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.
Film Screening: A Better Life
Wednesday, October 12th, Millenium Library, 6-9 PM
International Outreach: Humanist ‘Missionaries’ in Uganda
Saturday, October 15th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 PM
Book Club Meeting – Secular Parenting
Wednesday, November 24th, 7 PM, location TBA
For more information on these 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.
Humanists Celebrate Thanksgiving, Too!
Do you celebrate Thanksgiving without thinking too much about who you’re thanking, now that you have left religion? Do you struggle to explain the holiday to children?
The very name of the holiday implies giving thanks, but if you no longer believe in a god – or never did – you might need to pause for a moment to think about who the recipient(s) of your thanks might be.
Humanists have just a much reason to be thankful as anyone else – and real people to thank. We can be thankful to each other for family and friendship, thankful to the people who grew and prepared the feast, and thankful to nature for all that it has provided.
If your family gathering includes a traditional Grace and you’d like to switch it out for something a little more inclusive without disrupting the peace, there are lots of options. Here’s one example:
We are grateful to the men and women who planted the crops, cultivated the fields and who gathered in the harvest.
We thank those who prepared this fine meal and also those who will serve it to us.
Yet amid this plenty may we not forget the many of our brothers and sisters, and especially their children, in our own country and elsewhere, who do not share in our good fortune, who are hungry, cold, sick and troubled by the bitter burden of poverty, the curse of war, and the despair of hopelessness.
So may our enjoyment be graced by understanding and tempered by humility.
Let us be kind to one another and to all those with whom we share this brief existence.
Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care
Who gets access to patient information?
It has come to our attention that some hospital patients are still being subjected to prayer and proselytization without their consent. Much of this is informal, mainly in the form of well-intentioned but misguided remarks made by visitors and staff; but some of it falls under the guise of ‘spiritual care’. We wrote about this before in our November 2015 newsletter – and now need to correct/clarify that article. Strictly speaking, it’s not hospital chaplains who are no longer allowed to visit patients without their consent – it’s community clergy who are restricted.
Traditionally, community clergy have considered hospital visits a part of their ministry to the sick, and many churches hold weekly services for patients in their local hospital’s chapel. Up until a few years ago, a priest could just stop at the hospital’s information desk and get a printed list of all the patients who identify with his denomination, so that he could ‘pop in’ for a visit or invite them to the service. And that is what’s no longer allowed. Visiting clergy no longer get access to patient names unless the patients consent to have their names released – and so they are asked about this on admission. (The WRHA policy on this is here.) But this restriction applies only to community clergy – not ‘spiritual care’ employees (hospital chaplains). In practice, if patients don’t state a religion on admission, or say that they don’t want their name on the clergy list, spiritual care staff don’t usually visit. But because spiritual care workers are employees of the hospital, they are considered part of the health care team, so they can be consulted or gain access to patient charts in the same way as members of any other discipline (e.g. social workers or physiotherapists).
What’s a ‘Spiritual Care Provider’?
‘Spiritual Care Provider’, or ‘Spiritual Health Care Practitioner’, is the new name for ‘hospital chaplain’. The term is more inclusive than ‘chaplain’, because it encompasses multiple faith/belief systems, in some cases even Humanism and atheism. But let’s face it – ‘spiritual care providers’ in Manitoba – and across North America – are overwhelmingly Christian clergy. In cosmopolitan cities, it’s quite likely that there are staff who will serve people of various faiths and beliefs, including Humanism, but in a small rural community, or anywhere in a Bible Belt area – good luck with that.
The Role of PHIA in Spiritual Care
When Manitoba passed the Personal Health Information Act in 1997 (current version is here), the privileges of all these religious practitioners (both hospital chaplains and community clergy) became restricted. Community clergy were no longer allowed access to patient information without consent, but the role of hospital chaplains was a little less clear. Initially they were technically out of the loop, too – but a 2004 amendment added them back in. According to a letter of explanation regarding that amendment, the term ‘health’ was redefined as being sound in ‘mind, body, and spirit’ – so spiritual care providers are back on the health care team, and health care ‘expressly includes spiritual care’. The letter goes on to state that since PHIA restricts the collection of personal health information to only that which is required to carry out care, patient information should be released to spiritual care providers only if the patient requests the service, or if a referral is made (emphasis ours).
What does this mean for Humanists?
It’s that last part (about referrals) that has some HAAM members concerned. The intent of the amendment to PHIA is that as with any other health care service offered by a health care facility, spiritual care will be provided pursuant to a referral or request. But often, referrals are made without asking or notifying the patient. Usually this is just routine. Most patients with fractures, for example, get a referral to physiotherapy, and the doctor may not even think to mention it. When the therapist shows up, the patient doesn’t question it, either – it’s an expected part of care. Likewise, a nurse who hears a patient expressing concerns over family, finances, or employment while in hospital may call the social worker to assist – again, perhaps forgetting or not even thinking to inform the patient ahead of time. But what happens when a patient expresses sadness, loss of hope for the future, or grief over a poor prognosis? Oftentimes, staff ask a spiritual care provider to come and offer support. That’s where, as stated in last November’s newsletter article, a certified mental health professional or counselor might be a better choice than a chaplain – but there are usually none available, because hospitals employ chaplains instead of counselors. So a well-meaning staff member refers the patient to the spiritual care department – again, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. Staff in a predominantly religious community, or who are religious themselves, may not even think of this as controversial – they believe that the referral is appropriate and that they are helping. And so a chaplain appears at the beside.
You may find the spiritual care provider helpful, or not, depending on his or her beliefs, preparation, and skills, and your needs and personal preferences. Most of these ‘chaplains’ are genuinely caring people, used to conversing with all kinds of different folks, and their mandate is to provide support to all patients who need or want their services, regardless of belief system. You can read a description of the ‘competencies’ required to be a spiritual care provider in Manitoba here. It’s a pretty broad field, and the document implies that almost any ‘spiritual practice’, including reiki, therapeutic touch, and other forms of woo, is legitimate.
What can I do?
The bottom line, of course, is that just like any other treatment or test, patients can refuse spiritual care – but they would have to know to do so, and in particular, they would have to know to tell staff that they don’t want chaplains to have access to their personal information. Or, alternatively, they would have to know enough to ask (or demand) a Humanist – or at least a person who is flexible enough to include Humanism as part of their repertoire of worldviews – as their spiritual care provider.
As with any other aspect of health care, it’s not always easy to request or decline a treatment when you’re ill – that’s what Advance Care Plans are for. So the same guidelines apply to spiritual care requests that apply to ACP’s. Put your requests in writing ahead of time, and the written document will speak for you if and when you can’t. Patients who are admitted acutely ill or unconscious are not asked on admission about their religion, so their family might answer for them, or the spiritual care worker may pop in at some point just to see if he can be of service. If you want to avoid this, here are some suggestions:
- Make sure your family knows your wishes about spiritual care (if they are willing to honor them).
- Make your health care proxy aware of your wishes about spiritual care as well as health care.
- Write your requests on a card and put it in your wallet along with your Manitoba Health card, Advance Care Plan, and Organ Donor cards (you do have those, right?). ID is one of the first things that emergency responders look for when they are called to a scene.
- Add a note about your spiritual care preferences to your Advance Care Plan and ERIK kit and have those readily available, stuck on your fridge with a magnet.
Charity of the Month
In October we’ll be raising funds for John Bogere’s annual tuition and the Kasese Humanist Primary School.
Book of the Month: One Heartbeat Away
This month’s featured book is a little different. For starters, it was a gift – from a very earnest, soft-spoken young woman who pressed it upon our volunteers at the Outreach table in Morden last month. No small gift from a total stranger; it sells for $15 on Amazon.ca. But she was very insistent, and so we accepted it to add to our library.
The book is One Heartbeat Away – Your Journey Into Eternity, by Mark Cahill. And why was our visitor so insistent that we accept it? Because to her, it’s a very special book. It’s the book that will guide us to the Truth. She agrees with the author’s assertion that “once you know the truth about the Bible, creation vs. evolution, heaven and hell, sin, and the cross, there is only one logical decision to make”. Cahill claims that he has evidence for biblical truth and that it will compel the lost to come to Jesus Christ for salvation.
This book answers the question “What do you think will happen to you when you die?” by describing the most often cited ‘evidence’ in favor of the Christian answer to that question. Cahill describes experiences recalled by people who have been resuscitated while dying, as well as those who experienced hell while dying, and he mourns the terrible loss that occurs every time that a soul is lost to God.
What qualifies Cahill to make such a claims? Is he a biblical scholar like Hector Avalos? A psychologist like Michael Shermer? A neuroscientist like Sam Harris? None of the above… Here’s an excerpt from the author’s biography on amazon.com: “Mark Cahill has a business degree from Auburn University, where he was an honorable mention Academic All-American in basketball. He has worked in the business world at IBM and in various management positions, and he taught high school for four years.”
If you have escaped a fundamentalist form of Christianity, you probably won’t want to read this book – and don’t need to. You already have a pretty good idea of what it says. But if you grew up secular, or in a liberal Christian denomination, and you’re looking for some insight into the fundamentalism, this book will be enlightening. Or hey – if you’re open-minded and willing to see if it convinces you, check it out! And if you find Jesus and convert, be sure to let us know.
You can borrow this book, or any of the others in our library, at the October meeting. Check here to see a complete list of the books in our library. If you find one you’d like to read, you can reserve it online and we’ll have it for you at our next meeting.
Harmonizing Humanists are Recruiting!
Who’s interested in singing for fun? HAAM has a small group of singers who perform at events when we can get enough people together and prepare something suitable. Repertoire varies – almost any genre goes, and may include traditional religious music with parody lyrics, or anything that might be entertaining or inspirational to a secular audience.
Our next gig will be (hopefully) at the Winter Solstice Party. Because we only get together sporadically to rehearse, we are hoping to get some people who read music and can learn most of it on their own. But we need people to support the melody line, too. If you like to sing and can stay on the notes, we’ll find a part for you!
Here’s a great opportunity for anyone who misses singing in their old church choir! If you are interested, contact HAAM.
City Hall Prayers Violate Rights
HAAM is extremely pleased to announce that we have a very special guest flying in from San Francisco, California for this meeting. Hank Pellissier is the founder and director of the Brighter Brains Institute (BBI), an California-based non-profit organization that builds and supports schools and health clinics in Uganda (as well as other locations in Africa).
The term “missionary” brings to mind black robes, white collars, and forced conversions, but of course with Humanist missionaries this couldn’t be further from the truth. Ugandans are a pragmatic people who are eager to adopt a belief system that can provide an escape from poverty and ignorance. Humanism fits the bill because it works.
In 2014, BBI established a clinic at Kasese Humanist Primary School, one of the two Humanist schools that already existed in Uganda. This clinic provides free medicine and medical care to the 320 pupils, including an ongoing program to fight parasitic infections in the student population. Additionally, the BBI provides the school’s orphans with shoes, clothes, tuition sponsorships, and scholarships, and set up an after-school Creativity Lab with donated video and music equipment.
In 2015, BBI raised funds to build – brick by brick – the “world’s first atheist orphanage” in nearby Muhokya. They collected sufficient funds from humanists and atheists worldwide to build boys’ and girls’ dormitories, a kitchen, dining room, latrine, clinic, and roadside stand to sell beverages and snacks. Next, they built a primary school with 9 classrooms, and then a mile away in Kahendero, a nursery school with 3 more classrooms, as well as another clinic.
In 2016, BBI began “converting” schools near Kasese to Humanism. The Humanist Principles set out by Kasese United Humanist Association (KUHA) , plus financial aid, were quickly accepted by eight other schools. Three more orphanage schools adopted KUHA’s secular guidelines, and four female-led schools, attracted by the Humanist emphasis on women’s equality, partnered with Brighter Brains. BBI guides these newly-converted schools by teaching the basic principles of Humanism to the staff and students, tailoring the instruction to address each school’s particular circumstances and needs. It assists with lunch programs, classroom construction, clean water projects, teachers’ salaries, orphan sponsorships, and medical clinics. It also supplies AFRIpads (reusable sanitary menstrual pads) to the older girls, and provides the Humanist secondary school with sex education classes and condoms.
For over a year now HAAM has supported Kasese Humanist Primary School (KHPS) in Uganda, and we are committed to sponsoring a child for the full length of his schooling at KHPS. Our sponsored child is John Bogere and he is doing well in his first year of school. We will meet John and KHPS’s founder and director Robert Bwambale at our meeting via recorded video, to give us more background on Kasese and the explosion of Humanism in Africa.
Please join us for what will be a thought-provoking, insightful, and entertaining meeting.
Charity of the Month
In October we’ll be raising funds for John Bogere’s annual tuition and the Kasese Humanist Primary School.
About Our Meetings
If you’re new to HAAM, welcome! Our regular monthly meetings are always open to the public. Come early for dinner, drinks, or just to visit. Late-comers and drop-ins are welcome, so if you can’t make it on time or stay till the end, don’t worry. You can eat during the meeting if you’re late – the buffet is open till 8:00.
Our other events are intended for paid members only. If you would like to check us out, you are welcome to attend one or two events before becoming a member. After that, if you wish to continue to participate, we ask that you support the group by joining.
All events are subject to change, and some details may be TBA. In the event of inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances, events may be subject to cancellation or details may change.
- Our Charity of the Month program goes international
- Hospital chaplains
- Outreach report from a bible belt school
- Member reaction to our meeting about Aboriginal issues
- and more…
Addendum: For more on hospital chaplains and an update on the article in this newsletter, see Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care.