Upcoming HAAM Events
Monthly Meeting – Animal Attraction
Saturday, February 10th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
February 12th is International Darwin Day, so we focus on science and nature at our February meetings.
This year’s meeting will be about sex. Click here for details and more information.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, February 25th, Original Pancake House (Polo Park), 1445 Portage Avenue, 9:30 AM
Join us for our regular Sunday morning brunch. Details here.
See complete event listings and details for all upcoming HAAM events on our Events page.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Matt Dillahunty’s Magic and Skepticism World Tour 2018
Sunday, 8 April 2018, Burton Cummings Theatre, 364 Smith St
For details on this and all upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.
Charity of the Month – CARE Cat Community Outreach Program
C.A.R.E. (Cat Advocacy Rescue & Education) is a non-profit organization made up of concerned animal lovers and veterinary professionals who work to alleviate the serious cat overpopulation by spaying and neutering cats. The program was founded in 2011 in response to the overwhelming number of stray and feral cats in the North End of Winnipeg. Since then, CARE has spayed/neutered more than 900 feral, stray, and low-income owned cats; over 700 at Machray Animal Hospital and the rest through the Winnipeg Humane Society’s SNAP (Subsidized Spay and Neuter Program).
In partnership with The Winnipeg Humane Society and Winnipeg Animal Services, CARE helps people get their cats fixed year-round. The funding for these surgeries comes from the FixIt Grant; money raised directly from cat licensing.
Winnipeg residents are essentially paying for these cats’ surgeries, so only cats within city limits qualify for the program. Through CARE, low-income families can get their kitty spayed or neutered, tattooed, licensed and vaccinated for only $5!!!!
HAAM member Heather McDonell is one of the veterinarians who works with CARE, and it was our Charity of the Month once before, way back in Sept 2013, so we’re happy to help them again. The group is always looking for additional donations, as well as volunteers to transport cats to and from the clinics, since most of the people the program serves can’t afford vehicles or taxis. CARE has no website, just social media, as this is a grassroots effort. Visit their Facebook page or call the office at 204-421-7297 to make an appointment or obtain more information.
Donations for the Charity of the Month will be collected at the meeting. Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal button. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Film Fest Ideas Wanted
Our annual Film Fest will take place at the March 10th meeting, and we’re currently looking for films. Suggestions are welcome.
If you know of a film that your fellow Humanists might like (something funny, provocative, inspirational, or educational), let us know. Length can be anything from a couple of minutes to a full movie (but not a really long movie).
More details to follow in the March newsletter.
Seeking Secular Therapists
We have again had a request from someone seeking a counsellor or psychologist who does not invoke religion or suggest prayer during treatment. A while back, we started a list with the names of a few such professionals for future referrals – but we currently only have 3 names on it. There must be way more than 3 mental health professionals in Manitoba who don’t include religion as part of their practice.
There is no requirement that therapists be non-believers; only that they use evidence-based, secular treatment methods in their professional practice. We do not post their names publicly due to professional regulations and ethics.
If you are aware of a secular therapist whose name we can add to our list, please Contact Us. All correspondence will be kept strictly confidential. Note that providing a referral cannot be construed as an endorsement by HAAM.
Our past-president Jeff Olsson has again been busy cleaning off shelves, and he’s made another large donation to the HAAM library – books, this time. Jeff is well-read and has eclectic taste in subject matter. There’s something here for everyone – ethics and philosophy, astronomy and climate science, atheist humor, psychology and psychoanalysis, skepticism and counter-apologetics (defending non-belief), history and archaeology. Here are just a few of the books he donated:
-The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (Ayaan Hirsi Ali)
-Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming
-Everything You Know About God Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Religion
-God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales (Penn Jillette)
-God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer (Bart Ehrman)
-In Search of Time: Journeys Along a Curious Dimension
-Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History
-The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (Freud)
-Right to Die: A Neurosurgeon Speaks of Death with Candor
-Universe: A Journey from Earth to the Edge of the Cosmos
-Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith (Richard Carrier)
-Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time
Check out the complete list on our Library page. Thank you again, Jeff!
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Call to Action – No Funding for Anti-choice, Anti-LGBTQ2+ Groups
Please add your voice in support of human rights
The BC Humanist Association has launched a petition in support of new application requirements for the Government of Canada’s Canada Summer Jobs program.
The program provides wage subsidies to employers to hire high school and post-secondary students. The new policy requires applicants to attest that neither the job nor the employer’s “core mandate” are contrary to human rights, including reproductive rights and the rights of transgender Canadians.
Until now, many churches, bible camps and other faith-based organizations could apply for funding under the program, some received tens of thousands of dollars in support to hire summer staff. Religious organizations are still eligible for the funding, but those groups must now affirm their support for safe access to abortion and LGBTQ2+ rights.
Unhappy with the change, some conservative faith groups are suing the government claiming religious discrimination.
While we’d hope to see an end to public funding going to religious organizations entirely, ensuring that public funds aren’t given to groups that work to undermine fundamental human rights is a positive step.
It’s important for the government to hear from Canadians who support these actions, not just the small but vocal lobby for the religious right.
Sign the petition: No funding for anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ2+ groups
We’ll submit the petition to the government by February 2, 2018, when applications close for the Canada Summer Jobs program.
In Humanism, Ian Bushfield
Executive Director BC Humanist Association
And while we’re on the subject…
Publicly Funded Groups Must Respect Human Rights
You won’t want to miss Pat Morrow’s analysis of the ‘kerfuffle’ that has developed as conservative religious groups protest their loss of permission to use public money to undermine the rights of others.
Click here to read Pat’s article.
Being an Ethical Omnivore
Those not in attendance for our January presentation missed out on a remarkable speaker, Dr. Charlene Berkvens, who singlehandedly runs her 80-acre farm in addition to working a full-time job as a veterinarian. An engaging and interesting guest speaker, the considerable amount of Q and A and group participation throughout attested both to the quality of her presentation and devotion to her life’s work.
Dr. Berkvens’ accomplishments and dedication to her passions of animal welfare and environmentally sustainable farming practices are truly inspiring, and take their mandate from the principles of permaculture (sustainable agriculture that renews natural resources and enriches local ecosystems) and the 5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare, which are:
1) Freedom from hunger and thirst
2) Freedom from discomfort
3) Freedom from pain, injury and disease
4) Freedom to behave normally (according to their species)
5) Freedom from fear and distress
By the end of Dr. Berkvens’ presentation, there was no room left for ambiguity. Animal welfare and sustainable farming practices are inextricably tied to human interests, in terms of both our health and that of the land. It will take the willingness of ethical consumers, who critically examine their choices, to drive change. In the end, cheap food is not really cheap. — Rob Daly
Learn more about Charlene’s farm – the Fostering Change Farm, by visiting its website or Facebook page. For those interested in supporting sustainable farms with their grocery dollars, Dr. Berkvens provided us with the following list of local food sources in Manitoba, along with links to some of the topics covered, after her presentation:
Direct Farm Manitoba – list of many local, direct marketing farmers in Manitoba as well as farmers’ markets, etc.
Harvest Moon Local Food Marketplace – sustainably produced, fair local foods directly from local farms
Bouchee Boucher – restaurant and butcher supporting local farmers
Feast Cafe Bistro – restaurant that supports local farmers and features local and First Nations foods
Stella’s – restaurant with some dishes using local food
Prairie 360 – restaurant with some dishes using local food
Prairie Box – business that delivers weekly fresh meals with local food
For more information on some of the ideas / concepts we discussed:
Polyface Farms (Joel Salatin)
I would also encourage folks to check out and support:
Fort Whyte Centre, Oak Hammock Marsh, The Forks, and Assiniboine Park are great places to enjoy wildlife and the environment in the Winnipeg area.
A few others to consider checking out include:
As well as the many, many beautiful provincial parks and of course, Riding Mountain National Park.
A Primer on Assisted Dying in Manitoba
Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) has been legal in Canada for 18 months now, but the process and guidelines are poorly understood. Here’s what people need to know:
* Manitoba has one centralized MAID team that serves the entire province. Other provinces require that your doctor initiate the evaluation and application process. Here, if you have a terminal diagnosis or a disease that causes you enduring and increasing suffering, you are free to contact the MAID team yourself to discuss whether you might qualify and find out what the next steps are.
* MAID is not part of the palliative care program in Manitoba. If you are receiving palliative care and you mention that you might be interested in MAID, it doesn’t mean they’ll start the inquiry for you; it’s best to contact the MAID team yourself or to ask a friend or family member to help you make contact.
* You do NOT (and should not) have to wait until your body begins to fail before you apply. The application process takes a minimum of 2 weeks, and some patients wait so long that they end up missing the window of opportunity and suffering needlessly in death.
* After you make initial contact with the MAID team and they agree you might qualify, they arrange for your first assessment. The assessment team usually consists of a doctor, a nurse, and a social worker. The team interviews you and reviews your medical records. One part of that interview involves speaking with you alone to be sure you’re not being coerced into applying.
* An appointment is then arranged with the second assessment team, composed of a different doctor, nurse, and social worker. The two teams don’t communicate with each other about you (the patient) until after both assessments are finished.
* After both assessments are complete, the two assessment teams meet and compare notes. If they agree that you qualify, then they recommend that you fill in an application form for medical assistance in dying.
* The application form must be signed by the patient (or a proxy, if the patient is physically incapable of signing) in the presence of two independent witnesses. An independent witness is defined as someone who is over the age of 18, a Canadian citizen, not a beneficiary of the patient’s will, and not involved in the patient’s health care. These are the same requirements for serving as a proxy.
* Once the application form is filled out, a mandatory waiting period of 10 days begins. You are eligible to receive the service on day 11 after the application form was signed, assuming that in the meantime, the assessment teams have approved you for the service. Note that these 10 days must be “clear” days, meaning that you are mentally coherent; these ‘clear’ days do not have to be consecutive, however.
* A significant proportion of MAID applicants do not know two people who are not named in their will, not involved in their health care, and/or who would be appropriate for other reasons to serve as witnesses. Members of Humanist groups across Canada (including many members of HAAM), have been serving as witnesses. Most of these volunteer witnesses also belong to their local chapter of Dying with Dignity.
* On the day that you choose to die, you must be mentally coherent and capable of giving consent. Nobody else can give this consent on your behalf, and you cannot consent in advance.
* The process of assisting someone to die involves having the MAID provider insert two intravenous lines (one as backup), and deliver 4 drugs through those lines. In Manitoba, this is the only approved method used. The drugs put the patient into a deep sleep and then into a coma, and then cause the heart to stop.
* Most insurance companies accept the cause of death as being the underlying medical condition, but you should check with your insurance provider to be sure, since those who list the cause of death as suicide can withhold life insurance payments for 2 years after death.
For links to the MAID team, related legal information, and more, visit the Dying With Dignity Winnipeg Chapter’s website at https://dwdwinnipeg.weebly.com. —
— Cheri Frazer is co-coordinator of the Winnipeg Chapter of Dying with Dignity
2018 HAAM Executive
The following members were elected at our January AGM.
President: Donna Harris Vice President: Pat Morrow
Secretary: Name Withheld* Treasurer: Henry Kreindler
Members at Large: Tammy Blanchette, Rob Daly, Norm Goertzen, Tony Governo, Sherry Lyn Marginet, and Dorothy Stephens.
Welcome Rob Daly to the team!
For future reference, the list of executive members can always be found here.
Thanks to all who attended the AGM.
*Sadly, not everyone can safely identify publicly as non-religious.
Don’t forget to renew your membership! (click here)
Atheist Comedy Night
Saturday, March 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, March 19th, 10:00 AM at the Perkins restaurant in Madison Square (305 Madison at Ness, just west of Polo Park).
2017 Atheist Film Festival
Saturday, April 1st, Millennium Library (Carol Shields Auditorium, 2nd floor)
Doors open 2:45 pm. Films start at 3 pm.
For more information on these and future events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Meet our new family members!
Following the presentation by Maysoun Darweesh of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC) at our meeting in November, my wife Carmen and I have become hosts for a family of new Canadians. They are from the city of Idlib (in red on map), in the Idlib Governorate in Syria, located just 59 km southwest of Aleppo. They arrived in Canada on January 1, 2016.
We applied to and were accepted for the MIIC’s “Host Matching Program”. We will be their newest and, as it turns out, their first Canadian friends! Khaled and Asmahan are parents to three lovely young children ranging in age from 18 months to 8 years old. Khaled was most recently a truck driver at home, but considers himself a construction worker. Asmahan is mainly a stay-at-home mother, but she has some serious bead working, knitting, and crocheting skills that we will be able to tell you more about after we get to know them better.
Their area in Syria and their city saw some of the earliest fighting in the Syrian Civil War. Much of their town has been destroyed in the conflict, including ruins dating from thousands of years ago. My heart goes out to them, already, just for this. Their eldest, a daughter, is in grade 3 at her local school. She wants to be a doctor, a teacher or a paleontologist (she is in her dinosaur phase!). She is very bright and her English is already surprisingly good. The middle child, a boy, attends kindergarten, is shy, and we only saw him get animated after we had been together for about an hour and a half. Their youngest child, another girl, slept most of the time we were together, but we saw her playing with her siblings as well.
Both parents come from large families. Khaled is the youngest of ten, while Asmahan is third youngest of 12. While their surviving parents seem to be still residing in Idlib, their siblings are dispersed across the region, Europe, and now, North America. Their story is not unusual in this respect. They are able to maintain some contact by phone and over the Internet.
During the thirteen months they have been in Canada, they have had no sustained contact with anyone here. We will become their family, since it seems they have none left in Syria, either. I am expecting many people to be called upon to help as needs become apparent. Khaled has applied for a special program at RRC that will give him special instruction in both English and in construction. It will also place him afterward! If he can get into that program, it will be a big step to making this family self-sufficient. Asmahan could sell some of her crafts. I am hoping to help her make those connections. Both parents are studying English at the Seven Oaks Adult ESL school. They have a vehicle, which they do not use very much, and Asmahan is learning to drive.
Our discussions led to us to understand that they already appreciate the secular nature of life in Canada. They were subjected to various kinds of discrimination in their homeland and in Lebanon. They also saw its effects on others. While they are nominally Muslim, I expect the Humanist aspect of our world view will appeal to them as they come to understand how we come to be so accepting of our differences.
We expect to get the family out to do some normal family things, like tobogganing and skating. Other ideas will come as we get to know them better. As far as we can tell, they have never even been to the zoo! It takes a village to support a family, and I know HAAM members are already stepping up to help. I would like to hear from anyone reading this article who would like to be included in the work required to acclimate this young family to their new permanent home.
P.S., They all love cats! That means our Ringo will have more family to contend with now.
Please let us know if you are interested in helping this family. – Rick Dondo
Does Your Advance Care Plan Include Spiritual Care?
With the recent legalization of assisted dying (now commonly known as MAID – medical aid in dying), you may have seen in the news lately that some publicly-funded health care facilities are refusing to allow MAID on their premises because of their religious affiliation. This has led to questions from our members about the influence of religion in public hospitals. Most of us don’t get to choose which hospital we are taken to when we are ill – so how do you feel about being admitted to a faith-based facility?
Just as an ACP (Advance Care Plan) provides for your wishes to be respected in regards to medical care and treatment, perhaps it’s also worthwhile to make your wishes regarding ‘spiritual care’ clearly known if you feel strongly about that. It’s pretty simple to do this. Your Manitoba Health card must be presented whenever you require medical treatment. So if you have an ACP, or any other wishes or requests, just note that in writing and keep it with your Manitoba Health card.
A sample card is shown here (click images to enlarge).
Dying With Dignity used to mail out these cards out with ACP packages. They don’t mail cards anymore, but you can easily make a similar one yourself and include the same information – the names of people to call in an emergency to make medical decisions for you, the name and phone number of your family physician, your signature, and the location of your ACP if you have one. On the back of this one it says “I am an atheist. If I am hospitalized, I do not want any clergy or chaplain visits”, followed by initials.
Making sure your wishes are known and clearly stated can save a lot of grief and hassle later.
We have written about spiritual care in hospitals before – check the October 2016 newsletter if you missed the articles.
Charity of the Month
It’s been several years since the Rainbow Resource Centre was our Charity of the Month, so it’s overdue – and their current need couldn’t be greater. Recent and ongoing political upheaval in the USA is leading members of the LGBTTQ community there to seek asylum in Canada, and as a result, RRC is overwhelmed with calls for information and counselling.
RRC was busy enough even before this latest crisis. Since its inception as the ‘Campus Gay Club’ at the U of M in the early 1970’s, it has been a leader and important resource for the gay and lesbian community, providing community services, education, outreach and political awareness, and activism.
RRC offers support to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Spirit, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Ally (LGBTTQ*) population of Manitoba and North Western Ontario through counselling and peer support groups; provides education and training for schools, school divisions, and GSA’s (gay-straight alliances); hosts events, workshops, and social activities for clients of all ages; and houses and coordinates a wealth of resources, including a library, a toll-free phone line, and links to LGBTTQ-friendly crisis centres, legal aid, peer support groups, health care, and more.
RRC depends on donations to help keep all these operations going for the long haul, and now to assist refugees as well. Please lend your support to this worthy cause!
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Partners for Life Update
Have you donated blood yet this year? Canadian Blood Services’ Partners for Life program is a friendly competition among organizations, schools, and businesses to encourage their members to donate blood. We just got our participation report for 2016, and HAAM did really well, especially since we didn’t even promote it until mid-summer. Fourteen HAAM members have enrolled in the program, and those members gave a total of 19 units of blood, or 76% of our goal of 25 units.
Can we reach that goal this year? There have been 3 donations already in 2017, so we should easily be able to get to 25, if
- Those 14 members each donate twice, and/or
- A few more HAAM members sign up.
By donating blood, you can not only save someone’s life (enough reward in itself, right?), but show the world that Humanists are good people (who donate blood).
Upcoming clinics: You can donate at the main clinic on William Ave (across from HSC) during their regular hours (Mon 10-2 and 3:30-7:30; Tues 1:30-7; and Wed-Sat 8-2). Or check the list of mobile clinics at the top of any page on the CBS website.
Video Links from our Darwin Day meeting
If you weren’t at our February meeting, you missed a great presentation by Pat Morrow about how the advancement of science contributes to a Humanistic worldview. At the end, several people in the audience asked for links to the short videos he showed about evolution. Here they are:
The first three are from a video series called Genetics and Evolution, by Stated Clearly.
The last video was a clip of a speech by Richard Dawkins comparing the worldview of someone whose religious belief prevents him from accepting reality to someone whose commitment to truth requires him to reject a long-held belief when new evidence against it is presented.
If you are interested in learning more, there are links to additional videos and other resources, including the complete Genetics and Evolution video series, on our Exploring Nonbelief web page. Check it out!
P.S. If you weren’t at the meeting to get a piece of Darwin’s birthday cake, you can at least see a photo of it in our Gallery.
Book of the Month
It’s comedy month, so here’s something fun. Not all of the books in our library are serious and educational; we also have a few about popular culture, including Me of Little Faith by comedian Lewis Black. Raised as a non-practicing Jew, Black noticed unsettling parallels between religious rapture and drug-induced visions while attending college in the 1960’s, and since then has turned an increasingly skeptical eye toward the politicians and televangelists who don the cloak of religious rectitude to mask their own moral hypocrisy. The more than two dozen short essays in this book include hilarious experiences with rabbis, Mormons, gurus, and psychics. Black pokes fun at every religious figure and issue he can – the Catholic Church, Mormons, people who commit suicide in the name of faith, Jews, and of course Jesus and God. Find it in our Library.
Outreach Report from Houston Atheists
I worked on this newsletter while on vacation in Roatan, Honduras. Here’s a little personal note about that trip.
We booked our flights, via Chicago and Houston, long before we had any inkling of Trump becoming president, so we experienced a lot of anxiety about traveling to the US when the time finally came. I spent an hour before we left deleting all the memes, news articles, and videos I had shared on Facebook mocking Trump and criticizing the US government – just in case my phone or laptop was searched. But we passed through airport security without a hitch, except for my husband being asked for his Social Insurance Number. He did remember most of it, after a couple of attempts; what might the customs officer have asked or done if he had not? I felt guilty, in solidarity with everyone who is not white, about not being stopped and searched.
We spent our layover day in Houston at the Museum of Natural Sciences, figuring that if we were going to spend any tourist dollars in Texas, they might as well be directed toward science and education. The museum’s paleontology exhibit is comprehensive and about the size of a football field. I saw Tiktaalik! (in photo) There were references to evolution in almost every display, and the museum was packed with school children on tours. I heard a guide state that they get 600,000 kids a year through there on school field trips. That just doesn’t jive with what we hear about scientific ignorance and rampant creationism.
In the evening we joined a group of people from the Houston Atheists at a pub. There were about a dozen attendees, so we spent an interesting couple of hours comparing notes about our groups’ activities and ideas. They are a loosely-knit organization that mainly uses Meet-Up to advertise small social gatherings at various venues around the city. Not surprisingly, their main focus right now is political activism and separation of church and state issues. One of their members is a high school teacher, so he was able to shed some light on the religion-in-schools issues we read so much about in the media. He said there’s a huge urban-rural split (sound familiar?) in worldviews, with most of the anti-science attitude and push for creationism coming from outside the major cities. He also explained that there is a huge discrepancy in the quality of the education among public schools, depending mainly on the socio-economic level and ethnicity of the communities they serve; but that generally, what we read about represents the egregious infractions of a small minority.
Overall, we experienced no trouble on our one day in Texas; but like several members of the Houston Atheists warned – venture outside the city limits and it’ll be a different story. Not one I’m particularly yearning to read.
One final note – I was asked to toss in a fish picture, so here’s a photo of a seahorse from Roatan. They’re a rare and special sight, and we saw several. Fun fact – when seahorses mate, the female deposits the eggs into a pouch on the male’s abdomen. His body swells and he incubates the eggs until they hatch. Now doesn’t that sound like ‘intelligent design’? – Dorothy Stephens
HAAM Takes On Apologetics – Part 2
Two of our members were recently interviewed by a pastor for a church conference designed to teach Christians how to defend their faith to non-believers.
HAAM’s VP Pat Morrow recently contacted Southland Church (Steinbach) to express his concerns about their association with organizations whose conduct in Uganda is unethical. Below, he explains those concerns and then discusses Southland’s response.
An Ethical Question
When the actions of a person or organization include both good and bad, when does the good outweigh the bad? At what point does the bad become so intolerable that the person or organization is not worth associating with?
HAAM as an organization has existed for over 20 years, and during that time we’ve formed partnerships or associations with other organizations that mirror our beliefs and understanding of the world. We are also willing to end those partnerships if the actions of these organizations conflict with what Humanists understand as good, moral, and ethical behavior. However, this is often not so with religious groups, especially those practicing more evangelical/ fundamentalist types of religion.
According to the Hartford Institute, Southland Church in Steinbach is Manitoba’s second largest mega-church, with a weekly attendance of over 3000. Through Tupendane Africana (a mission of Southland Church) and Back to the Bible Truth Ministries, Southland Church (along with their partner churches in Africa) has done some good work in Uganda. They have sent shipping containers of farm equipment, printing presses, and other goods to the Christians of Uganda, and have helped build an orphanage and one of the largest commercial farms in the country. While spreading religion is not something Humanists would consider good, teaching people better farming practices and more efficient ways to feed themselves is.
But here’s the ethical rub: when should an organization step back and ask itself “is what we are doing really good?”
Setting aside the propensity of evangelicals/fundamentalists to support creationism, reject science, and promote ideas that are proven not to work (such as abstinence-only sex education), Southland is partnered with Back to the Bible Truth Ministries and its president, a man known as the Apostle Alex Mitala. Mitala is also past president of the National Fellowship of Born-again Pentecostal Churches (NFBPC) in Uganda, a coalition of 18,000 churches and one of the many virulent homophobic organizations in Africa. In order to understand just how ethically questionable this partnership is, a little background is necessary.
Uganda is one of the most religious and homophobic nations of modern times, due to the predominance of evangelical/fundamentalist religious beliefs, a sizable chunk of which are imported from the west.
Between 2009 and 2014, the Ugandan government attempted to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which came to be known as the “kill the gays bill“. This bill would have allowed the death penalty for what they called “aggravated homosexuality”; in other words, you could be killed for being gay. The bill was written by government minister David Bahati and supported by a large coalition of churches and church leaders, including Martin Ssempa and Alex Mitala. Fortunately, in 2014 the penalty was amended to “life in prison for aggravated homosexuality”, but this change was due to immense international pressure, not because the churches suddenly changed their collective minds.
In Uganda today if you are LGBT and you are outed you could be beaten up or even killed. This is the legacy of the “kill the gays bill”. In 2010 one Ugandan newspaper ran an edition naming the top 100 “homos” in Uganda, with pictures and the caption “hang them”. More recently in 2014, another tabloid released an 200 additional names, which resulted in many gay Ugandans being killed, and others being driven into hiding where they remain to this day. This is the nature of life in Uganda. Religion has cheapened life; many of its adherents have sold out their humanity and made good, decent, loving, gay folks cheap and disposable.
Which brings me back to Southland.
The Manitoba Connection
Why would a church which claims the moral high ground of Jesus’s peace and love have such close ties to a man and organizations that advocate for a law that would see gay people put to death? I have a difficult time believing they didn’t know about it. Promoting the “kill the gays” bill by Uganda’s churches began around 2006. Southland has been involved with Mr. Mitala and his 18,000 churches in Uganda since 2007, and has had missionaries in the country on several occasions. Mitala himself has preached at Southland.
As a Humanist, my involvement with a man like Alex Mitala would be limited to attempting to change his mind and rid him of his harmful ideas. To engage with this “man of god” in any professional sense would be for me what Canadian General Roméo Dallaire described as “shaking hands with the devil”. Endorsement would be out of the question, but endorse him they did. Mitala even secured an endorsement from MLA Kelvin Goertzen, who is now Manitoba’s health minister. Goertzen endorsed Mitala on Southland’s website, and praised him in the legislature (see page 144 of this transcript). Since receiving my letter, Southland has removed most of the content from the Tupandane section of their website, but the page with Goertzen’s endorsement of Mitala can be viewed in archive here, and in this screenshot.
This is not to say the folks at Southland want to kill gay people. In fact, I would venture most don’t, but it does inspire us to ask – why partner with people who do? I can only conclude that the good folks at Southland are either ignorant of the situation in Uganda, apathetic, or worse, ok with it.
The ugliness of this form of Christianity is well supported by scripture. If Southland wants to take credit for the good works it does in Uganda through the organizations it supports (and so it should), then the church should also bear at least a modicum of responsibility for the damage that organizations like the NFBPC have done (and continue to do) to the LGBT community in Uganda. A community that to this day lives in fear and is largely in hiding.
It is time for good people everywhere, atheists and theists alike, to hold Southland Church to a higher moral standard and request that Southland Church sever all ties with organizations that would support the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act. We hope they will seek more moderate partner churches or NGOs for their charitable endeavors in Africa.
Kris Duerksen, the executive pastor of Southland Church, agreed to meet with me to discuss the concerns expressed in my letter. For the record, he stated that Southland does not support either the death penalty or life imprisonment for homosexuals. “Jesus tells us to love one another”, he said. But unfortunately, Pastor Duerksen can’t see (or doesn’t believe) that the evidence supports a different conclusion.
Southland Church feeds and clothes some 2000 orphans, according to Duerksen. Simple demographics would indicate that at least a few of those children will come to identify as gay, yet at least some of the people raising them think they deserve jail or death. This presents a problem for people who supposedly love everybody. Southland Church sends money, supplies, and farm equipment by the container load, the cost of which surely totals well into six figures, to Uganda; but Duerksen would have us believe that Southland has little to do with day-to-day operations once it arrives. Those are run by Alex Mitala and his churches – churches that apparently have a different theology, one that allows capitol punishment for gay people and the imprisonment of those who aid them.
The relationship between Alex Mitala and Southland Church has grown and developed over the last ten years, with many visits and exchanges between Southland and its mission. One would think that during that time, Southland’s leadership would have uncovered Mitala’s organizations’ support for the “kill the gays” bill. With the support of the NFBPC (of which Mitala was leader) for the Anti-Homosexuality Act being well-known; all the massive press attention given to the bill in both Uganda and internationally, and the massive pressure brought to bear by western countries to stop it, it seems logical that someone should have heard about it. But according to Duerksen, the issue never came up; it was never raised by Tupendane, Mitala, or any of the 3300 parishioners at Southland.
Finally, I asked about the Tupendane website, and why it was pulled down shortly after I emailed Southland. Duerksen told me it was “down for updating”; the timing seems a little coincidental.
The Bottom Line
In the end, we’re back to the beginning. Southland is still stuck with the ethical and moral problem of supporting something they (and almost all Canadians) believe is abhorrent. But at least they can’t plead ignorance anymore. They will have to either fix the problem or choose to ignore it, because when you believe a book that tells you to love gay folks and at the same time put them to death, both options become equally acceptable.
- Outreach report from our first Summer in the City
- Bigotry is a lifestyle choice
- Commenting on social media? Think twice!
- Is blasphemy a victimless crime? Stand up for free speech!
- and more…
- HAAM shows our Pride as we support the LGBTTQ community and stand up to bullying in Manitoba schools
- Does summer camp have to mean Bible camp? We look at what’s out there for our kids
- We’re gearing up for summer Outreach
- HAAM opposes attempts to reintroduce legislation that could affect access to abortion
and more… May Newsletter
You may have heard the story of a young mother in southern Manitoba who spoke at a Hanover School Division board meeting after her child was bullied for having two Moms. She asked for the school board to actively address its policies around diversity and allow discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.
In response to this story, HAAM has released the following official statement. However, because this story also resonates with us on a personal level, we are adding personal statements from two of our executive.
We at the Humanists, Atheists, & Agnostics of Manitoba stand in support of Michelle McHale’s efforts to have family diversity – including LGBTTQ parents – included in discussions regarding human rights at her child’s school.
We believe that diversity in individuals and in families is to be appreciated and celebrated, not to be ignored or treated like something shameful. It doesn’t really matter whether that diversity reflects our nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or our religion (or lack thereof). These are just some of the protected characteristics under the Manitoba Human Rights Code. It is important that children learn to understand and appreciate the fact that we are all unique.
This statement summarizes our stance as an organization. However, this issue has also resonated with us on a personal level, and our President and Vice President have also prepared personal statements regarding the situation in Hanover School Division.
Statement from Donna Harris, President
Ms. McHale’s original complaint was that her 12-year-old child was being bullied by other students. In my opinion, the Hanover School Division’s first priority SHOULD have been to stop the bullying, and prevent it from re-occurring. It’s obvious that family diversity is a topic that needs to be addressed, if other kids are using it as a weapon against their classmates. And where did they get the idea in the first place? It must have come from somewhere close to home. This situation did not require a “sensitive” in-depth discussion about being homosexual. It required a lesson in tolerance, kindness, and respect.
It is interesting that the Manitoba school curriculum includes “family diversity” as a topic in the elementary grades, but not in middle school. A quick internet search turned up a number of books about different types of families that appear to be meant for children in grades 1 to 3. Family diversity doesn’t just mean two Moms or two Dads. What about families with adopted children from a different ethnic group? Mixed race families? Single parents? Children being raised by grandparents?
Surely there must be some of these families in the Hanover School District. I don’t believe Ms. McHale wanted to introduce sex education. She just wanted her child’s school to be a welcoming environment, where learning can take place in a positive, supportive atmosphere.
Statement from Pat Morrow, Vice-President
Print media and television give us the nuts and bolts of the story but don’t touch the underlying cause of the controversy. That underlying cause in southern Manitoba is Fundamentalist / Evangelical Christian beliefs. For Humanists, being gay or having two Moms is no more noteworthy than being black or left-handed. We’re all just people. Marriage between members of the same sex isn’t gay marriage, it’s just marriage. Using reason, science, and our natural human empathy, we came to this conclusion so long ago that it astounds us to find a group of educators and parents who don’t even want to talk about it.
Since this story broke it has exploded on the local social media, with a lot of anger and emotion on both sides. What’s really interesting for me to see are the religious folks who would for the most part like to stuff this subject back in the closet, and yet have so much to say about it. And for many of them, what they have to say is truly disgusting. For example, that homosexuality is a slippery slope leading to bestiality and pedophilia, or that homosexuality is a violation of God’s law and natural law. I asked several of these evangelical social media commenters if they agreed with the penalty for homosexuality written in Gods law (which of course is death). I also pressed several of them to confirm their support of statements made by other fundamentalist Christians whom they quote in their various posts, such as “Should we be removing children from the homes of gay parents?” and “Do you believe gay people spread diseases?“… The silence was deafening. Those of us who have heard the above claims before usually associate them with the wingnut fundamentalist Christianity of places such as Mississippi or Arkansas. What’s really disturbing is that these are fellow Manitobans in 2016. Their inability to answer these basic moral questions speaks volumes about what they truly believe about good, decent, moral people who just happen to be gay. On the other hand, I suppose it could be that religion has damaged their moral compass to the point that they cannot articulate a coherent answer due to acute cognitive dissonance.
I was looking through this social media quagmire of faith-based hyperbolic misinformation and general bigotry for that most elusive snippet of information – an actual reasonable argument against the subject at hand, which is that the Hanover School board is being asked to allow discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. Like looking for the proverbial diamond in a dung heap, I didn’t find any. The closest I was able to come were statements that parents have a right to teach children their beliefs, and multiple claims of “it’s our freedom of religion” (and no, I didn’t miss the irony that neither of these claims are “Gods Laws”). These are rights that Humanists fully support and are guaranteed in our Constitution. I think the question to ask is: At what point do we as a society tell parents and school boards that what they’re teaching their children is harmful and that what they’re not teaching is shortchanging them? I think that time is now, because what is good, what is right, and what is noble is on our side.
- HAAM members display their Pride and celebrate the Summer Solstice – lots of photos!
- We will begin reading the New Testament and get together to discuss the historicity of Jesus
- Was Hitler an atheist?
- and more news and updates
- Updates on the stories we’ve been following on religion in our public institutions,
- Details about all our upcoming events (including speakers who will be appearing at our River City Reasonfest conference in September), and
- A link to view the presentation on the Ethics of Religion if you missed it at our May meeting.
Spring is sprung! And HAAM is buzzing with activity. Registration is now open for HAAM’s very first conference…. River City Reasonfest, September 19 and 20, 2015. Buy your tickets now for the low, early bird rate of only $99 for the entire weekend. http://rivercityreasonfest.org/
In this issue: upcoming events including the Pride Parade, our Solstice Party, and a Summer Book Club; a special announcement will be forthcoming from our Humanist Celebrant; updates on religion in public schools and in the workplace; and more!
At our May Meeting, we’re talking about some good news related to Climate Change! Come on out and hear Curt Hull from the Climate Change Connection.
Plus… why is Diana Goods spurning a declaration of love? Find out!
Image (r) Our panelists at our April Bill 18 Public Discussion. From l. to r., Chad Smith, Jeff Olsson, Sharon Wilson, Jim Rondeau and Donn Short.
The April Newsletter! No regular meeting this month! Instead, we’re hosting a Public Discussion on Manitoba Bill 18, the Anti-Bullying legislation. Also in this month’s issue: Why Sage House is a valuable resource. Pat Morrow tells us to be “out” as an atheist. And more! (picture is from the March 28th Bill 18 rally).
Bill 18 is anti-bullying legislation, introduced by the provincial Education Minister, Nancy Allen, which modifies the Public Schools Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools). In part, it expands the definition of bullying to include cyber-bullying, through such activities as text messaging, instant messaging and social media.
It requires that school boards establish a respect for human diversity policy, which must accommodate “student activity that promotes the school environment as being inclusive of all pupils, including student activities and organizations that use the name “gay-straight alliance”.”
There has been a lot of objection to the bill, primarily voiced from some more conservative religious groups. The objections have included vague misconceptions and misperceptions over what the bill would accomplish. Arguments have been put forth from these groups, attempting to present the objections in terms of definitions being too vague or too broad, but the main objection being that it is an attack on the religious freedom of faith-based schools.
They have interpreted the bill to mean that it requires them to put aside their religious convictions regarding their belief in the sinfulness of homosexuality by allowing groups like gay-straight alliances to exist in their schools. They appear to feel that this is equal to “promoting” homosexuality. This is not to paint all religious groups with the same brush, as we recognize that some more accepting, inclusive religious organizations and faith traditions have spoken up in support of the bill, but unfortunately the ones opposed have been getting the lion’s share of the media attention.
We believe that all people, especially students, should be respected and protected, no matter what their sexual orientation. In this case in particular, the rights of the individual should take precedence over the right to religious freedom.