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So what about CIDA providing funding to a Christian ministry? This is Canada!

By Don Hutchinson

The Globe and Mail’s Canada funds anti-gay group’s work in homophobic Uganda was quickly renamed “Fantino orders review of funding for anti-gay group working in homophobic Uganda” after the story was picked up by the CBC and Minister Fantino hastily responded on Twitter, “I have asked to review this organization before further payments are made.”

The story seeks to draw an insidious and non-existent link between an evangelical Christian ministry providing necessities of life – clean water, latrines and hygiene awareness – for the impoverished in Uganda (and several other countries), CIDA funding (spread over multiple years) and Ugandan government policy against homosexuality.

The piece hits several birds with one stone. It takes a pot shot at the evangelical Christian community. It raises the phantom of the U.S. constitutional doctrine of “separation of church and state” being somehow applicable in Canada. And, it assails Crossroads Christian Communications, a basic cable television competitor of the Globe’s part owner Bell Canada; coincidentally, Bell and the CBC, which was quick to pick up on the story, are seeking to maintain the financial benefit of their several channels each across the basic cable spectrum to Crossroads’ one. Comments to the CRTC are due by the end of February.

I’m appreciative that the Globe and CBC followed the new Associated Press style guidelines by not using the word “homophobia” in connection with Crossroads. (I do think the word is properly used in accordance with AP guidelines in regard to a government that outlaws homosexuality.) It’s a term that was being thrown around all too much and was in need of the AP restrictions that have been put in place. (See my blog Is it homophobic in here … or is it just me?)

At the same time, the tenor of the coverage in this article suggests there is something wrong with a Christian ministry listing “sins” and inviting “repentance.” Really? Sins and repentance ‘r’ us. And so is caring for the poor.

CIDA funds organizations that meet their criteria, religious or otherwise – 100% legal and constitutional in a democratic nation that guarantees religious freedom. There is no such thing as the doctrine of separation of church and state in Canada. We have a long and historic recognition of freedom of religion from state interference, it’s now enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the first listed fundamental freedom of our free and democratic society. We also have a long history of state cooperation with religious organizations and institutions that provide services on behalf of the state, including in the area of international development.

Crossroads Relief and Development has an impressive track record of development and relief in a number of countries, providing aid for a number of constituencies, regardless of race, faith or sexual orientation. The CIDA funding identified is a small part of their multi-country development budget, spread over multiple years and completely unrelated to Ugandan government policy. The Canadian Press piece shared by the Globe and CBC performs some simple addition on the CIDA money to come to an impressive total figure and then excludes Crossroads budgeted expenditures across several countries to zero in on the anti-homosexual policies of Uganda. Is this reporting the news or attempting to shape opinion?

By the way, a brief overview of international development verifies that in 2010 Canadian evangelical Christian ministries spent over $535 million overseas – which represents only those organizations that are officially engaged in development work and doesn’t include the efforts of local church congregations to build schools, homes, wells, etc out of their own pockets – of which $32 million was CIDA funding. Dedication stretches dollars; and we do it well. CIDA, Canadians, Ugandans and those in other nations benefit from partnering with people committed to “love their neighbours.”

The Canadian Press story is an unfair attack against a respected Christian ministry for holding Biblical beliefs on sexuality, regardless of how aid is delivered.

CIDA has done nothing wrong. Crossroads has done nothing wrong. Minister Fantino should find that the working relationship is beneficial to Canadians, complies with Canada’s constitution and laws and was properly assessed based on the Canadian government’s desire for maximum value for funding in pursuit of its overseas objectives.

There’s nothing amiss here. Let’s move on.

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