Does Faith Still Have a Role to Play in Canada?
Posted by Nathan Betts on May 29, 2018
The 53rd National Prayer Breakfast took place in Ottawa last month and it caused me to wonder what, if any, role faith plays in Canada today. There is complexity regarding this topic, but the very fact that MPs from different parties meet annually for this event speaks of the bridge-building power that faith still has in Canada. Partisanship has become so strong that there are only few moments in the year when different parties attend a gathering together without opposing one another.
As a Canadian now living in America, it was a special treat to be in Ottawa in March this year for a short visit. While I was there, I took a tour of the parliament and sat in on the questions time.
I observed that when one party would make a point, a round of applause from within that party ensued. At the same time of one party’s applause, the opposing party would either go quiet or cry “Shame.” This cycle of one party applauding their points while the other cried, “Shame” repeated itself many times throughout the hour there.
One of the few moments when the cycle was interrupted came when one MP stood up and acknowledged the sacrificial death of French police officer Arnaud Beltrame. On March 24, lieutenant colonel Beltrame was one of the first responders to a supermarket in Trebes, France, where a terrorist had taken the people in the shop hostage. Beltrame negotiated with the gunman and volunteered to take the place of one hostage. When Beltrame entered the supermarket, he left his mobile phone on so that his fellow police officers could hear what was taking place inside the store. Soon, gunshots rang out and the elite police forces stormed the supermarket. The police team rescued the hostages but were unable to rescue Beltrame. The terrorist had already fired three bullets into his body. Beltrame did not survive. His heroic action of exchanging places with one of the hostages saved the life of that hostage and the lives of others who were in the store at the time.
While the MP stood up to acknowledge this action by lieutenant colonel Beltrame, there was pin drop silence. It was one of the few times, perhaps only time, during that questions time when an MP spoke and everyone quietly listened. After acknowledging the bravery of Beltrame, a roar of thunderous applause shook the room and MPs rose to their feet to honour the slain police officer for his act of heroism. The emotion was palpable.
My mind pondered why such a heroic act like that captures the hearts and minds of so many. There are plenty of reasons, I am sure, but I think that in its most basic sense, it was the sheer bravery embodied by Arnaud Beltrame that reminds us how the human capacity can transcend the limits and low expectations we have on each other. There is also something about Beltrame’s action that makes us want to be like him—we want to be brave in the face of fear and chaos.
But I wonder whether there is a hidden aspect of faith in this beautiful yet sad story. There is a well known adage rooted in the Christian tradition that states that “Greater love has no one than this: To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Is it not the case that this act of a police officer willingly giving up his life so that others may live captivates and inspires us because it points to an ultimate type of love—a love that sacrifices life in order that others may live?
What is perhaps most poignant about Beltrame’s story is that he not only died for the sake of others, but that he exchanged places with a hostage so that that hostage could go free; he went far beyond what was expected of him as a police officer. What I find striking about Beltrame’s act of courage and how it lines up with the famous adage is not only what the adage says but also who uttered it: a First Century rabbi named Jesus who died so that others might live. Historically, Easter is the time when Christians remember Jesus in this way: living, dying, and rising again so that others may live. There is great complexity here in what all this means, but it is encouraging to know that the one from whom that famous adage came was saying something that pointed to the very action he was about to perform.
As I think back to the questions time at Parliament, I still wonder why the human soul is inspired by such an act demonstrated by Arnaud Beltrame. I ask myself whether faith in a higher power has something to do with it. And not just any faith, but belief in a higher being who will give himself up so that others may live. Maybe faith has a more meaningful role to play in Canada than we often acknowledge? If that is the case, here’s to more National Prayer breakfasts.