Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mr. Martin's outburst irrational

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It's not clear if it was an act of faith or something else that led MP Pat Martin to believe that a respected Christian organization was nothing more than a cult that offers sports programming as part of a diabolical plot to convert young prospects.

Whatever the cause of his capricious outburst, however, it's clear the NDP representative for Winnipeg Centre was wrong about Youth for Christ, a non-profit, non-denominational group with a solid track record of delivering a variety of programs for young people.

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This may come as a surprise to Mr. Martin, but some Christian organizations actually believe it is their moral duty to help others without the expectation of earthly rewards. He may also be shocked to learn that they also deliver aid and assistance without requiring the recipients to pick up the cross for Jesus.

Like the Salvation Army, workers at Youth for Christ do not hide their faith, but they express it by helping others. The opportunity to learn about Christianity is there for those who want it, but no one is required to hear the gospel as the quid pro quo for receiving help or participating in one of the organization's programs.

That's a far cry from the hard-core brainwashing programs in Mr. Martin's imagination.

Youth for Christ wants to consolidate its many programs in a new building at Main Street and Higgins Avenue -- a place that could use a little divine intervention -- but Mr. Martin has a problem with the fact that the federal government is prepared to provide some funding for the $11.5-million project.

The MP believes it should not receive any taxpayer money because he faithfully believes the organization is trying to convert "vulnerable, impressionable kids" to fundamentalist Christian views. If the good parliamentarian has any evidence to support his allegations, he should produce it immediately, or withdraw his comments.

It's true that the state has no business promoting the theological agendas of particular religions, but it also has an interest in supporting faith-based organizations that deliver real services to people in need. Governments support all kinds of religious organizations that are doing good deeds for the community, including the Salvation Army, Siloam Mission, Agape Table and others.

The Youth For Christ proposal is an excellent project that deserves taxpayer support because it fills a void -- literally and figuratively -- in the downtown. It will provide programs for teenagers that are not available in the area now, as well as contribute to the development that is occurring along Main Street. The alternative is an empty lot, or a dreary office building that provides no support to the neighbourhood.

Youth for Christ has raised $3.1 million on its own, while the city is offering another $2.6 million. The province has offered some mealy-mouthed words about the deadline expiring for projects seeking infrastructure funding this year, but it should rethink its position and pony up some cash for this worthy project that will benefit the entire city.

Situated across from Thunderbird House, the spiritual centre of aboriginal life in Winnipeg, the new youth centre would inject life, vigour and purpose into the struggling district.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2010 A14

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