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Many Canadian pastors are guilty of sneezing every time our American cousins catch a cold. As Pierre Elliot Trudeau once said, living next to Americans “is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”1

That we are “affected” by every twitch and grunt cannot be denied; whether we should comment on every twitch and grunt, however, is subject to debate and discernment. In general, the pastor’s sermon content should be drawn from the pages of Holy Scripture. However, there may be rare occasions when the prepared message should be set aside in favour of a pastoral reflection upon significant social and cultural events. When that event takes place in another country, additional caution and prudence is required.

In general it may be appropriate to comment on an American social crisis:

1. When It Speaks to the Human Condition

The first question to ask before you rewrite your Sunday sermon to address an issue on the news is likely this: is this crisis about American culture or the human condition? Because of their size and media dominance, many significant events happen in America that are not specifically about America. It is those issues that may warrant reflection from Canadian pulpits.

A recent example of this would be the horrific devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. Natural disasters such as this invite reflection upon the human condition – regardless of where they occur. As with the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, so with Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf of Mexico – these extreme weather events remind human beings of their essential smallness and frailty. They remind us that we live in a big world and that we are subject to forces and powers beyond our control. They remind us that we need each other and we need God.

Additional caution should be exercised when the particular crisis has roots in a specific historical cultural context. An example of this would be the recent racial tensions in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri and Charlottesville, Virginia. While racism is a universal human issue, these particular events are rooted in a historical context that most Canadians have a hard time identifying with. It might be wiser and more humble for us to tackle the issue from the perspective of our own sins with respect to the aboriginal population in this country. We needn’t look any further than our own backyard for illustrations of the human tendency to abuse and victimize the other.

If the crisis invites honest reflection upon issues related to the human condition, then it may warrant discussion from the pulpit. If it offers merely a chance to speak smugly about the sins of the neighbours, then it would be wiser to let it pass.

It may also be appropriate to comment on an American social crisis:

2. When It Illustrates a Principle of Providence

The immediate response to any crisis ought to be compassion, charity and prayer. However, in due course it may be appropriate to ask questions related to the operations of Providence. Job 37 says:

11 He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.
12 They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.
13 Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.
14 “Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. (Job 37:11–14 ESV)

Stop and consider the wondrous works of God.

That isn’t the first thing we should do when a crisis like Hurricane Harvey happens to our friends south of the border, but eventually we ought to get there. Pastors ought to help their people think through why it is that God ordains hurricanes, earthquakes and disasters.

We cannot dodge the question by suggesting that while God didn’t make this happen, he will bring good out of it. That simply doesn’t square with what God says about himself. God says: “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV).

According to God, God ordains all things. Nothing can happen without his Sovereign say so. Therefore, while it isn’t the first or the second or even the third thing we should do when a crisis hits, eventually we must consider how it serves the Sovereign purpose of God. It is not wrong for a Canadian preacher to reflect on an act of Providence, even when it takes place on foreign soil.

It may also be appropriate to comment on an American social crisis:

3. When It Underlines the Urgency of the Gospel

Human beings tend to assume a principle of uniformitarianism. That is to say, we assume that things will always be more or less the way they have always been. Peter spoke about folks who thought that way.

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:4–7 ESV)

Peter said that human beings by nature tend to forget that God is an intervening God. He does not let things take their natural course. He shakes the tree and he rattles the cage in order to wake people up to the urgency of their situation.

When a crisis happens, it is appropriate to use that occasion to remind people of the urgency of the Gospel; Jesus did that very thing. In Luke 13 we read:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–5 ESV)

Jesus used a political crisis and a natural disaster to remind people that they were all going to die sooner or later, and they needed to prepare for the Judgment of God.

A Canadian pastor is not wrong to follow his example.

He will, however, want to be careful with the timing. When the neighbours are mourning, it is not the time for a sermon on Final Judgment. The Bible calls on us to ‘weep with those who weep’  (Romans 12:15) and so we should. But when the tears have dried and the time is right, then it is entirely appropriate to reflect upon the meaning of it all.

It is appropriate to remark upon the groaning of creation, the Sovereignty of God, the brevity of life and the certainty of Judgment. It is appropriate to draw attention to the beauty of Christ, the freeness of grace and the necessity of repentance.

Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:16 ESV)

Even still, come Lord Jesus.

SDG

Pastor Paul Carter

N.B. This post was partially stimulated by the excellent article written by Trevin Wax over at The Gospel Coalition USA titled “When Should A Church Address A Current Event?” 

N.B. To listen to the Into The Word podcast, featuring Pastor Paul Carter, see here


1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Trudeau_sleeping_with_an_elephant.ogg


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3 thoughts on “When Should a Canadian Pastor Address an American Social Crisis?”

  1. Wow! You have really been on a roll with your last few posts. This is a very timely article in that I am currently staring down the barrel of Hurricane Irma here in South Carolina. Last year Hurricane Matthew hit us with devastating flooding. The only way to cope with the potential dangers is to see God’s hand of Providence in them. I am always reminded of William Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation,” the account of the first years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and how these followers of Christ were always driven to their knees when a storm or any other peril hit them. We will pray more and be mindful of God more by his frowning providence than his smiling providence. Thanks for reminding me.

  2. Paul Carter says:

    Hi William, are a Canadian pastor living in South Carolina? So glad you found the article helpful. I will be praying for you as I post this brief reply. Blessings to you.

    1. No, just a sheep. I have a special in interest in the Church in Canada as I have met so many of y’all who were attending our PCA Church while on vacation here. Seems to be something special up there.

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Paul Carter


Paul Carter attended Moody Bible Institute and is a graduate of York University (B.A.) and McMaster Divinity College (MDiv). He has been in pastoral ministry since 1994, serving in both Fellowship and Canadian Baptist churches in Oakville, Mississauga and Orillia, Ontario Canada. He presently serves as the Lead Pastor of First Baptist Church, Orillia, a large multi-staff church with a passion for biblical preaching and local mission.

Along with his friend Marc Bertrand he is the co-founder of the Covenant Life Renewal Association (CLRA) seeking Biblical and Spiritual revival within Canadian Baptist Churches. He also serves on the TGC Canada board.

Paul has written two books and is a frequent blogger on issues of Christian faith and living. You can find his devotional podcast at www.intotheword.ca

Paul is the happy husband of Shauna Lee and the proud papa of 5 beautiful children, Madison, Max, Mikayla, Peyton and Noa.

You can find him at:

www.intotheword.ca
www.adfontes.ca
www.firstbaptistorillia.org

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