In front of the BC legislature on many Saturdays over the past year, you would see people holding up signs about freedom, many of them white Christian men and women. If you looked or listened closely, you would also hear messages about hate.
Christo fascism is on the rise in Canada. By Christo fascism, I mean predominantly white Christian groups in Canada seeking to impose their religious views, including discrimination of marginalized groups of people, upon the wider public. This includes actively opposing polices of queer inclusion at public institutions such as schools, universities, health clinics and legislative bodies, especially through undemocratic means. Tactics include intimidation, harassment, threat of violence, and seeking to revoke or repeal charter freedoms of other Canadians. These groups that often wave the flag of individual and religious freedom are also among the first to want to revoke freedoms of groups of people they find undesirable, falling outside of the norms of an extremist Christian faith.
White supremacists and hate groups have established a foothold in Canadian churches, including hate groups disguised as public interest groups. For example, so-called groups of concerned citizens who allege trans kids are victims of child abuse, simply for falling outside the gender norms these extremist Christian groups prescribe. A group will say they are concerned and then show up en masse protesting actual children who are exercising their freedoms simply to exist. Such protests have happened recently in Vancouver.
Christo fascists are resourceful in latching on to whatever bandwagon is travelling through town at a given time. During the height of the pandemic, we saw a rise in hate groups supporting anti-vaccine movements. It was an effective strategy at getting people riled up about mask and protective mandates. Furthermore, under the cover of concern about government overreach on public health and individual freedom, similar groups active within the Convoy Movement then used the momentum to advance hate agendas and conspiracy theories. They attacked queer kids, promoted anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, disputed the severity of residential schools and more.
I saw this firsthand visiting the convoy protests at the BC legislature in downtown Victoria a couple of times in spring 2022. I heard one guy yell anti-Semitic slurs through a megaphone only to have someone next to him elbow him and say, “Not now.” Such people hide behind a cloak of legitimacy by supposedly standing up for individual freedoms. We are in danger they argue, from alleged global cabals. Such theories have a lot in common with anti-Semitic propaganda in Nazi Germany. And yet you can still find them today in countless YouTube videos, memes and blogs. The QAnon conspiracy movement has helped make some of these ideas mainstream. What QAnon groups have learned is that if you repeat lies over and over, you can gain a foothold in the public conversation about public matters. This strategy has been effective in that they have many followers worldwide via the internet and social media. Sadly, their extreme views and mistruths are difficult to monitor. It can be argued that some social media companies are reluctant to take action against them. They make billions of dollars by driving traffic to extremist videos and posts. Hate and lies help deliver clicks, which drive up advertising revenues. That said, the regulation of social media companies in Canada is an issue worthy of consideration.
In spring 2022, there were Canadian groups holding rallies around Victoria that featured not only anti-vax speakers, but also anti-queer speakers as well. There are several of these groups that have a foothold in the lower mainland of BC. And there are even some local churches and supporters in Greater Victoria and throughout Vancouver Island who assist with the organizing and coordinating of these organizations. When pressed, many will deny they encourage hate. Instead they stick to safe talking points around individual freedom. But the reality is that their followers push discriminatory agendas against trans children, their parents, teachers and school officials who provide space for queer kids in educational institutions. For this reason, trans kids desperately need the vocal support of both individual Christians and churches. It’s harder for queerphobic Christians to push their hate when voices of opposition rise from within the Christian tradition.
As progressive Christians, we were unprepared when anti-mask and anti-vax groups were organizing protests outside of hospitals and government buildings during the pandemic. Convoy organizers seized the momentum to build their movement. The city of Ottawa was occupied and there was even talk of more radical actions to be taken. Many of us looked on in incredulity as similar movements elsewhere in Canada were formed, inspiring similar activity in other countries.
To a large degree, Christian fascist groups may often get away with their actions and hate speech before anyone can duly respond. In Ottawa we saw that it took public opinion — the anger of local residents and others in the city — to force the local police to act. But by that time, removing large trucks, bouncy castles, mobile saunas, power generators etc. was an arduous task. It also led to the questionable tactic of invoking the Emergencies Act as other options at the disposal of public leaders and police were seemingly ignored or passed over.
So where does this leave those of us in the mainstream churches as Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and so forth? One effective step we can take today is to begin talking about these issues in our places of worship. Too often a culture of politeness prevents us from having meaningful conversations. Remaining silent in the face of creeping fascism is a dangerous response as it allows it to fester.
Let’s talk together. Let’s share our thoughts and feelings about what is happening politically in the non-partisan sense of politics. Step-by-step we can organize a movement as followers of Jesus that centres on the love and safety of racialized people, queer folks, disabled folks and women. That is a true Christian freedom worth working towards.
This an opinion piece by Lyndon Sayers, a pastor at Lutheran Church of the Cross, Victoria. Although not technically part of the Diocese of British Columbia, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) is part of our church family due to our full communion relationship. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the diocese.