Pastor Stewart MacKenzie of the Saanich’s City Light Church of Victoria in the 500 block of Obed Avenue did not say why it hosted a controversial anti-SOGI speaker and whether the church agrees with Smith’s views. (Black Press File).

Saanich appearance and protest of anti-SOGI speaker an exercise in free speech, says pastor

Pastor says he is ‘grateful’ both sides of debates could ‘freely speak’

A pastor whose Saanich church hosted a controversial speaker opposed to contemporary sex education framed the event as an exercise in free speech and learning, a position not shared by others, who responded.

City Light Church of Victoria on Obed Avenue Sunday hosted Jenn Smith, who has been touring the province in opposition to the provincial Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) 123 program. Accepted in all provincial school districts, it assists in helping educators build inclusive environments for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Smith identifies as transgender, but believes the SOGI 123 program includes anti-Christian values. Smith’s last appearance in the area in early May drew hundreds of protesters and Oak Bay police shut down the event. Sunday’s appearance in Saanich was less confrontational but still drew some 50 opponents of Smith.

It also raises a series of questions, including why the church hosted Smith, whether the church agrees with Smith’s agenda, and whether the church would welcome members of the LGBTQsS community, no small question in light of Saanich’s current review of permissive tax exemptions.

RELATED: Saanich church hosts anti-SOGI rally, drawing pro-SOGI protests

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Pastor Stewart MacKenzie did not directly answer these and other questions in responding to the Saanich News through an email, which re-stated a message that left on the church’s Facebook page.

“This may not answer all of your questions but it helps I trust,” he said.

The statement itself does not comment on the views of Smith, nor does it take exception with the views of those who protested Smith. It instead describes the evening as an occasion for two opposing camps to exchange views, something worth celebrating in MacKenzie’s view.

“I am so thankful for Canada, our country, with it’s generous freedoms where you can have a differing opinion, a different lifestyle, and you can freely speak your mind,” he said. “This was fully on display Sunday night and I’m grateful for all the expressions of those that shared, inside the building and outside. Without that we don’t have a Canada like the one we know and love.”

But MacKenzie’s answer nonetheless appears illustrative in revealing that at least parts of the church appear to have been comfortable with hosting Smith, a sentiment not universally shared by his own admission.

“Although some of you have expressed that in your opinion it was wrong for us to host this talk on the Erosion of Freedom, others have posted in favor and with thanks for the opportunity it gave them,” said MacKenzie. “Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is it fair for any one of us to decide that? Each side voicing their opinion and having a discussion is never a bad thing in my experience, it’s how we learn and grow.”

(By way of background, critics of Smith have accused him of transphobia and ties to neo-fascist groups).

MacKenzie then said one of the ways in which the church serves the community is by hosting groups “like Scottish dancers, Girl Guides, Alcoholics Anonymous, and our Neighborhood Watch meetings, to name a few. So my hope is it that we would please keep loving and serving each other and letting conversation happen about the many challenging topics in our society. We hope to continue to do our small part to help.”

Based on the statement, it is not clear whether the church would host Smith again to that end, or whether it would reach out to members of the LGBTQsS community to present a different perspective.

“As you know, a church is a biblical community of those that have chosen to follow Jesus and his ways, by reading and studying scripture, by meeting for worship, and by serving each other and our community,” he said. “Our savior, Jesus, has called us to love all people, including our enemies, and especially our neighbors. Our main task is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as [ourselves]. Jesus died and gave his life for us to have the strength and power to do that.”

A reading of the church’s Facebook page finds some level of support for MacKenzie. “Very well put, [I] wish for other people to respect what seems to be a very well thought out decision and support for [Canada], it’s a great place because of people just like you,” wrote Ryan Elson.

This said, MacKenzie also received considerable push-back from posters. “Is that the same line of justification a church would use for hosting the KKK? There is nothing morally right, Christian or godly in facilitating the spread of misinformed hate against any group,” wrote Constance Carrière-Prill.

“You used your place of worship as a weapon to potentially incite hatred based on gender identity and you are hiding behind that to support this narrative that this is a conversation about differences of opinion,” wrote Jay Ayr. “Common decency and human rights aren’t a difference of opinion.”

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