A friend of mine put me on to this story tweeted by the Canadian church’s Anglican Journal, reporting that the Canadian government will not renew contracts for non-Christian chaplains employed in Canadian federal prisons.

Vic Toews, the minister responsible, has apparently decided that non-Christian prison chaplains are not a good use of taxpayers’ money and that Chris stian chaplains can take up the slack in ministering to Wiccans, First Nations believers, Moslems, etc. A spokeswomen for the minister is reported as saying that the government “is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding. The minister has concluded … [Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.”

In today’s Globe and Mail, journalist Lorna Dueck pushes back against the notion that Christian chaplains can adequately serve the needs of inmates of other faiths. She argues that the move not only promotes the impression at the government is giving Christianity preemince over other faiths, but also rests on the strange belief that all spiritual needs can be met by one faith. It would be like asking me as a Christian chaplain in the Canadian Forces to minister to a Moslem or First Nations soldier.

Dueck also argues that effective prison chaplaincy can serve the goals of rehabilitation and recidivism, which should also support the good use of taxpayer’s dollars argument so beloved of Mr. Toews. I was pleased to see Ms. Dueck quote my fellow Wycliffe College alumnus, the Rev. Eleanor Clitheroe, CEO of Prison Fellowship Canada,who makes this argument:

“There are three parts we’re talking about here: spiritual issues, ethical issues and religious or faith issues. Faith is more than ethics. Ethical issues are around behaviour, and that’s important, but it has to be rooted in something for behaviour to change,” said Rev. Clitheroe. “When it is rooted in faith, we see the real transformation in people’s lives. It’s our view that Christian chaplains are not equipped to deal with languages, sacred writings and traditions of other religions. Because religious support is so effective, we would hope [Mr. Toews] could consider the distinction between ethical and spiritual support and faith-based transformation.”

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