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A response to Bill C-250

   

December 30, 2002

Some members of Mennonite Church Canada have expressed concern about Bill C-250. The General Board is responding with this guide for persons who may wish to write to Members of Parliament on the Justice Committee and to their own MP’s.

Winnipeg, Man.—Bill C-250 (formerly 415) is a Private Member’s Bill that would amend section 318(4) of the Criminal Code (in place since 1970) that protects certain identifiable groups (as defined by colour, race, religion, and ethnic origin) from hate propaganda. The amendment would expand the list of groups so protected to include any “section of the public distinguished by sexual orientation.” The amendment was introduced in the Canadian Parliament by Mr. Svend Robinson (MP from Burnaby-Douglas, NDP).

Several Christian organizations, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), have expressed concerns. The Canadian Council of Churches has not, to date, offered a public comment.

There is little debate about the stated intent of this Bill but some groups fear that its effects may be broader. They feel that the Bill could enable a court to rule that certain religious teachings against particular sexual activities would be constituted “hate propaganda”. The Bill has been sent to the House of Commons' Justice Committee which is expected to hold hearings on it at some point in the first several months of 2003.

We urge those thinking of writing letters to government officials to keep the following points in mind:

1. We believe that Christians should be concerned about all expressions of hatred towards others on any grounds. It is a shame against the Church of Jesus Christ that some people, claiming to speak as Christians, have said hateful things about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons. Some have committed violent acts. Christians should not condone such behaviour. Our communications on the subject should be such that our opposition to such behaviour is clear.

2. Some people wonder whether the bill is necessary since we already have laws prohibiting slander, libel and assault. Those who have been verbally and physically attacked because of their sexual orientation or practices do not believe they receive adequate protection under current laws. One week before this Bill was first introduced, on November 22, 2001, Aaron Webster, a gay man, was clubbed to death in Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C. This bill might not have prevented that but protection is a concern.

3. At this point it is impossible to predict what unintended effects this Bill may have. Will it be used against Christians who voice a conviction that sexual relations outside marriage are immoral? Will it be used to prosecute groups that have such statements in their confessions of faith? Could the Bible be construed as “hate literature?” (Could the scriptures of other religions?) The EFC elaborates:

“literature becomes hate propaganda if it is used by someone to promote hatred against an identifiable group. Leviticus 20:13 states, ‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.’ If this text is used by someone to promote hatred, will the Bible itself be considered hate literature? And if this passage is simply read in a church, would it be considered ‘public incitement of hatred?’”

The idea of seeing the Bible as hate literature is objectionable to all Christians. The EFC does not say that this is likely to happen. Dani Shaw, an evangelical lawyer writing in Christianweek (17/9/02) said this is “a little farfetched.” Ultimately, the effects depend on court rulings.

4. Our general stance is that while we want our society to allow religious groups to follow their faith and to witness about it in public fora, there are limits in the extent to which our society’s laws can reflect particular moral teachings. Further, we believe God has called Christians and churches to ministries of reconciliation and compassion. We may have legitimate concerns about people who want to change certain moral aspects of our society but we must not lose sight of the real life struggles of individuals. Our call is to speak a message of healing and hope. Let us use Scripture and our testimony of faith to incite understanding and compassion. Let us remember that our actions must come out of who we are: children, friends and ambassadors of God. Let us orient our perspective so that our minds are anchored in the Kingdom of God.

5. As practical steps of engagement, we can commit ourselves to a ministry of prayer:

  • for those in positions of leadership (in our courts, legislatures and parliament) that they will rule with integrity;
  • for those who will represent the Christian perspective in the public square on this issue, that they will have divine wisdom and will represent Christ well;
  • for those who have distorted God’s word and have used it to justify attitudes and actions of hatred;
  • for those who have been victims of expressions of hatred because of their sexual orientation, that God will bring into their lives Christians who are caring and compassionate and who are willing to go to unusual lengths to bring them a message of healing and hope in Christ;
  • for those who have opportunity to teach and preach messages of reconciliation, that they will grasp the extent of God’s love for all creation.

6. In addition to a ministry of prayer, concerned individuals may wish to write to the MPs who serve on the Justice Committee as well as to their regular MP. We suggest that letters include the following points:

I. That we believe promoting hatred against anyone is wrong and that we are not asking that the law should allow people to do that;

II. That we also believe that, in matters of sexual behaviour, religious and other bodies should have the right to address what they see as morally right and morally wrong;

III. That we hope the bill will not become law unless there are firm assurances that (II) is protected; and

IV. That our understanding is that presently there is doubt as to such protection.

We acknowledge the help of Bill Janzen, Mennonite Central Committee Ottawa office, and resources from Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Lois P. Mitchell, of the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches. Find more at http://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/social/initiatives.asp and http://www.baptist-atlantic.ca/c415.html.