Ottawa’s Pride March slated for Aug. 27 and events in the week leading up to it had not taken place yet as we prepared Crosstalk’s September issue to go to press, but Bishop Shane Parker issued a pastoral letter concerning Pride Season on June 7. He was responding to “an alarming increase in offensive or hateful words, actions, and political posturing directed at the 2SLGBTQI+ community,” in Ontario and around the world.
Underlining the fact that Ottawa is not exempt from this issue, a conflict erupted between two groups on Broadview Ave. on June 9, during which five people were arrested. CBC reported that hundreds of demonstrators had “gathered to ‘drown out’ and counter a man who was protesting what he calls ‘gender ideology.’ The two groups chanted slogans like ‘protect trans rights’ and ‘leave the kids alone’ at each other, at times separated by a line of police officers.”
In his letter, the bishop wrote that: “As followers of Jesus, we are rightfully concerned and vigilant when we see any individual or group being unjustly targeted. In the Baptismal Covenant of our Church, we vow “to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.”
Pride Season, he mentioned, refers to a range of events that take place from June to September. “It is a time that lifts and affirms the resilience and value of 2SLGBTQI+ individuals. Not everyone or every parish in our diocese participates in Pride events, but each of us are called to participate in making a safe, loving space for 2SLGBTQI+ people, and to build meaningful connections with one another.”
The bishop noted that “much of the current anti-2SLGBTQI+ rhetoric in Canada and across the globe is made under the pretext of religion.” He commended to Anglicans and all who read his letter, the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives and its safeguarding principles.
He urged all to read the Commission’s 2020 Declaration, which he has signed, and to take its words to heart:
Declaring the Sanctity of Life and the Dignity of All
- We come together as senior religious leaders, academics, and lay leaders from around the world to affirm the sanctity of life and dignity of all.
- We affirm that all human beings of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions are a precious part of creation and are part of the natural order.
- We affirm that we are all equal under God, whom many call the Divine, and so we are all equal to one another.
- We, therefore, call for all to be treated equally under the law.
- We recognize with sadness that certain religious teachings have often, throughout the ages, caused and continue to cause deep pain and offense to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex.
- We acknowledge, with profound regret, that some of our teachings have created, and continue to create, oppressive systems that fuel intolerance, perpetuate injustice and result in violence. This has led, and continues to lead, to the rejection and alienation of many by their families, their religious groups and cultural communities.
The Rev. Canon Doug Richards, vicar of Christ Church Cathedral, welcomed the letter as “a breath of fresh air.” During his 30 years as a priest in the Anglican Church, Richards said he has encountered bishops who did not want to talk about LGBTQ issues whatsoever. “And I’ve had very supportive bishops who have listened and journeyed with me and helped me along the way, but to have someone to say what Bishop Shane did in this letter publicly really affirmed my faith in the Church that I belong to.”
Richards was among delegates from the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa who travelled to Calgary for the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada in June. They participated in another sign of change within the church, as a large majority voted to approve using gender transition and affirmation liturgies, where authorized by the bishop.
Karen Bryan, a parishioner at St. John’s, Smiths Falls, told Crosstalk that she read the letter with gratitude and pride. “I applaud our bishop’s acknowledgement of religion’s role in the perpetuation of intolerance, violence, and injustice against the 2SLGBTQI+ community.”
Christian Wright, a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle, in Ottawa said they were sincerely appreciative of the letter, especially at a time when they were concerned about other provinces of the Anglican Communion “endorsing heinous and oppressive laws targeting 2SLGBTQ+ people and relationships. In a time when our safety and rights are in a constant state of danger, it is empowering and reassuring to know that one’s church and bishop support and love you and your community.”
In a message to Crosstalk, they added, “Every human being is made in the image of God and beloved by Him. Nobody should ever be abused or oppressed by their government or society. The sanctity of all people, including Queer and transgender lives, is a fundamental principle of our faith found in our baptismal vows as Anglicans and as followers of Christ.”