The large party accompanying Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his state visit to Israel includes an Ottawa pastor who says that, according to the Bible, homosexuality is wrong, unnatural and a consequence of the wrath of God.
Rev. Shawn Ketcheson, who is described on the website of the Trinity Bible Church of Ottawa as its senior pastor, is among 208 people from a range of civil-society organizations, religious groups and businesses who are part of the Canadian delegation.
In a letter to the congregation posted on his church’s website, Mr. Ketcheson said he initially declined the invitation to join the state visit to the Holy Land, but his wife “reminded me [of] my calling and that it is never an option to say no to God.”
Mr. Ketcheson and the rest of the group of 208 paid for their own travel, the Prime Minister’s Office says. Some may have had their accommodations covered by the government, but officials could not immediately say which ones.
On at least two occasions, recorded on his church’s website, he is critical of homosexuality.
On a May 25, 2011, posting, he wrote against Ontario’s Ministry of Education new inclusion and equity policy, which many religious groups have opposed.
“That which the Bible teaches is wrong our public school system now teaches is right. What is a parent or grandparent to do?” Mr. Ketcheson wrote.
In Oct. 30, 2011, sermon titled “And Now for the Bad News”, Mr. Ketcheson spoke about how God, in His wrath at sinners, turns them over to the natural consequences of their actions.
He alluded to adultery and sex outside marriage and dwelled on gays and lesbians.
“The first way the wrath of God is revealed to humanity is as a consequence of sexual impurity and sexual perversion,” Mr. Ketcheson said.
He quoted from the New Testament’s Epistle to the Romans. “The word of God is very clear in Romans 1:26 on same-sex relations,” he said in an audio recording of the sermon posted on his church’s website.
“I’ll read that one to us. ‘Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.’ Lesbianism, woman lying with a woman. Word of God says it’s wrong. The Scripture that we just read says that the world exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”
Mr. Ketcheson added that “if you talk about the word of God as being right and you condemn this, then you’re a hatemonger and you should be punished. That’s how far we’ve gone to twisting the word of God.”
He then moved to the next passage. “Let’s read Romans 1:27 ... ‘In the same way the men also abandoned natural relationships with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other another,’ ” he said.
“What happened that we exchanged natural instincts and affections with what the Bible says would be unnatural ones? What happened there? Why did it happened? God gives people over to the natural consequences of what they decided they want to do when they deny the word of God.”
Mr. Ketcheson concluded by urging his parishioners to bow their heads, close their eyes and apologize to Jesus Christ for their sins. He said the person who understands God’s wrath is someone who “knows what it’s like to be given over to the consequences of sexual impurities, material passions and simply self-centredness.”
Reached in Israel by e-mail, Mr. Ketcheson said he couldn't be available for comment. "Thanks for your interest in the message. I am presently out of the country and would be pleased to talk with you when I get back at the end of the week. Sorry that I can't be more accommodating at the moment," he wrote.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said a prime ministerial visit and its delegation should reflect Canadian society. "Homophobia doesn’t represent Canada. It represents discrimination that the government must condemn at home and abroad. The Prime Minister must explain why he chose the people on his delegation," Mr. Dewar said in a statement. "After all, his choices reflect his view of Canada, and determine the Canada that other countries will see.”
Liberal foreign-affairs critic Marc Garneau noted that, in the past, he had supported Mr. Harper when the prime minister condemned anti-Semitism.
"I therefore find it regrettable that his delegation includes someone who is homophobic," Mr. Garneau said.
“In a delegation of this size you will always find different views, including views you do not agree with,” said Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Members of the accompanying delegation do not speak for the government of Canada.”
Two other members of the delegation are also linked to controversial views about gays and lesbians.
Don Simmonds is the chairman of Crossroads Christian Communications, a large Christian organization based in Burlington, Ont., that made headlines last year after The Canadian Press reported that it referred to homosexuality as a sin on its website, grouping it with bestiality and pedophilia.
Crossroads had received more than $2-million from the Canadian International Development Agency since 1999, including funds for a project focused on HIV/AIDS education in Africa.
Rabbi Bulka received the Order of Canada last June for his community work. However, he is controversial among some gay activists because he is a former member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. NARTH describes itself as an organization dedicated to the service of people “who experience unwanted homosexual (same-sex) attractions.”
In a 2006 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Rabbi Bulka said NARTH has different views on gays but is not a bigoted organization. He said he did support a claim on the organization's website that “homosexuality is not a healthy, natural alternative to heterosexuality.”