December 19, 2020

A Matter of Conscience

Tears rolled down Grandpa Peter’s cheeks as he turned to his son and choked out, “Wins, is this how we raised you? To leave your people?” As Winston trudged home, he was deeply troubled by what his father had said. When he invited his parents to his baptism, he had anticipated some mild hesitation. He hadn’t anticipated his father’s pain at a son leaving the family’s faith tradition. 

In Newfoundland, Canada, families congregated in religious communities: Catholics lived in some harbors; Protestants in others. Religion was at the foundation of everyday life. It formed one’s identity and provided a sense of belonging, of community.

Winston understood. Seventh-day Adventists were “outsiders.” Unlike other Protestant groups that had made their homes in Newfoundland for generations, this new religion had “come from away.” Most of his five brothers and three sisters attended the Anglican church — when they did choose to go. Winston’s son, Barry, was an altar boy. Conversations at family potlucks swirled around religion and politics (one of Winston’s brothers had become active in provincial affairs). 

Weighing all this against freedom of conscience, Winston had made his decision by the time he arrived at his house. He would proceed with his baptism. Freedom of conscience was more important than tradition. He was convicted of principle and was willing to pay the price.

Twelve-year-old Barry Bussey watched his father’s baptism with great interest. His grandfather wasn’t present. In fact, Grandfather Peter wouldn’t speak to Winston for weeks. But eventually, barriers came down. After all, Winston was still Winston; he was part of the family — and family debates about religious beliefs assumed an even greater fervor than before. 

No one was too surprised when, after high school graduation, Bussey chose to study political science at Memorial University of Newfoundland and then decided to transfer to Burman University, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Alberta to earn a degree in theology. Throughout his life, religion, politics, and law pulled at Bussey equally. Most recently, he earned a doctoral degree in law at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

As Director of Legal Affairs at the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities, Bussey’s responsibilities include interpreting legal and regulatory environments and representing Christian charities. In the past, he also represented the Seventh-day Adventist Church at the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., and the International Religious Liberty Association at the United Nations in New York and Geneva.

Bussey points out that in Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects religious pluralism. Canadians may worship in various ways as their faith dictates. Yet, he believes, the nation’s media, legal, and academic professionals are proponents of secularism. They expect religious communities to conform to the moral norms of society. So, Bussey, an advocate for freedom of conscience, defines himself as “the other voice” — one that crosses the boundaries between secularism and traditional religious pluralism.

Bussey has defended religious freedom throughout his career in court and in his writings. In 2012, he was recognized with the Diamond Jubilee Medal of religious freedom work in Canada and abroad. His life’s work is evidence that God prepares His people “for such a time as this.”

The original version of this story appeared in the December 2020 issue of the Canadian Adventist Messenger.