PHOTOS: The New Testament Baptist Church near Spruce Grove, just west of Edmonton. Below: The vandalized sign, with some of the scrubbed pink spray paint still visible; additional signs on the site promoting the church and school; and administrator Rev. Brian Coldwell and private school advocate Donna Trimble, the latter two shots from the CBC.
The Edmonton-area Baptist church associated with two private schools whose administrator vows they will never comply with the Alberta Government’s policy on LGBTQ student rights appears to be a politically active organization that espouses right-wing ideology unrelated to Christian doctrine.
In addition, the private-school advocacy group defending the schools’ right to continued public funding despite their administrator’s defiance of the law requiring gay-straight alliances to be permitted in all schools where students want them is linked to the church that runs the schools through its board. Rev. Brian Coldwell, who is both pastor of New Testament Baptist Church and chair of the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society, is one of the advocacy group’s five governing board members.
In a CBC story Friday, the executive director of Parents for Choice in Education argued public funding for private schools saves taxpayers money – a debatable claim frequently made by private-school supporters. As inferred by the CBC’s reporter, however, Donna Trimble’s comments appear to have been prompted by calls for the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society, which runs the two defiant schools in Parkland County west of the city, to lose public funding if it refuses to comply with the GSA law.
The schools have received close to $4.5 million in provincial funding over the past six years, said Duncan Kinney, executive Director of Progress Alberta, which filed a freedom-of-information request to obtain the data. In 2014, according to the Baptist education society’s own financial report, revenue from government amounted to 89 per cent of the revenues supporting the Harvest Baptist Academy in Spruce Grove and the Meadows Baptist Academy in Edmonton.
The fact Rev. Coldwell is one of the five directors of Parents for Choice in Education was not mentioned in the CBC report about the group, which describes itself as an advocate for a “choice-driven education system which recognizes parental authority.”
Parents for Choice in Education also devotes a page on its website to material from Alberta Can’t Wait, the Political Action Committee set up to raise funds for the campaign of social conservative federal MP Jason Kenney to lead the Progressive Conservative Party and merge it with the Opposition Wildrose Party.
The Kenney campaign material distributed by Parents for Choice in Education accuses the NDP Government of “social engineering” – a coded reference to a supposed conspiracy to proselytize young people to take up alternative lifestyles – and attacks Education Minister David Eggen, who has stated repeatedly that the law on GSAs must be obeyed.
While claiming to be non-partisan, Parents for Choice “had a board director recently meet with Jason Kenney and she sensed that his camp has taken the time to educate themselves on the issues and is in support of parent choice,” a commentary accompanying the Alberta Can’t Wait statement approvingly noted.
As to the New Testament Baptist Church’s political point of view, which takes a decidedly Old Testament direction on this issue at least, it was quite clearly set out a news release published by the church on July 4 and signed by Rev. Coldwell. The statement was released after vandals defaced a large political sign in front of the church that called for the government to amend legislation, since passed, requiring schools to allow gay-straight alliances, diversity clubs and anti-bullying clubs.
Police described the spray painting – which amended the words “Protect parent rights & religious freedom” to “Protect LGBTQ kids and end bigotry” – as mischief. Rev. Coldwell, however, argued it was “a hate crime and religious persecution.”
Rev. Coldwell’s statement to media went on to claim “anti-Christian GSA clubs” are part of “a larger global conspiracy involving radical progressive BIG governments and LGBTQ activists that are demanding cultural change to reengineer society and impose their liberal secular values on all citizens.”
“Their key agenda is to promote their ideology and indoctrinate our children,” said the news release, which may be read it its entirety here.
Traditionally, Christian doctrine does not concern itself with such questions as the size of government, advising Christians, in the words of Jesus, to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Describing such actions as the vandals’ pink spray paint and the refusal of several law societies to grant accreditation to the evangelical Trinity Western University law school because of the institution’s policy on the lifestyles of its students as further evidence of persecution, Rev. Coldwell argued “the political left is seeking to impose their state sponsored liberal secular values and the rainbow religion to indoctrinate our young innocent children.”
Rev. Coldwell’s statement also suggests the Ontario government’s “radical sex education” curriculum is intended to confuse and corrupt young people.
While mainstream media coverage of the schools’ defiance of the law and Rev. Coldwell’s efforts to frame the issue as one of religious freedom trampled by big government has been extensive, no news organization seems to have explored the sponsoring church’s extreme theo-con political views or the connections among the groups and individuals involved and the politicians who encourage them.
By comparison, media coverage of the petition organized by Calgary gay activist Dave Beninger calling for schools that refuse to follow public rules to be denied public dollars has been unenthusiastic. Mr. Beninger said yesterday more than 1,000 people have now signed his petition.
Despite calls for limits on education funds for schools that break the law, no one yet seems to have demanded an end to tax-free status for churches that actively engage in political agitation.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.