Thinking Out Loud

January 23, 2014

Christian Denominational Heads in Israel With Canadian Prime Minister

The Canadian falls at Niagara are probably frozen as you read this

The Canadian falls at Niagara are probably frozen as you read this

Sometimes I make a discovery online only to recognize that another blogger can handle the story better. Besides, with a 72% American readership, stories about my home and native land aren’t really all that interesting. So I passed on this and besides, the link list took priority yesterday.

In Canada, many of our political scandals have to do with the misspending of funds. With one tenth of the U.S. population, budgets are smaller and errors generally don’t run into the billions, as they might south of The 49th Parallel. But when the Prime Minister decides to take 208 people with him to Israel, it’s hard not see a future scandal in the making. At the very least, it’s an obscene amount of spending. The government is covering the airfare for 30 of the 208, and hotel (and presumably this entails some food) for all of them.  This does not include an official delegation of 31 which traveled on whatever the Canadian equivalent is of Air Force One.

But a handful of the travel party were the heads of some of this country’s largest Evangelical denoms.

Don Simmonds from Crossroads Christian Communications
David Wells, Pres. of Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC)
Don Hutchinson, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC)
David Hearn, president of Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA)(and his wife)
Stephen Jones, president of Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists of Canada (FEBC)
Shawn Ketcheson, pastor Trinity Church, Ottawa

The EFC thing actually duplicates the three denominations since it is the umbrella group to which they all belong. No mainline churches are represented; no Presbyterians, no Anglicans, no Roman Catholics and no one from the United Church of Canada, whose ministers are now moving to become Canada’s first clergy trade union.

Should the Evangelicals have accepted this gift? Honestly, methinks not, especially should the word ‘scandal’ ever become attached to this little junket/photo-op. Okay, for the business representatives that are part of the 208, it’s more than a photo-op, but for a Member of Parliament who was caught by CBC news begging to be allowed in to the Western Wall with the PM for some pics, it was more about domestic politics back home than foreign relations.

But like I said at the beginning, this type of story really isn’t my beat, so we’ll throw you over to investigate journalist Bene Diction.

(you were supposed to click that!)
(Bene can take all the tough questions!)

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May 20, 2010

EFC Claims Victory in Christian Horizons Case

I recognize that today’s post won’t be as significant to my largely U.S. readership, but it has major repercussions here in Canada, so I hope you’ll permit me this domestic story.    For context, the EFC (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada) is our version of the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) which sometimes also fulfills the role taken on in the U.S. by the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) lobbying in Canada’s capital on behalf of Christian ideals.

Over two years ago on this blog, I reported on a complaint filed by Connie Heintz, a former employee of Christian Horizons, a Christian organization which operates group homes for developmentally challenged adults.   The big picture issue was the requirement by CH that employees live up to a lifestyle clause with certain moral or behavioral guidelines.   The complaint was filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT), a group with a reputation for never losing; so this was a David vs. Goliath type of battle.

But it was also a battle with large scale implications for Christian (and by extension various other religious groups’) organizations of all stripes, not to mention churches.   The OHRT argued that on the basis of the variety of people being served and on the basis of the government funding received by Christian Horizons. (Read the editorial that is part of the above link, which comprises the second two-thirds of the blog post.)

Wednesday, we received this announcement in an e-mail from EFC, which you can also read online:

OTTAWA – In December 2009, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) appeared before the Superior Court of Ontario, Divisional Court, in the landmark religious freedom case, Heintz v. Christian Horizons. The court, which heard an appeal of the decision of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT), released its decision late Friday afternoon.

Christian Horizons, a faith-based ministry, employs over 2,500 people to provide housing, care and support to over 1,400 developmentally disabled individuals, and has done so for more than 40 years. This Christian ministry, which requires its employees to sign a Statement of Faith and a Lifestyle and Morality Policy, was the subject of a human rights complaint when a staff member resigned after she felt she could no longer live according to the commitment she made when she signed the policy.

In the decision being appealed, the OHRT had ruled that Christian Horizon’s efforts were not the ministry of a religious community but rather social work and that it, as well as other faith-based bodies serving public needs on a non-discriminatory basis, could no longer require that employees share their religious beliefs and resulting service commitment. The Divisional Court ruled differently and reversed much of the OHRT’s decision.

“This is significant victory for faith-based charities across Canada. While they must clarify certain governing documents and review certain employment policies, they may largely continue to require employee compliance with both statements of faith and lifestyle and morality policies,” said Don Hutchinson, the EFC’s Vice-President and General Legal Counsel.

“We’re relieved to see the court found that the exemption provision in the Ontario Human Rights Code which permits certain charities, including religious charities, to selectively hire employees who share the same beliefs makes no private/public distinction. This means that Christian charities may continue to serve non co-religionists in society all while maintaining their internal religious ethos and integrity,” continued Hutchinson. “I’m relieved that the court recognized that the exemption exists to guarantee the right to free association in this way. This was of serious concern as the OHRT had found otherwise.”

“Of course, we are also disappointed that the Court found it reasonable for the OHRT to have concluded that Christian Horizons did not meet an objective test for a bona fide occupational requirement for Ms. Heintz’s job, but the Court was instructive as to how that situation may be corrected.”

“What does this mean for Christian charities across Canada? Well, it means that it’s time again for them to clarify their statements of faith, lifestyle policies and job descriptions for all employees in order to clearly demonstrate how compliance with both statement of faith and codes of conduct are necessary for and related to job duties.”

This case is huge here, and while Christian Horizons didn’t have the resources to fight this on their own, there was simply too much at stake here for Canadian Christian charities, hence the involvement of EFC.

UPDATE:  Here’s a different perspective on the recent decision from an editorial in Canada’s national newspaper, The National Post.

ALSO: “…But the gay rights group EGALE, which was an intervenor in the court case, also said this week’s ruling was a victory. Lawyer Cynthia Petersen said the ruling would make it hard for religious charities to prove that a person’s sexual orientation or beliefs would get in the way of their duties.”  That quotation is from an article in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

FURTHER UPDATE (5.21.10) Here’s a summary of the decision posted on a blog operated by CFPL, the Centre for Faith and Public Life, a division of EFC.

February 11, 2010

Autonomy of Christian Organizations In Canada Under Threat

With the Christian Horizons case already on the minds of Evangelicals in Canada, the right of Christian organizations to establish hiring practices which aim to hire Christian staff has shifted to another arena:  Christian colleges and universities.

The Horizons case came about after an employee felt she was wrongfully dismissed for contravening that organization’s lifestyle clause.    But investigations into Trinity Western University (TWU) and Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) have no specific complainant.   Rather, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) feels that hiring committed believers to university teaching positions violates academic freedom.  (None of the TWU faculty are members of CAUT.)

Christian Week, Canada’s national Christian newspaper reports:

[CAUT] placed TWU on a list of institutions “found to have imposed a requirement of a commitment to a particular ideology or statement as a condition of employment.”

CAUT is also investigating the statement of faith policies of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg and Crandall University (formerly Atlantic Baptist University) in Moncton.

“In our view,” says CAUT executive director James Turk, “the role of a university is not to make disciples, whether of a religious viewpoint or an ideological viewpoint. They’re to create the context in which people can make their own decisions.”

Turk adds, “If a fundamentalist Christian were barred from working at a university because of their religious beliefs, we’d be every bit as outraged.”

[TWU President Jonathan] Raymond calls the move a “red herring.” He says the sole purpose of TWU’s statement of faith is to uphold the founding charter granted by the province in 1972 that allows the school to function as a Christian university. Hiring teachers who self-identify as Christians does not mean that their scholarly pursuits must all conform to biblical principles.

“We don’t insist on the engagement of Christian faith,” Raymond says, “but we anticipate a high probability that the choice of research topics, how one puts their syllabus together, the interpretation of theories, will be informed by a person’s faith just as a matter of course.”

[…read the entire story here…]

As with the Christian Horizons case, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, this country’s equivalent to the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals, is certain to weigh in on the matter.

The difference however is that some of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal case against Christian Horizons concerned the matter of who was being served; that is, that the clients of Christian Horizons represented a cross-section of the public at large.   That case can’t be made here, as both undergraduate and graduate students clearly make their academic choices most carefully and in full regard for the Christian institutions’  Christian heritage and practices.

However, in both cases, the larger issue is the right of organizations which don’t hide their Christian history and association to hire like minded staff, and to deliver a faith-based service using faith-based employees.   Committing to a lifestyle agreement or signing a statement of faith is one step toward having a staff that are all on the same page when it comes to motivation and spiritual ethics.

The EFC media release on the Christian Horizons is quite clear:

“This decision was shocking,” states Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel for the EFC. “It’s inconsistent with long-standing Supreme Court jurisprudence that clearly sets out that people of faith can choose to gather for ministry works and service – this has been confirmed as an extension of their right to freedom of religion.”

Without over-reacting, the bottom line is that it’s not academic freedom that’s currently under threat, but clearly it’s the freedom of Christians and in particular Evangelical Christians in Canada.

Where will the next battle be staging?

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