Serious issues to consider
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Youth For Christ was in the news before Christmas. That’s when members of the Queer skateboard community announced they felt unsafe using the organization’s indoor skate park — the only one in the city — due to YFC’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
At the same time, it was reported some staff at the organization had resigned because they felt they could no longer support YFC’s position on marriage, a condition of employment for many.
This news prompted concern by some, in light of how YFC receives government funding. According to Charitydata.ca, the organization received about $378,000 from all three levels of government in 2021. This caused some to ask: Should an organization that won’t hire people who support same-sex marriage receive public money? That’s a fair question.
But while some are critical of YFC due to its stance on marriage, credit where credit is due: For decades, they have been in Winnipeg’s core area, providing services for disadvantaged youth and their families.
And they aren’t alone; other conservative Christian agencies are also active in Winnipeg’s core, walking alongside marginalized and vulnerable people — doing work that few others are able or willing to do.
Some of these organizations, like YFC, also have provisions against same-sex marriage in their staff codes of conduct. Which mystifies me; after all, that belief has nothing to do with the programs they run for youth, homeless people or other marginalized groups — nobody is denied service based on their sexuality. So why keep it?
One big reason is fear of what might happen to their support. Much of their funding comes from conservative Christians, many of whom are older; if they remove it, there is worry they will see it as giving in to the world and donations will decline.
That’s what happened to World Vision U.S. in 2014 after it announced it would no longer prevent people in same-sex marriages from working for the organization. Two days later, after fierce backlash from evangelical leaders, and the loss of thousands of child sponsor donors, the organization reversed its position.
So keeping the provision against same-sex marriage seems like a safe thing to do to keep older evangelical donors happy. But eventually, groups that depend on them will need to transition to the next generation of givers — people who are more liberal when it comes to same-sex marriage.
That’s what research shows. Sam Reimer, who teaches at Crandall University in New Brunswick and studies trends in religion in Canada, put it this way: “Younger evangelicals have more lenient views than older members on this issue,” he said.
At the same time, it will increasingly be a challenge for groups that retain opposition to same-sex marriage when they seek funding or other support from the public. It will be very hard for churches to maintain “any sort of positive public presence when they are perceived to be anti-LGBTTQ+,” Reimer added.
In the meantime, what can people do if they want to support good work in the inner city, but don’t want to support groups that don’t align with their values on same-sex marriage?
A couple of good options are Siloam Mission and the Salvation Army. Both groups have removed references to marriage in their faith statements and codes of conduct.
Siloam, a ministry of the Nazarene Church in Canada, not only doesn’t include references to marriage in their statement of faith, but staff are no longer required to sign a statement of faith at all.
According to Luke Thiessen, who manages communications for the organization, there are exceptions: 75 per cent of Siloam’s board must sign it, as well as the CEO. “But overall, the statement has no impact as a restriction of faith or lifestyle for staff,” he said.
In an interview, Board Chair Garth Manness said the change is the result of an examination of Siloam’s policies, processes and programs, including how it relates to Indigenous people. The main focus for Siloam now, he said, is that “God loves us and as Christians we are called to love our neighbour — people who are homeless and hungry.”
At the same time, Siloam remains a “strong Christian organization,” he said, adding they still get good support from the Christian community and supporters.
Al Hoeft, who directs public relations for the Salvation Army in Manitoba, said staff who work in programs serving marginalized people are not required to sign a statement about same-sex marriage.
“We don’t discriminate on the basis of sexuality” when it comes to hiring for its various outreach and service programs, he said.
Ultimately, all Christian organizations with positions against same-sex marriage will have to decide how those positions relate to the work they do and the hiring of staff. Those worried about what might happen could take heart from Siloam and the Salvation Army, which seem to be doing OK despite making the change.
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John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.