The public debate about religious accommodation has grabbed a great deal of attention lately, fuelled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s stated intention to contest a court decision that women who choose to wear the niqab during their taking the oath of citizenship are within their rights to do so.
Harper has characterized the wearing of the full face covering that allows only the eyes to be visible, which is one expression of adherence to the Muslim faith, as a symbol of female oppression. This has been strongly rejected by many female voices within the Muslim community.
Canada for the most part is a Christian country. At the same time, it presents to the world a message of tolerance. Many people who choose to make this country their home come here with the understanding that they would be freer here to practice their religion than they were in their country of origin. Therefore, it can be very disheartening for them to hear from the head of Canada’s government that their observance of their faith is unacceptable.
Like other periods in history, we continue to be a world in which the ways that individuals and groups of people choose to have a relationship with God are an offence to other individuals and groups trying to do the same thing.
In places such as Iraq, Syria and parts of Nigeria, the persecution of people of Christian faith has taken hold. By now, many of us would be familiar with news stories of militant Islamists who round up Christians and slaughter them or forcibly convert them to Islam.
Certainly, as we enter this holiest period for Christians, Easter, many would be contemplating such matters.
The simple answer is to practice love and tolerance of others. Simple, but clearly, not easy.
Christians are meant to take a solemn moment to consider the great sacrifice given for the world when Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
The transgressions of the world are a daily challenge, but we are reminded at Easter each year that redemption is within reach, if we so choose. The story of the great, selfless love that Christ exemplified for humankind and for God tells us how we should relate to each other. Thus, by the purity of His actions, He defied death and, in so doing, offered us eternal life.
That we can still be deeply moved thousands of years later by the selfless life of Christ shows the remarkable power of those actions.
It speaks also of the compassion that we, as human beings, are capable of, once we commit to it.
Given our current tumultuous times, perhaps it may be best to think of the works of Christ as the actions of an activist who saw clearly the need for change in society and committed himself to being an agent for change, forging ahead in a truly exceptional manner to allow that change to occur.
With religious intolerance on the rise, such challenges remain. Similarly, a global movement for racial justice is again rising in the public’s mind.
Racial and religious intolerance must not be accepted with complacency. It is inspirational, therefore, to consider that social movements for racial justice and religious tolerance would be within the realm of Christ-like action. Those who commit to contributing their energy to ensuring each human being is valued and respected would be considered to be following in Christ’s footsteps.
During Easter, it is also important to remember in the spirit of the observance that those who seek to preserve and protect Christianity should not do so by denigrating other religions. Such actions do a disservice to the Christian religion.