Ignorance runs deep in pockets of Manitoba’s Bible Belt. So does fear, and with it a garbage bin full of some of the most terrible, off-putting traits. Ray Duerksen, pastor of Steinbach’s Southland Church, recently led his congregation in an attack on Bill 18 using call-to-arms language, successfully poisoning the well for Christians who do not agree with him.
What Duerksen called his church to unite against is an anti-bullying bill that would force schools receiving public funds to give students wishing to form a gay-straight alliance the approval and space to do so. The bill also referred to the formation of many other student groups.
In his February 24th sermon, Duerksen took to the mic and told his flock that any local politician or person of influence unwilling to combat this bill will be replaced by someone who will, and this replacement will be God’s doing.
Winnipeg Free Press quoted Duerksen as saying:
“God did not place you in your position because you are the only person who can do your job that well.”
“If you don’t do it, God will set you and I aside, and raise up someone who will.”
“It’s Jesus you’re serving. He knows your name and he has a plan for you. Maybe he wants you to be one of those nameless people who pulls out a sword and flashes it around, and maybe cut off some throats.”
“We lost the abortion debate in the ’70s … we lost the same-sex debate,” Duersken said, reportedly going on to suggest that the church cannot afford to lose this battle.
Duerksen is the brand of Christian Dawkins was talking about. And Duerksen is the person Hitchens would drop the gloves with after few fingers of scotch. But, rest assured, Duerksen will be no stranger to sparring. Religious wars are the lifeblood of the Christian right, whose fuel is out-of-context Bible-quote declarations. The sort of martyrdom where the only thing at risk is intelligence, and that seems to be a commodity easily forfeited by religious zealots. They are steadfast in the face of reason, and that, many feel, is a Godly trait. Idiocy in the face of courage, perhaps. No rational defence needed; he’s a man of God, and God, apparently, is an intolerant jerk.
I am agnostic, and that’s a charitable appraisal, on which side is for you to guess. And my authority for writing this piece comes from a childhood spent in Sunday School and the fact that, after fifteen or so years, I have moved back to the family farm, which is a stone ’s throw from Steinbach’s adversary in the piety war. I live in southern Manitoba and commute to Winnipeg but buy groceries alongside some people who would stand up for Duerksen. Most of us know people like him; the person who comments on your Facebook thread with some outlandish quote from the Bible (there are many of these); the person who attributes fiscal wealth to loving God; the person who lives in these hotbeds of religion-fuelled xenophobia because they are scared or have too many skeletons in their closet.
Duerksen’s quotes resonate as religious extremism, because they are. And the result will not be taking up arms, as most in the congregation won’t relate to violence, not in a city like Steinbach. No, the congregation will have poured from the church with renewed resolve to be more passive aggressive than before, passing insidious judgment on Bill 18 supporters.
Duerksen’s proclamations are laughable at first, then quickly turn scary when you consider the influence authority figures like him have on what is sometimes a passive, uncritical audience. It’s harsh. Scathing even. But I will tell you, and this is between you and me, when I attend a service and feel like the person in front is manipulating an audience he or she knows is taking it all in, my thoughts go to a dark, angry, vengeful place.
Winnipeg Free Press reporter Nick Martin broke this news, great, but this story and the outrage it has caused could be repeated every Sunday, in some churches.
The real, between-the-lines story in the Free Press, however, is giving readers a chance to peep through the window overlooking a Church congregation in a largely conservative community. You, the reader, still need to do some work, however. Church practices, when written about from the perspective of objectivity, will always seem off base. Context is important here. Be mad. You should be, but know that there are believers out there just as angry as the rest of us. And some of them will have been in attendance on Feb. 24.
The Bible is largely subject to interpretation (already a polarizing position), and it is actively being interpreted by people naïve to the book’s history, its intention, and its contents.
Jesus may be fictional for some, just a man, to others, and a God to the rest, but at no point is he portrayed as an unforgiving, fearful, judgmental bigot in the Bible. Nowhere. This, of course, is an obvious challenge reserved for the comments section below.
Jesus left the Bible Belt many generations ago, I think. In fact, it’s debatable if he ever resided here. In a fiscally conservative, socially conservative, relatively homogenous community, it’s hard to picture a figure like Jesus being needed. Perhaps Steinbach kicked him out. He was dirty, and I don’t think he liked rich people all that much. You know, the whole camel through the eye of a needle thing.
Bill 18, as it’s been articulated here and in the Free Press, seems welcome legislation.
Toban Dyck is a writer/editor/farmer. Follow him @tobandyck.
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