Last fall we investigated the possibility of running a multi-sport summer day camp in partnership with Scripture Union in 2018. In the end, we decided to postpone plans this year because of unknowns surrounding completion of the parking lot construction. One of the components of the plan however was to apply to the Canada Summer Jobs Program. Hundreds of churches across the country apply for this grant each year for help in hiring students to run various community outreach programs. This year, the government added a new twist however. Organizations that apply are now required to affirm that the student job and their core mandate respect certain values determined by the federal government – including their position on abortion, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The application says that it is intended to prevent youth from being exposed to organizations that may promote positions contrary to the government’s values.
This is the first time I’ve been required as a pastor to affirm certain beliefs in order to receive a government benefit. I’m sure it won’t be the last. These kinds of values statements are making their way into some professional organizations and corporations. On January 4, I called the office of Richmond Hill MP, Majid Jowhari, and after failing to get through, sent an e-mail to him with the hopes of some kind of dialogue or response. Unfortunately, none ensued. The letter wasn’t perfect and I’m sure there are others in the congregation able to bring more knowledge, background and persuasion than I was. But I thought it was important enough to try. The following is what I wrote:
Dear Mr. Jowhari,
I want to thank you for your service to our community. I have returned to Richmond Hill after spending fifteen years in Japan and for the last two and a half years have served as the lead pastor of Grace Baptist Church on the northeast corner of Bathurst St and Weldrick Rd. I called your office today and wasn’t able to get through so I am writing this e-mail with the hopes of being a peacemaker. Many of our church members are deeply troubled by the change to the new eligibility requirements for Canada Summer Jobs Program. It feels as if the Liberal government’s policy is deliberately attacking faith communities. I would like to calm their fears by providing them with a reasonable explanation.
As I understand the new eligibility requirements for the Canada Summer Jobs Program, it seems that organizations now have to affirm certain beliefs, for instance regarding abortion, in order to qualify for a grant. Is that right? What is your intention in requiring this? Why would an organization’s position on abortion affect their ability to hire a student to run a summer camp? As it stands, if feels like the Liberal government is intending to marginalize Christian churches. Why would it want to do that?
It also appears to ignore the exemption that faith-based organizations have had to only hire people who share their faith under Canadian employment law. What is your intention in requiring churches, for instance, to hire atheists, or mosques to hire Jews? Can you see how our church members are feeling alienated by this policy? How do you answer those who feel that the Liberal government is violating the freedoms of religion and belief guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedom?
Is there anything that I can say to our members to try to make the Liberal government’s new policy sound more reasonable? I want to believe that the Liberal government represents all Canadians and supports the Charter of Rights and Freedom that has made our nation so great. But I’m at a loss to find a generous interpretation of the government’s latest policy in this regard.
I would love the opportunity to speak with you or someone who might speak to these issues on your behalf. And I know how busy you and your staff are in serving our community so I understand if you choose to have someone write in response instead. What I would hate to see however is for the February 2 application deadline to pass and have to report to our members that there was no response from your office and no answers to our concerns. Thank you for your consideration.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s web-site provides more background to this issue along with steps that concerned people can take to express their disagreement with the government’s new policy. Ultimately, our trust isn’t in government or political action but in a God who is sovereign over the world He rules for His glory. He does all things right! But in a democracy, change happens as people make their voices heard. And when our right to not be discriminated against based on what we believe is threatened, surely this is a time to speak.
In awe of Him,