14 July 2018

Canada’s established religion

Since the adoption of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, the accepted narrative tells us that Canadians are better protected than they were under the statutory Bill of Rights (1960) and the centuries-old Common Law tradition. But are we really? In the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in the Trinity Western case we have reason for doubt.

Section 2 of the Charter claims to guarantee the fundamental freedoms of all Canadians, including “freedom of conscience and religion.” However, section 1 also tells us that the Charter “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Because this limiting clause is expressed in such vague language, it is up to the courts to decide which limits are reasonable and which not. However, the courts are under no obligation to admit that their criteria for doing so are rooted in an unstated religious worldview placing the individual at the centre of life.

Trinity Western University, an evangelical Christian post-secondary institution in British Columbia, attempted to establish a Christian law school but ran into difficulty when the law societies of Ontario and BC declined to accredit the institution. Why? Because its community covenant prohibits students from engaging in sexual activity outside of a biblical understanding of marriage. There once was a time when such a requirement would scarcely cause controversy, because the larger society understood the distinctive character of marriage as a unique and lifelong covenant between a man and a woman, capable in principle of bringing forth and nurturing the next generation. As such, marriage deserved protection as a matter of simple justice, because, without it, society as a whole would suffer.

13 July 2018

Interview published in Brazil

I was recently interviewed by Guilherme Piton of Santo Antônio de Jesus, Bahia, Brazil, and he has posted the interview here: Fé Cristã e Política: uma pequena entrevista com David T. Koyzis. Here is the same interview in English. Piton's questions are in italics.


First, a brief presentation. Who is David T. Koyzis and how did he get involved with Christian faith, philosophy and politics?

I was born near Chicago and grew up in a Christian family that was politically aware. One of my earliest memories was of the assassination of President John Kennedy and of the huge impact that had on the American polity. As a young man I was fascinated by the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. At virtually the same time, my paternal relatives in Cyprus became refugees after Turkey invaded the island state in 1974. All of these influenced me to study politics in a more focused way. When I was about nineteen I began reading Abraham Kuyper and his intellectual and spiritual heirs on Christianity and politics, and I was deeply impressed with their conviction that our faith has implications for public life. This conviction has animated my own work over the decades, including graduate studies and university teaching.

04 July 2018

The Glorious Revolution, American royalists and the War for Independence

One of the more fascinating books I've read recently is Eric Nelson's The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding. On this Independence Day it is worth recounting Nelson's argument, which differs somewhat from the conventional histories Americans are taught in their schools. The standard account has it that Americans disliked King George III and fought to free themselves from his tyranny. A surface reading of the Declaration of Independence supports this interpretation, as it charges the King with a list of offences, to wit: "repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States." In this reading, Americans are Whigs—heirs of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which unseated King James II and established parliamentary government in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.

But what if the Glorious Revolution inadvertently prepared the ground for revolt in the colonies nearly a century later? What if Americans were actually Tories and supporters of the king?

18 June 2018

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

For my first 12 years, the map with which I was familiar showed a small Israel, some of whose territory was precariously thin, caught between its hostile neighbours and the sea. This all changed in June 1967, when Israel, attacked by those neighbours, pushed them back and occupied the territories west of the Jordan River. For the first time in nearly 20 years, Jerusalem was no longer a divided city bisected by a tense no-man’s-land. Israel had restored the unity of its capital city.

Yet to this day few countries recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, maintaining their embassies in the coastal city of Tel Aviv. But wait. Doesn’t a country have the right to name its own capital city? Shouldn’t other countries with which it enjoys diplomatic relations honour this right without question? Ordinarily this would be the case.

Yet few things are normal in the Middle East, especially where Israel and Palestine are concerned. My visit there in 1995 confirmed this for me. Tension hung constantly in the air, and military personnel armed with machine guns were ubiquitous. Moreover, that was at a time of optimism in the wake of the Oslo Accords.

19 May 2018

Humour vs mockery

Political life has always had its humorous side. Policy-making is, of course, serious business, and it has a huge impact on large numbers of people. But in the midst of so many grave matters of war and peace, crime and punishment, we have always found ways to make light of difficult circumstances. After all, laughter is an all too human means of coping with our troubles. Some of this humour amounts to gentle ribbing of otherwise hard-working people whose offices we respect. But some humour is destructive, effectively coarsening the larger conversation and contributing to a culture contemptuous of duly constituted authority.

The German-born Thomas Nast (1840-1902) was the first of a long line of political cartoonists in the United States, famously originating the Republican Party’s elephant and popularizing the Democratic Party’s donkey. An ardent abolitionist and supporter of the Union during the American Civil War, Nast’s cartoons mercilessly lampooned the racism of the secessionists. He hated white supremacy and turned his pen against those who sought to exclude Chinese immigration into the U.S. Nast was succeeded by other political cartoonists, whose caricatures of prominent political leaders simultaneously amused the public and irritated the powerful.

15 May 2018

European integration and political ideologies

Bad Liebenzell
Last month I was privileged to spend time in Germany at the Internationale Hochschule Liebenzell (IHL) in Bad Liebenzell, a beautiful village nestled in the Black Forest. The IHL is a ministry of the Liebenzell Mission, which was founded in 1899 and has its roots in a late nineteenth-century revival in Germany. It has branches in Canada, the Northern Mariana Islands, and six other countries around the world. The Mission is active in church-planting, Bible translation, education, evangelism, children and youth ministry, medical care, air service, substance addiction therapies, ministry to immigrants and community development in twenty-five countries. Remarkably, it also has monastic-like brotherhoods and sisterhoods, a fellowship of deaconesses, a retreat centre and a literature distribution ministry. It appears to be independent of any denomination, yet it does plant church congregations.

08 May 2018

Political Visions and Illusions, second edition

The second edition of Political Visions and Illusions is due out early next year. In the meantime, the new cover can be seen at right.

The new edition will include a reworking of the chapters in the first, with the addition of discussion questions after each chapter. A key difference from the first edition is that the redemptive narratives underpinning the ideological visions will be brought more explicitly into the foreground. This theme was present in the first, but it will be more visible in the second, enhanced by a series of illustrations highlighting these stories.

Finally, recognizing that this book has been used profitably in theological seminaries, I have added "A Concluding Ecclesiological Postscript," in which I take up the question of the role of the institutional church—as opposed to the larger corpus Christi, or body of Christ—in addressing political life, with references to the Barmen Declaration (1934), Mit Brennender Sorge (1937) and the Belhar Confession (1986). A new foreword will be written by Richard J. Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary and author of many books, including He Shines in All That's Fair and Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction.

I will let everyone know when the book is published. Stay tuned.

30 April 2018

Check the box and take the cash: Trudeau and Canada's summer jobs program

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is well over halfway through its statutory four-year mandate, and the prime minister continues to cause controversy by imposing his contestable interpretation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The provocations began with his parliamentary caucus before the 2015 federal election, when he proclaimed that he would no longer permit pro-life candidates to stand for a seat under the Liberal label. This action produced a dilemma for pro-life Liberals, such as the Honourable John McKay, who had previously served under the convention that controversial moral issues, if raised in the House of Commons, would be settled by a free vote so as not to coerce members into violating their consciences. Trudeau, in effect, unilaterally changed this convention, making “reproductive freedom” for the first time a nonnegotiable element of the federal Liberal program.

In January of this year, the government announced that federal funding for the Canada Summer Jobs program—which subsidizes wages for small business, government entities, and nonprofits that employ young people who are full-time students—would be available only to groups that accept its reading of the Charter. At issue was the expectation that organizations applying for funding sign the attestation at the end of the application form, including these sentences:

Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.

13 April 2018

Overlords and underdogs

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin
No one can read the Bible without recognizing that God is concerned for the plight of the oppressed. The first five books of the Bible tell the story of God delivering his people from oppression in Egypt. So central is this story for both Judaism and Christianity that it has been cited as prototype for God’s deliverance of his people at several stages in the biblical narrative. Nevertheless, we need to be cautious in our use of oppression and liberation as political categories, because they can lead us astray.

Reformed theologians in particular have emphasized that the Bible is not simply a collection of pious ancient writings but a unified story of God’s redemptive acts in history, culminating in our salvation in Jesus Christ.

As we read the Bible through this redemptive-historical lens, we will recognize that, yes, God hates people oppressing others but that the primary form of oppression from which he liberates us is that of our own sinful nature. Indeed, it is sin against God and neighbour that fuels every other form of oppression.

29 January 2018

Come & ƿatch ðis video pleaſe

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can be contacted at: dtkoyzis@gmail.com