Canada’s Freedom Convoy and Post-Pandemic Christianity

How the protests have placed Christians on many sides of the same issue

There can be no doubt that the “Freedom Convoy” trucker protest has by now had an impact on nearly every Canadian, in some way or another. From big cities to rural areas, from rallies and traffic jams to disruptions in supply chains and border crossings, it has become an ever-present and growing movement that nobody can truly ignore.

This week, as protests and convoys continued across Canada, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson made national news when she announced a plan for a significant loosening – and even dropping – of pandemic restrictions in the province over the coming month. This followed similar announcements in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and now Ontario too appears set to bump up its timeline of similar changes in the coming week.

While Stefanson and other Manitoba officials were careful not to credit the ongoing protest with influencing their decisions, the timing is undeniably convenient. However, as the root of the protest lies in federal restrictions on border crossings (with truck drivers no longer exempt from vaccine requirements for crossing between the United States and Canada), the provincial policy changes are not likely to result in easing pressures from the convoy.

 

Entering the Conversation

So far, ChristianWeek has avoided venturing into the fray to cover or address anything relating to the Freedom Convoy and related protests. While those supporting the movement do appear to be disproportionately Christian, it certainly is not the entire group, and the root of the protest has very little overtly to do with faith in the most practical sense.

However, as the movement has grown, as we have seen more in-depth reporting from across the media spectrum, and as we now see our governments responding, I believe it’s time to take a closer look at where we fit in, and what this might mean for our future.

 

Christians and the Convoy

Many other protests have preceded the Freedom Convoy in positioning a largely conservative and evangelical Christian base within the anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown movements. 

Without venturing too far into the politics of this, I believe it is fair to say that at least some of this alignment is rational and sensible. Many Christians in Canada have cultural backgrounds as religious refugees who – whether themselves or a previous generation – came to Canada to escape persecution or government restriction of their faith. There are many groups who have reasonably-earned distrust of government or anything that smacks of socialism.

So, while there may not be a surface-level through-line between Christianity and the Freedom Convoy, it is not surprising that the groups have significant overlap and some shared ideology. But it is clear that not everyone in the movement is Christian, and there have also been reports of outside Christian groups ministering to the protestors and bringing non-Christian convoy participants to Jesus.

The Freedom Convoy being a new and unique movement, we of course do not have any real statistical demographic information of who is participating, who supports it, or who is in opposition. However, it is important to note that more broadly, we do know that not all Christians – or even all evangelicals – are against vaccines or vaccine mandates. This can be seen clearly in the number of Christian churches complying with – and even going above and beyond – their local restrictions on capacity and vaccines. It is also clear from the sheer numbers of Canadians overall who have been vaccinated compared to the number of Christians in the country.

 

What it Means for the Church

Regardless of your personal beliefs about vaccines, mandates or the Freedom Convoy, as restrictions begin to loosen we know that most Christians will be affected by what this means for their church.

Restrictions on religious gatherings are dictated by provincial governments, where the biggest changes are happening right now. In Manitoba, church gatherings are still limited based on vaccination status, but are taking a major step toward reopening as the next phase allows full capacity for fully-vaccinated services and half capacity for services with no proof required. This puts churches in Manitoba at a level of restriction slightly more strict than restaurants and businesses, but less strict than non-religious indoor events.

The provinces which are loosening restrictions claim their decisions are not based on the Freedom Convoy, but rather on declining hospitalizations, ICU stays and deaths due to COVID-19. Those provinces also happen to be those led by conservative governments, and the timing is very convenient. But whichever the case may be, either the easing strain on healthcare systems across the country or the mounting pressure from those agitating for freedom should likely lead to similar change in other provinces in the near future.

Churches will have to decide what to do in response, and again the novelty of the pandemic leaves us without much objective statistical information on how this has been going so far. But we are already seeing, anecdotally, that reopened churches have been slow to fill their seats and have likely lost more members than they have gained in the past two years.

Many pastors and Christian writers are asking what the post-pandemic church will look like, and this is something we will follow closely in the coming year. But in light of the Freedom Convoy, nearly two years of protests, counter-protests and division, and the vastly differing responses from Christian groups across the country, my question is:

Can a post-pandemic reality bring Christians back together, or have our divisions become too deep?

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About the author

Luke Thiessen is the publisher of ChristianWeek.