Julia Beazley is a policy analyst with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Much attention is being paid to the role of Evangelical Christian voices — or those deemed Evangelical by association — in the debate over Bill C-36, the new proposed prostitution law. For some time now, those in favour of decriminalizing prostitution have been trying to frame the debate in us-and-them terms, “them” being evangelical groups with abolitionist views on prostitution.
After the Supreme Court heard the Bedford case, I remember listening to interviews with co-applicant Valerie Scott and lawyer Alan Young, and being surprised to hear them singling out “the Evangelicals” and seeking to discredit our arguments as moralistic. Although one of the main parties opposing the court challenge was an impressive coalition of national women’s organizations and survivor groups, they chose to use valuable airtime to talk about what the Evangelicals had to say — or rather, what they assumed the Evangelicals had to say , which wasn’t what we’d said at all.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has a reputation for mounting well-researched, well-informed and well-reasoned arguments. On this issue in particular, we are well-connected with women’s groups and frontline organizations, and most importantly with survivors of prostitution and the groups representing them. Their stories, their voices and their experiences have very much shaped and informed our position on the issue.
It’s particularly disheartening, then, to see some survivor voices discredited as either Evangelical or connected to Evangelicals. It is true that some have found faith — Evangelical or not — in their journey out of prostitution. But that does not, and should not in any way, negate their lived experiences or the strength of their voices in this debate.
Why the consistent focus on the Evangelical angle? It seems fairly transparent, actually. It is far easier to seek to discredit our voice — and those aligned with us by association — than it is to contend with the multitude of voices of survivors and women’s groups who take the same abolitionist position.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that the many survivors advocating for laws that target the demand for paid sex don’t know what they’re talking about. Or that the many women’s organizations and frontline service providers don’t understand the realities of prostitution. Or that the police, the Manitoba Attorney-General, prominent lawyers and researchers are simply being moralistic in their positioning.
We are motivated by the belief that all people have inherent dignity and worth, and should not be treated as objects for another’s gratification or profit
But, oh, the Evangelicals. Far simpler to discredit us, and the whole abolitionist perspective along with us, as though we were its only or main proponent.
The EFC is guided by biblical principles that compel care for the vulnerable and inform the duty of care we owe one another as human beings. We are motivated by the belief that all people have inherent dignity and worth, and should not be treated as objects for another’s gratification or profit.
We share the widely held position that prostitution is rooted in the historical subordination of women and is, at its core, a form of violence, inequality and exploitation. We are passionate about working towards a society where all people — and in this case particularly women and children — can live free from exploitation, in all its forms.
Many organizations serving our nation’s most vulnerable and victimized are run and staffed by people of faith. This is a public good. A faith that gets to work and gets its hands dirty is faith at its best.
And so the EFC has been engaged in the debate about our prostitution laws, intervening before the Supreme Court, advocating for the abolition of prostitution before our parliamentarians, and testifying before the Justice Committee about the strengths and weaknesses of Bill C-36. We do this because we care deeply about the issue and the people affected, as do the many evangelicals across the country we have the privilege of representing.
We’re flattered by the attention, but not at the expense of the voices of survivors. What they have to say in this debate cannot — must not — be ignored. To obscure their voices beneath a manufactured controversy about why Evangelicals are at the table is disingenuous. Let’s refocus the debate on what matters most.