Summer jobs grant, women’s reproductive rights, and persecution – I don’t get it.

Re: the Canada summer jobs grant and abortion and religious freedom

So the government wants organizations who receive summer student funding to check a box saying they agree with women’s rights to access abortion. And religious organizations are calling it discriminatory, claiming persecution, and talking about religious freedom.

Umm… Am I missing something here?

  1.  Isn’t the government allowed, and expected, to attach terms and conditions to their funding? So, if we don’t like their terms and conditions, then we don’t take their money.  Seems simple.
  2.  But what if organizations need the money?  I have a better question… Since when do we expect the government to help fund religious groups and activities?   If all those day camp workers and camp counselors are so important to us, then surely we can fund them ourselves, right? And not rely on the government? (Any religious libertarians in the house here?!?! I’m not a libertarian, but seriously… God might have put you on Earth for this very moment!)  I’m a firm believer that if it’s important to us, we should back up our convictions with our wallets.
  3. I’m confused about the religious freedom argument. Nobody is telling us, or these organizations, what to think or believe about women’s reproductive rights. Or even how to act. People are still free to believe and do what they want, pro-life, anti-life, pro-choice, anti-choice, or whatever labels we use. It’s just that some of us might not get government funding. Which is far cry from actual persecution. We’re not losing our jobs, our homes, our churches, our charitable statuses, and I’m quite sure we’re not facing any physical threats.  When did not receiving government money to pay teenagers minimum wage became a form of persecution?
  4. Will this lead to the actual persecution of religious folk? Or governments telling us what to believe? Please google “slippery slope fallacy.”  And, for the record, when the government starts telling people what they can and can’t believe or do (such as removing niqabs when riding the bus, as opposed to simply attaching terms to summer student funding), then I’ll join the religious freedom cacophony too.

A story that’s similar – A few years ago, our denominational magazine got a slap on the wrist by CRA for being too political because our editor was criticizing the Conservative government for something or another.  The crux of the matter was that the charitable status of the magazine was at stake. There was a minor uproar among some folk about freedom of the press and religious freedom, but others of us simply said “This isn’t a big deal.  If we don’t like their terms, we shouldn’t take their money (or, in this case, charitable status). Then we can be as political as we want.”  Is this not similar to the current summer jobs kerfuffle?

I just don’t really get it.

– Kyle

PS – I used inclusive language throughout my post (specifically “we”) because I work for a religious organization that has a charitable status with the government, and we follow their terms and conditions.  Please don’t lump me in with any “side”.  My ethic of life doesn’t fit anywhere on the political spectrum.

PPS – Also, I intentionally bypassed talking directly about women’s reproductive rights. I think that’s the flash point in this argument, but I’m trying to ask questions on a different level than “Is abortion okay/not okay?”  However, I think it’s safe to say that both “sides” of the argument are okay with trying to lower the number of abortions in Canada, so I’d recommend that the least we do is all advocate for free birth control, as less unwanted pregnancies will probably make everyone happy.  Plus, it’s a lot more effective than road signs.

PPPS – I’m going to leave the comments open until they become a gong show.  Thanks for doing your part in helping them not become a gong show.

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A bunch of evangelical Christians wrote a statement about lgbtq folk (seriously… again?). I have a question.

I’ll be quick.

Earlier this week, a bunch of Christians got together and wrote a document called the Nashville Statement. Basically, it’s one long document about biblical interpretation and same-sex marriage and lgbt inclusion in the church.  Or rather, how those things shouldn’t be in the church.  Most of the prominent names on it aren’t a surprise to most of us in churchy world.

Besides being a document that is quite harmful to lgbt individuals, and besides reinforcing the notion that lgbt individuals and their supporters aren’t welcome in church as they are (they are in some of our churches!), I have another question.

Why in the world would anybody look to these folk for guidance on biblical interpretation or morality?  Many of the names attached to the Nashville Statement are names that have supported Donald Trump as president.  If they can support an unrepentant liar (517 false statements, as of mid-August) who advocates the sexual assault of women, appears on the cover of Playboy magazine, and speaks the language of white supremacists (this list could go on and on and on and on), what moral authority do they still have?  What integrity do they have left?

Why should I pay attention to the apparent speck in my own eye (or that of my queer sisters and brothers) when they have a gigantic maple tree in theirs?

As wise Richard Rohr said a year ago, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against it as a Christian movement for generations to come.

For much better statements, check out the Denver Statement or the Liturgists Statement   (I put my name on the Liturgists Statement.  You can too!).

And to my lgbt friends:  You are loved as you are.  You are beloved.

Grace and Peace,

Kyle

PS –  And James Dobson is the biggest hypocrite of them all here. Which is too bad, because I love Adventures in Odyssey. He wrote a letter about Bill Clinton in the 90s and said, among other things, “As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no”).

 

The word that best describes my sabbatical…

I wrote the following as a “report” on my sabbatical.


Regarding Rhythms:
Sabbath for Rest.
Retreats for Reflection.
Vacation for Recreation.
Sabbatical for Renewal.

As you by now know, I am back from a three month sabbatical.  I’ve been thinking for weeks and weeks as to how to best describe my time away, and I keep coming back to the same word, over and over again:  Gift. A gift.

The timing worked out well, and Milo was born my first week off of work.  Both Ash and I got to be with Milo for his first three months of life in a way that very few parents get to do.  That was a gift, and I am thankful.

During my sabbatical, it was reaffirmed to me that this church called Grace Mennonite is a gift… This community of people is a gift.  I know all of our warts and all the silly things we do, we’re not perfect, but let me tell you, there is no other place that I would be, no other place that I’d want to raise my kids, than here.

Ash and I were in Chicago in September for the both the Enneagram Conference and the Why Christian Conference, and one evening we were on the 94th story of the John Hancock Center doing the touristy thing, and one of you sent me a message.  You told me that tomorrow was Orange Shirt Day, a day we invited to wear orange to remember all the residential school survivors, and you told me that even though you didn’t own an orange shirt, you were going to put some orange flowers on your desk to tell the story.  With tears in my eyes in front of some European tourists taking selfies, I looked at Ashley and said: I love our church, and we get to be a part of this.

While we were away, my 4 year old nephew had to have open heart surgery to fix a hole in his heart.  We were told it was a fairly routine surgery, but when we stopped to think about it, it was terrifying.  We were able to shoot a quick email to a bunch of you to ask for prayers, and instantly we were reminded that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and that we do not walk alone.  My nephew’s surgery went well, and all your prayers were a gift.

When I was gone I didn’t give very much of my money away to charities… Just a couple bucks to some cancer walk here or a natural disaster fund there.  I wanted to reflect on what not giving money to church would feel like… It was kind of empty.  I was reminded that giving some of our money every month to church is far more than simply paying for the heating bill or Mel’s pension plan.  Giving money here is a one stop shop for a whole host of initiatives and community building.  Here we get to have conversations on poverty and reconciliation with First Nations and mental health, here we get to go to Pauingassi First Nation for family camp, here we get to walk with people as they grieve loved ones, here our children get to have extra grandparents in every corner of the church, here we get to sponsor schools around the world and support refugee families in town and help host Soup’s On and English classes and have a free thanksgiving dinner with 200 people. When we were in Chicago, I would be talking to strangers about our church, and I would explain who we are at Grace, and who we try to be, and they would look at me and say:  “You’re church sounds pretty awesome.  I want to come.”    I get to be here… You let me lead here… That is a gift.

When I was gone, I had some time to intentionally pray and reflect on this Christian faith that we find ourselves in.  One thing I read was that the role of religion is simply, to tell us, and to keep reminding us, of who we objectively are… That we are beloved recipients of God’s grace and peace, and we get to offer that to the world.  That is a gift.  We get to do that!

I could talk a lot longer about all of this… I think that when I got back to work last week I was like a fire hose… Poor Mel and Audrey.   If you want to hear more about all I did and learned, definitely be in touch.  And if you don’t, well, it’ll come out in my sermons for the next few years.

But back to the word that I keep coming back to…  Gift.  It reminds me of the definition I use for grace.  Grace is a gift, undeserved.

And I am grateful to be part of a church that has named itself grace. That is a gift.

PS – Plus, I built a canoe.  That is also a gift.

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Some thoughts after Tuesday’s HSD meeting

“How do we move on from here?”

“I just don’t know what to do…”

“Conflict is inevitable, but is middle ground even possible?”

“Besides posting on social media, how do I show support?”

I’ve had/observed several conversations with people since the school board meeting on Tuesday (It was quite a surreal meeting, as trustees ended up comparing school policies on calling parents of LGBT teens to residential schools, tried connecting sex-ed to cancer rates, and expressed concern about indoctrination).

But all my conversations seem to be ending up in the same place.

What do we do?  How do we elevate the conversation?  How do we create safe spaces for everyone?

In some ways, I’m lucky I’m part of a small church.  At Grace Mennonite, we are committed to trying to love each other and to sitting next to each other every Sunday, even if we disagree.  We have facilitated conversations about all sorts of things (environmentalism, poverty, residential schools, refugee sponsorship, and yes, sexuality), and they’ve all gone quite well.  But because these conversations happen within the context of a community that cares about each other, we still work very hard at loving each other, sharing food, organizing parties, visiting each other when we’re sick, and praying for each other, even if we’re not on the same page.

So, for me, the easy part of the question “What do we do?” is simply to continue doing what we’re already doing at Grace – Try to model the life of Christ by actively working for peace and justice and accepting and caring for all people. No matter what happens, we will support each other and walk together as we try to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves.

But when the question about what to do leads me outside of our church walls, or for people who aren’t a part of my church, or people who don’t believe in the “invisible sky god” like I do, I have less answers.

 But what I do have is hope. 

I have hope because anytime I write a blog post about sexuality and Steinbach and religion, the feedback is 95% positive.  There are thousands of us down here in the Southeast who believe in equal treatment for everyone, regardless of orientation or gender.  Yes, we are a minority, but we are here, and we are learning to find our voice and use it in constructive ways.

I have hope because there are advocacy/support groups made up from local folk that are forming and continuing to network and educate and support and work towards change.

Because of the hard work of a great teenager a few years ago, there’s a Gay-Straight Alliance at the SRSS that continues to meet and receives tremendous support from teachers.

There’s a student led GSA at Providence University College that has some great professors lending support.

Steinbach Pride is organizing a march for equality this summer, seeking to create safe space for people where they can be themselves.

I’m part of a group called Steinbach Neighbours for Community that is seeking to promote understanding and acceptance of the diversity present in our community.  We brought in a theatrical play last year called Listening for Grace, and we’re continuing with plans for a story telling event in the autumn featuring stories of local LGBT individuals and their families (we’re still in the planning stages of this, but I’ll keep you updated for more info when I have it).

Heck, even us pastors/clergy who are open to the conversation are supporting each other.  We know that much of the opposition to LGBT equality is rooted in religion, but not every church and every pastor and every Christian is opposed.  There aren’t a lot of us, but we are still here.

And none of this includes the informal conversations, coffee, emails, and other signs of support that are shared between LGBT individuals and allies.

So when it comes to how to create change on a big level, I don’t have a lot of concrete answers.

But on a smaller, local level, what I do have is hope.  Lots of it.

We are here, doing our best.  Change might not be as fast we’d like, we will inevitably make mistakes, but at least we’re on the road.  Baby steps are better than no steps.

I’ll end with some words attributed to Oscar Romero.  It’s rooted in the Christian tradition (did I mention that I like being part of a church and the Christian tradition?), but I think much of it’s applicable to all my thoughts and conversations this week.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. 

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Grace and Peace to you all.

PS – And, as usual, if you’re looking for safe spaces or people in town, let me know, and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.  kyle.grace@mts.net is my email address.

 

 

 

NEVER READ THE COMMENTS (on lgbt articles in steinbach. it’s exhausting.)

This week a parent talked to the local school board about bullying, and how schools talk (or don’t talk) about same-sex parents.  You can read the article here.

I’ve never met her, but she seemed quite prepared and confident, so I wasn’t going to say much on social media.  I was rather much looking forward to seeing how the school board would respond to her concerns.

And then I did something I never should do. Our two local media put the story on their Facebook pages, and I read the comments.  I should know better.  NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!

In short, I found it exhausting.  It’s the exact same talking points that I lived through three years ago.  Religious freedom, bullying, Hollywood, arsenokoitai, blah blah blah.

Frickin’ exhausting.

And then it hit me.  If me, a married straight male pastor with two kids, finds it exhausting to read these comments online, how does one who is LGBT feel? Or a parent whose kid is a sexual minority?

(Yes, I was aware of straight privilege and heterosexism before this morning.  I just happened to reinforce that knowledge today.)

So, as someone with very little skin in the game, whose orientation isn’t questioned wherever I go, who’s not worried about being mocked, looked down upon, or beat up for whose hand I choose to hold in public, I write today.  I write, knowing full well knowing that I have the choice to, whereas many LGBT folk don’t.

Someone much wiser once said to me, “There is a lot of anger directed to sexual minorities.  That anger is going to be absorbed by somebody, somewhere.  Sometimes, as straight allies, it’s our job to absorb some of it for those members of the community who are tired of it.” (aka:  frickin’ exhausted.)

So, if you identify as LGBT (or have family who do), you are not alone here.  There are a bunch of us quietly working towards equality for everyone.  If you need someone to connect with, feel free to shoot me an email at kyle.grace@mts.net.  I can’t promise much, but I’ll do my best to listen, and direct you to the best resources I know of.

Grace and Peace,

Kyle

PS – And if you are convinced that you know how to translate arsenokoitai, or the public schools aren’t teaching biblical morals, or that Hollywood is leading people astray, or that my salvation is at risk and you would like to pray for me, feel free to leave a comment below (but I will take the prayers, thank you very much).  Better here than directed at someone who is frickin’ exhausted of it all already.

Hey! At least we’re not killing each other anymore!

Last week (I think) was the week of Christian unity, where we acted and prayed for Christian unity, or something like that.   Which is a big step in the right direction, since it means that most of us aren’t killing each other anymore.  This can only be a good thing.

Anyhow.  Like we usually do at Grace Menno, we did diddly squat about it.  Not that we’re against Christian unity, but rather,

  1. We forgot
  2. There are days and weeks for everything, and we simply can’t do them all (I’m looking at you, World Fellowship Sunday and Mennonite Heritage Sunday).

But after last weekend, maybe I have a better reason why we didn’t mention it:

BECAUSE WE TRY TO DO IT ALL THE TIME!

Okay. That may be a bit of an overstatement (although our faithful Women in Mission group do invite other women’s groups for a Christmas tea every year).

But let me explain.

Through Mennonite Central Committee, our church made an application to sponsor a refugee family.  In preparation for their arrival, we hosted a “cultural awareness” day last weekend.

Despite the weather being -30 degrees Celsius, we had 80 people gather in our ugly church basement on a Saturday morning to learn about Syrian culture.    It was great, but what really excited me was WHO was all there.

Our organizer was a Roman Catholic who attends a Mennonite Church.  She had invited a Syrian Orthodox priest to share, who flew in from Toronto.  The Syrian Association of Manitoba sent two young Muslim women from the University of Manitoba to share a presentation.  Seated at the tables were Mennonites from a variety of churches, a Ukrainian Orthodox woman, some women from the big Evangelical church down the road, some non-church attenders, some Catholic men from a French town next door, a few United Church of Canada folk, and even some strangers who came and left and we still don’t know who we are.

And we had a blast learning and laughing and eating hummus.

We still may not all agree on how to interpret scripture, whether or not the Roman church should have inserted the filioque clause into the Nicean Creed causing the East/West schism of 1054, or the roles that Jesus or Mohammed play in revealing the character of God (or, for my secular friends, the invisible sky god).

But it was nice that we could put aside our differences and unite around our common humanity for a bit, as we try to find homes for the ridiculous number of displaced people in the world.

So yay for “Christian and Muslim and whomever else” unity!  We’re not only not killing each other, but we’re actually working together to relieve suffering!  Better late than never, right?

I hope you all enjoyed Christian Unity week as much as I did.

– Kyle

PS – After our session, some folk from our church, the Syrian Orthodox priest and the Muslim women went out for a stone-fired pizza lunch.  I would have paid money to see people’s looks as they walked in to the restaurant.