Ken Boessenkool: If the Grace Life leaders want to truly make their case, they should be charged

One measure of sincerity is a willingness to accept the consequences of your actions.

By: Ken Boessenkool

I’ve attended church twice per Sunday pretty much weekly since I was born. My faith is a central part of my life and belief system. It provides me assurance that someone else has paid for something I need, but could never pay for myself. 

I believe COVID-19 restrictions on churches in Alberta are reasonable and defensible. Wearing masks, reduced capacity worship services and periodic closures have not prevented me from the kind of worship I need and desire. I have attended in person occasionally and I wear a mask, social distance and do not socialize. 

Mostly I have worshipped online, particularly during the first, second and latest waves. I miss gathering with my fellow church members and socializing with them, but not enough to spread a deadly virus. 

There are many in my church and churches elsewhere who disagree. I respect that. But there are ways to disagree in degree, cost and consequence. I’d put ways to disagree ranked by those three criteria in four buckets: private, public, political and legal. 

Private disagreement is thinking that the restrictions go too far and saying so amongst your friends and family. Public disagreement is saying, writing and posting your views in public forums so they can be exposed to debate and comment by others. Political disagreement means raising your objections to democratically elected officials — things like letter writing, calling, organizing, demonstrating and other forms of political engagement. Legal disagreement is challenging COVID restrictions in the courts. There are many legal mechanisms by which this can be done. 

A special and aggressive form of legal disagreement is civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is taking your disagreement to DEFCON-1 — it is a signal that you believe there is no other personal, public, political or legal recourse for expressing your disagreement.  

Civil disobedience takes many forms and can be done at many levels. 

I like to drive fast. That means I occasionally break the law. Privately, I own radar and laser detection systems, publicly I complain about speed limits, politically I have urged governments to increase speed limits and legally I have contested a ticket. But, and this is critical, when I break the law, I know that I may be caught. I may legally fight the resulting ticket, but if ultimately convicted, I will have to pay the fine. And I do. 

All of which to say, civil disobedience has consequences, consequences that, as a member of our society, that I am prepared to face. 

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Which takes us to Grace Life Church, outside of Edmonton. The leadership there clearly feels that private, public, political and normal legal avenues are insufficient to address their disagreement over social distancing, reduced capacity for worship, wearing a mask in church or being asked to conduct church online — as many churches in Canada have been required to do for most of the pandemic. 

The leadership of Grace Life Church has aggressively defended their civil disobedience using apocalyptic predictions of a loss of religious liberty. Now our governments, like every government in the Western world, are restricting liberty in the short term based on a temporary health emergency. Not a single Western government has stated they intend, nor do they have the authority to even if they wished, to continue these measures beyond the health crisis. Justin Trudeau is not my cup of tea, but I can’t find any COVID emergency bill that has a provision to eliminate the Constitution. 

And look. If Canadian governments move to restrict our liberty to worship post COVID, I’ll be as close to the front as I can get using private, public, political and legal means to fight that. 

But let’s pretend for a moment Grace Life Church is sincere. Or sincerely scared. One measure of that sincerity is a willingness to accept the consequences of their actions. They are engaging in civil disobedience to protect their constitutional liberty. So they should be willing to accept the consequences and make use of the rules and due process afforded them to make their case. 

If you can’t accept the consequences and aren’t prepared to make your case, you are not engaging in civil disobedience, you are promoting anarchy — the very absence of rules or due process. And call me crazy, but where I go to church, rules (love your neighbour) and due process (He suffered so I don’t have to) are a central part of the dogma. Rules and due process are kind of a key point of religion.  

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More generally, our society cannot exist without rules and due process. Anarchy is the opposite of civility. 

But what if the point isn’t to protect religious liberty but rather to use Grace Life Church as a performative stage in the broader culture war? One hero of the leadership of Grace Life Church has provided the template for promoting anarchy through civil disobedience. Actually, it’s worse than that. He used a lie get others to engage in civil disobedience. 

That is, of course, a destructive lesson left by Donald Trump and the failure of the U.S. government to impeach him over the events of January 6. That sorry episode taught his sycophants that is perfectly acceptable to foment civil disobedience based on a lie in order to raise money and deepen the loyalty of your followers.  

And the lie that Donald Trump won the election is not that far from the lie that our governments are poised to permanently close our places of worship. 

Supporters of Grace Life Church may well find this preposterous. And there is a way to prove that they are right.

Let’s not just wall off Grace Life Church. Let’s charge the leadership of Grace Life so they can have their day in court. Because if they really believed they are fighting for the cause of religious liberty, that is very thing they should want. 

Unless it isn’t. 


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