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The Pandemic and Religious Freedom

November 3, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic that began sweeping the globe in 2020 has affected society on many levels, but has it interfered with religious freedom? That’s what Robert Joustra and André Schutten will discuss at Redeemer University’s Pastor Professor Exchange Nov. 17.

The Pastor Professor Exchange is a series of dialogues begun in 2018 that aims to create space on Redeemer’s campus for “pastors and church leaders to hear from exceptional Christian scholars on relevant topics for the church today,” says the university’s website. The discussions each fall and winter semester have included topics such as church growth in Canada, mental health, cultural trends in sexuality, and the book of Judges.

The exchange of ideas this fall will explore ideas of religious freedom and persecution and how the ongoing pandemic has affected these in Canada and around the world.

A number of scholars observing societal trends have noted that one impact of the pandemic seems to be a growing divide in an already polarized world, including the disparity between religious and nonreligious people. Joustra and Schutten will discuss whether this divide has affected the freedoms that people of faith experience in Canada and abroad.

Both participants in the discussion have an interest in the area of religious freedom and human rights. Joustra is an associate professor of politics and international studies at Redeemer, and he serves as director of its Centre for Christian Scholarship. Schutten is the director of law and policy at the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) and is a part-time instructor at Redeemer, teaching a course on human rights.

During the summer months of 2021, Joustra did research for the Christian think-tank Cardus and produced a paper on the topic of what we have learned during the pandemic and where Canada should be focusing after the pandemic.

As a lawyer and an authority on religious freedom in Canada, Schutten has represented ARPA in various court interventions, including the Supreme Court of Canada.

Pastors who attend will receive a copy of The Church and Religious Persecution, a brief book that Joustra coauthored with Kevin den Dulk as part of the Calvin Shorts series published by Calvin College Press in 2015. The book is based on work Joustra and den Dulk did as part of the CRCNA's Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty, the report of which was adopted at Synod 2016, explained Joustra. He added, “The [Pastor Professor Exchange] event will hopefully put to work these same ideas but turn our attention more directly on Canada and take stock of religious freedom in pandemic politics.”

The dialogue is planned for Wednesday, Nov. 17, from 12-1 p.m. (EST) and will take place online via Zoom. The event is open to pastors from diverse denominations. The link to register can be found on Redeemer University’s website.