I want to first start this letter off by giving a brief background of my heritage. My family is of Polish descent and it was my great grandfather John who left Poland for Canada in 1937. He worked underground in a mine for a year until he had saved enough money to have his family sail across the North Atlantic to join him here. My grandfather, Peter, was only 9 at the time when he left Slonim, Poland with his mother. Having fled less than a year before the German invasion, they narrowly escaped the complete destruction of both their hometown and their entire nation.
Many of my grandfather’s friends and family stayed in Poland, unwilling or incapable of seeing that the rampant destruction brought on by tyrannical rule would not stay within the confines of its own borders. It is because of this lack of foresight that my family tree is untraceable and that my family’s history burned along with Europe in the flames of the Second World War. What I lost of my lineage I gained through the collective history of Poland and the suffering of my people, kept alive by my grandfather's stories. It is from these stories that I learned important lessons from the man who witnessed the conditions that led to the destruction of an entire continent.
One of the stories my grandfather would share happened in September of 1938 when the Third Reich annexed Czechoslovakia's Northern and Western regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland, without firing a single shot. The annexation, which emboldened Hitler and would ultimately lead to the breakout of WWII, was written into the Munich agreement based on the idea that the native speaking Germans living in the Sudetenland were under fierce oppression from the Czech government. Britain's Prime Minister Chamberlain bought into the narrative despite there being no evidence to support it and with the stroke of a pen handed the rights and freedoms of 13 million Czech's over to a bloodthirsty tyrant.
You will find the same recurring theme within Canada's history of the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Starting in 1942, over 21,000 Japanese Canadians were detained and sent to internment camps for fear of being loyal to the Japanese Empire. Their homes and businesses were sold by the government to pay for the cost of their detention. Many families were separated, kept housed in various ghost towns of the Kootenays where there was no electricity or running water. Prisoners of their own country, they were not granted freedom of movement until four years after the war ended in 1949.
The greatest atrocities of history and the greatest loss of civil liberties have always taken place under the guise of the greater good. As in both examples, the rights of the individual are removed for the sake of the group. Fascism and communism alike have this same idea at their core, as demonstrated by these historical failures of government to protect the rights of the individual.
The concept of sacrificing individual liberties for the group or greater good is not just the antithesis to a free and democratic nation, it is the foundation upon which totalitarian rule stands and is the altar where over one hundred and sixty million bodies have been stacked in the 20th century alone.
It should be no surprise that these atrocities stain all of human history, as Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB) tells us that, “The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Our rights and freedoms that we have in this nation are in place to protect us from the evil in the hearts of men and most importantly, from those who are in a position of authority over us in our government. While we are called in Matthew 16:24 to lay down our lives for Christ, that type of self abandonment is reserved for Him alone and not for any other man or purpose. This point is made clear by Christ himself, as recorded in John 2:24-25 (NASB) that, “… Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, because He knew all people, and because He did not need anyone to testify about mankind, for He Himself knew what was in mankind.” To lay down our rights and our lives for Christ’s sake is as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 (NIV), “… to live is Christ and to die is gain.” To lay down our rights and our lives for government’s sake is foolishness beyond comprehension.
Throughout all of human history, the worst massacres that have taken place were not committed by religious groups or rogue entities, they were committed by governments on their own people. From Stalin's Vorkuta Gulag to Mao’s Laogai to Hitler’s Auschwitz, history has made clear that when the rights of the individual are removed, there also is removed the aegis that stands between the masses and the evil in man's heart. We must certainly not forget these lessons that show us the importance of not only our rights but of how stringently they must be maintained.
By definition, if you allow your rights to be removed in certain situations, you don't actually have rights - you have permissions. Permissions can be taken away. Rights cannot. There is either completely and utterly free speech or there is no free speech at all. There is either freedom of religion without conditions or stipulations or there is no freedom of religion at all. There is either freedom of assembly without restrictions or there is no freedom of assembly at all. Surely 85 people out of every 100 in your congregation will understand this concept as the 15 percent capacity limit has meant that for the vast majority, church is closed. As I write this, there are still some places where restrictions enforce a complete shutdown of church attendance.
Our rights as listed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are simply reminders to the government of what our freedoms are. Perhaps the most important indication of their origins is written in the very first line of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the Supremacy of God and the rule of law.”
The men who penned our Charter understood very clearly that without God, there is no rule of law and that every subsequent moral implication of that sentence would fall apart at the seams without an almighty authority. A man’s life is brief and different governing authorities come and go as time passes. One serves with their version of morality just for the next successor to rule with their own. Totalitarian rulers throughout all of history have outlawed religion, and specifically Christianity, for its opposition to the pendulum swing of justice and morality.
If God gives man the law and subsequently his rights and freedoms, then no mortal man can take them away. It is absolutely critical to understanding that both our laws and our human rights come from God, and that they are derived solely from the Holy Bible. While there is no specific mention of our rights within the Bible, there is also no specific mention of the Trinity or the Rapture and yet we believe firmly in those foundational truths through exegesis.
The concept of God given rights is self evident; the law itself exists only for the sole purpose of preserving our rights. There is only a law against murder because I have been given the right to life. Why would there be a law against murder if not because life was sacred and that our rights protect that which are sacred? The law itself is proof that our rights come from God and are ordained in the Holy Bible.
It is because of my upbringing with such reverence for our rights and such clear firsthand accounts of the horrors that arise when they are removed, that I joined the Canadian Armed Forces to serve as an Infantryman with the Army. I joined for one purpose alone; to serve my country in defence against foreign threats and to defend a Charter of Rights that ensured my safety from the domestic threat of government. As Ayn Rand states, “If the government was set to protect man from criminals, then the constitution was set to protect man from government.” To build further upon that quote, surely soldiers are set to protect the constitution from foreign enemies.
This is the primary reason that the Second World War was fought; to stop a tyrannical empire from taking over the world and from removing the principles of governance which encompasses and ensures my rights in this country. 144,000 young men stormed the beaches of Normandy to prevent that dangerous ideology from spreading across the globe.
I am humbled to see that on Remembrance Day churches across this nation have taken a moment of silence to honour those veterans who have fallen in the wars waged against freedom, and that they have asked any veterans present in the service to stand so that they can be thanked. Surely the hypocrisy of honouring veterans who sacrificed their lives for our rights and freedoms while using the same pulpit to criticize those who seek to preserve those same rights and freedoms as uncharacteristic of a Christ follower should be painstakingly obvious. How quickly we throw away that which patriots have fought and shed blood for; but what else can be expected of a society who’s been handed such a sacred prize that they’ve paid nothing for?
The stance that many churches have taken regarding the forfeiture of their right to freedom of assembly has come from a grossly negligent interpretation of the scriptures. Paul writes in Romans that we are to submit to the governing authorities. Yet somehow the church has substituted the word “submit” for the word “obey”, in that every unjust order that has destroyed our right to assembly has been followed without question. This willingness to so easily forsake the fellowship, which Paul warns about in Hebrews 10:25, has been a clear indication of a dangerous truth. Pastor James Coates wife, Erin Coates summarizes this well.
“Either people have forgotten the blessing of the gathering and the joy of fellowship, or they really never experienced it before.”
The concept of only disobeying government when ordered to stop preaching the Gospel, such as the account written in Acts chapter 4, shows a lack of true understanding about how the church is supposed to directly influence not just our culture but our government. Remember that the same men who executed children with phenol injections and murdered entire families within the gas chambers of Auschwitz were sitting in the pews for mass on Sunday only a few short years before. When the church is silenced on the issue of morality in culture, the result is catastrophic. The historical persecution of the Catholic Church at the hands of the Nazi regime show this truth with great clarity. The first step on the long road that led to the Priest Barracks of Dachau started with the church losing their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and ended with the church losing their right to freedom of speech.
If the church will only draw their line at being ordered to stop preaching the Gospel, they will find that when that line is crossed the social conditions which are present in their own pews will make the final stand of disobedience one that their own congregation will abandon. That is to say that if the church does not have a hand in shaping the culture and preserving their rights, they will become victims of that which they have neglected. You cannot expect to be silent on issues of morality in culture when morality comes from God and the people in your congregation reflect the culture. You certainly cannot expect to shape morality without the rights which afford you the opportunity to do so.
I have seen in the history of the Polish nation the result of the loss of rights and freedoms and the horrors that follow. I have read the stories of Jerzy Popieluszko, the Polish priest who was brutally tortured and killed for his opposition to the Communist regime, and for his selfless fight for the human rights of his nation which was left abandoned by the West behind the Iron Curtain. Foxe's Book of Martyrs is full of men who put their values and beliefs before their lives, quite literally taking up their cross and sacrificing their lives for that which God has called them to.
The idea of opposing governing authorities at the cost of great personal suffering is nothing uncommon to Christianity. It is the very thread that is weaved through the entirety of the fabric that is Christian history. Revelation 2:10 (NASB) “…Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” is not written for the exceptions to the rule, it is written for the vast majority of Christians over the centuries. How quickly the church abandons those now following in the footsteps of so many before us, such as Martin Luther King Jr. himself who said, “Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend, Dr. Billy Graham, my own work in the civil rights movement would not have been as successful as it has been.” William Wilberforce, the man who spearheaded the movement to abolish the slave trade wrote, “Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?” It is undeniable that Christian men of great wisdom thought it worthy of the church's efforts to fight for civil rights.
Pastor James Coates of Grace Life Church in Edmonton, Alberta following in the footsteps of so many great Christian civil rights activists before us, sat in jail for over a month at a maximum security prison because he refused to allow any infringements on his God given rights. This Pastor, the personification of the freedom of religion, sat in prison because in his selflessness thought it more important to stand for freedom than to stand idly by while a government tells his congregation that they no longer have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
I cannot understate the importance of this moment in the church's history as what happens next will either refine our nation's priorities on our rights and freedoms, or we will lose them entirely. As former United States President Ronald Reagan says, “We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.” If the church leads the fight against these tyrannical and unjust laws, there is hope that every church across this nation could open at full capacity in a time where it is most desperately needed. If we remain silent, then the right to freedom of assembly will be lost to this nation forever. The line representing freedom of speech which many churches claim they will not allow to be crossed, will be soon to follow.
I recognize this great and awful thing from my grandfather's stories and I will not stand idly by while the gears of that great death machine that is authoritarian rule begin to turn, shedding its cobwebs and emerging from the blood stained shadows of European history. I will not stand silent while that ancient lie is told to us, that we must sacrifice our rights for the greater good. History shows unequivocally, undeniably, and absolutely that those who would sacrifice their individual liberties for the sake of the group will soon find themselves on the altar.
Look no further than the doomed fate of my family tree as a warning and to understand that if we lose our rights and freedoms, our grandchildren will never know our names and they will know nothing of the Christian lineage of this nation.
Or if we today take a stand for that which God has appointed us as Christians, being an arbiter for our human rights as was intended by the scriptures, they may remember us as a generation who preserved their right to be
In all my studies of the the Polish Underground Army, I have found that all of the revolutionary movements which have not had the populist support of the people have completely and utterly failed. Though when the majority of culture does reflect a reverence for their rights, every effort to preserve them is wildly successful and the bulwark which protects the people will not be easily removed.
What other authority could instill in the hearts of the men of this nation such a reverence for their rights if not the God who has bestowed upon them those very rights in the first place? And what other institution could impart that reverence to the masses if not the church that bears his very name?
I urge you to consider these assertions with great care. If there is no truth to them, then it is of no consequence. Though if they are true, the fate of our nation hangs in the balance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jozef Lalka is a former Infantryman with the Canadian Armed Forces and founder of War Doll.
Since releasing from the military, Jozef has devoted his life to the scriptural motivation of the warrior culture, and the mentorship of the next generation. Having earned a diploma in Media & Video production, Jozef works as a graphic designer, photographer and videographer while pursing a passion for current global conflicts and how they relate to historical events.