From Child Killing to Union Busting: Business as Usual in the United Church of Canada by Kevin D. Annett

Janet McDonald (the United Church staffer) went into a rage … I asked if she was threatening us and she said, “I’ll do more than threaten you” and she came at me with a closed fist ready to strike me in the head. I suppose this is the Christian thing to do. She then grabbed our 10 x 10 shade tent and threw it out onto the road where it broke.

- striking CUPE union member, United Church Naramata Centre, Kelowna, September 28, 2014

The place bears what once was a fond memory for me: that sunny May afternoon at the Naramata Centre, back in 1990, when I was ordained into the ranks of complicity as a United Church clergyman. The place is really beautiful, as befits a hang out for comfy and chubby church goers: serene parkland on the shores of lovely Lake Okanagan, far away from aboriginal lawsuits, mass graves of brown kids and bad vibes. But things aren’t especially lovely these days for the union members who work at the Naramata Centre, who’ve been locked out by the officially “justice loving” United Church of Canada because of the latter’s desire to cut costs by contracting out their jobs.

Big surprise, really. Bud Phillips, the Principal of my old alma mater, the United Church-funded Vancouver School of Theology, once did a similar number when he sacked two long-serving secretaries at the school just to free up the bucks needed to renovate his private residence next door. The prerogatives of power, I suppose.

So when a union member at Naramata dropped me an email some weeks ago describing the attacks being made on them by the same United Church, I remember writing back in probably too glib a tone “hell, once a big corporation like them routinely slaughters Indian children and sells them off to rapists to make a buck, the sky’s the limit in their crime department!”

No surprise, indeed. The United Church seems to love unions outside their august body, but not inside it. In opposing a unionizing drive among their clergy during 2006, former United Church Moderator Jim Sinclair said to the press,

“Unions just aren’t a fit with us … Unions in the church would suggest a lack of faith and good will”.

Right, Jim. Like the kind of good will demonstrated by Janet “I’ll do more than threaten you” MacDonald up at Naramata?

In truth, the only thing that surprised me about this latest mask-slipping performance by the United Church is how their usually adept public relations team was not quickly on the scene in Naramata to gloss over their bullshit with their usual P.C. Verbiage and Lying Machine. After all, the church spin doctors were able to brilliantly conceal those thousands of slaughtered residential school kids with such aplomb that the UCC actually came out smelling like a bed of roses. Ergo, one would think that slam dunking a few pesky workers asking for their jobs would be relatively easy.

But here’s the thing: big churches are run by thick-skinned and snobby bureaucrats who aren’t used to being defied, and so overt protest and opposition tends to confuse them, at first. I learned that quickly, not only on my way down the disposal chute within the United Church, but at the head of church occupations and Vatican protests over the years. So the Gnomes of Etobicoke in their plush church offices must have just not got it when their workers out here in Lotus Land told them their jobs were more important than church plans to cut costs.

It doesn’t help the men and women who scrub the pots and tend the yards at the Naramata Centre when the government and courts have allowed the United Church and other “god corporations” to get away with crimes and treat their own employees like garbage. In 1994, it was proven in the Ontario Supreme Court that senior management at the United Church’s Fred Victor Mission in Toronto were firing staff without cause, dealing drugs, laundering money, ignoring the landlord-tenant act and threatening anyone who opened their mouth. But the judge threw out the case and even threatened the plaintiffs for “suing a religious body”. I suppose he was a dues paying church member.

Recent years, fortunately, have brought to light many of the church’s dirty secrets, and so with all that exposure of church wrong doing, the political climate may be shifting. The Labor Relations Board in B.C. recently agreed with CUPE, the union representing the Naramata workers, that the United Church is not bargaining in good faith. But ultimately, even such a ruling won’t guarantee those workers their jobs.

The latter have been making the same mistake I and countless aboriginal torture victims made by appealing to the erstwhile “conscience” and “religious sentiments” of United Church officials. The what? As a street buddy of mine so aptly puts it, “Morality to a bureaucrat is like a stop sign at the Indy 500”. Forget it, people. There’s but one thing the United Church honchos appreciate, and that’s a financial ledger. 50,000 dead children can’t be wrong.

But all that said, all is not lost for the handful of Naramata Centre workers who are dodging the cold, indifference and assaults by church officials to hold on to their livelihoods. The union is hoping to broaden their campaign by asking rank and file United Church members to “pressure” their leaders to put their justice-rhetoric into practice in their own backyard: always a costly and a risky proposition, of course, and no-one hates risk and controversy more than a Canadian christian.

In truth, what will bring the church to the bargaining table is not talk but a blow to their collection plate loot. Trust me, I know. So how about it, people? Why not imitate that original Galillean trouble maker and grab next week’s offerings from your local United Church and withhold them until justice flows down, even in the United Church of Canada?

It is a convicted criminal organization, after all.



The United Church of Canada is Insane, and other Spiritual Reflections by Kevin D. Annett

Author’s Warning: This is Not a Joke – Transgender Day of Remembrance is Proclaimed by Convicted Criminal Body

It’s one of those compensations of a moral universe that anyone who gets away with a crime eventually goes mad from doing so; and the bigger the atrocity, the crazier they become. Ask Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler, or Joe Stalin.

Or Gary Paterson.

Gary who?

Unless you’ve been avoiding the internet and television for the past few weeks, you can’t have missed Gary Paterson, the immoderate Moderator of the United (or was that Untied?) Church of Canada, who just announced that all good church members should honor transgender people in a special day of remembrance. Why? Because two such people were killed in Canada last year, ostensibly because of their sexual identity.

Since neither of these victims was aboriginal, gentle readers, fear not: this unusual gush of public empathy coming out of the church’s head office is not a sign that Paterson and company have changed their spots and begun to do justice to its own massive crop of little dead Indians. On the contrary: Gary Paterson’s latest grandstanding gesture is just one more deliberate and especially nauseating distraction from the fact that his church never has and never will atone for its mass murder of thousands of residential school children. Instead, well, let’s all remember, I don’t know, how about cross dressers?

Gary, you’re crazy. And so are all the other idiots in your General Council. But then living in Toronto can make anyone go soft in the head.

Of course, Gary, the signs of your mental collapse have been percolating for some years now. Remember that Sunday morning in 2008 when you started screaming at the small group of impoverished Indians who picketed your own St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church in Vancouver, asking for the return of the bones of their relatives that your church tortured to death and buried in secret? I recall that you yelled at the Indians to “get a life”.

A guilty conscience will blow our cool like that, Gary. I get that. For nobody who stays for long in your churches can avoid the stare of those countless little brown corpses without going nuts. Ask one of your fellow child traffickers in the so-called Twelve Mile Club, Archbishop Raymond Roussin. Poor Ray has a nervous breakdown after residential school survivors started occupying his Holy Rosary Cathedral around the same time they hit your own cozy church in the suburbs. I guess Ray couldn’t cope with all of those dead children as well as you’ve been able to, Gary.

Anyway, decency aside – and I learned long ago the pointlessness of arguing morality with a psychopath – one wonders why the collective absurdity calling itself the United Church is lending itself to such increasingly bizarre and membership-shrinking gestures as the latest stunt emanating from the twisted gray matter of Gary Paterson. Besides, solidarity with cross dressers is not exactly a slogan to win much credibility or kudos in any department. None of the trannies I’ve known have ever seemed that much in need of remembrance. Unlike slaughtered children.

But none of that seems to matter much down at United Church headquarters these days. Gary Paterson and company are much too busy gloating over how well they’ve outsmarted fate again, not noticing as their house of cards collapses all around them.

It’s all so familiar. I heard about this same drama, once, in a story shared with me when I was nine years old, in a United Church Sunday school class. Something about the search by God for even one honest soul who could redeem the condemned and fallen cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Latest Pin Pricks by The Irreverend Kevin Annett

Dear humanity,

You’re all crazy.  Trust me: I’ve worked on psych wards and in churches. I can spot all the signs.

You’ll undoubtedly notice with some chagrin that I said You are all crazy. Correct. I leave myself out of this particular equation.

Let me clarify. Maybe I shouldn’t  have called you all crazy. It’s more subtle, this malaise.

Back on Ward Two West, where I did most of my shifts, the patients and the staff seemed to be swapping roles all the time, so much so that I stopped doing case notes every shift since I didn’t know who was who after awhile. Instead, I spent my hours watching everyone, carefully.

The young kid on the ward who’d swallowed a can of turpentine and spent two nights crapping out his burned up intestines before he died in agony spent only an hour or two with us, on his way down to the ICU, since the head nurse who sternly scratched away in her log without ever looking into another set of human eyes considered the kid not self-preoccupied enough to qualify for a garden variety schizophrenic. She wanted to study him before he kicked.

Back at St. Andrew’s United Church, at the secret meeting of my friends and colleagues where I and my job and family were deemed suddenly expendable, several of the church ladies in attendance that night who’d voted for my expulsion made a point of hugging me at my last service among them the following Sunday and told me that they were praying for me, without telling me what they were praying for.

What all of you allow yourselves to live alongside every day is enough to demonstrate with cosmic precision your exact substance – the nature of anything, as old Aristotle pointed out, always and only being shown not by what that thing says, but what it does. And knowing your two natures as eros and thanatos, each of the same potency and inescapability, what can you all do but go as mad as our friends the turpentine tippler and the head nurse and the church ladies. And so rather than being thus merely crazy, which is too simple and genuine, you have all opted for something much more discreet and deadly, and hence, cloaked from your sight. From the sight of all of you.

But I see it.

Is it Nothing to You? A Message from Bingo Dawson and all the other Fallen

I hadn’t walked the desperate streets of Vancouver’s downtown east side for months, until yesterday. Nothing has changed there, besides the absence of many familiar faces. Like any battlefield, the death rate is always high along East Hastings street, and my friends there have always been in the ranks of the most vulnerable.

I first arrived in the neighborhood in the fall of 1985, just before I entered seminary and began working as Outreach Director at First United Church. Thirty years and countless lessons later, the war continues, summed up, perhaps, by the inscription on the nearby World War Two Cenotaph that asks an indifferent city,

“Is it Nothing to You?”

The rain was falling yesterday when I disembarked on Main street, and glanced fondly over at the corner where Bingo Dawson always sat during the years before three Vancouver city cops beat him to death in an alley a block away.

Bingo knew everyone, and in his calm manner used to adopt the younger and more vulnerable homeless kids into his extended street family, watching out for them and passing them whatever food he had. Some of them stood beside Bingo and the rest of us that spring morning in 2009 when we tried occupying St. James Anglican Church on Gore street, asking in our naivete for the killers to tell us where they’d buried so many little brown children.

Bingo and his buddy Frank had held our banner that day – “All the Children Need a Proper Burial” – and together, they had eluded the church security goon before he slammed the church door on us, slipping into the sanctuary and displaying the banner to a shocked pew crowd and angry bunch of priests. We heard all hell breaking loose inside the church, and we yelled to be let in and for our friends to be let out. And eventually Frank and Bingo did emerge from the church, two smiling coup-counters, laughing and holding up the banner to our cheers and applause.

The cops were there by then, in their lumbering and stupid manner, and they “warned” us not to try “disrupting” the church service ever again: to which Bingo had replied with an uncharacteristic severity,

“We’ll stop doing it when they give us our dead children back!”

The cops had no answer to that, and we marched away from them with that rare kind of joy and fulfillment known by those who have lost their fear, back to the Sweet Grass Centre for soup and bannock.

After the police had killed Bingo, having said to his face (and I heard it) “Shit disturbers like you end up going missing”, we held his memorial service outside that scene of his victory, on the steps of St. James Anglican, and we all spoke of the Bingo we had known, and what he had died for.

Frank was in tears that day, but he managed to tell us how Bingo had stood bravely against the priests who had tried grabbing our banner from them after they’d displayed it to the congregation, years before.

“You may be praying today, okay, but now hear my prayer!” Bingo had yelled to the church goers, as from the Great Spirit. “Give us back our children! And arrest those who killed them!”

And recalling that day, Frank had then turned to the cops who surrounded our funeral procession, and he cried out to them,

“How can you be part of this? You killed my brother Bingo! Even if you didn’t do it yourself, you know who killed him! And you stand here and treat us like we’re the criminals! You’ve got to do the right thing!”

I never saw Frank again, after the funeral. Nor have I come across any of the dozens of people who had once rallied and risked and eaten together when against every conceivable odd we forced Canada to face its own genocide.

Tears came to me yesterday, like the rain, when I stood on Bingo’s corner and touched the wall where, briefly, some anonymous fellow mourner had scrawled,

“Bingo: friend forever, in earth and heaven”

I touched the wall, now as wiped clean of those final words to Bingo as is Canada’s memory of its own crimes. And from somewhere, unasked, I heard Bingo’s voice in that heart of mine that doesn’t seem capable of breaking anymore. And he said to me,

“Kev, did I die for nothing?”

The dead, unlike the living, require only the truth, since neither Bingo nor the 50,000 children he died for care that much about our fears and rationalizations and vested interests. So in that truth, I had to answer him,

“Yes, brother. You died for nothing. Because all of the crime carries on, and on”

Bingo could have lived with that answer, for it is the truth: and being the truth, cuts through our lives and lies like the sword of God that the prophet Ezekiel says that once drawn, can never again be sheathed. And that same implacable sword has separated me, and perhaps you, from our old lives, as completely as it did Bingo, when it chose him to bear that special burden.

Bingo Dawson died for nothing, as this world measures things. Children are still traded like bottles all over Vancouver. No-one has ever gone to jail for the murder of an Indian residential school child, or for Bingo’s own murder, nor will they ever, in what we know as “Canada”.

And yet, those who are struck down in their innocence are always restless, and like the truth seek to break into all the sanctuaries of evil and bring them crashing down, the way Bingo did. But to make the promise real, first the lost, like the truth, must find a worthy soul to inhabit.

Is it nothing to you? Or perhaps, everything? And if so, then what will you do, now?