Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values has the potential for many reactions.
At first hearing, Christians might feel defensive—as though it is a purposeful assault on religion—especially since it appears to strengthen the value of a secular society. Christians already fearful of governments distancing themselves from a heritage built on Christian faith values could see this as a government’s latest effort of abandonment.
However, when thoughtfully considered, the proposed charter could be understood as a recognition of religious diversity. To ensure that no particular religion is honoured is a way of honouring all religions.
Our Anabaptist/Mennonite forebears traditionally did not depend on the government to promote Christianity. They saw their faith, church and sacrificial acts of mercy as the explanation for their motivations. The proposed charter places no restrictions on the general public or faith communities as they gather. It does restrict members of faith communities who work as civil servants from publicly favouring any particular religion while in service of the entire population.
I am concerned that the proposed charter could increase racist activity. For those already fearful of newcomers to Quebec/Canada, the charter has been used in a misguided way to support this fear. Reports of racist assaults against religious minorities have already increased following the initial introduction of the charter.
Such action is not reflective of a healthy society, whether religious or secular. Severe—or exaggerated—protectionism is not reflective of God’s character. Nor does it represent the qualities of an enlightened humanity. Perhaps this negative behaviour is evidence that a society is better served by religious practices of welcoming the stranger.
I do not oppose Christian values in the public sector. But neither do I see the basis for a protected embrace of any particular religion in an increasingly multifaith context. I sincerely believe that when Christian values are displayed as closely reflecting the example of Jesus as possible, a secular society will not only take note, it will be attracted. True and pure Christianity need not fear comparative examination. It can hold its own.
Perhaps it is also important to review reactions that are not necessarily prompted by Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values. For religions that necessitate certain dress codes and symbols, the proposed charter would exclude them from public employment opportunities. For followers of Christ who have been taught to love their neighbours as themselves, this possible discrimination should be problematic. Should the proposed charter prompt Christians to express solidarity for the rights of other religious expressions? Such a response would provide an important alternative to the perceived antagonism of religious behaviour. In this context, perhaps, Christians can best express the love of Jesus by standing in solidarity with those of other religious expressions.
Self reflection may be another important result one might not anticipate. The media has reported that a significant number of the Quebec population supports the proposed charter. This should prompt honest reflection by people of all faiths. Has religious behaviour made a fully secular society seem preferable? Do we, as religious communities, bear some responsibility for the attraction to secularity? An honest look at such questions would be a good exercise.
The proposed Charter of Quebec Values should not be ignored, but neither should it be feared. It is an opportunity for some important reflection and dialogue. It may also provide an opportunity for people of faith to surprise a secular society with a display of confident and sincere cooperation. Indeed, the world is in need of such a display. Surely God’s people can rise up for such a task. l
Willard Metzger is executive director of Mennonite Church Canada.