NEWS DIGEST: Religion in Canada

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c. 2003 Religion News Service

Lutherans to Continue Visa Lobbying Efforts

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (RNS) The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada plans to lobby the federal government to grant visas to church officials right up until the start of an international meeting here later this month.

At least two dozen senior church officials, including a number of bishops, have been denied entry to Canada to attend Lutheran World Federation meetings here July 21-31. Most of those refused are African delegates.

Church spokesperson Faye Schultz told Religion News Service that lobbying Ottawa on the visas will continue until the start of, and even during, the conference.

Canada Post will even issue a special stamp commemorating the event.

With less than a week remaining before the assembly, the Geneva-based LWF says Canadian authorities are still denying visas to about 24 participants from 11 countries in Africa and Asia. The gathering is expected to draw about 900 people from 51 countries, representing about 62 million Lutherans.

The Canadian church says many of the delegates whose applications were denied were told immigration officials were concerned they would claim refugee status to try and stay in Canada.

Failure to issue visas could severely jeopardize the global gathering, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, has warned. The LWF has written two letters to Citizenship and Immigration minister Dennis Coderre, urging him to grant the visas.

Faith Coalition Seeks Appeal of Same-Sex Ruling

OTTAWA (RNS) A coalition of religious groups is going to the Supreme Court of Canada in hopes of reversing an Ontario court’s re-definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Islamic Society of North America and the Catholic Civil Rights League, have asked the Supreme Court for leave to appeal the Ontario Court of Appeal’s June 10 decision allowing gay and lesbian couples to obtain marriage licenses.

The Ontario court ruled the traditional definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman was unconstitutional. Similar decisions have been handed down recently by courts in British Columbia and Quebec, but they gave governments a year to implement the necessary changes.

Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, told a July 7 press conference on Parliament Hill that “no court in the world outside of Canada has ruled that the recognition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman violates human rights norms.”

To date, only the governments of Belgium and the Netherlands have recognized the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

After last month’s Ontario court ruling, Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he will draft a bill giving legal recognition to same-sex marriages throughout Canada. But first, the proposed bill will be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada for its input.

Catholic Bishops Set Up Abuse Task Force

OTTAWA (RNS) The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is setting up a task force to study the extent of sexual and physical abuse in the church in Canada, and to find ways of preventing abuse, reports the Catholic Register.

The announcement was made last month following a closed-door session between officials of the bishops conference and the Canadian Church Abuse Survivors’ Association.

The task force will likely be in place by September, and will include bishops and professional counselors of abuse victims.

A document produced in the early 1990s, entitled From Pain to Hope, intended to help bishops with policies, will also be overhauled.

In the meantime, a survey conducted by the conference on the number of allegations of sexual abuse by priests is not being released because the data are not credible, the bishops say.

New Web Site Promotes Christian Community

MARKHAM, Ontario (RNS) After months of development,, a Web site created by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to promote Christian community and fellowship, is up and running.

The site calls itself “Canada’s Christian community online” and includes various “rooms” featuring articles and discussion on news, church, faith, entertainment, family, mission and education, as well as directories, a marketplace and other venues.

“This unique virtual house has room for this country’s Christian community in all its diversity,” says the EFC’s Gail Reid.

“Visitors to any one of the 12 rooms in the house are inspired and encouraged by stories of how God’s love, grace and healing power are changing lives in this country.”

The site is intended to promotes unity within the church in Canada, says Reid, “while respecting the distinctness of each ministry and denomination within the Body of Christ.”

Ground Broken for Billy Graham Center

CALGARY, Alberta (RNS) The Billy Graham Evangelical Association of Canada (BGEAC) is moving west in a bid to set up a new center for world evangelism, reports ChristianWeek.

For 50 years the BGEAC offices have been located in rented space and Samaritan’s Purse Canada (SPC) has rented for the past 30 years, noted Franklin Graham, president of both organization and Billy Graham’s son.

“When we consider the amount of money we’ve given to someone else during that time, we could have paid for these buildings and more.”

Graham says the new complex will serve as a center for world evangelism.

“Wherever the devil is trying to stir up a storm, we want to plant the flag of our Lord Jesus Christ right in the middle of it,” he says. “I want to focus on Canada with the BGEA and together we want to lift up Christ and shout his name across this nation.”

Graham and 14 board members representing the two organizations participated in a sod-turning ceremony here at the end of May for the organizations’ new 75,000 square-foot Canadian Ministry Center.

Expected to be functional in time for the 2003 Operation Christmas Child program, the facility is being constructed on eight acres of land near Calgary’s airport.

Plans call for the BGEAC offices to relocate to Calgary from Winnipeg. In the United States, Graham plans to move his operations from Minneapolis to Charlotte, N.C.

Jews for Jesus Targets Toronto’s Jews

TORONTO (RNS) This city’s Jewish community is girding for a splashy and aggressive campaign by Jews for Jesus to reach out to Jews during the group’s annual Behold Your God campaign.

Slated from Aug. 20-Sept. 14, the campaign, in which missionaries travel to a different city every year with a Jewish population of 25,000 or more, will feature the usual street evangelism and other outreach efforts.

Jews for Jesus volunteers will hand out leaflets on street corners, in shopping centers and at universities as classes resume in September. They’ll go door to door and use telephone lists to invite people to a screening of a documentary on Holocaust survivors who believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

“We are redoubling our efforts in the Toronto area,” David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus International in San Francisco, told the Toronto Star. “We’ll be out in force on the streets.”

Jews for Judaism, the counter-missionary group, is training volunteers in how to confront the Jews for Jesus peacefully and legally.

Alarmed by an appeal by Jews for Jesus for support from area churches, Canadian Jewish Congress wrote to some 300 churches in the Toronto area, mostly evangelical, asking them to publicly oppose the Jews for Jesus campaign and support Toronto’s Jewish community.

The CJC received only six replies _ five vehemently supporting Jews for Jesus.

Ahmadiyya Muslims Gather in Toronto

TORONTO (RNS) Some 15,000 Ahmadiyya Muslims from around the world gathered north of Toronto earlier this month for their annual convention.

The three-day convention, called the Jalsa Salana, was addressed by noted scholars of Islam on a variety of social, economic, scientific and spiritual topics.

Also on the agenda was the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings about relations with non-Muslims, and present controversies, including the Muslim view of same-sex marriages in Canada.

A theme at virtually all Ahmadiyya gatherings is the state-approved persecution and discrimination they endure in Pakistan and other Muslim nations, where the missionary movement has been declared non-Muslim by the religious and political elite.

The gathering heard from Paul Martin, widely expected to win the Liberal leadership this autumn and become Canada’s next prime minister, who lauded the Ahmadiyyas’ principles of “compassion and generosity.”

The first Ahmadiyya training college for missionaries is to open this September in Windsor, with 25 students.

Sacred Headdress Returned to Alberta

LONDON (RNS) A sacred Canadian headdress that lay almost forgotten in the storage area of a Scottish museum for 20 years has been returned to the Blood Tribe of southern Alberta, the Associated Press reported.

The Marischal Museum’s return of the horned headdress completes a set of four traditionally used by the tribe to conduct a summer ritual sun dance.

The artifact was donated to the museum in the 1930s by a Scotswoman who purchased it, with other items, on the North American plains in the ’20s. It was removed from display in the early 1980s because so little was known about it.

Its Canadian connection was discovered when a university student who worked in the museum later went to Canada and spent time with the Blood Tribe, where she recognized three other headdresses.

When told a fourth was missing, she led tribe members to the museum in Aberdeen. They identified it there last November.

The museum was under no legal obligation to return the artifact, but senior curator Neil Curtis said a committee decided its spiritual significance to the tribe outweighed the museum’s claim. “They compared it to one of the books of the Bible being missing,” he said.


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