A Christian organisation has been criticised for displaying material opposing same sex marriage in a Lerwick youth club.
New Life Shetland is an evangelical group that regularly meets in the Sandveien Neighbourhood Centre. However, the centre is primarily a base for youth clubs, with young people using the facility most days of the year.
Last week, Saul Day, who has been employed as a youth worker for six years, found postcards on display in the hall. The cards were titled “Speak now or forever hold your peace”. But Mr Day was surprised to find they were urging people to sign a petition opposing same sex marriage.
“We are deeply concerned about the implications of what will be taught in schools if marriage is redefined”, the postcards read.
“We are also concerned that the definition of marriage may be rewritten further so that, for example, polygamy may be legalised at some future point.”
It goes on, “Our chief concern is the general welfare of people in Scotland. In addition, we do not wish to see the rights of conscience eroded for those who disagree with homosexual marriage”.
Mr Day decided to remove the material, as he felt it was inappropriate within the youth club.
He stressed that New Life was “welcome to use the neighbourhood centre”, and acknowledged the “fantastic community work” the group had been involved in.
However, he said, “this does not change the fact that certain views which were being suggested on the group’s information board
are conflicting to that of what youth services promote: a dedication to the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people in Shetland”.
In a letter to this newspaper Mr Day went on: “say, hypothetically, that there is a young youth club member belonging to the LGBT community. Say, for instance, this particular young person is finding it difficult to accept who they are, or is finding the social challenges that are often associated with a young person ‘coming out’ difficult to cope with.
“What if they, curiously, like I, were to pick up one of these petitions? What frame of mind would this produce as a result of reading it? How would they react, and what emotions would be resonated?
“The content of the petition and its controvertible message is most certainly not acceptable in this kind of setting, and should not
be on display in any youth club, especially one that is overseen by a local authority that lawfully must adhere to the equal rights measures stringently in place for young people.
“The fundamental aim of youth work is to aid and enhance the personal, social and educational development of young people … A youth club is not a place where they should feel challenged in any way by the contentious aspects of someone’s beliefs.”
Pastor Jamie Tonge is the senior minister at New Life Shetland. He told The Shetland Times the material in question was on display for the group, on its own notice board. “Whatever is there is to do with us, it’s not to do with anybody else,” he said.
Mr Tonge stressed the postcards represented the group’s views on marriage; they were not intended to make a comment on individuals’ sexuality. “The information is solely to do with gay marriage and it is not a response to gay lifestyle,” he said.
“We are not homophobic at all.”
While Mr Tonge did acknowledge the concerns about the appropriateness of the venue for displaying such material, he said he would prefer to discuss those concerns in person.
“We would happily speak to the youth workers if they came to us,” he said.
Mr Day has reported the postcards to a member of the neighbourhood centre committee, and the committee will discuss whether it is appropriate for such material to be on display within the centre.