A new pentecostal church in Kelowna faced online criticism when their anti-gay and anti-trans doctrine was exposed. The Praxis Church's Instagram account lit up with a flood of rainbow and heart emojis. Pastor Joshua Dool responded with a video message saying that they were receiving hate messages, and really they "just love and welcome everyone" and referred to this as simply a disagreement between people that sitting down and talking could resolve.
What stirred the pot was this statement on the church website: "We do not condone same-sex marriage or homosexual lifestyles. Additionally, we believe that God has created men and women as two distinct sexual beings. Any discrepancy between one[']s biological sex, and gender identity is due to the effects of sin in the world."
Predictably, there were lots of people defending the church while justifying the homophobia and transphobia. One commenter wrote, "While they are at it, maybe head down to the Mormon church, calvary chapel, trinity Baptist and several other churches that think the same way. People have known this fact for 2000 years or more who care what people believe or what book they follow. If you have a problem with it, no one's forcing you?"
There are a few problems with the above statement. There are dozens upon dozens of churches in the Okanagan. A minuscule percentage are fully accepting of the queer community. The majority are either openly or quietly homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic. So, why is this a problem, and why should we care?
The Christian "love" this particular doctrine is dressed with disguises the agenda behind it to erase and delegitimize the lives of anyone queer.
The "no one's forcing you" comment is also deeply questionable. We're in the midst of a debate over conversion therapy in this country, and it is predominantly youth who don't have a say that are impacted.
We encounter the thousands of people who attend these churches and support this doctrine daily. We work with them, we are served by them in stores and restaurants, they are our elected politicians, they are in our family circles, and our children go to school with their children. Many of these same people will not openly acknowledge our same-sex relationships or marriages, gender-confirming events, or celebrate other important life events with us because of this doctrine. When we're around them, that part of our life must remain in the closet.
This same doctrine leaches into the public psyche in the form of hatred, hostility and victimization of the queer community manifested in online hate and physical violence. We rarely see gay couples holding hands in public or showing any kind of public affection. It's not safe to do so. Any visible signs of being queer will at minimum elicit "stop shoving it down our throats."
One commenter on the Praxis Church Instagram summed it up best, "God forbid we try to shut down passive hate like saying our "lifestyle" is a "violation." Teaching young children, it's not okay to love who you love. You say outright you don't accept us, but we are welcome??" They go on to say, "This "disagreement" is built on centuries of hate, so it's pretty safe for us to assume this is hate, and even if it isn't directly, this is where it starts… Most of us are just trying to peacefully make ourselves visible. We aren't hiding anymore."
We can try covering our ears to the message, but we're surrounded by it.
Wilbur Turner (he/him) is the founder of Advocacy Canada, an organization dedicated to unifying and amplifying 2S-LGBTQIA+ voices on important advocacy issues. He identifies as gay and queer, lives in Kelowna on the unceded traditional land of the Syilx peoples and contributes on many levels to 2S-LGBTQIA+ rights, both locally and internationally.