SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Who decides who is Christian and who isn’t? — that’s what a group advocating for LGBTQ rights wants to know about a “Christian only” event critical of B.C.’s LGBTQ-inclusive education policy SOGI 123.
The event hosted at Surrey Pentecostal Assembly on May 29 is being led by anti-SOGI activist and speaker Jenn Smith, who calls himself transgender but is critical of what he calls “transgender ideology.” While Smith uses the term transgender to describe himself, he says he is not a woman.
Colin McKenna with PFLAG, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, says excluding people who aren’t Christian from a talk that centres on LGBTQ topics is concerning.
“Just the fact that this is supposed to be, or is billed to be, something about inclusion, when obviously it’s not. It’s pretty clear when stipulations about which religion you practice determines whether you can get in,” he says. “You can’t put something out there and say Christians only. It’s 2019, for heaven’s sake.”
He also wonders how organizers are deciding who is a Christian and who isn’t.
“How do you determine if somebody is a Christian? That’s something we would certainly like to have an answer to,” he says.
Jenn Smith says Christians who want to attend will have to know a church member, or convince him their faith is sincere in order to be added to the private guest list.
As to whether LGBTQ Christians are welcome to go, he says it may be possible, that is, after the other Christians on the guest list find a seat. He adds that organizers may consider allowing others to come, provided there is space for more people after everyone on the guest list is inside.
He says he requested only Christians attend his event because he doesn’t want it to be crashed by protesters, like what happened at his event in Oak Bay earlier this month.
“We had, essentially, a very large mob of LGBTQ activists who came in and behaved very badly,” he says. “I want to be able to communicate my message to Christians, […] but I want to be able to do that in a respectful environment.”
Here’s the poster for the event — ‘Christians only’ is right on the front. There’s a second ‘public’ event on June 8. Also note that no photos or audio recordings are allowed. pic.twitter.com/lDWS9JzB9E
— Lauren Boothby (@laurby) May 25, 2019
Another event open to the public is scheduled for June 8.
In a statement Saturday, Smith emphasized the decision to have an event only for Christians was his.
“The desire to have this event be strictly for Christians was mine, and the decision was made in order to maintain a safe respectful environment. Pastor Dasse and the Board of the Surrey Pentecostal Assembly was kind enough to agree to provide me with a safe sanctuary to talk to Christians,” he writes. “The other side of this debate does not want me to be able to talk, which is why they are demanding access to a meeting I want to keep quiet and respectful. ”
This isn’t the first time Surrey Pentecostal Assembly has taken a stance on LGBTQ issues.
Lead Pastor Wes Daase is one of nearly 200 pastors that signed on to the West Coast Christian Accord last September, a statement of faith that denounces homosexuality and identifying as transgender.
"I know there has been some questions and thoughts about what is our church’s thoughts…" – Pastor Wes Daase. @spachurch will play host to a controversial & exclusive anti-SOGI meeting Wednesday "for adherents of the faith and invitees only". @CityNewsVAN @NEWS1130 @BT_Vancouver pic.twitter.com/Tu5amR9dfY
— Ashley Grace Burr (@AshleyBurr_) May 26, 2019
Daase did not respond to questions on how the event organizers will determine whether someone is a Christian, but send the following statement:
“You need to know that our church is open to everyone. God loves everyone and so do we including LGBTQ people. I personally have a gay son who I love very much. This is an event where we are simply providing a room for Jenn to clarify the SOGI curriculum. The advertising and promotion of the event was done by Jenn, not us.”
Churches exempt from BC Human Rights Code, some taxes
Meantime, UBC human rights law professor Margot Young says even if the event seems to be discriminatory, it’s probably legal.
She says an exception in the BC Human Rights Code essentially allows churches to prevent groups — that are otherwise protected in the code — from attending functions.
“Basically they’re allowed to discriminate in this manner. If they were another organization, if they were holding it in a different spot, that wouldn’t necessarily be the same case,” she says.
Even so, she doesn’t think it’s right.
“To hold an event that is so fundamentally exclusive of full community input and debate is concerning,” she says.
Another issue for Young is how an organization that is essentially permitted to be discriminatory receives public subsidies through special tax treatment.
“There’s a way in which understanding this to be a purely private event in a private context troubles us in the sense that we have some state support of an organization that’s being pretty significantly discriminatory towards some pretty vulnerable members of Canadian society,” she says.
“That’s a larger political question about what does it mean to subsidize through tax concessions organizations that are actually discriminatory in their outlook and their philosophy and that have speakers come in who really engage in a political project that’s about diminishing the citizenship and equality of individuals based on their sexual orientation and their gender.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include further comments from Jenn Smith, and a new statement from Wes Daase.