become too intoxicating for politicians and vested interests to relinquish when the crisis is over. That being the case, we must watch out for any unnecessary prolonging of the crisis. We must also urge a lifting of any restrictions once the crisis is past, as well as call for a return to the rights and liberties we had pre-crisis.
In these difficult times we must remember and remind others that we (in Canada) have fought two world wars, as well as other wars in South Africa, Korea, and Afghanistan, as well as struggled through a number of serious pandemics/medical emergencies. During some of those crises civil rights were denied and even trampled on, people were rounded up and placed in camps, individuals were jailed for their convictions. It is a sorry list.
Yet, even after those excesses the return of civil rights came about (and governments were chastised for their crimes or mismanagement). There is no compelling reason to think that the future will be any different this time around, and we can, I believe, have a degree of hope that life will return to “normal” if we work hard to make it so.
 For instance, see the Emergency Act in Canada (formerly the War measures Act). Interestingly, provincial politicians did not support the Prime Minister invoking it in the current pandemic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergencies_Act
 “The Church’s Duty in War,” Canadian Churchman, 14 September 1939.