February 13, 2004

Fundamentalists seek foothold in legislature

"There is a real warfare over the government," Manitoba missionary declares

JIM BELL

Stirred by the recent debate over gay rights and same-sex marriage, Nunavut's flourishing fundamentalist Christian movement could be a force in Monday's territorial election.

"It's not something someone is imposing from the outside; it's pouring forth from the hearts of the people," said Roger Armbruster, who is a great admirer of Tagak Curley, a Christian gay-rights opponent who will likely seek the premier's job after the election.

Armbruster is part of a loosely affiliated network of independent preachers who have nurtured and influenced the spectacular growth of an Inuit-run fundamentalist Christian revival in Nunavut and Nunavik.

"I hope there will be enough people elected who will be in agreement on what is the most basic unit of society, a unit that is both cross-gender and cross-generational, so that both genders can be healed rather than legitimize or normalize what I would say is dysfunction," said Armbruster, a fundamentalist Christian missionary from Niverville, Manitoba.

Armbruster said he doesn't want to tell the people of Nunavut how to vote on election day, but he insists that the acknowledgment of the "supremacy of God" within the Charter of Rights gives elected political leaders the right to express their personal moral values.

"In Nunavut, I think there's a greater potential for leaders, where their own personal values can be expressed without being bound by a party system..." Armbruster said.

Some candidates, such as Curley, who was acclaimed in Rankin Inlet, have campaigned against the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act, while others, such as Norman Ishulutak in Iqaluit West and Rebekah Williams in Quttiktuq, have campaigned for the restoration of religious instruction in the schools.

In a section of his web site headed "Jesus is the Lord of Government," Armbruster said, "Jesus proved his supremacy of his authority over the government when he rose from the dead."

And he said that in Nunavut, "there is a real warfare over the government, as the enemy seeks to influence those in office to be controlled by deceptive thoughts or by humanistic thinking rather than by the Word of God."

In an interview, he explained that this "warfare" is a war between "truth and lies."

"Lies" include the notion that homosexuality is innate at birth, that gays and lesbians have rights that should be acknowledged in human rights charters, and that same-sex marriage should be sanctioned by the state.

"The war is about 'who are we as human beings?' Are we created in God's image as male and female? Or is God's image equally expressed through male-male, female-female, or one-female-two-male or whatever combination?" Armbruster said.

Armbruster's ministry, "Canada Awakening," is devoted to "building the indigenous church in Canada's north," a church that respects Inuit traditional cultural values and Inuit leadership. It's one of several ministries that have helped the Inuit Christian movement in Nunavut and Nunavik grow by leaps and bounds since the 1990s, sometimes with the help of municipal governments.

The Hamlet of Cape Dorset, for example, donated $25,000 last year for steel pylons for a new church built by the late John Spillenaar's Arctic Missions Outreach, now headed by David and Joan Ellyat of London, Ont.

"Many of the mayors and municipal leaders acknowledge this is contributing to the healing of their communities," Armbruster said.

The Arctic Missions Outreach group is helping Pastor James Arreak's Iqaluit Christian Fellowship build a church and daycare in Iqaluit, and it's helping the Full Gospel church in Kangirsuk raise money to replace a 20-year-old building that's now too small.

In Nunavut and Nunavik, hundreds of people are drawn several times a year to the many eastern Arctic bible conferences. The first such conference, in 1985, drew only 15 Inuit. But they now fill entire arenas and community halls with ecstatic worshippers, who include MLAs, mayors, hamlet councillors and other local and regional leaders.

A bible conference last September in Baker Lake drew about 600 people, and cost $300,000 in charter fares alone. In April 2003, a conference in Kangirsuk drew hundreds of Inuit from 21 communities throughout Nunavut and Nunavik.

At the Baker Lake conference, participants such as Patterk Netser, then the newly elected member for Nanulik, held up signs saying "Jesus is Lord over Nunavut," printed for them by a group called Prayer Canada, which encourages political activism on the part of fundamentalist Christians.

These conferences, and the deeply fundamentalist form of Christianity that is preached within them, are proving to be powerful magnets for those whose lives have been torn apart by abuse and addictions. In many communities, former dope-dealers, substance abusers, and convicted criminals are turning their lives around after being "saved."

This, Armbruster said, is because people are being healed by embracing stable, traditional, community values, and are turning away from excessive individualism.

"In a society where every individual is his own god, as it were, it is a recipe for endless conflict and fragmentation," he said.


TOP