A Canadian church has been criticized for a social media post advertising a webinar on how to “protect” children during Pride Month.
The offending post, authored by the Summerside Community Church, in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, directed its followers to a June 17 webinar offering “practical advice for parents and grandparents to protect children from what’s happening during Pride Month.”
The event included Baptist pastor Kevin Cavanaugh, of British Columbia, interviewing Wilna Van Beek, author of When Gay Comes Home, in which Van Beek details her struggle against same-sex attraction and how she overcame it by embracing Jesus.
But the event created some controversy among some parishioners and outsiders, who saw the webinar as bordering on promoting conversion therapy, a practice seeking to “change” an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity by suppressing their desires and modifying their behavior through various techniques. The practice has been banned in Canada since last year, and in Prince Edward Island since 2019.
“The post they shared on Facebook is very homophobic in my eyes, and leans a lot towards conversion therapy,” Stephen MacIsaac, a member of Summerside Community Church, told the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
“I’m disappointed, you know, that the leaders of the church that you look up to and you go to when you need someone, some comfort — knowing that this is how they view myself and everybody in the community is very disheartening,” MacIsaac added.
MacIsaac says he’s now looking for a new, more welcoming church. He’s been sharing a message of love and acceptance for LGBTQ individuals in religious communities on his social media pages, and even had a shirt made bearing the message: “LGBTQ+ or Straight, Jesus Loves All.”
“If I’d realized this is how they view people in my situation, I would never have gone to that church,” he told CBC News. “They can apologize, but I still know how they feel. So they would be wasting their breath. I won’t be back.”
But the church doesn’t seem to be in a conciliatory mood, either.
Pastor Tracy Linkletter told CBC News that the purpose of the webinar was to provide a space for conversation on sexuality and gender from a Christian perspective. She also said everyone is welcome to attend her church.
“We understand that, you know, people come from different different views of life. We understand that,” Linkletter said. “But we do also understand that, like, we’re Christian, so we trust God’s design for sexuality and gender. And that’s what we stand on, is his design. But we welcome everyone to hear Jesus’s life-saving and life-changing message.”
She declined to say what she meant by “God’s design for sexuality and gender” or whether Summerside Community Church supports conversion therapy for LGBTQ church members, saying: “There’s just so much around the issue of conversion therapy that I’d prefer not to comment any further on that.”
Linkletter said she’s received “mixed” feedback on the post promoting the webinar, and understands that some people are unhappy about the post. When told that at least one member of her congregation is seeking out a new place to worship, she said that sometimes happens.
“We’re an open community, we’re a loving community, and we recognize that people, you know, at times, you know, might realise this is not the place,” Linkletter said. “And we always say, ‘There’s lots of churches and we recommend you find a place that you feel safe and that you feel at home.’ That’s very important to us.”
But Scott Alan, the youth program coordinator at PEERS Alliance, an LGBTQ support group, told CBC News that the way the webinar was marketed was troubling, as it seems to suggest that LGBTQ people are a threat to children — a classic right-wing trope used to demonize LGBTQ people by casting them as pedophiles and sexual deviants.
“We were kind of wondering what they were meaning by, you know, ‘how to protect children,'” Alan said of Summerside. “I grew up always believing that church was a place for people to experience love and community and acceptance. So to see the complete reverse from a church is a little bit upsetting.”
Alan said the church is welcome to its own beliefs, but what can be problematic is that if the church supports conversion therapy or is hostile to LGBTQ people and tries to push those beliefs on the rest of society or influence policy that could negatively impact people’s lives.
“What do you think Jesus would do?” Alan said. “Would He cast the first stone? Or would He love and accept our community for who we are in hopes that the Holy Spirit would work through us? And that’s literally what I would ask them.”
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