As a Canadian, I found the events that recently unfolded in Ottawa and other parts of Canada deeply saddening. Canada is a country that has long been seen as a place of tolerance, understanding, and peace. It seems, though, that the divisiveness that has formed in other countries has also taken root in the “True North, strong and free.”
The self-described “Freedom Convoy” began rolling in January 2022 and headed to the capital. Hundreds of large trucks occupied the centre (that’s how you spell it in the Queen’s English) of the city for four weeks. The truckers’ blockade expanded to the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest link between Canada and the United State. After the blockades ended, trucks were moved, and police began forcing protesters to vacate the capital. The animosity and division, however, are far from over.
Speaking of truckers, many of us have friends who drive trucks for a living, whether it’s an 18-wheeler, a delivery truck, a garbage truck, or a snowplow. Canadians identify with the hardworking blue-collar class, because so many of us have immigrated to Canada to find a better life. Truckers are integral to the economy, and anything that hurts them hurts all of us.
These events continue to cause an internal struggle that’s perhaps shared by many fellow Canadians as we’re torn by the conflicts regarding values. Being Canadian means that we’re mindful of our interactions with others. We’re known for saying “Sorry!” for every minor inconvenience we cause.
We welcome many cultures and peoples into the Canadian mosaic, creating the multicultural fabric of our society. We shovel the snow in each other’s driveway and are willing to bend over backwards to help our neighbor, which includes getting the COVID vaccine to protect the most vulnerable among us (85 percent of Canadians are vaccinated).
Being Canadian means we love freedom, tolerance, and peace (except maybe at the hockey rink). The idea of tyranny and oppression is repulsive to us. And so, seeing the government take draconian actions against a small minority of Canada’s own people (such as the truckers) doesn’t sit well with many Canadians.
The tension in our own minds is real as we’re pulled in opposite directions. We try to resolve those strains, but at every turn we find ourselves being yanked more vigorously to one side or another, perhaps by our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Social media algorithms continue to feed us with the negative viewpoints that capture our attention. While the world argues these issues publicly, as an Adventist I’ve been even more disturbed to see the increased division within the church around the issue of the vaccine mandates.
The official Seventh-day Adventist position about any and all vaccines is that it’s an issue between an individual and their doctor, and that there’s no biblical basis for forbidding the use of vaccines. As simple and direct as that position is, some church members have tried to drag the church into controversy over the COVID vaccine by blurring the lines between government mandates, requirements as employers, and our position on medical treatment. Some have even equated the vaccines with the mark of the beast written about in the book of Revelation, and the growing government intervention as a forerunner to edicts preventing people from buying or selling.
While I can’t reconcile the tensions I feel as a Canadian about the Freedom Convoy, I feel much less confused about what the Bible has to say about the end times. In fact, the long-held understanding of the Adventist Church on these end-time events is even more valuable as a beacon today. While even some Adventists are pointing to the growing government overreach as a precursor to these end-time persecution, Revelation points in a different direction:
“And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. . . . It deceived the inhabitants of the earth. . . . It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark” (Rev. 13:13-17, NIV).1
The Bible points to a religious entity using false signs to deceive the inhabitants of the earth. Some will be convinced by these “miracles” that they’re obeying God, while others will just go along to preserve their own status (the symbolism of the receiving the mark on the forehead or the hand). Revelation points to the people of the earth as those who demand the persecution rather than it being instituted by government. Ellen White writes in the book Prophets and Kings:
“Persecuting rulers, ministers, and church members will conspire against them. With voice and pen, by boasts, threats, and ridicule, they will seek to overthrow their faith. By false representations and angry appeals, men will stir up the passions of the people. . . . To secure popularity and patronage, legislators will yield to the demand.”2
Ellen White says that it’s the people who will cause the legislators (government) to yield to their demand. What is the demand? To persecute others (a small minority, perhaps)—to oppress them, imprison them, or worse—in order to maintain their personal status, wealth, and security. In times of crisis in the future it will be the religious community, emboldened by the false signs and miracles, that demands that sanctions be imposed against those who do not comply.
How ironic that today the political divide is defined as left versus right, conservative versus liberal, Christians versus nonbelievers. Conservative Christians are seen as those fighting for freedom, personal rights, and traditional values—standing up to the tyranny of government overreach. And yet it may be that these same people fighting for freedom today will later be the ones instrumental in demanding that actions be taken against those with whom they disagree.
Furthermore, as we think about the truckers who drove to Ottawa to protest, some see them as champions of individual rights. Similar trucker protests have since spawned in other countries. We can also harken back to 1973, when the United States experienced a truckers’ strike because of high diesel prices that disrupted the economy for months. The Gilet Jaunes in France protested every Saturday for more than a year in 2018-2019 over high taxes on fuel. Truckers are so vital to our economy that any job action they take can have a tremendous impact.
Ellen White frequently warned about the impact of labor unions. “The trades unions will be one of the agencies that will bring upon this earth a time of trouble such as has not been since the world began.”3 She repeatedly warns about labor or trade unions in her writings, and what more powerful union is there than the Teamsters Union? The Teamsters represents a diverse group of workers, including many truckers, to help with their economic causes.
Teamsters describe themselves as follows: “The Teamsters are America’s largest, most diverse union. In 1903 the Teamsters started as a merger of the two leading team driver associations. These drivers were the backbone of America’s robust economic growth, but they needed to organize to wrest their fair share from greedy corporations. Today the union’s task is exactly the same.”4
Even a few years ago we might have dismissed some of Ellen White’s comments about labor unions as being relevant only to the past. Today, however, they seem increasingly apt. The Freedom Convoy in Canada, led by truck drivers and the support they’ve received from many Canadians, may be indicative of the appeal of unions to people who feel marginalized and ignored by leaders.
I’m not attempting to demonize truckers or their union. Truckers are good people. Instead, I write this to help Adventists think about our current situation, to decipher the deeper issues, to think about how things may come to pass in the future, and to better understand our biblical prophecies. It would be good for all Christians to reflect on where their true allegiance lies and what principles we should stand for.
Ellen White wrote a letter to John Burden that addressed labor unions and the injunction from buying and selling and the mark of the beast:
“These [labor] unions are one of the signs of the last days.Men are binding up in bundles ready to be burned. They may be church members, but while they belong to these unions they cannot possibly keep the commandments of God, for to belong to these unions means to disregard the entire Decalogue.
“ ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself’ (Luke 10:27, KJV). These words sum up the whole duty of man. They mean the consecration of the whole being—body, soul, and spirit—to God’s service. How can men obey these words and at the same time pledge themselves to support that which deprives their neighbors of freedom of action? And how can men obey these words and form combinations that rob the poorer classes of the advantages which justly belong to them, preventing them from buying or selling, except under certain conditions? How plainly the words of God have predicted this condition of things. John writes, ‘I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. . . . And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name’ (Rev. 13:11-17, KJV).”5
We’re living in precarious times, pulled in opposite directions by those who would define our values and beliefs. “If you stand for freedom, then . . .” “If you stand for the greater good, then
. . .” We’re torn between ideologies and words that are being weaponized for political purposes. It’s made to appear that if we don’t stand with them, we’re against them. Even within our own church we’re being divided along the same lines as the world.
As Christians we’re called to walk the line that Christ walked, solely focused on the gospel mission, the saving of souls, and the glory of God. Stray but a little to the left or right, and we might find ourselves being pulled into issues that take our attention away from our true purpose. Walking that fine line strengthens our allegiance to God and helps us to avoid the pull from the world that urges us to preserve our status, wealth, or security.
“If the church will put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness, withdrawing from all allegiance with the world, there is before her the dawn of a bright and glorious day.”6
Tim Aka is an associate treasurer and director of investments for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.