Arctic diocese bans gays from employment

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The Anglican diocese of the Arctic has given notice that it will not employ the following: anyone having pre-marital sex, homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals, those who willingly engage in sexual activities with a minor and with those whom they are counseling or supervising (excluding spouse) and those who fail to disclose a prior conviction on child sexual abuse.

Anyone who “supports and promotes such behavior, lifestyle or teaching” is likewise not eligible for employment, according to the diocesan synod, which voted on the issue during a meeting in Iqaluit May 25 to June 2.

The conditions apply not just to clergy who are licensed or seeking a license to minister in the diocese but also to current as well as prospective lay workers.

“We are a religious organization that has a moral code that we abide by,” said Larry Robertson, suffragan bishop of Mackenzie and Kitikmeot, explaining the synod’s decision to amend its canon on the order and eligibility for licensing (Canon 18) by setting the same conditions for clergy and lay employees. “We don’t condemn others but this is what we believe and how we behave according to God’s word. There was concern that people who represent the church abide by the lifestyle expected of them.”

In separate interviews with the Anglican Journal, Arctic diocesan bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk and Bishop Robertson said they did not think the diocese was being discriminatory or that it violated the Canadian Human Rights Act by banning gays from employment and lumping them in the same category as pedophiles, who are considered criminal offenders.

“We are being honest and upfront. If we’re honest how can we be discriminatory? This is what we believe in,” said Bishop Robertson.

“We recognize the Human Rights Act and we respect it,” said Bishop Atagotaaluk. “But those we hire have to also comply with and abide by our constitution.”

(The Canadian Human Rights Act provides that “all individuals should have an equal opportunity with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.”)

Canon Linda Nicholls, co-ordinator for dialogue at the national church’s faith, worship and ministry department, who attended part of the synod as an observer, said it was unclear what the clause, “supports and promotes such behavior, lifestyle or teaching,” meant. “What if you have gay friends or relatives?” she asked.

Bishop Robertson said that the ban extends only to the matter of employment and not to church attendance. “We are not going to refuse people communion. There will be none of that,” he said.

But not all Anglicans in the Arctic are happy with the decision, said Nunatsiaq News, which reported that prior to the vote, about a dozen of them had sent a letter informing Bishop Atagotaaluk that they were troubled by “the hurtful and discriminatory language” used in the discussions. The ban was “absolutely disheartening,” parishioner Maureen Doherty told the Iqaluit-based newspaper. “The Anglican church has always been for me a place that affirms human rights and acceptance and has been pro-active in building community. I see this as being in direct opposition to those values.”

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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