Aylmer on the Verge of Violence: A Plea for Civility

I have found the last 24 hours quite difficult. Aylmer is the town I grew up and went to school in. It’s the town I returned to as a pastor a dozen years ago now. Ours has always been a pleasant and friendly town, and not particularly newsworthy. But now we are newsworthy, receiving local, regional, and national coverage regularly. It is safe to say that the events of 2020 have done (likely irreparable) damage to the reputation of our community. And we seem to be reaching a new threshold of concern.

It grieves me to see our town on the verge of violence, but that is where we’re at. You could see hints of this at the rally/march in November. There were several heated moments that almost boiled over. Things have been tense ever since, and the events of this past Sunday morning should raise the alarm for all residents of Aylmer. It’s only a matter of time before we see real violence break out in our town if this is not addressed. 

Why is the tension in our town escalating?

  1. The church north of town has clearly been spoiling for a fight for some time. While I am sympathetic to some of their principles, their practice of drowning these principles in waves of incendiary rhetoric is something I detest. This escalates tension.
  1. The police, early on at least, seem to have handled the church’s provocations with inconsistency at best, leading to more opportunities for publicity for the church. This escalates tension. (It should be noted that in the video evidence that exists of Sunday’s events, the officers seem to be a model of courtesy and restraint under very trying conditions.) 
  1. Paragraph retracted. See explanation here.
  1. We have the counter-protesters who are equally angry, equally outraged and in some cases, equally willing to take the confrontation to the next level. Included with this lot is the creepy, mysterious, and anonymous “Plague Pastor” video star, who decries the church’s condemnable actions while promoting his/her own xenophobic biases and implicit calls for violence. This certainly escalates tension.
  1. The protesters – a combination of locals and out-of-town “protest tourists” – lack focus but not anger, outrage or disrespect. So many varied grievances gathered under one tent is like so much dry grass around a shortening candle. This escalates tension.

Where does all this tension go?

All this escalated tension is on full display every minute of the day on social media, where every conversation seems to end in conflict, where the benefit of the doubt is never given, and where judgments are made before both sides of the story are heard. From there this tension works its way into our stores and restaurants, where people are short on patience, often assuming the worst about each other, and sometimes openly serving up abusive insults about the ethnic heritage of some of their fellow citizens.

These are not normal or acceptable boundaries for civil disagreement, least of all among those who claim to be followers of Jesus. We have what seems to be a cult of protest on one side and a cult of counter-protest on the other. Neither one represents the majority while both scream at the top of their lungs, staking their claim to be, apparently without irony, the silent (or silenced) majority. I suspect neither one would win an open vote with the townspeople if given a third choice somewhere – anywhere – between the two. 

What a mess. 

More Than a Mess

But now it is more than a mess; now it’s a public danger. What has come to be a weekly circus north of town is quickly evolving into something far more serious. There is a real potential for open physical conflict.

Back to the events that unfolded this past Sunday, some of which you can see here or below.

The “protest tourists” are the main accelerants of this fire. I want to draw your attention to one moment that should cause us all grave concern. After the ticket was issued and the officer returned to his vehicle, the agitated crowd of angry men were instructed to not allow the officer to leave. One of the protestors shouted at the officer asking, among other things, where he lives and where his kids go to sleep. I would certainly feel threatened to have those words screamed at me, wouldn’t you?

Others stood behind his vehicle blocking his way. When the officer gets out his vehicle to ask those blocking his vehicle to move, someone near the camera seems to say these words around the 2:40 mark of the video: 

“There’s more of us than them…” That’s a lit fuse right there.

Warning

Listen, anyone who would say such a thing needs to be uninvited from future protests. And if they come uninvited they should be notified that they are not welcome. They should certainly not be encouraged in any way. If this is not addressed this will turn from local to national to international news. That might be good business for the news outlets of our region, but it will be no good for the people of Aylmer.

We need to be reminded that we can disagree and still be friends. All but a few seem to have forgotten this fact. Friends can speak to each other bluntly but with care and respect, even when they disagree. It’s time we all start practicing this. There has been enough trauma to go around in 2020. If we don’t take quick action 2021 will be even more traumatic. 

Is that what we want?

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Is the Gospel Under Assault in Aylmer, Ontario?

Is the gospel under assault right now in Aylmer, Ontario? Are we Christians being persecuted? Should we be doing something different than we’re doing right now? What does it look like for us to “speak the word without fear”?

Related post: Should This Aylmer Pastor Be Breaking the Law?

One result of Paul’s frequent imprisonments was that other Christians were emboldened, they were energized by his witness of suffering for the sake of Christ (Phil. 1:14). That’s the exact opposite result some would expect. Paul was being punished for speaking the truth of the gospel and the intent on the part of those punishing him was to make clear to others what they could expect if they tried the same thing.

But this doesn’t reduce gospel preaching, it increases it. People who are committed to God and captivated by his word are stirred to speak whenever the gospel is under assault. When you tell Christians not to speak of Christ, as the apostles were in Acts 6, you can be assured that they will speak of Christ at the next opportunity.

Types of Boldness

Bold Christians inspire and energize other Christians, but there are two types of boldness. One leads to good results and the other does not. Bold confident Christians who are wise can inspire other Christians to step out boldly in wisdom. But bold confident Christians who are foolish can inspire other Christians to step out boldly in foolishness.

The small town where I live and pastor a church has been in the national news these last weeks because of a local church that has been disobeying the police by meeting in their cars in their parking lot for worship services on Sunday mornings. The pastor of this church is bold and is attempting to energize his flock to step out boldly. 

Making the Case

What should we think of this? We are Christians who count ourselves as people who are bold and confident in the gospel, just as Paul was, just as those who were inspired by Paul were. And we would certainly defend the gospel if it was under assault. 

The issue in this case, in our town is being framed by this pastor with three biblical stories: David and Goliath, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, and the Apostles before the Council

So, is the gospel under assault right now in Aylmer, Ontario? Are we Christians being persecuted? Should we be doing something different than we’re doing right now? What does it look like for us to “speak the word without fear”? 

Is the Gospel Under Assault?

The first thing we need to understand clearly from scripture is that we may not like or agree with decisions that are made, but unless the authorities are compelling us to sin then we are not free to disobey. We are free to challenge but we are not free to disobey.

The questions we must answer, then, are these: 

  • Is the government, in prohibiting us from meeting together – even if we stay in our cars – compelling us to sin?
  • Are they mocking us as the Philistines mocked Israel before David slew Goliath?
  • Are they commanding us not to pray, as Nebuchadnezzar did Daniel? 
  • Are they commanding us, even metaphorically, to bow down to an idol, to pledge our sole allegiance to a false God?
  • Are they commanding us not to speak the name of Jesus, as the council did to the apostles?

The answer to all those questions is no. To mock us in this situation would be to allow other large groups to gather in this way for corporate events but not Christians. That’s not happening. We have not been commanded to stop preaching or praying or worshiping. In fact, we are still doing all those things. We have not been asked to bow to any sort of idol that would cause us to betray our allegiance to God. We have not been forbidden to speak the name of Jesus. We’re free to do that all we want. 

The Conditions For Disobedience 

The conditions for disobedience have not been met, so to disobey the authorities at this point would be for us to sin.

One more possibility that might justify disobedience: Are they compelling us to sin by causing us to ignore the command to meet together that we find in the book of Hebrews? Again, no, because there is a greater command, which is to love God and love your neighbour. And to love our neighbours in this time is to abide by the the rules of those who have been placed in authority over us.

We will continue to obey these orders unless it becomes obvious that Christians are being specifically targeted by them. Until that time, we will obey and we will advocate for a reasonable way forward, as we are doing here.

Have your say:

Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

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