Freedom Convoy and Who You Associate With
Late last night I spent a few hours in the freezing cold welcoming the Canadian trucker Freedom Convoy 2022. The convoy is potentially the largest in history, spanning many kilometres long and travelling from British Columbia to Ottawa, Ontario, our nation’s capitol. The convoy has stirred up a good bit of attention, both positive and negative, and so I thought I’d briefly pen a few thoughts about the movement itself and also the nature of associating oneself with large-scale movements.
The Freedom Convoy is primarily a peaceful protest against vaccine mandates in Canada. Both national and provincial governments have put many measures in place in an attempt to coerce unwilling Canadian citizens to get the COVID-19 vaccine. For many, these measures have cost them their jobs, the ability to travel by air or rail, and generally participate in everyday practices such as joining a sporting league or eating at a restaurant. To be unvaccinated in Canada is to be treated as a lesser-than citizen. The Freedom Convoy seems to initially have been specifically a protest against forcing truckers to be vaccinated in order to keep their jobs, but the movement has gained more widespread meaning since then.
The convoy has attracted some, shall we say, questionable supporters. This has caused some people who moderately support it to back away for fear of being associated with racists or anarchists or other troublesome groups. I also don’t really wish to be associated with such values, since they do not reflect my own. So, why participate then?
The answer has to do with my recent study of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers sought to push back against the corrupt rulership of the Catholic church and bring about reform. They wanted to purge the Church in such a way as to make it pure again, free from the many issues it was maligned with at the time. This was indeed a noble task. The problem was that this movement, godly and well-intentioned, also gathered the interest of the less godly and well-intentioned.
In his excellent book The Unquenchable Flame, author Michael Reeves recounts:
“Something both Luther and Zwingli faced was the presence of radicals. In both Wittenberg and Zurich there were those who thought that the Reformation was going too slowly, or not far enough.”
He details many of the challenges radicals presented. They often were violent, operating in uncontrolled mobs, drunk and disruptive. One radical, Thomas Muntzer, managed to rally ordinary citizens into battle with the army, where they were easily defeated, killed, and disbanded. Reeves discusses the outcome of this event:
“With [Muntzer] died much good will towards the Reformation. Many rulers, unable to distinguish between Muntzer and Luther, now became implacably hardened towards the movement as a whole. If Reformation meant rebellion, they were determined to crush it. As for those rulers who were able to make the distinction, their anger and suspicion were just as equally focused on all forms of radicalism. It would no longer be tolerated.”
The Reformation was not a clean-cut, clearly-defined movement. Some, like Luther and Zwingli, had noble intentions. They wanted to do away with empty ritualism and instead call people to repent from the heart. Their reformation was not primarily focused on outward religious displays but on inward spiritual vitality. Unfortunately, some of those who claimed to follow them didn’t share this intent. They simply hated the power of the Roman Catholic Church, but could not care less for their own sinfulness. The leaders of the Reformation sought to quell these rebellions and distinguish themselves from it, but with limited success. The eyes of the rulers saw them as functionally the same.
Surprisingly, this did not slow the Reformers one bit. In fact, it drove them harder. You would think that they would withdraw from their attempts at reform, but they pressed on nonetheless. This is because they knew they could not control the actions of others, but they could clearly articulate their own. And that they did! The Reformers were some of the most prolific writers in history, producing volumes of work outlining their beliefs and intent. That others twisted them for their own sinful purposes was not something they could ever hope to control.
I think it is much the same with any large-scale movement, including the Freedom Convoy. As I see it, many of the supporters of the movement are pushing back against legitimate government tyranny—a noble thing, in my regard. Yet the movement has also attracted those who simply hate the government, hate authority, and want to rebel in general. I don’t believe that reflects the majority, and it certainly does not reflect myself.
Over the last two years, I have written in blog posts and shared in podcasts my concern with the Canadian government. I have used legal means, such as writing to government representatives, to express my hopes that they will use their positions of influence to effect change. I have prayed for my country and for our leaders, and will continue to do so. In other words, like the Reformers, I have done what I can. In the Freedom Convoy, I see potentially the largest voice to date that expresses some degree of the concerns I share, although not without disagreement. I’m not a fan of flying the flag upside-down. I’m not a fan of the F*** Trudeau signs. But I am a fan of upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and granting each right in full to every Canadian citizen. That I can get behind.
In short, it is impossible to associate yourself with anything, ever, without some cost. Even calling myself a Christian, which I proudly do, conjures up some negative associations in the minds of people, associations I myself would rather distance myself from. So what should I do? Stop calling myself a Christian? No. Rather, I will call myself a believer and continually clarify what that means each chance I get. It also means I will do my best to extend that courtesy towards others, and not automatically assume the worst about them because of their associations.
As a random face is in a sea of people, there is little I can do to clarify my own thoughts and intentions amidst the crowd last night. I did find one opportunity, however. Part of the convoy included a motor home, the owners of which were encouraging people to sign as they traveled across the country. I found in this a tiny sliver of a chance to state my intentions, and quickly wrote these words:
I greatly value political freedom. I think it is a good gift worth preserving, and I believe that it is consistent with my Christian worldview. But what I value even more is personal freedom, the kind of freedom from sin and death and shame that only Christ can provide. My ultimate allegiance is, and always will be, to that cause. Many of the people I stood with don’t understand that. They need to. I wish for them to. And so after giving up a few hours of my night in the cold I go back to what I really want to commit my life to: the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the community of Sault Ste Marie, a people who need freedom in more ways than they realize.