Does the state provide shelter for the church or does the church provide shelter  for the state?

This question could be viewed as a kind of ‘chicken and egg – which comes first’ sort of question. Yet by exploring how people view the answer we can understand deep seated assumptions about God, spirituality and reality that people hold.  Tolerance and fair treatment is needed for shelter in our world. When did it come about? Who invented the these ideas and enshrined them in community values and laws?

Today many would say that the nation shelters the church in so far as  our country  sets up religious freedom as a Charter Right.

The Canadian Heritage Webpage states: “Under section 2 of the Charter, Canadians are free to follow the religion of their choice. In addition, they are guaranteed freedom of thought, belief and expression.”  These Charter Rights are limited; “Even though these freedoms are very important, governments can sometimes limit them. For example, laws against pornography and hate propaganda are reasonable limits on freedom of expression because they prevent harm to individuals and groups.”

People today, believe that the state nurtures religious freedom, tolerance and all things civilized. The greater community and thus any smaller community within it provides a fundamental ‘living space’ for the church as well as ‘other groups’ to exist.

Yet, history has demonstrated many failures of the state to protect religious minorities. The Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide are but two examples of many tragic episodes of slaughter and failure of a nation to protect.

Even in Canada, we grapple with protecting one religious view over others’ in our society especially when these views are in conflict. We struggle with trying to draw the line on how far to protect one minority’s rights over another’s right to religious freedom of expression when they are in opposition.

Many believe that at some point one group will be censured in order to protect the other group. Sadly, what was to be a guarantee of protection for all becomes a ‘zero sum’ game with winners and losers. What was to be a solution degenerates into just another piece of the puzzle.

Diana Ayton-Shenker writing for the United Nations ponders these questions from a global perspective; “How can human rights be reconciled with the clash of cultures that has come to characterize our time? . . . . As the international community becomes increasingly integrated, how can cultural diversity and integrity be respected? Is a global culture inevitable? If so, is the world ready for it? How could a global culture emerge based on and guided by human dignity and tolerance? These are some of the issues, concerns and questions underlying the debate over universal human rights and cultural relativism.”

The Bible clearly tells us that the church shelters the community. The early church was the framework and shelter of the Christian community (Acts 2:41-47) Indeed we find evidence in the Bible over and over again where the church provided physical, emotional and spiritual shelter to its members through many a hostile social climate. Any reading of the New Testament will confirm this.

Indeed, fair treatment and tolerance was established by God Himself in the Israelite community; “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9 see also Exodus 22:21) God Himself prefigured Jesus’ golden rule in His command to the Israelites; “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

Clearly tolerance and fair treatment is not a recent invention of the Canadian Charter of Rights or of any  nation state.   Actually, God invented these ideals when He raised up His chosen people. And we, in His Church inherited them. Fair treatment, tolerance and protecting strangers among us are deeply held religious convictions  of those who belong to His true church.

So in that way the Christian church shelters not only those within it but also the nations that harbor it. All nations should be cognizant of God’s great message to Abram, his children and in grafted (Romans 11:17) children; “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-4)

It is a wise nation that recognizes it’s True Builder, the Author of fairness and tolerance.