Pro-lifers protest Lewis speech at Redeemer
On Jan. 22, about a dozen pro-lifers, some from as far away as Brantford, London and Toronto, picketed and distributed pamphlets at a lecture given by Stephen Lewis at Redeemer University College, a Christian undergraduate arts and sciences university in Ancaster, Ont.
Last November, The Interim reported that the college was going to host Stephen Lewis for a lecture, noting that the former Ontario NDP leader and Canadian ambassador to the United Nations has a long history of advocating abortion and contraception and is a vocal critic of Christian churches, which he claims stand in the way of progress. Jacob Ellens, vice president of Redeemer, responded to that article in a letter that is reproduced below.
Despite criticism from some Christians and pro-life quarters, the Christian university kept the engagement, leading to a demonstration to inform those attending the Friday evening lecture and panel discussion about Lewis’s views on abortion and condoms.
George Eygenraam, one of the organizers of the picket filed two reports with The Interim describing the evening and the protestors’ motivations for the demonstration. He said that he doubted many people who went to the lecture had any idea about Lewis’s views despite many in attendance being “good, pro-life Christians.”
Lewis spoke at the two-and-a-half hour event in a talk entitled, “Global Health: Hope or Deterioration?” Following his lecture there was panel discussion on alternative approaches to addressing the issues surrounding global health. Original promotional material for the lecture did not include information about the panel discussion and Eygenraam suggests that it was put in place due to the concerns raised by pro-life Christians after reading early Interim and LifeSiteNews.com reports of the event.
Ellens says in his letter to The Interim that the university was “aware that Lewis is not a Christian and that, in fundamental respects, his framework for analyzing the problems, as well as his prescriptions for addressing them, are contrary to a Christian approach.” However, Redeemer College wanted their “audience” to see that a “secular social democrat and traditional Christians share compassion for those who are ill.”
Before the event, Eygenraam told The Interim that in his early communications with the university, they told him they were unaware of Lewis’s advocacy of abortion and condoms, something two other concerned pro-lifers also told the paper. Eygenraam wondered why they would have a panel to provide alternative views and to challenge Lewis if they did not know that he held positions contradictory to the Christian worldview.
The panel featured Christian experts on health issues in the developing world: David Toycen, president of World Vision Canada; Dr. James Rusthoven, an oncologist and bio-ethicist from McMaster University; Amboka Wameyo, advocacy and program manager of World Vision; Davis Omanyo, East Africa regional leader for Christian Reformed World Relief Committee; Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik, founder and director of The Masai Centre. Eygenraam, who attended the lecture and panel discussion, said that none of them offered a serious challenge to Lewis’s views with the exception Omanyo who contradicted Lewis’s assertion that Christian churches cannot be part of the solution of Africa’s problems. Lewis said that Christianity promotes homophobia and sexual inequality and that is is wrong-headed to promote abstinence rather than condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS/HIV. Omanyo said that Christian churches provide much-needed relief to many parts of the developing world and deserve support.
Eygenraam said rather than vigorously debate the issues or raise concern about Lewis’s position on abortion, condoms and the church, most of the panelists were fawning over him. Zajdlik went so far as to say Lewis was her “idol.”
Likewise the audience supported the speaker, applauding him numerous times and giving him a standing ovation. Eygenraam said, “many in the audience swooned over him.”
One group of pro-life demonstrators greeted guests as they arrived at the university entrance with signs that noted Lewis’s advocacy of abortion and condoms – one sign said, “Condoms cause death in Africa” – and posters with graphic images of aborted babies. When guests entered the auditorium, another group handed them home-made flyers with information about Lewis’s views on moral issues and how condoms have been proven ineffective in the battle against AIDS/HIV. Eygenraam said that many people took the information they provided unaware that it was critical of Lewis.
Eygenraam said, “I believe Redeemer made a mistake letting him in the gate. Unintentionally, though they were warned, Redeemer provided a platform for a man responsible for so much death and grief.”