Responding to SOGI: should we fight, embrace or engage?

Image courtesy ofConverge Magazine.

The West Coast Christian Accord (WCCA) declares a clear intention to fight back against the “SOGI agenda.” Speaking at the September 26 launch, pastor Kevin Cavanaugh stated:

We are hereby revealing for the first time the West Coast Christian Accord, which in 14 articles provides a biblical statement on the supremacy of Christ, the authority of scripture, salvation, marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity.

We’re also issuing a strong public statement announcing our commitment to stop the teaching of SOGI in our BC schools.

Go here for two articles on the launch – mine and that of Jack Taylor, a WCCA participant.

SOGI stands for ‘sexual orientation and gender identity.’ The BC government has directed all school districts to include SOGI in their anti-bullying policies and codes of conduct. As well – and this is where most of the controversy arises – a widely-adopted SOGI 123 initiative of the Ministry of Education, BC Teachers’ Federation, ARC Foundation and others offers resources which support and extend the content of the SOGI curriculum.

Cavanaugh and his team were successful in making their views known. Their support has grown. Roughly 185 pastors and 1,000 others had signed on to the WCCA by the time of the Reveal; now 330 pastors (about 220 of them local) and 3,000 others are signatories.

The ‘opposition’ also responded promptly. Within a few days, several news outlets had run stories which in effect warned against the conservative response to SOGI and liberal Christians had created an online petition to assure the public that not all Christians support the WCCA.

There is a third group to watch – though it is inchoate and not really well enough networked to describe as a group. That is, a broad swathe of the evangelical church, and no doubt many Catholics, who share a good deal of the WCCA’s theology and its concerns about public school teaching related to issues of sexuality and gender – but are concerned with its combative approach.

A statement by lead pastor Derrick Hamre to his large Christian Life Assembly (Langley) congregation in its October 7 online newsletter is representative of this response:

We want dialogue with our postmodern and post Christian community, but we desire to do it with love and respect. We are concerned that some in our Christian community seem to be building walls rather than bridges and taking on a militant approach.

See below for the full statement.

Fighting a battle

Supporters at the launch of the West Coast Christian Accord. Photo by Judi Vankevitch.

The WCCA team clearly feels the church has been supine in the face of secular pressure, and that this is the time to push back. Summing up an interview with three leaders of the anti-SOGI campaign (Kevin Cavanaugh, Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson, Kari Simpson), a CBN News video posted on the WCCA site concluded with these comments:

Wendy Griffith, CBN News reporter: Tyler Thompson, Simpson and pastor Kevin are spreading their message across social media and in town hall meetings. The pro-gay backlash has been fierce.

Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson: . . . and the hatred and the anger and the bullying that came against us – even though we said, “We love you, we don’t take from you the opportunity and the freedom to live as you choose, we love you, but we do not agree with you.

WG: Pastor Kevin believes Christians are in a 2 Chronicles 20 moment.

Kevin Cavanaugh: The word was this; this battle is not yours, Jehoshaphat, this battle is the Lord’s.

LLTT: And the church is beginning to prepare for what it takes to fight for our kids.

Jack Taylor, lead pastor of Faith Fellowship Baptist Church in Vancouver, and a signatory to the WCCA, pointed out that the movement arose because pastors felt they had been pushed too far:

In December 2017, pastor Kevin Cavanaugh (Cedar Grove Baptist Church, Surrey) was hosting meetings for Journey Canada and had invited another speaker to join them. He says that members of the LGBTQ community began inundating . . . the staff with intimidating threats saying they would be turned over to the RCMP for hate crimes and that there would be organized protests happening during his Sunday services.

He knew his congregation was unprepared so called off the meetings. In his reflections he realized that “courage comes from conviction,” so he connected with pastor Dave Carson and pastor Giulio Lorefice Gabeli of Hope Vancouver (Gabeli is also the senior pastor of Westwood Community Church, Coquitlam) to strategize a response. The West Coast Accord grew out of that collaboration.

Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson is making SOGI a key issue as she runs for the Burnaby School Board.

Go here for the whole article (following mine).

Tyler Thompson is running for a seat as a Burnaby School Board in the municipal elections October 20. WCCA supporters are circulating a Let’s Vote list of candidates in elections around the province who they say support their outlook.

Paul Schratz, editor of The B.C. Catholic, wrote about the situation in his personal column October 5: SOGI criticism about science, not hatred. He said:

The push-back against the “sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI) curriculum rolling through B.C. schools is mounting just in time for school board elections October 20.

Some school trustee candidates have made resistance to SOGI a part of their election platforms, so naturally they’re being accused of promoting hatred and divisiveness.

He also pointed out the pressure on future teachers (which would, of course, also apply to Christian teachers already in the system):

Why all this fuss about something the government says is an effort to prevent bullying and harassment? Because the truth is the SOGI curriculum is about more than “valuing diversity and respecting differences,” as the government puts it.

Several education students – future B.C. teachers – say they’re alarmed at how SOGI’s ideology is being woven through their lessons. The students don’t want their names used because they’re still deciding whether to remain in their teaching programs.

One said she felt so demoralized and depressed after a SOGI presentation that she considered leaving the program, not knowing how she can ethically teach that gender is a spectrum.

Other students have already dropped out, unwilling to embrace SOGI concepts such as the fluidity of gender and gender identities that range beyond male and female.

Go here for the full comment.

It’s all good

Within a few days of the WCCA declaration, liberal Christians responded with an online ‘Christians in support of SOGI 123’ petition. The original 62 signatories were predominantly from the United Church of Canada, though several were from the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and a couple of others. As of October 10, the petition had 600 signatures.

Here is part of the petition, which is addressed to BC Minister of Education Rob Fleming:

We, the undersigned Christian leaders are writing to you to express our support for the SOGI 123 educational resources created for use in BC public schools. You may have heard that SOGI does not align with Christian beliefs and values and we are here to tell you otherwise.

Please receive the attached Open Letter expressing our support for resources that seek to accept, understand, and include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and create safety for all students.

We recognize that there is a diversity of viewpoints in the Christian community, and that one can be faithful, Biblically-based, and Christ-centred without coming to the same conclusions as those found in the Accord. With a deep grounding in Scripture we come to different conclusions. . . .

Worldwide, the LGBTQ2SIA+ community continues to be scapegoated and persecuted, and we are ashamed that our Christian faith is used to oppress the most vulnerable among us. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that ALL people are beloved children of God, and that God takes joy in the beauty of our diversity.

SOGI resources are a tool we affirm to help create classrooms and schools that are inclusive of all students, and promote respect and understanding between all people. We strongly support the Ministry of Education as it seeks to provide teachers with resources to help foster SOGI-inclusive classroom environments in BC schools.

For the full statement and the petition go here.

Middle ground

Derrick Hamre, lead pastor of CLA, addressed the issue of SOGI.

I suspect that Derrick Hamre spoke for many theologically conservative Metro Vancouver Christians – probably the majority – when he addressed his Christian Life Assembly congregation in CLA’s October 7 weekly newsletter:

WEST COAST CHRISTIAN ACCORD – Last week some Lower Mainland churches made a public announcement of beliefs before media. Some have asked why CLA did not sign on. The accord was presented to our board and our MLT (ministry leadership team) and these 20 leaders considered it seriously and unanimously declined from participating.

Although CLA affirms the values and doctrinal beliefs described in the Accord, our leaders have difficulty and reservations in understanding how it will be applied and implemented. We struggled with its purpose and found some of the language combative and hostile.

We want dialogue with our postmodern and post Christian community, but we desire to do it with love and respect. We are concerned that some in our Christian community seem to be building walls rather than bridges and taking on a militant approach.

Our leaders feel that we communicate our statements of belief clearly, through our affiliation with the PAOC [Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada], in sermons and online. It should be noted that there are three large Evangelical denominations with offices in Langley and none of them signed the accord.

We continue to pray and work to bring “salt and light” to our community. We did not feel that being a part of the WCCA would add anything to this goal and may actually be detrimental to it.

This is not in any way a statement against those who signed on, it’s simply a clarification as to why we did not. May God’s grace continue to abound to the whole Church as we remain striving for unity.

It is worth noting that Darin Latham, lead pastor of the other Pentecostal megachurch in the area – Broadway Church in Vancouver – signed the WCCA. Hamre’s statement gracefully recognizes the fact that pastors (Christians) who agree on most things may not agree on everything.

I have seen several signs of reactions similar to Hamre’s.

For example, a group of eight evangelical pastors in another Vancouver suburb discussed the WCCA shortly after it was released. All agreed with the historically orthodox positions on theology and sexuality which the Accord tries to articulate.

But none had signed it because they considered its tone and posture to be counterproductive. Some also doubted that such statements, which are necessarily short-hand summaries of complex doctrines, can be intelligible to a post-Christian public. 

The WCCA initiative may have played a part in activating them though. One pastor said he felt it was important to acknowledge that SOGI 123, no matter how misguided, is motivated by genuine compassion for vulnerable students.
Discussing what might happen if Christian leaders were to reach out with that conviction, they shared with each other how adopting an attitude of respectful, careful listening with public officials and school staff had in the recent past significantly eased tensions and even led to an invitation to give input on draft policy.
They resolved to meet with representatives of the Ministry of Education and their local schools, as well as with Christians supportive of SOGI 123, to better understand its content and intent, in hopes of establishing rapport and even a bit of common ground, however small.

Where to from here?

I am sure there are similar discussions going on around the city. The question is, will those involved follow through? Will they be clear about traditional Christian sexual morality while also listening carefully and collaborating with schools for the common good?

And will SOGI representatives, schools and the Ministry of Education be willing to listen? There is little evidence that they sought Christian or other religious input as they developed the SOGI curriculum.

One Christian teacher in the public school system – and the SOGI lead at his school – made several points that make sense to me:

  • He described my outline of the situation (that is, distinguishing between conservative, liberal and middle ‘camps’) as “political.” He suggested thinking in terms of two groups – those who are moving away from Jesus and those moving towards him. Those can be found in all the groups, and are where hope for the future is to be found.
  • He also said that Proverbs 18:2 should be our watchword: “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.
  • He pointed out that we should make a distinction between SOGI policies regarding bullying, harassment, etc – which are required in all schools – and SOGI 123, prepared by an independent group, but endorsed by the Ministry of Education and the BC Teachers’ Federation – which is not.
  • “Conversations can still happen,” he said. “Our posture is initially more important than our position.”

Two other guides offer wisdom:

  • Paul Schratz ended his column (about education students, referred to above), with these words:

What they’re opposing is the unrelenting way SOGI imposes its ideology of gender as a spectrum on those who disagree with teaching children they can reassign their sex to match their chosen gender identity.

They’re not haters, and they’re not preaching discrimination. They just want a larger conversation that includes the scientific evidence that genetics determine our sex, and gender is based on X and Y chromosomes.

  • Dennis Danielson has just written The Tao of Right and Wrong, a short but potent book that is perfect for the times (though it doesn’t address SOGI directly). As C.S. Morrissey wrote (posted on Church for Vancouver last week):

Danielson rightly points out that the enshrinement of relativism in moral education occurred with good intentions. It served to function as a kind of philosophical shorthand for making open-mindedness and tolerance into an official educational and administrative philosophy.

But Danielson also rightly points out that while such attitudes are virtues, they are virtues of a secondary sort. There are more primary virtues that need to be learned by children, at least if they are to mature properly as happy human beings.

When the secondary virtues are inflated into a dogmatic relativism that eclipses all other virtues, we have a problem.

Go here for the full review.

3 comments for “Responding to SOGI: should we fight, embrace or engage?

  1. Barry Neufeld
    October 12, 2018 at 11:19 am

    My objection to SOGI 1-2-3 was that it was too radical and needed to be modified: but I was met with name-calling, And put downs. In my 23 years on the school board, I have NEVER seen the BCTF willing to enter into any dialogue. They always play hard ball.

    In my opinion the “moderate” church leaders are naive if they think the creators of SOGI 1-2-3 are interested in any meaningful dialogue. The strongest supporter of SOGI, Morgane Oger has called Christianity a “death cult!”

    I tried to challenge the advocates of SOGI 1-2-3 but they lashed back with vilification, insults, defamation and did everything in their power to humiliate me for questioning their wisdom. At rallies in support of SOGI 1-2-3 they love to chant” “SOGI saves lives!” Really? Says who?

    Even Matt Carruthers, Ministry of Education lead admits that this type of program has never been tried before; it is not based on research and he had no proof that it actually created the hoped for results.

  2. Laura-Lynn Thompson
    October 12, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    Really well presented. The facts are that most Christians do not support the gender fluid teaching of SOGI whether they choose to stand with the WCCA or not . . . we do not agree with this philosophy. It is not surprise about the letter in support of SOGI from the denominations mentioned . . . they compromised long, long ago.

    Excellent article!! Thank you for taking the time to get it right.

  3. Dr. Matthew Todd, DTL
    October 13, 2018 at 7:11 am

    Very interesting article – it left me wondering where are the voices from other Canadian conservative and religious communities on this topic, such as the Islamic communities (over a million people in the country), the Sikh communities, the Hindu communities, The Jewish communities? I am not sure that the article has articulated much on a response from the Catholic communities.

    There is a sense that many other groups in the country have not had a well-informed opportunity to weigh-in on this very important subject that has broad implications for peoples children and grandchildren.

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