by Mr Wainscotting
UniQ Otago has joined the fray in complaining about the $860, 000 given to Destiny Church to run Community Max and Breakaway youth programmes. UniQ Otago’s president Justin Boswell says:
“Any organisation that marganises [sic] and separates any section of the New Zealand community should not be the beneficiary of Government funds. … These programs are realistically inseparable from the Church’s message, which is one of Homophobic views. Our government should not continue to endorse this message in any way.”
[This is a rather long post. Might want to put the kettle on. :3 ]
And I believe he’s right. Regardless of whether the programmes are funded purely on their own merits while remaining ignorant of who is running them, the messages that Destiny sends is completely inseparable from any programmes that they run — by virtue of the fact that they run it. By providing the funds to programmes that carry the “Destiny” label, the government is tacitly endorsing their message — which includes one of bigotry towards queer people and women. To be fair to Destiny, I believe this applies to all organisations, religious or otherwise.
While freedom of religion is a fundamental cornerstone of a successful democracy, any government and taxpayer funding should only go to programmes that are run in accordance with the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act and should be strictly managed to ensure that these Acts, as well as the other laws of New Zealand are not breached.
UniQ have launched a Facebook page ‘Enough is enough with funding Destiny Church and it’s anti-LGBT agenda‘ and are also running a petition calling for just that.
“We need to send a clear message to the government that groups preaching intolerance are not ones our citizens want getting public funds. This money could be directed towards any number of supportive groups in the wider community which do not instil Homophobic messages in their members.”
However, before one gets too serious about opposing a particular church group receiving government funds, one must acknowledge the ethical quagmire such opposition entails. If we were being consistent in denying Destiny funding to run their programmes, then a lot of other organisations wouldn’t be eligible either. And Destiny’s message aside, they received the money because they were able to show that their programmes have indeed helped people. According to Social Development Minister Paula Bennett the funding is “taken on merit and not based on anyone’s affiliations … it’s about the best provider in the best area.” [source]
And therein lies the problem with complaining about Destiny receiving these funds. If we are going to demand that groups like Destiny don’t get taxpayer funding for their initiatives, then they can demand that we don’t get funding for ours. And as soon as you get into the business of rendering groups ineligible for state funding based on their beliefs (even when they’re as anti-queer and anti-women as Destiny Church) then you run into an enormous ethical quagmire. This is something I think that Boswell and UniQ Otago haven’t taken into account. Destiny is an obvious target, and I stand by my opinion that they should not get a single cent of government funds (and that includes their tax breaks), but there are other groups that I also oppose, such as the Salvation Army, that can be shown to do good in spite of their history of homophobia; I boycott them myself, but it’s very difficult for me to convince others to do so too, especially considering the impressive work they did after the Christchurch earthquakes (it would have been foolish to oppose them during that time).
Nothing is ever black and white, and we can’t base which organisations the government supports on the basis of whether we like them or not, or whether they make us feel uncomfortable; and UniQ’s press release seems to be a little simplistic. It’s easy to oppose Destiny receiving funding, as it would if a group like the National Front were to receive funding, but we certainly can’t refuse to fund them purely because they believe something different from us – their beliefs are upheld by the same laws that protect us.
I do think, however, that it is important that the government should monitor the private organisations that receive funding to ensure that their programmes and initiatives are safe for everyone to utilize. Government funding should take into account who is running those initiatives. I don’t believe that a group that openly opposes rights for queer people and women, and paraded their hatred through the streets of Wellington and onto the very steps of parliament with fists in the air and their children in tow should be given a scrap of respect; and I certainly don’t believe that their anti-LGBT stance and the ‘Enough is Enough’ rally can really be separated from the programmes they run and funding them is a tacit endorsement of Destiny Church in its entirety.
So, where does that leave us? There are almost no organisations that receive government funds that all of us would support 100%, and we shouldn’t oppose their funding simply because we don’t like them. But Destiny Church have been shown to oppose important fundamental human rights that we fought long and hard for, and I stand by my opposition to their receiving funds.
Almost all of this funding does a measurable good (it has to in order for the groups to be eligible for it). Unfortunately, there’s also a dearth of programmes out there to help people, so we don’t have the luxury of denying the funding to those organisations that don’t uphold the values we battled so hard to enshrine in law.
I think we should all, government included, work to help all members of society regardless of who they are or whom they love. And the government should realise that funding anyone that opposes the inherent rights of anyone, is a tacit endorsement of their views – they should have the bar set much higher and have to go to great lengths to show that their views are not being imposed on those the funding is supposed to help.
Note: I was formally a member of the UniQ Otago Collective (now a committee) from 2009 – 2010 and was the secretary for the latter half of my time there. Furthermore, I know president Justin Boswell personally, and consider him a friend. I do my absolute best, however, to remain impartial.