What the world—and Canada—needs now

Choristers in full military uniform celebrating the People’s Liberation Army of China—in Toronto?

The National Post recently reported that 40 or so veterans of the PLA put on such a concert in Richmond Hill, a prosperous suburb of Canada’s urban centre. They belong to a new Canada Chinese Veteran’s Society that poses a fresh challenge to our country’s vaunted multiculturalism.

The challenge, however, is hardly new, not particularly Canadian, and certainly not peculiar to Chinese immigrants.

South of the border, a Sikh memorial in a Connecticut library was removed after a protesting phone call from the Indian consulate. According to The Washington Post, “the memorial to Sikhs killed in India 35 years ago…included a plaque, flags and a portrait of a Sikh separatist movement leader, Sant Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwale.”

Bhindranwale was among those killed in the attack of the Indian army on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, the notorious Operation Blue Star that scandalized the global Sikh community and led to the assassination five months later of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards.

As we learned from President Ronald Reagan, one side’s “terrorist” is another side’s “freedom fighter”—and when both sides have keen representation in the New World, old battles get re-fought.

Wouldn’t it be great, though, if we reasonable Canadians of European descent could do without the violence of these Asian hotheads?

Oh, that we could go back to the happy, sensible days of the 1940s and 1950s—when Catholic mobs, led by priests and police officers, violently persecuted Baptist, Pentecostal, and Brethren missionaries throughout Quebec in hatred centuries deep formed an ocean away.

Or maybe a little further back to those kind, gentle times in which Orange Lodges held festive parades to celebrate Protestant victories long ago in countries far away when they weren’t actually rioting over, committing arson against, and even lynching Catholic immigrants from Ireland.

No, the problems aren’t new. Most will eventually subside as generations with attachments to the Old Country simply die off and younger generations fail to see what the fuss was about.

In the meanwhile, however, the challenges of significant difference are real. We have just endured an election campaign in which politicians offering us a relatively small range of policy alternatives hammered each other as liars and lunatics. And Quebec’s government is revving up a new round of anti-immigrant (read: anti-Muslim) animus by promoting its new values test—even as the actual test seems both easy and easily gamed.

We need a fresh wave instead of Confederation spirit, a willingness not just to celebrate our common values but to accommodate (tolerate, even support) significant differences of opinion and practice.

Yes, we certainly should have robust civics education in our schools and high expectations of allegiance from new permanent residents and citizens. We need more than ever to emphasize what principles and institutions bind us together as Canadians.

We also, however, need to appreciate how enormously difficult it is for newcomers to transition from very different countries and cultures to Canada.

And Christians in particular must love our neighbours, bearing in mind familiar verses that we tend to remember only sentimentally at weddings but must practice realistically all the time.

Think for a moment about how relevantly these virtues and commands apply to our current challenges:

“Love is patient, love is kind…. It does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Without that kind of hard-headed and warm-hearted love, the Apostle would suggest, our preference for choirs singing “O Canada” over hymns to a foreign army is yet…just so much noise.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).