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Harper’s Israel delegation off-message

Anti-gay comments make headlines as PM preaches 'liberty' and human rights

Reverend Shawn Ketcheson, senior pastor at the Trinity Bible Church of Ottawa, is travelling with Stephen Harper in Israel. Credit: YouTube

You can dress ’em up and you can take ’em anywhere. Even Israel.

There’s some forehead slapping going on after it was revealed that three members of Stephen Harper’s Middle East delegation have some not-so-nice views of the gays.

In a slew of homophobic comments on his church's website, one of the more vocal of the trio, Reverend Shawn Ketcheson, senior pastor at the Trinity Bible Church of Ottawa, puts himself strongly on the biblical literalist side of the fence.

That would just be an unremarkable fact of life, except Ketcheson is hanging out with the prime minister as he tours the Holy Land — well, with Harper and some 200 others.

Ketcheson is part of the extended delegation of various religious and business figures who have been dragged along as Harper cozies up to the Israeli government.

In one sermon from 2011, Ketcheson went on a particularly inspired tear against homosexuals. “God gives you up if you so choose, to your sexual perversions and your sexual impurities,” he says, then pauses. “That okay? You know what I mean by that?” (Everyone, evidently, does.) “Here’s what I mean by that: we live in a world that is sexually perverse.”

But far from just singling out every social conservative’s favourite dead horse, Ketcheson rails against perversion in the Catholic Church, pre-marital sex and adultery. Then he gets to the gays.

Even though he’s hanging out with Canada’s leader, Ketcheson’s travel, unlike Harper’s core delegation, isn’t being paid for by Canadian taxpayers.

Though the pastor does link homosexuality to “sexual perversion” several times in a 2009 blog posted on the church’s website, he is nice enough to include gay people in a list of things that God does love — including “conservative people and liberal people, Muslims, atheists, new age people . . . Asian people, Hispanic people, Caucasian people, African American people, gay people, old people.”

But before you think he’s being too friendly, Ketcheson also wrote a 2011 note lamenting Ontario’s plans to include sexual diversity in its education curriculum.

He writes, “traditionally-principled communities had the controversial Health curriculum removed from the government websites,” but, alas, “nothing has changed because the Ministry of Education . . . mandates all curricula (not just health) . . . be revised (by the teacher if necessary) to be LGBT inclusive and affirming.”

Shucks.

Though Ketcheson notes that parents can simply ask to have their children removed from those classes so they won't be “exposed to information that will lead to confusion about what is right or wrong for them.”

Ketcheson might have some ideological cohorts on the Israel trip: Don Simmonds, with Christian Crossroads Communications, a biblical literalist, and author Rabbi Reuven Bulka, an Order of Canada recipient who once worked with NARTH (the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), are also on the trip.

“In a delegation of this size you will always find different views, including views you do not agree with,” Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, told The Globe and Mail. “Members of the accompanying delegation do not speak for the government of Canada.”

In a speech to the Israeli Knesset on Jan 20, Harper lauded Israel’s respect for human rights.

But, he warned, they are constantly under threat.

“And what threatens them?” he asked rhetorically. “Those who scorn modernity, who loathe the liberty of others and who hold the differences of peoples and cultures in contempt.”

Huh. Food for thought.