“Hello, massa. Bottom rail on top this time.”
That’s what a freed black slave in the Union army is reported to have said when he saw his former owner, captured in a battle during the U.S. Civil War, being led away as a prisoner of war.
That story came back to me as I reflected on the recent Canadian federal election, which saw the Liberals once again win to form a government.
There were many issues in the election, but two things stood out: Charges that Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party and a devout Roman Catholic, was anti-abortion and anti-LBGTQ.
On the first issue, Scheer was clear he personally opposes abortion but would not seek to end abortion rights — supported by about 80 percent of Canadians — if he became prime minister.
On the second issue, he was less clear, making vague comments about supporting the rights of all Canadians while maintaining he wouldn’t march in pride parades (unlike all the other federal party leaders).
The attack on Scheer upset some conservative Christians, who claimed they were being maligned and shut out of politics because of what they believed. They argued the public square should be open to all, regardless of their religious views.
I agree. The voices of all Canadians should be welcome in the public square, as long as they are civil and respectful. That includes people of faith.
At the same time, Canadian Christians who worry about being marginalized might want to engage in a little humble introspection before launching their protests.
It wasn’t that long ago, after all, when the Christian worldview dominated life in Canada and another group of people felt shut out of the public square: the LGBTQ community.
Until 1969, homosexuality was criminalized in Canada; LGBTQ people could be sent to jail. They could also be fired from their jobs and prevented from immigrating to Canada. And, of course, they weren’t allowed to marry.
This denial of their human rights was actively supported by some Christian groups. Clergy could actively preach against the LGBTQ community, without fear of recrimination.
It’s a different world today. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005. LGBTQ rights are accepted and promoted by a large majority of Canadians.
On the federal political front, three of four main national political parties support same-sex marriage, LGBTQ and transgender rights and abortion.
As for the Conservative Party, it recently forced Scheer to resign. Many in that party welcomed his departure, stating his views are far behind the times.
These dramatic changes have made some conservative Christians uncomfortable. They worry about their place in society. They feel attacked, side-lined, disrespected, ignored and shut out of public discourse because of their views. Some are protesting this state of affairs.
But I wonder if a better course might be to see this as a chance to learn empathy and show contrition. That’s exactly how many others felt for so long when a Christian worldview dominated Canadian society.
It could also be an opportunity to say they are sorry for not treating LGBTQ people in the past with the same tolerance and respect they want for themselves now.
John Longhurst is a freelance writer and communications and marketing consultant in Winnipeg, Man.