July 17, 2004

No more free Bibles for new citizens

The story on the front page of today's National Post:

The federal government has told the Canadian Bible Society to end its 50-year tradition of offering the New Testament to new Canadians at citizenship ceremonies because doing so is inconsistent with Canada's promotion of multiculturalism.

As it happens, I am blogging from the library at a local university where I'm taking a short break from researching the life of William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement. Carey stood against the notion that "civilization" had to precede the Gospel; rather, he charged missionaries not to attempt to overturn the indigenous culture, but present the Gospel to them as they were, and let civilization take care of itself. In his seminal pamphlet, An Enquiry Into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen, which he published in 1792 and formed the basis of the first Missionary Society, he wrote:

As to their uncivilized, and barbarous way of living, this can be no objection to any, except those whose love of ease renders them unwilling to expose themselves to inconveniences for the good of others.

It was no objection to the apostles and their successors, who went among the barbarous Germans and Gauls, and still more barbarous Britons! They did not wait for the ancient inhabitants of these countries, to be civilized, before they could be christianized, but went simply with the doctrine of the cross; and Tertullian could boast that "those parts of Britain which were proof against the Roman armies, were conquered by the gospel of Christ."

From Carey's day onward, then, Christianity has been rightly viewed by missionaries as transcending culture, except insofar as that culture is incompatible with Christianity (Carey himself fought against slavery, the caste system, and widow burning, for example).

So it seems ironic that 200 years later - in the name of "multiculturalism" of all things - the Canadian government is imposing its secular culture on new citizens. Is this not a regression? Why not allow the free and voluntary distribution of Bibles to continue? Let civilization (and multiculturalism) take care of itself.