St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey, British Columbia, was the latest house of worship victimized by a rash of attacks against Canadian churches this summer. Attacks on church buildings is something one might expect to occur in a third-world country, not Canada. And yet, it’s become a shockingly common occurrence there over the past few months.
By one count, 57 Canadian churches have been targeted — 21 of those churches were set on fire.
The Lady of Lourdes Chopaka Church in British Columbia burned to the ground. St. Gregory Mission Church on Osoyoos Indian Band land was similarly reduced to ashes. The doors of Grace Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Alberta, were splattered with red paint. And these are just a few examples.
Investigations by Canadian police are ongoing, and the fires are being treated as “suspicious.” Many speculate the attacks are in response to reports this summer that hundreds of graves have been unearthed on some Canadian church grounds. These graves are thought to belong to indigenous children who died of disease in residential schools run by churches as part of a government-mandated assimilation program.
Operating from the 1870s to 1990s, the schools were often overcrowded and underfunded, making children vulnerable and physically unhealthy. Tragic deaths from disease followed. Although these incidences have been widely reported in Canada before, the discovery of additional graves caused a social media uproar in June.
Anger directed at the past is understandable. But many of the churches that have been set on fire serve indigenous people on indigenous lands; they are not symbols of oppression. Paul Tuns notes in The Wall Street Journal that around half of Canada’s indigenous population is Christian.
Burning and vandalizing churches in Canada will not bring justice to victims who died many decades ago — it will only hurt members of the community who benefit from these churches today.
The church burnings have garnered scarce attention, both inside and outside of Canada. This is unfortunate. Destructive acts against houses of worship should be met with strong condemnation no matter where in the world they occur.
It’s a sign of an unhealthy society for such horrific acts to be met with apathy. Sadly, these incidents are reflective of a growing hostility toward Christianity that has been mounting in the West. As the culture plunges further into the depths of the sexual revolution, biblical teachings on marriage and sexuality (which are also present in Judaism and Islam) are increasingly considered offensive by secular society.
In Finland, expressing biblical beliefs on sexuality caused the prosecutor general to charge Päivi Räsänen, a Finnish member of parliament, with multiple counts of “ethnic agitation.” This type of hostility to Christian beliefs — seen throughout the West — can cause public figures to shy away from standing up for Christians when they are victimized.
The wave of church burnings in Canada is a tragedy fueled by hate, and those tempted to ignore these attacks are misguided. Destruction does not honor the dead — it harms the living, including those from indigenous communities.
The relative silence on church attacks is not a good sign for religious freedom in Canada. Religious freedom requires more than mere protection under the law — it also needs cultural support.
A culture of religious freedom involves people boldly living out their faith — including in the public square — and speaking out against serious physical or legal attacks on religious expression, beliefs and houses of worship. For Canadians, now is the time to speak out. Attacks on churches must never be normalized or brushed aside.
Originally published at the Family Research Council.
Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.