If 10 or 20 holy places from any other major religion had been attacked, what would have been the reaction from governments and the media?
"Hell, they're only churches. What's the big deal?"
That seems to be all too common a response to the highly alarming arson and vandalism attacks on Christian churches in Canada.
How many churches, Catholic, Protestant or other, on Indigenous lands or off, have been vandalized, severely damaged or burnt straight to the ground in recent weeks? By my count, it's been more than 20. In a strong column in the Post last week, Melissa Mbarki of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute wrote that 10 churches were vandalized in Alberta on Canada Day alone. That figure should be — is — astonishing.
Some churches have been turned to pure ash. There have been failed attempts to burn others. The vandals are very sure of themselves. Two prize nits may be seen on video throwing paint on St. Jude's Church in East Vancouver. There is no telling which church will be the next target.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe took to Twitter to record his grief over the destruction of a Polish Roman Catholic church near Redberry Lake, "a church in my home constituency that has been maintained by generations of volunteers." His tweet echoed statements from Aboriginal people whose churches had been burnt — that these places of worship had served their parishioners for a long time, some serving as a gathering place for generations.
There is very little consideration, and this is a key point not receiving the emphasis it should, that the destruction has been a great blow to those who attended these churches. The Post's Terry Glavin and the Globe's Robyn Urback have been strong exceptions, with columns bringing a focus precisely to this consideration.
Many hundreds of Christian believers have seen their houses of worship destroyed, thereby depriving them of the pastoral and sacramental care so central to their lives. They have seen their faith insulted by acts of violence.
There is one question, among many, that stands out in this story. People who are not religious perhaps don't understand how unsettling all of this is, how deeply it cuts. Well it does. "When a church like this is ripped away from us, it's horrible," said a woman who lives close to the destroyed church near Redberry Lake.
There is no telling which church will be the next target.
Why, following this stream of attacks, is almost everyone so calm? I'm not putting that question to the "burn them all down" crowd, who are apparently living on their own strange island or housed with the BC Civil Liberties Association. One cannot expect a well of sympathy from the bunch that wants to see more burnings.
Yet it is surely a question for every other Canadian. Religion is, for those who hold a faith, one of their deepest values. Perhaps even, for some, the deepest. So why is a whole series of attacks on Christian churches receiving only routine coverage?
Here's a question: If 10 or 20 holy places from any other major religion had been attacked, and in a matter of just a few weeks, what would have been the reaction from governments and the news media?
There would have been a storm on all fronts. Reassurances from the politicians. Visits to the various sites. Relentless questions from the media. Sermons from all altars. Grave condemnations of these horrible "hate crimes." You would be hearing the familiar line "this is not who we are" from sad-eyed leaders. But in the past few weeks, there has been very little of any of this. Strange.
On this point I am very much in line with Alan Fryer, respected retired journalist, who posted this: "The other difference [in response] is if they were mosques or synagogues or gurudwaras the media would — and rightly so — be deploying every available resource to the story — keeping it alive and keeping the pressure on the cops and the politicians." Yes. Rightly so.
Then, let's have some equity here. We should be able to expect the same sensitivity, alert response, and urgent investigation to the burning of a Catholic or a Protestant church as would follow the burning of a temple, a synagogue or mosque. An attack on a person's faith or on the symbol of a person's faith is the same across all lines and all beliefs.
What's been done so far? How much do we know of, I presume, the various investigations? Considering the scale and frequency of these events, and the highly sensitive atmosphere of these times, is there some task force co-ordinating the investigations? Where are the condemnations by our political leaders? What we have heard so far has either been long-in-coming, or — to be kind — tepid upon arrival.
I will note one outstanding matter. Those who some would expect (wrongly) to most easily let these attacks pass, Indigenous people, have been among the strongest and most persuasive in their condemnation and disavowal. There's a combination of charity and resilience in some of their statements that is as rare as it is commendable.
That, too, holds a lesson. Those carrying the sharpest burdens sometimes have the widest hearts.
Rex Murphy, "Rex Murphy: Why is it OK to harm Christian places of worship in Canada?" National Post (June 12, 2021).
Reprinted with permission from the National Post. Image credit: CRTV video news coverage.
Rex Murphy was host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup, a nation wide call-in show, for 21 years before stepping down in September 2015. Murphy is a frequent presence on the various branches of the CBC. He has regular commentary segments entitled "Point of View" on The National, the CBC's flagship nightly news program. See Rex's TV commentaries. In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post. He is the author of Canada and Other Matters of Opinion and Points of View.Copyright © 2021 National Post
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