1. That’s one perverse god
It’s come to this.
At the end of October, the Gospel Light Baptist Church in Amherst hosted a four-day “camp meeting” for about 100 like-minded Baptists from across the province. According to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang, many of the participants were unvaccinated, and the organizers made no effort to abide by Public Health requirements for masking and distancing.
The result: a COVID outbreak in the western and northern parts of the province, as the pilgrims brought the virus back to their home parishes and into their workplaces. One camp meeting participant is a worker at the East Cumberland Lodge nursing home in Pugwash; the virus has ripped through the home, and so far, 31 residents and 10 staff members have been infected and two residents have died. Another camp meeting participant brought the virus into Rupert House, a home for people with intellectual disabilities, taking the life of resident Victoria Harrison.
Justifying the unjustifiable, Robert Smith, the pastor of the Gospel Light Baptist Church, told his congregation that the sickness and death that started with his outrageously irresponsible behaviour is all part of God’s plan:
“I followed what God wanted us to do,” Smith said from the pulpit. “We had a great week of meetings … a young lady got saved.”
Several times throughout his 30-minute sermon, Smith said people are trying to shame his community, but he urged his parishioners to resist internalizing the feeling, saying it’s Satan, “trying to drag us down.”
“The Bible says ‘all things work together for good.’ Hey, some of the things, people that we know that’s in hospitals and stuff, that still applies, too,” he said.
The Bible says a lot of things, Mr. Smith.
When I first learned of the camp meeting origin of the outbreak, I began a deep dive into Smith’s sermons, which until Monday were available as videos on the church’s website.
It’s real fire and brimstone stuff, insisting on strict obedience to the church elders and warning against compromising of beliefs, which Smith condemns (at length) as the Doctrine of Balaam.
Smith says that having the wrong “associates” — people who aren’t on the correct path — leads to personal downfall. In fact, Smith defends Kent Hovind, the fundamentalist and “young Earth” creationist known as “Dr. Dino” because he says dinosaurs and humans lived together. Hovind is the brain behind the Creation Science and Dinosaur Adventure Land in Florida, and in 2006 was sentenced to 10 years in US federal prison “after failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and failing to pay taxes on wages for employees at the Creation Science and Dinosaur Adventure Land in Florida. Hovind has claimed that everything he owns belongs to God and that therefore he owes no taxes.” After his release from prison, Hovind was convicted of domestic assault against his wife. As Smith sees it, Hovind bears no personal responsibility for his crimes; rather, Hovind made the mistake of having the wrong associates.
As with Hovind, Smith sees himself as entirely blameless.
In terms of his own congregation, Smith upbraids those who come to church but fail to sing with adequate enthusiasm. He tells the women who volunteer not to help out at the church kitchen unless they’re wearing skirts.
It’s a narrow, paranoid version of religion, fearful of outsiders and the broader world.
I’m often struck that the prevailing stream of evangelical Christianity has a fascination with the Old Testament’s vengeful God and an obsession with the apocalyptic prophecy of Revelations. But they skip right over the Gospels and the Sermon on the Mount, ignoring the words of Jesus himself, who preached an acceptance of the worldly and insisted on a life of poverty serving the weakest and most helpless among us.
Hey, what do I know? I’m a godless heathen. There’s a mystery to, well, everything, including existence itself, but the whole lonely god, Adam and Eve, flood the entire Earth but give Noah a break, and whatever that S&M thing going on with Job was, seems an implausible explanation to the mystery. So I’m good with things being unknowable. But I understand that many people, maybe most people, think otherwise, so who am I to criticize?
Someone I’m very close to works for the Catholic church, running her parish’s charitable operation. She finds refuge for victims of domestic violence, lines up hotel rooms for the homeless, feeds the hungry. Through the pandemic, she’s put herself at considerable personal risk while working with street people, as her city is a COVID hotspot. She gets paid shit, but so it goes. I once asked her how she could reconcile her progressive political views with the Church’s anti-abortion and anti-gay views, and she told me, “Tim, that’s just doctrine. I’m here to do the work.”
That answer has stayed with me. Who knows which, if any, brand of theological mumbo jumbo is correct, but we’re all stuck together with short and brutal lives on this vale of tears, so we may as well be generous in spirit and help each other out, best we can.
And here in Nova Scotia, at least so far as COVID goes, that for the most part has been the attitude. We’ve helped each other out. We’ve followed the health protocols. We got vaccinated. As a result, we’ve done quite well through the pandemic. It may not be the City upon the Hill, but Nova Scotia has been a nice place to live the last couple of years.
And yet, we have among us the ungenerous in spirit, who have no interest in helping out. They hide in their mean-spirited, fearful enclaves, rejecting any sense of the common good. They are, in a word, assholes.
Premier Tim Houston put it more delicately yesterday.
“Like many of you, I am absolutely appalled at the comments of some of those who were allegedly involved in organizing this gathering,” said Houston. “The comments downplaying the seriousness of what’s happening. The comments minimizing the loss of life are completely unacceptable and totally disgusting. Lives were lost. I can’t imagine that at this stage in the pandemic, with the devastation we’ve seen to families and communities that we have people who believe that they can pick and choose which rules they follow.”
Smith has been fined $2,422 for “a gathering which contravened the COVID-19 order under the Health Protection Act.”
The fine charge against Smith was laid by the provincial Department of Environment and Climate Change, and not by the Amherst Police Department, which has been investigating the camp meeting. I asked Houston if the province took action because the local police did not.
“I can’t understand honestly why the police haven’t advanced their investigation or taken up on that file,” replied Houston. “But yeah, to answer your question; yes, the compliance and enforcement part group of Department Environment is kind of a backstop to [what] the police should be doing. They’re doing their job, they should be enforcing the laws… I will say that I certainly put a lot of pressure on them to make sure that that investigation happened.”
Houston additionally said the province is investigating laying more charges, and he’d like to a review to see if the charges are sufficiently high.
3. Vaccinating children
“Last Friday, Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharam told reporters Health Canada is ‘actively continuing the review’ of the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 5 to 11” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
Sharam said regulators expect to announce a decision “in the next one to two weeks.”
The Halifax Examiner reached out to Dalhousie University professor and pediatric pain researcher Christine Chambers. Her research is based in the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research at the IWK Health Centre.
On Tuesday we spoke with Chambers, who is also scientific director of Solutions for Kids in Pain (SKIP), a national network aimed at improving children’s pain management. Her research interests also include pediatric and health psychology.
Click here to read “Dr. Christine Chambers: ‘All parents want to do the right thing’ on vaccines for their children.”
4. Children in the pandemic
Speaking of children…
“Tania Johnson says navigating childhood during a pandemic can be tough, but adults like parents and teachers can help bolster resilience and psychological wellness when armed with the right tools,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
Helping provide those tools is what she hopes to do this weekend. The Alberta-based registered psychologist and play therapist is co-founder of the Institute of Child Psychology. The organization is hosting an online fall conference this weekend for parents, teachers, and other professionals. About 2,500 people are expected to participate.
Click here to read “Institute of Child Psychology conference to help give parents, teachers the ‘tools to actually create shifts’ in stress for children, families.”
5. No, It’s Fine
This week, on The Tideline, with Tara Thorne:
The Halifax indie-rock quartet No, It’s Fine has released its second pandemic project — the first being a collection of covers that dropped in March — in the form of the full-length album I Promise. Mastermind Cailen Alcorn Pygott visits The Golden Palm to chat Cancon, words versus melody (and he uses a lot of words), and the influence of the Philadelphia scene on his band. Plus we hear two new tracks and hey did you hear Sarah Harmer is finally coming back to town?!
As usual, I’m struggling to keep up with all my work, but I’m struggling even more this week as I spent all day Tuesday at King’s for an event sponsored by the Michener Awards and the university. Five of the Michener finalists from 2019 and 2020 spoke about our work and met with students in smaller groups through the day.
I always feel a bit like a fish out of water at such events, but the hosts were beyond gracious, and I met some outstanding colleagues, whom I hope to keep up with and might even collaborate with.
I was there for my work on the Glen Assoun wrongful conviction. I won’t re-hash that whole story here, but the take-away is that there was wrong-doing on the part of the Halifax police department, downright criminality on the part of the RCMP’s Halifax division and the national headquarters, crown prosecutors who clearly knew they were convicting an innocent man, a judge who presided over a farce of a trial, and a federal minister of Justice with a devil-may-care attitude. As a result, a man spent 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and another four years in a legal limbo that broke his soul. To this day, no one has been held accountable. The cops involved are either still working or living comfortably in retirement. One of the prosecutors is now a judge, the other a respected military prosecutor. The judge is applauded for her work with the forensics hospital but hasn’t said a word about the injustice she oversaw. The Justice minister is a celebrated pawn in a political game I can’t understand, but hasn’t answered for her inaction on the Assoun file.
That’s what “justice” looks like.
Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — no live broadcast
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — also livestreamed
Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — livestreamed
Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Thursday, 5pm) — livestreamed
Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (Thursday, 8am, IdeaHUB) — a panel discussion; more info here
Implications of brain stress hormone action on glucose and lipid metabolism (Thursday, 11am, Room 3H1, Tupper Building and online) — Jessica Yue from the University of Alberta will talk
Advocacy as community — Reflections: lessons learned as an Indigenous occupational therapist (Thursday, 7pm, Theatre B, Tupper Building and online) —Kaarina Valavaara will give the 18th Kelly Bang Memorial Lecture
The HISF Public Panel: The World After COVID: What’s Next? (Thursday, 7:30pm, McInnes Room, Dal SUB) — international panelists will discuss the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had globally and what the world will look like as we move into our new post-COVID reality. Panelists include Dolkun Isa, President, World Uyghur Congress; Dalia Ziada, Founder and Director, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee Liberal Democracy Institute, and National Council for Women in Egypt; Daouda Sembene, Managing Partner, AfriCatalyst Global Development Partners. Moderated by Robin Shepherd, Vice President, HFX (Halifax International Security Forum). Info and registration here.
From Community to Campus: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Social Justice (Friday, 10am) — virtual second annual Human Rights and Equity Conference, with an engaging keynote, 2 panels, and 6 workshops. More info here.
Topology, Molecular Simulation, and Machine Learning as Routes to Pred (Friday, 1:30pm) — Mark E. Tuckerman from New York University will talk.
Double Date: A Reading Series of Writing Couples (Friday, 3:45pm) — online literary reading by Cedar Bowers (Astra) and Michael Christie (Beggar’s Garden and Greenwood)
Double Date investigates the compelling, romantic, and perhaps at times vexing phenomenon of writers who not only make art but choose to also make a life together. By hearing writers speak to their creative practice as couples, read from their own work, and answer questions from the audience, writers and readers will learn more about the relationships we kindle with our most beloved humans and the relationships we develop toward our creative literary practices. Presented with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and in partnership with the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia.
Who and Where was ‘Sailor Joe’?: Tattooing, Popular Entertainment, and Investigation by the FBI and RCMP, 1899-1965 (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170 McCain Building and online) — Jamie Jelinski will talk
In the harbour
04:45: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
05:45: Morning Peace, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Southampton, England
07:00: ZIM Luanda, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
11:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport to Pier 41
11:00: Glovertown Spirit, barge, and Beverly M I, tug, arrive at Cherubini dock from Sydney
13:00: Morning Peace moves to Autoport
16:30: ZIM Luanda sails for New York
17:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Tampa, Florida
07:00: Arctic Lift, barge, and Western Tugger, tug, transit through the causeway to Aulds Cove quarry from Charlottetown
14:00: LT-805, tug, transits through the causeway south to north en route from Norfolk, Virginia to Ludington, Michigan
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Like a few others who have already commented I did look at the Amherst Church’s website wondering where the Pastor was situated on the spectrum of Christianity. I also wondered about the path he and his congregation took which led to Amherst.
The pastor seems to be from Parkersburg, West Virginia, completing high school there in 1986, There is a gap until the year 2000 when he starts attending Crown Bible College in Knoxville, TN while working as a mechanic, welder and fabricator. Both his work and time at the College end in 2005 with a degree in Pastoral Studies and Counseling. (LinkedIN)
The College has a blend of bible based training with options in business, trades, languages and education as well as religious studies, All of the pictured faculty are male and the College has a founder with people of the same last name in some leadership positions. There are separate residences for men and women and life in the dorms seems to be a requirement for most students.
The College website indicates they prepare people to be religious leaders and mention the planting of new churches to spread the beliefs. 3 years after graduation he appears in Bathurst, New Brunswick as the Pastor of the Gospel Light Baptist Church Inc.
The Church only seems to be incorporated as a business and does not seem to be associated with a larger Baptist grouping. It’s actual corporate registration is in New Brunswick with the NB Government Corporate registry indicating it hasn’t paid annual upkeep fees for a number of years. The group’s charitable status return is current and indicates they have been a registered charity since 2008 although the document is skimpy when it comes to describing their charitable activities.
Some of the Pastor’s fellow directors at the church in Bathurst had surnames which were traditionally Acadian and the Facebook page has a French version. While his Nova Scotia sermons have vanished behind a password wall his earlier New Brunswick one’s are preserved on the Internet Archive. In Bathurst the Pastor was involved in addictions work and his activities are mentioned in Bathurst’s municipal government minutes. His work linking bible study or scripture in Bathurst Sunday Schools to schools in India was featured by the local press.
One of the questions that came to mind since the Health Order violation ticket was issued was why it was only a personal ticket. It could be that there is no corporate entity to ticket in Nova Scotia.
While the example of one church says little about the Christian experience and the Pandemic, the growth of such churches at a time when traditional churches are generally losing congregational size must make traditional churches wonder what is missing in their practice and message.
We had better hope that vaccinating children has no unforeseen consequences.
The property was formerly the Immanuel United Church and was sold on March 7 2018 for $140,000
“ The Amherst Baptist camp ……” – I have to say that Tim has a way with words and I enjoy reading them. Thanks. /bc
When I was 14 my family moved to a rural NB island where there was no United Church and thus ended my churchgoing experience.
During my first week of school in this new place, dozens of students went outside one lunchtime, held hands in a circle and “prayed for the damned souls left inside” (that was the response when I asked what was going on).
In high school, my then-best friend** fluctuated between “devout born-again Christianity” and “lapsed born-again Christianity”, depending on whether his on-again / off-again Christian girlfriend was into him that month. One day we’d be splitting a six-pack and listening to Metallica, the next he’d be telling me that listening to music like that would doom me to hell (as he slipped some shitty Petra offering into the cassette player***.)
I’m not anti-Christianity but I’m all too used to certain types of “Christians” who’re more excited about the Rapture and their own eternity in God’s Perfect Heaven (TM) than they are with anything actually occurring on the planet where all of us live.
So what happened in Amherst and the ongoing belief that they’re in the right? Absolutely, 100% not surprising. Their version of Christianity revels in the future damnation of billions of heathens to an eternity in whatever they envision hell to be. What’s three people dying in reality when that’s what’s on their mind?
I know a lot of wonderful, selfless, people who devote themselves to God and work they believe is forwarding God’s message. I don’t necessarily agree with the reasoning, but like Tim B.’s Catholic friend, it’s impossible to ignore the good that such people do.
The headline story is about something completely different.
* He remains a close friend. Incredible family. He’s come to his senses, though, and deeply enjoys secular music with nary a Stryper CD in sight.
** His car, so his choice of music ruled the day. Them’s the rules.
Renewing my subscription on the strength of the title alone! So damn sick of “Be kind” blandishments.
“The Amherst Baptist camp meeting COVID outbreak: It’s not that they’re religious, it’s that they’re assholes”
“Justice” is a huge misnomer for our criminal legal system. The law is not the same as justice. The law is as defined by those with power (and usually wealth) and has nothing to do with justice but more to do with control. The Minister of Justice is really the Minister of the Criminal Code and Other Laws. We should stop referring to the law as justice as it continues to be misleading and obstructs change. Similarly, we should stop referring to “correctional institutions” and call them what they are, “penal institutions”.
I like this!
I also lost a few hours of my life listening to a few of those sermons, out of some kind of morbid fascination. I was surprised by how much time was spent criticizing other churches – there’s an undercurrent of drama there that Amherst people probably get. But what struck me was the last sermon before the camp, when the pastor explained why they wouldn’t be streaming the services online (because he likes to move around and if someone has to operate the camera it means they can’t pay full attention) and made it clear that he expected everyone to show up: “I’m not talking about if you have to work and you’re at work – if you’re sitting at home, and you’re not crippled – I talking about literally you can’t get up and walk around, you can’t do nothing – then you oughtta be here. If you can get up, go to the kitchen, fix you something to eat, macrame, whatever you do, then you can come and sit here. Try to get something from God. But you have to want it.”