OTTAWA, Feb. 12, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Canada’s Conservative government is defending its grant to a Christian organization working to improve water access in Uganda after a media report on Sunday called for its defunding because of its Christian beliefs on sexuality.
International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino had called for a review of the $544,813 grant to Crossroads Communications Inc. after The Canadian Press reported that the evangelical organization’s website included a statement labeling homosexuality a “perversion” and a “sin.” The review, he said, would happen “before further payments are made.”
The news prompted concern from pro-family advocates who warned the move risked sidelining the Christian voice in the public square, but Minister Fantino’s office contacted LifeSiteNews Monday night to say that the review was complete and Crossroads’ funding would remain in place.
Minister Fantino defends the grant
Meagan Murdoch, a spokeswoman for Fantino, told LifeSiteNews that Crossroads’ funding had not been halted. “It was simply a review … to confirm that the funds that the government had given them were still being spent on the water project,” she explained. “We just wanted to double check everything was in accordance with the agreement.”
In an e-mail Monday night, a spokeswoman for the Canadian International Development Agency confirmed that the grant remains in place after the review found Crossroads’ project complies with the funding agreement.
“CIDA evaluates projects based on merit, and flows funding based on effectiveness,” said Amy Mills. “Funding decisions are not made on the basis of an organization’s religious affiliation.”
The New Democrats, Canada’s official Opposition, challenged Fantino on the grant during Question Period on Monday.
“How did Crossroads, an anti-gay organization, get sign-off from the minister to operate in a country that Canada has strongly criticized for its persecution of its gay citizens?” asked Hélène Laverdière (Laurier-Sainte-Marie), the NDP's International Cooperation critic.
In response, Fantino said, “We fund results-based projects, not organizations, and projects are delivered without religious content, including this particular project.”
Crossroads ‘delighted’ to continue serving Ugandans
In its report on Sunday, The Canadian Press said they found a page on Crossroads’ website urging users to “repent” of sexual sins that misuse the “true purpose” of sexual intercourse, including homosexuality. The news agency charged that the federal government is funding a so-called “anti-gay” group in Uganda while at the same time ardently opposing a proposed Ugandan law that would institute harsher punishments for same-sex relations.
But Crossroads, in a statement sent to LifeSiteNews Monday night, insisted they are “not anti-gay” and are committed to “lov[ing] people unconditionally,” while also affirming their belief that “God’s blueprint encourages sexuality within a marriage.” They said they “welcomed” the CIDA review as part of government efforts to ensure accountability.
Speaking to LifeSiteNews Tuesday morning after learning the grant would continue, Lara Dewar Laurie, Crossroads’ Chief Corporate Services Officer, said they were “delighted.”
“We enjoy a really positive working relationship with CIDA and we’re inclined to do what it takes – save of course giving up on any of our principles, which we’ve not been asked to do,” she said. “The work that’s being done is incredibly important – people deserve clean drinking water and we’re delighted that there will be no delay in getting that to them.”
The organization, which is famous for its Christian television station, has run development projects overseas for over 30 years, distributing over $35,000,000 in relief funds in 41 countries. They have partnered with CIDA for ten years, receiving $2,664,000 during that time.
In their statement, the organization also said they are not involved in lobbying in Uganda, and in fact support the Canadian government’s opposition to criminalizing homosexuality. “Crossroads provides aid based solely on human need and does not discriminate, nor does Crossroads attempt to influence or lobby foreign governments or policies,” they said.
Dewar Laurie told LifeSiteNews they had intended to remove the webpage on “sexual sins” several months ago and have now done so, but insisted that their commitment to Biblical doctrine on sexuality remains firm.
“Our particular views on Biblically the treatment of sexuality has not changed and will not change, but we believe that it was outdated in tone and message,” she explained. “Culturally in the last five to ten years we’ve seen a very different dialogue shaped around same-sex attraction and many other things in culture and we always want to make sure that those resources are not hurtful.”
Pro-family leaders react
Don Hutchinson, vice president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, told LifeSiteNews the government’s decision to continue the grant is “entirely appropriate,” noting that Canada is a “free and democratic society where people are not disqualified from participating in relationship with the government because of religious beliefs.”
“I’m quite sure that the original reasons for providing the grant to Crossroads are still being satisfied and that those who are impoverished and in need of fresh water and latrines and training in proper hygiene in Uganda will be the beneficiaries as a result,” he said.
Andrea Mrozek, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, said she did not see a need for a “specific review” of Crossroads’ work.
“Have people ever seen their programming? These are people who wouldn’t know how to hate if you paid them good money to try,” she said. “If we are coming to a place where people who have a traditional view of sexuality apparently can’t do unrelated development work, then that’s a very dangerous place to be.”
On Monday, Joseph C. Ben-Ami, president of the Meighen Institute, had criticized Fantino’s decision to review the grant because, he said, Crossroads’ views on homosexuality “couldn’t be less relevant” to its work in Uganda. After learning on Tuesday that the grant would continue, he said his concerns still apply.
“The allegation of impropriety was absurd at face value and ought to have been dismissed outright,” he said. “The fact that his office even conducted some sort of ‘review’ ought to offend all practicing Christians, regardless of their political affiliation. [Would] a group made up of pro-abortionists [who] were involved in food distribution be subjected to the same – or any – scrutiny in similar circumstances? I think not.”
“The real problem here, however, is not the government, but the media that ran the story in the first place. It betrayed either a deep ambivalence toward Christian organisations, or a profound ignorance, and ought not to have been run,” he added.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Hon. Julian Fantino, Minister of International Cooperation