So, I was going to write a chirpy post about how much fun I had this weekend attending Crossroads' Lead with Love Women's Conference. I was going to write about the chocolate fondue and how Kevin Leman made us all laugh by uttering words that have never before been uttered in the hallowed halls of Huntley Street. I was going to write about the jacket I bought myself for Valentine's day and about brunch with a good friend and how my parents took the diva french bulldog to the Old Hide House.
But then, when I woke up and wanted to check the headlines to make sure the rapture had not occurred overnight (still earthbound, I'd realize my stance on adult baptism had been wrong...) I saw this on the Toronto Star's Online Site:
Anti-gay religious group gets funding from Ottawa to work in Uganda
An evangelical organization that describes homosexuality as a “perversion” and a “sin” is receiving funding from Ottawa for its work in Uganda, where gays and lesbians face severe threats
I assumed that the feds had been caught helping Westboro Baptist open a Canadian chapter in Uganda for the sole-purpose of promoting anti-gay threats. I read on:
"Ottawa has denounced virulent homophobia in that East African country and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has condemned plans for an anti-gay bill that could potentially include the death penalty for homosexuals."
Well. I should hope so.
"At the same time the federal government is providing $544,813 in funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for Crossroads Christian Communications — an Ontario-based evangelical group that also produces television programming like 100 Huntley Street — to help dig wells, build latrines and promote hygiene awareness in Uganda through 2014."
Crossroads. They were talking about Crossroads. The place where I'd spent my weekend and had felt so much love. And the use of the phrase, "At the same time" in the second paragraph. Was Crossroads' funding somehow connected to the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda? Or was this juxtaposition of ideas simply journalism of the "when did you stop beating your wife?" variety.
To be clear, I don't work for Crossroads. I paid full-price for my ticket to the conference like everybody else. I did not even win the draw for the floral centrepiece. I got invited to see Mark Burnett a few weeks ago, which was really cool. I think I ate about $9 worth of appetizers which is more than offset by money I've paid for various events in the past. I'm not after Crossroads' approval. Anyone who read my old mommy blog MUBAR knows I'm not particularly concerned about being liked. But they also know that I can't shut up if I think something is wrong.
When I was at my most broken in the early fall - exhausted, frightened and my faith shaken to the core - Melinda Estabrooks, who knew me only as the gal who wrote a mommy blog that a friend of hers read a million years ago, dropped everything to come and support me and pray. Because that's what Christians do. And they don't sit down and ask for your views on gay marriage or adult baptism or purity rings first. At least not the ones who want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
And because Melinda is so awesome, I started going to some Crossroads events because that's where she works. And I met lots of great people. Other imperfect Christians who were trying to make some sort of difference in the world.
Because I came to the women's conference alone this weekend, I was seated at the table for speakers and hosts (I think they felt bad for me - the totally single person hearing a speech about the joys of marriage!) Which meant I was also seated with on-air host (and daughter-in-law of the founder) Ann Mainse, producer and on-air host Cheryl Weber, Crossroads Executive Lara Dewar Laurie, on-air host Christine Williams, and guest speaker Kevin Leman (The Birth Order Book guy). In other words, I was at the Crossroads power table for a day and a half, hearing not only the formal conference program, but a lot of other behind-the-scenes stuff too. Tickets were available to the public, so I'm not sure why I did not run into anyone from the media given that this story was brewing, but I didn't. It's too bad, because they might have had a different take on the whole thing.
The weekend focused on love and relationships and family values, which would seem like a great opportunity for some vitriol, no? And yet, the closest there came to any discussion about the LGBT community is when Kevin Leman proudly talked about his son, who is head writer for the Ellen DeGeneres show. Ellen's sexual orientation was never mentioned.
What I did hear was a lot of discussion about how we, as Christians and as humans, have an obligation to help end the suffering around the globe because that's how we can show God's love. We heard from Crossroads producer Cheryl Weber who just returned from Cambodia to bring more attention to the issue of Child Trafficking. She is heading to Uganda to talk about the needs there. And believe me, these are not glamourous trips with lavish meals and 5 star hotels. We also heard from Shae Invidiata who runs Free Them, a secular NGO focusing on ending slavery around the globe. That's right: they believe that secular organizations, with differing beliefs, can do good work too. Doesn't seem like intolerance to me.
There was some discussion at lunch about how the church can reflect evolving social mores while still staying true to the teachings of Christ. It's not like the church does not recognize the shift in views towards issues like gay marriage or women in leadership roles (as Downton Abbey reminded us last night, being gay used to be illegal not so long ago.) There is a lot of discussion and prayer about such things. I believe that women need to be in leadership roles at the church. Jesus spent his time surrounded by women and the church's foot-dragging in this area irritates me to no end. The church seems behind the times but I'm reminded that the church has always been countercultural and one of the ways that some very good values have been safeguarded over time is by not catering to popular opinion. I also support gay marriage. Jesus does not talk about homosexuality, but he does talk a lot about love. I believe that if people want to promise to love each other for life, that ought to be encouraged. Heaven knows I would have liked that in my own life. I know that there are a lot of Christians who do not agree with me on these two points, but it does not mean that I cannot support them in the good works they do. Good works that, frankly, I'm not willing to do.
I am as cynical as they come and have come to expect the very worst from the evangelical Christian community as a whole (I know of a group of church elders whose recent response a domestic violence situation was to offer to pray for the couple's reconciliation.) But what I saw at Crossroads was a group of people who want to feed the hungry, comfort the hurt, and free the oppressed. Not once was there talk of converting or changing people. There was only talk of trying to be as Jesus-like as we, with our myriad of flaws, can be. What I also saw at Crossroads this weekend was a big tent. The powers that be were sitting with me: a divorced, socially liberal, spendthrift, feminist Anglican who loves Jesus. They might as well have had the Woman at the Well over for tea. But there was no judgement there.
If Crossroads was funding the printing of hate tracts or only distributing water to non-Gay Christians, I would want their funding stopped too. But if what the media is saying is that only people who have politically acceptable points of view are eligible for government funding of otherwise fundable work, then I think we have an intolerance problem that goes far beyond this one particular story. And if the good work that Crossroads is doing is halted because of this story, I hope that the media outlets profiting from the scandal will provide the resources to take it over in their place. Because I'm guessing that the moms waiting for clean water for their children do not care about the ideology of the people digging the well.
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