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Rev. DeVries is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Wingham, Ontario, Canada.

Church Ministers Join Union

Such was a front-page headline of the London, Ontario Free Press on November 6, 2004. The article, by Reporter Patrick Maloney, went on to explain:

Nearly 25 years after Rev. Del Stewart answered the Lord’s call, one of Canada’s biggest unions has answered his. In a North American first, several local United Church ministers—including Stewart of Leamington—have taken a step toward unionizing the clergy, convincing the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) to represent the reverends who claim abuse, insecurity and low wages are rampant in the church.

“Our main concern is abuse of clergy in congregational settings,” said Stewart, who was unable to attend the Toronto meeting with CAW president Buzz Hargrove yesterday because of illness. “We certainly don’t feel we were called by God to be martyrs….”

The CAW, which generally represent automotive workers, airline workers and some miners, agreed yesterday to represent the ministers after about a month of discussions.

Leading the charge was Rev. Jim Evans of Grace United Church in St. Thomas and his wife, Karen Paton-Evans, who met with Hargrove yesterday, along with Hamilton Rev. David Galston. Ministers need support, Paton-Evans said, in conflicts with churchgoers.

“Our clergy need representation by people who are trained in employment rights and can ensure they are protected and upheld,” she said.

Hargrove, who called it “a shock” to be approached by the clergy last month, said a strike is unlikely and collective bargaining can solve the ministers’ problems.

Although his three years in Leamington have been stress-free, Stewart admitted yesterday he has encountered much trouble throughout his career.

“Life was made extraordinarily difficult by a small minority of people… in at least one other church,” he said, adding the United Church of Canada’s 30 provisions to protect clergy “just aren’t working.”

“In unity, there is strength. (Unionizing) would allow us to have some strength together to put an end to this sort of thing.”

Money is also a concern, Stewart added.

With an annual salary cap reportedly at $38,000, ministers hope to secure a higher wage as reward for the years of training it takes to become a minister.

“None of us became ministers expecting to grow rich, but none of us took a vow of poverty,” he said.

Nearly 20 per cent of United Church clergy in Ontario are on stress leave, CAW Representative, Jim Pare said yesterday, noting his union is proud to be part of the groundbreaking agreement.

As an example of the clergy’s problems, Pare noted in some congregations up to 20 people have keys to the minister’s home—in some cases, it’s people they don’t even know.

“It’s a group of people who have many similar issues to other workers: health and safety, having a voice and how discipline is dealt with. We think they have the right to join the union.”

About 60 Ontario and West Coast clergy are involved in this original effort, and Paton-Evans said the next step is getting the other 4,000 ministers in Canada’s biggest Protestant denomination to sign union cards. Some ministers have already signed.

How sad, no, how shameful, that such should be done, whether there are legitimate grievances or not! What awful blindness when ministers see not the vile corruption of unionism and would desire to place themselves under its dominion! What shame it brings upon the church, as those observing mock. Columnist Bill Brady responds in The London Free Press on December 2, 2004:

Ever since that un-religious bombshell was dropped by a few disgruntled United Church ministers, I keep seeing in my mind, this surreal image: Wearing robes, academic hoods and clerical collars, we see a coterie of clergy, but they’re not carrying the new hymnal, Voices United, or copies of the Revised Standard Version, they’re carrying signs.

They read “Thou shall not scab,” “Oh ye of bad faith bargaining” and “Give us this day our daily bread plus 25% over three years with enhanced benefits.”

A fantasy surely, yet it looms as a remote possibility now that an almost unthinkable notion has surfaced. It all began a few weeks ago, when a number of stressed-out United Church of Canada ministers decided to put their faith in the Canadian Auto Workers as they make a bid to unionize their church’s clergy.

At first maybe CAW president Buzz Hargrove was amused at the prospect of gathering unto himself a pack of parsons, but he must have quickly decided only good could come from this, for him at least. He who would gleefully organize street urchins had they the ability to cough up the dues, has found an intriguing new opportunity, what the CAW says could be a first for North America….

Most ministers, I think, try to honour the scriptural direction about tithing 10 per cent of their income, and to the devout it’s not negotiable.

Given the meager salaries some preachers are paid by their congregations, what they don’t need is the added expense of union dues….

I hope in their first contract they don’t insist on this—no Sunday work.

I have for some time been dismayed that many churches, also Reformed churches, are adopting a more business/corporate style in their dealings with ministers, rather than a spiritual/biblical approach. That has been evident in the whole area of obtaining a minister—advertising, surveys requested, résumés submitted, and the like. But this has got to be the ultimate step in the direction of the “business model”—a union-organizing drive by ministers, gaining representation by the Canadian Auto Workers Union!

How thankful we must be for the Church Order of Dordt, which we hold precious, and for the spiritual attitudes and procedures followed in our PRC. How thankful we must be for the high regard we have for the office of the ministry of the Word. May our councils, as well as our congregations, ever be mindful to supply the needs, both material and spiritual, of the pastor. “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:15).

Green Light For Same-sex Marriage

In a long-awaited, not unexpected decision, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled on December 9, 2004 that the government has the right to legalize same-sex marriage. Sue Bailey reports in the December 10, 2004 London, Ontario Free Press:

The Liberals will move swiftly to legalize gay weddings across the country now that the top court has endorsed a draft bill that would revolutionize marriage.

Canada would join the vanguard of nations supporting same-sex unions if legislation to be introduced early in 2005 is passed.

Only Belgium and the Netherlands have allowed gays to wed. Voters in 11 U.S. states recently vetoed the idea, making Massachusetts the only American jurisdiction to permit it.

The Supreme Court of Canada said yesterday that Ottawa has sole authority to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, but that religious officials can’t be forced to perform weddings against their beliefs.

Prime Minister Paul Martin called that a green light to press on with a bill that has sowed bitter division among his MPs and voters in general….

Polls suggest just over half of Canadians support gay marriage. 

Major news networks in the United States and Britain played the story, an indication of how divisive the issue is in other countries as well.

The high court stressed in its landmark advisory opinion that religious officials cannot be forced to perform unions against their beliefs.

But it refused to say whether the traditional definition of marriage—between one man and one woman—violates equality rights.

It pointedly noted that the federal government has already accepted lower court judgments that exclusion of gays is discriminatory.

It would be “inappropriate” for the court to answer that question after Ottawa waived its right to appeal those rulings, said the high court.

Moreover, more than 3,000 gay couples have wed in six provinces and the Yukon.

“The parties to previous litigation have relied upon the finality of their judgments and have acquired rights which … are entitled to protection,” said the court.

Times have changed, it suggests.

“Several centuries ago, it would have been understood that marriage should be available only to opposite-sex couples.

“The recognition of same-sex marriage in several Canadian jurisdictions as well as two European countries belies the assertion that the same is true today….”

The court’s landmark opinion signals the final stage of a long, bitter fight over whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. …

The high court’s opinion is not legally binding, but its political aftershocks will reverberate across Canada….”

“Times have changed,” suggests the Supreme Court of Canada. The high Court of Canada obviously sees marriage as a purely human institution, undoubtedly conceived of by a few mentally challenged cavemen around a flickering fire. As Prof. David Engelsma rightly asserts in his book, Marriage—The Mystery of Christ and the Church, “Naturally, if marriage is a man-made institution, man may also do with that institution what he pleases. He may twist it and turn it to please himself and to suit his every whim and fancy. He may have mistresses. He may divorce for any reason and remarry…. If marriage is man’s institution, man may overturn the institution. He may abolish it altogether if he pleases.” The Professor might well add, “He may, as a man, marry a man; or she, as a woman, marry a woman.”

As far as the motivation for this change in the traditional definition of marriage is concerned, it appears increasingly that the goal is not so much marriage itself, but an increased social approval of homosexuality. Since the Supreme Court of Canada decision the media has bombarded the reading and viewing public with nauseating displays of homosexual affection, marriage proposals, etc.

But, yes, this will only serve to undermine the institution of marriage. Looking abroad, such is the case in Scandinavia, where same-sex marriage or its equivalent has been legal for several years. Stanley Kurtz, writing for The Weekly Standard, asserts, “…it (same-sex marriage) has further undermined the institution…. Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable.”

May God give us grace to maintain, and to teach our children, that marriage is an ordinance of God, a creation ordinance, for all time and for all peoples.

The London Free Press referred to “political aftershocks” of this Court decision—if anything an understatement. The struggle is not finished. We can expect raucous debate in the Canadian Parliament. And Canada has its own religious right, though it pales in comparison to that in the United States. Without a doubt, in the United States the story is far from finished, even with the reelection of President George W. Bush. There will be many bitter court battles, and the ultimate outcome remains to be seen.

What we do know is that the cup of iniquity is rapidly filling. May our prayer be, “Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly!”