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Ex-gay group’s charitable status questioned

Exodus's annual returns to Revenue Canada don't mention sexuality

Exodus Global Alliance says the word "homosexual" doesn't appear in its Revenue Canada description because there wasn't enough space. "They provide only a very small field for the kinds of things you can report," says director Bryan Kliewer. Credit: Robin Perelle photo

A grassroots campaign is seeking to revoke the charitable status of the controversial Exodus Global Alliance, a Toronto-based international organization that claims “change is possible for the homosexual through the transforming power of Jesus Christ.”

Slapupsidethehead.com blogger Mark McIntyre spearheaded the campaign last month after discovering that New Zealand’s Charities Commission refused to grant charitable status to Exodus Ministries Trust Board. The commission determined that the New Zealand group did not provide a charitable purpose.

“It is not clear,” the commission concluded, “that providing counselling that seeks to promote a particular point of view (for example that homosexuality is morally wrong) will necessarily provide ‘relief’ to homosexuals and  others with sexual problems.”

Writing about that refusal, McIntyre noted that Exodus Global Alliance has charitable status in Canada. He then began a letter-writing campaign to push Canada Revenue Agency to rescind the group’s charitable status, arguing that the organization doesn’t provide a public benefit.

Canadian law requires a charity to provide a measurable benefit to the public as a whole, or a significant section of it.

“I’m pretty sure Revenue Canada — if they knew what Exodus itself is actually doing — they might have an issue with it,” McIntyre says.

Exodus, which has never been sanctioned, is registered as a religious charity under the category of missionary organizations and propagation of gospel.

The group’s website says 155 million homosexuals need to be reached worldwide and asks, “Is God calling you?”

The group also reaches out to youth through a special section on its website, saying Exodus members have struggled with homosexuality in their teenage years, but “we matured and God has healed many broken areas of our lives and provided for us.”

Exodus Global Alliance’s annual returns to Canada Revenue Agency have never mentioned the group’s main goal: pushing gay people to change their sexuality. In fact, the reports never refer to sexual orientation at all.

For 10 years, the reports have described the organization’s mission in 30 words: “Educating and training in dealing with abuse and family issues. Developing ministries to help families and individuals in pain. Teaching church groups, schools and youth. Helping and teaching at conferences.”

Bryan Kliewer, executive director of Exodus Global Alliance, says the word “homosexual” doesn’t appear in the description because there wasn’t enough space. “They provide only a very small field for the kinds of things you can report,” he says.

He says the description is apt because “our services to people are broader than simply focusing on the issue of homosexuality and change. We’re here to assist people in integrating their sexuality with their faith, learning how to essentially live with sexual integrity, sexual holiness, or perhaps another way of describing it would be godly sexuality.”

Kliewer says the organization’s mission is publicly available and that the group described its activities in its registration with Revenue Canada in 1999.

That 71-page registration says, in part, the group counsels everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, “to encourage and strengthen individuals in their Christian faith and walk with God by maintaining sexual activities within the Biblical model of marriage between a man and a woman.”

McIntyre says Exodus excludes its primary activity from its annual returns “because they have something to hide. They know if they were to come out and say, Our goal is to take something that is not a recognized disorder and to treat it as if it were one — they know that won’t be considered a charitable activity.”

Premee Mohamed, who lives in Edmonton, wrote to three Canada Revenue Agency officials to persuade them to revoke the group’s charitable status.

“The stated purpose of the Exodus Global Alliance is to ‘cure’ homosexuality through prayer,” she wrote. Exodus donors “contribute directly to the damaging, traumatizing and stigmatizing of an already-marginalized group of people…. [The] Canadian government cannot, in good conscience, actively facilitate this funding.”

In an interview, Mohamed says, “I don’t think Exodus is benefiting anybody, not even the people they’re claiming to help.”

Stuart Holtby, a doctor specializing in sleep disorders in Thunder Bay, Ont, is also incensed, telling Xtra via email that the therapies are “useless at best, and frequently harmful.”

He says he’s “annoyed enough to write letters. Annoyed enough to ask my MP to do the right thing. Cynical enough to know that I will never convince a group of dysfunctional bigots that they should keep their prejudices to themselves. What would Jesus do? He wouldn’t do what they do, that is for sure.”

The charitable status provides numerous benefits to Exodus.

The organization doesn’t pay taxes, donors can deduct their contributions on their taxes, and the organization can use the online donation processing service, Canada Helps, one of just two organizations Exodus uses to collect money via its main website, exodusglobalalliance.org, which seeks donations worldwide. (The other is the US organization Network For Good.)

As a non-profit, Exodus also participates in fundraising through goodsearch.com, a Yahoo-powered search engine that contributes about a penny per search to the charity selected via the toolbar. The organization began with the site only last year and has raised just $32 so far this year through GoodSearch, which uses Yahoo’s search technology. But the site says it can bring $73,000 annually to a charity if 10,000 people search twice a day.

The bulk of Exodus’s funds come through donations. Last year, the group raised $58,000 and received an additional $31,000 from another charity. The majority of that money — $46,000 — was spent on professional fees and consulting.

Revenue Canada can revoke the registration of a charity for failing to devote its resources to charitable purposes and activities.

But revocation is a last resort, says Revenue Canada spokesman Philippe Brideau. The agency gives warning letters, issues fines and suspends registration before revoking charitable status. Brideau wouldn’t comment on Exodus in particular.

He says the Charities Act does not define charitable purposes, so Revenue Canada is subject to Canadian common law, which defines it as relief of poverty, advancement of education or religion, or other purposes recognized by courts.

The agency also considers court decisions from other countries, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand, when “establishing policies and guidance or when making the decision to register an organization,” he says. But decisions outside courts, such as a charities commission, would not be considered, he says.

In New Zealand, the Charities Commission said in a detailed, 15-page decision in August that Exodus Ministries Trust Board had no charitable purpose, such as relieving poverty or advancing education or religion.

The commission questioned whether the organization could provide a public benefit, noting that homosexuality is no longer considered a mental disorder, gay sex is legal, civil unions are recognized and discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal.

The commission cited the American Psychological Association and American Medical Association websites, which reject reparative therapy.

Since the Charities Commission began evaluating existing charities and new applicants three years ago, it has denied charitable status to 1,350, less than 5 percent of the 30,000 applicants.

Exodus Ministries did not reply to two phone calls and two emails. Kliewer says the group has no relation to Exodus Global Alliance, whose website lists Exodus Auckland as the only affiliate in New Zealand.

But Exodus Auckland’s answering machine says, “You have reached Exodus Ministries.”

Whether the two groups are affiliated or not doesn’t really matter, McIntyre says.

“It’s clear that from Exodus Global Alliance’s webpage that they’re in the same industry. And they are getting charitable status, and that’s what I have an issue with.”