I was born and raised in the greater Toronto area (known to the natives there as “the GTA”), and came to faith in the early 70’s. For the students of ancient history among us, that was the time of the so-called “Jesus Movement”, when tens of thousands of young people came to Christ, many of them former hippies and drug-addicts. It was a brief blip on the cultural radar, and was over in less than a decade. But while it lasted, if often made the front pages, including the cover of “Time Magazine”. The young new converts, usually called “Jesus People” or (by the unenthused) “Jesus Freaks” were often seen openly proclaiming their faith in the public square, perhaps playing the guitar and then preaching to a crowd at the beach; holding music festivals where they sang songs about Jesus; and generally being exuberant about their faith. It was an oddity then, for Christians were not generally known to be exuberant, play guitars, or have long hair. But after the initial shock, most people found them somewhat refreshing, if perhaps a little unnerving, since these long-haired Jesus People were urging their contemporaries to give up drugs and take up prayer. Toronto, being a major Canadian city, had its share of Jesus People, who strove to make the Gospel as widely-known as they could.
That was then. Fast forward to now. In that same Toronto, we find a group of people wanting to publicly sing about their faith. They are too young to remember the Jesus People, but any aging Jesus Freak would instantly recognize them as cut from the same spiritual cloth. The group is called “Voices of the Nations” (see photo), and since 2006 they have been using city property at the central Yonge-Dundas Square for their annual “multi-denominational” event, celebrating Christianity through live music and dance. Jesus People indeed. But like I said, this is now (or to borrow a phrase from our new Prime Minister, “it’s 2015”), and public celebration of Christianity is not allowed if it could possibly give anyone the idea that they should embrace Christian ideology. Note please that Christian ideology alone is singled out for such treatment, for Toronto, ever keen to celebrate “diversity”, has no problem with parades and celebrations held by Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or the LGBQT community—all of which (and especially the latter community) hold such celebrations in public precisely to promote their ideologies. Christians alone come under the cultural ban, and when the Voices of the Nations co-ordinator applied to the city for the usual permit to hold their annual festival they were told that the permit would not be issued, but they must find another venue for their gathering. The reason given? Proselytizing is not allowed. Said the city official: “If you’re praising Jesus, [saying] ‘praise the Lord’, and that type of thing, that’s proselytizing.” It was admitted that the performers were not calling on the audience to embrace the Christian faith, but simply singing their songs, and one wonders how Christians could sing songs or hymns about Christ and omit any reference to Jesus. No matter; such public exuberance on the part of Christians is now disallowed. After all, it’s 2015.
What does this mean? It means that our culture continues along its escalating trajectory of militant anti-Christian sentiment. I would define it as “secularism”, except that public displays by other religions such as Islam are allowed and even encouraged. Back in the old days, western rhetoric denounced Russia as “the evil empire”. That was then; this is now, and we are on the fast track to becoming the new evil empire. Nonetheless, life in such an unwelcoming environment, though difficult, will be good for us, for persecution has always had a purifying effect upon the Church. It helps us remember that “here we have no continuing city” (even the GTA), and that we live as “exiles and sojourners” in this age (Hebrews 13:14, 1 Peter 2:11). And if ever we need pointers on how to live in such an unwelcoming environment, perhaps the older citizens of the former evil empire can help us, for some of the older Russians remember what it was like.
The Jesus People and their public celebration of God’s love are long gone, and the city which once welcomed them has turned cold. Yet even now, if one listens hard, one can still hear some of their songs lingering on the wind. Those songs proclaimed, “Maranatha! Jesus is coming!” The Jesus People expected a final show-down between Christ and Antichrist in their time. Perhaps they were not far wrong.