Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a response from Journey Canada spokesperson Graeme Lauber.
A Christian retreat planned for later this summer has been scrapped after severe criticism from the LGBTQ2 community.
Vancouver-based Christian group, Journey Canada, had advertised a retreat at Villa Madonna Retreat House which its website says would have been focused on healing the “relationally and sexually broken.”
The Villa Madonna Retreat House is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Saint John.
But some members of the local LGBTQ2 community were outraged by the retreat, claiming Journey Canada was engaging in what it called conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is the controversial practice of trying to influence change in a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual to bisexual or heterosexual using psychology or religious or spiritual intervention.
Graeme Lauber, a spokesperson for Journey Canada, denies any such claim saying the organization has never made changing someone’s sexual orientation one of its goals.
“We’ve never insisted that people change their sexual orientation. If people are looking for help, they can come to us and we’ll provide a safe and supportive environment.”
St. Thomas University sociology professor Erin Fredericks organized a protest against the retreat, which she says could have increased the risk to participants from certain types of mental illness.
“There’s an increased risk of self-harm, and the lasting effects of being put through one of these treatment programs can include other mental illnesses like anxiety and PTSD,” Fredericks noted.
The diocese quietly cancelled the event on Wednesday, a decision which Fredericks applauds
“We hoped from the beginning this was an oversight. Villa Madonna hosts a number of events by different organizations. It’s quite possible that they weren’t aware of the controversy around Journey Canada when they booked this event.”
Judith Meinert’s son revealed he was gay 36 years ago at the age of 17, changing her views on homosexuality. She’s now an LGBTQ2 community activist and has been the honorary leader of the Saint John Pride Parade three times.
“Nobody comes to us because we’re straight people and says, ‘I’m going to convert you,’” says Meinert.
“Nobody is trying to convert me to be gay, nobody should be trying to convert anybody who is gay to be straight.”
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Dave McElhinney is the pastor at River Valley Wesleyan Church. He insists most Christians’ hearts are in the right place, and that there’s nothing wrong with having a dialogue about homosexual behaviour.
“I don’t think that should mean that I can’t have a view about somebody’s behaviour, that I would speak to you if I love you, and I believe it’s important that you change how you think, or that you change your behaviours,” he says.
“If I think that’s important, if I love you, I should say something to you should I not?”
Lauber says the Journey Canada ministry was “frustrated and disappointed” by the decision to cancel the retreat.
“We felt that a lot of what was going on was based on a mischaracterization of what we do in our ministry, and a misunderstanding of what we were trying to achieve.”
Global News reached out to the Catholic Diocese of Saint John to explain why they cancelled the Journey Canada retreat at their facility, but we have yet to receive a response to our query.