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Many Christian ministries advocate on behalf of people who are marginalized, suffering, or experiencing injustice, and they have great expertise in challenging the governing authorities. The rest of us could learn a lot from them.

Though not typically engaged in advocacy, a church recently wrote an open letter to the BC Minister of Health and Chief Medical Officer about church gathering restrictions, and I was inspired by how well it was crafted. This letter is interesting to study because a) we all can identify with the issue it addresses, and b) there isn’t the wealth of research and background support material to draw upon as there is for the traditional advocacy causes. That means the authors had to put a lot of thought into constructing an argument based upon reason. Given that, the open letter did a great job of laying out a challenge to the governing authorities and supporting it with reason. We can learn from the letter about how to address other issues we may face.

In my post Church Gathering Restrictions: What to do, I outlined four possible responses to actions taken by those in authority:

  1. Comply with the law either because you agree with it or want to show goodwill if you don’t.
  2. Consult with the appropriate authorities when they are agreeable to discussion.
  3. Challenge the authorities when they are not agreeable to discussion with either a protest or a legal challenge.
  4. Disobey the authorities when circumstances are so egregious and the authorities are so resistant that this is the only option. 

This post is about making an initial challenge—one that is the least confrontational in that it is based on reason rather than pressure. If it is not successful, the challenge can be escalated by adding pressure through public protest (ranging from petitions to demonstrations) and legal challenges.

Scripture gives a great example of advocacy that is respectful and based on reason, yet makes a forceful case. Paul, spoke up for a runaway slave and challenged his owner to receive him back as a brother. In making his appeal, Paul walked a fine line in which he mostly asked for what he wanted, but there is a hint of “you owe it to me to give me what I ask” in his request that comes from the added pressure of his intention to visit the slave owner and see firsthand how he responded to Paul’s request.

The example

Westlynn Baptist Church in North Vancouver, BC challenged the provincial restrictions on church gatherings.

  • If you prefer to read, here is their six-page open letter.
  • If you prefer to watch, here is a video of Pastor Sam Chua reading the letter. The video is 17 minutes long, but it is worth watching to catch the spirit in which the challenge is made.

Why this letter is a great example

Here’s a list of what makes this appeal by Westlynn Baptist Church such a good example:

  • To minimize the confrontation, thus improving the likelihood that those in authority will be more open to their message, the church:
    • Respected those in authority
    • Demonstrated goodwill by caring for those in authority with regular prayer and even shared what they were praying for
    • Agreed with what they could: the policy goals
    • Gratefully acknowledged what the government has done well and that government policy has benefited the province
    • Assumed the best intentions of those in authority
    • Followed the very rules they want to change and did even more than is required in order to show goodwill and support the government’s goals
    • Refrained from using inflammatory language
    • Remained factual
    • Asked questions rather than making strident demands
  • The appeal should help the government understand the church’s case because it provided new information that highlighted the unintended consequences of the province’s rules. Specific examples of glaring unequal treatment of religion based on truly comparable scenarios made a compelling case for the desired change in policy.
  • The church displayed a strong moral conviction about a public good that the government was overlooking. Their argument wasn’t centred on themselves and their rights but on the good being withheld from others who need their help.
  • The entire presentation was very well researched and backed up by proper citations.
  • The “ask” acknowledges there still needs to be suitable COVID-19 safety protocols, which they committed themselves to observe. The church is making a reasonable request giving due care to the broader community.
  • The challenge does reference Charter rights as a gentle reminder that there is the possibility of a legal challenge, but it is very much a secondary argument given minimal attention at this time.
  • The church has framed the argument in a way that will do minimal damage to the reputations of the church and Christianity because it is focused on the welfare of the community, not of the church. The church needs to do everything it can to ensure the community hears this other-centred message.

Whether Westlynn Baptist Church will be successful in getting the government to change its policy is not yet known, but they have done an excellent job in challenging the government in a well-reasoned way that is the most promising approach for achieving the desired outcome.

Discussion

CCCC members can discuss their ideas for effectively challenging governing authorities in The Green. Let’s study and learn from each other’s advocacy work.

Key Idea: Using reason to persuade when challenging governing authorities is an initial challenge with a good likelihood of success.

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