In 2015, Sophie Betts worked as a counsellor at Camp Seggie – a camp that strictly rejects people like her working there.
“I am a queer woman,’’ says Betts, a 19-year-old student at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.
Betts was not out as being queer at the time she worked at Camp Seggie, a non-profit children’s summer camp in Rice Point where Christian faith is taught and practised.
If she had been out, she would have been out of a job.
Camp Seggie makes employees sign a Statement of Staff Standards that requires staff members during the entire term of service both on-site and off-site, including staff training week and time off, to “refrain from practices which are condemned by God in the Bible.’’
Among the forbidden practices are having an abortion and “sexual sins’’ such as homosexual behaviour.
Betts calls the contract simply awful.
“It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around,” she says, noting she feels the camp management and board is homophobic.
“I tried to ignore the contract as best I could.”
Another former camp counsellor found the contract hateful for requiring staff to essentially agree to refrain from being gay.
“I felt it was outrageous,’’ says the university student, who did not wish to be named.
“The main concept of the Gospels is to love one another. If they have that (clause on homosexuality) that is not showing love to so many people.’’
The woman, who lives in Charlottetown, hopes publicly raising concerns about the contract will lead to change at Camp Seggie.
“I’m hoping that it will almost be like a reality check for them…make them realize that what they are doing is not OK and they are really hurting people,” she says.
“It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around. I tried to ignore the contract as best I could.”
Camp Seggie, however, does not seem to see the need to apologize for its hiring policy or to change it in any way.
Camp Segunakadeck — Camp Seggie for short — was founded in 1963 by First Baptist Church in Charlottetown but was eventually turned over to the P.E.I. Baptist Association. Its board oversees the staff contract.
Camp Seggie executive director Bob Terpstra did not want to offer a detailed defence of the Statement of Staff Standards, noting that the hiring practices are based on the constitution.
“This is not a policy that I have invented,’’ he says.
“This is something that has been handed down.’’
Terpstra adds that Camp Seggie is not isolated in making a condition of employment a pledge to refrain from homosexual behaviour.
“There are other camps in similar situations,’’ he says.
“As far as our campers, we are very inclusive,’’ he adds.
“We have gay and transgender campers.’’
Allowing gay and transgender campers, but forbidding to hire gay and transgender staff may seem like a discrepancy to some.
“When you are talking about leadership, we always have different standards for leaders. For camps and churches, if it is a bona fide occupational requirement for the person being hired to follow the faith that we believe in…then there is provision to check those students they are hiring to see if they are following the same faith and our understanding of practising that faith.’’
Certainly not to Renee Embree, who is the director of youth and family ministries of the Canadian Baptist of Atlantic Canada, a family of 450 churches and 14 camps, including Camp Seggie.
“When you are talking about leadership, we always have different standards for leaders,’’ she says.
“For camps and churches, if it is a bona fide occupational requirement for the person being hired to follow the faith that we believe in…then there is provision to check those students they are hiring to see if they are following the same faith and our understanding of practising that faith.’’
Embree concedes the bigger question that needs to be sorted out is determining whether or not human rights take precedent over religious freedom.
“That is something that Canadian law has to sort through,’’ she says.
Brenda Picard, executive director of the P.E.I. Human Rights Commission, says weighing human rights versus religious freedom is complicated.
She says refusing to hire staff who will not sign the standards document may be evidence that the employee was not hired based on them having or being perceived to have a protected characteristic rather than based on their individual merit.
“If so, this is, on its face, discrimination,’’ she explains.
“However, protections under the Human Rights Act are not absolute and the act does have certain exceptions and defences that the employer/organization could use to try to establish that the conditions are reasonable.’’
Picard adds that since the summer camp provides services to people with different religious or non-religious backgrounds it may not qualify for the religious organization exemption under the act. But, it could try to establish that its specification or preference was based on a genuine qualification.
“The standard must be ‘reasonably necessary to accomplish the legitimate purpose’ of the organization,’’ she says.
Camp Seggie’s website boasts that children from all backgrounds are welcome to attend the camp with well over 60 per cent of the campers coming from non-church backgrounds.
However, the fact that such inclusiveness does not extend to the hiring practice earns Camp Seggie detractors.
“They clearly don’t accept people that are different from what they want people to be, and I don’t think it’s fair,’’ says a young woman who worked at the camp for five years.
“I don’t support what they are doing at all.’’
Leadership 2017 Staff Contract
Dates of Employment: My employment with Camp Seggie will begin on July 2nd, 2017 and end on September 2nd, 2017.
Compensation: In exchange for my services, Camp Seggie will provide me with a $400 weekly stipend unless otherwise stated on returning staffs Job Offer.
Payment Upon Termination: If Camp Seggie terminates my employment or my employment otherwise ends before September 2nd, 2017, I shall be paid a pro-rated portion of the stipend for the number of days I worked.
Statement of Faith
We believe in one God, eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We believe that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, was true God and true man existing in one person and was without sin. We believe in His representative and substitutionary sacrifice, his bodily resurrection, His ascension to the Father, His present life as Lord of all, High Priest and Advocate, and His personal return in power and glory.
We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells and gives life to believers, enables them to understand and apply the Scriptures, empowers them for godly living, and equips them for service and witness.
We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, fully trustworthy, and the final authority in all matters of the Christian faith and life.
We believe that each member of the human race is fallen, sinful, and lost; that the shed blood of Jesus Christ provides the only ground for forgiveness of sins and justification to all who receive Him by faith; and that only through regeneration by the Holy Spirit can they become children of God.
We believe that the one, holy, universal church is the body of Christ, composed of all regenerated people. This redeemed community worships God and seeks to proclaim the Good News to all people.
We believe in the body resurrection of the just and the unjust, the everlasting blessedness of the saved, and the everlasting punishment of the lost.
Statement of Staff Standards
Understanding that each Seggie staff member may have personal views and convictions concerning the following standards, nonetheless Seggie staff members (during the entire term of service both on-site and off-site, including staff training week and time off) are responsible to:
1. Obey the law and act as responsible citizens. For example, this precludes the use of alcohol if under legal age, and marijuana and drugs for non-medical purposes, disrespect or borrowing without permission the property of others, and disregard for the rules of the road when driving.
2. Obey the highest command: to love God and one another. Our love for Jesus Christ is demonstrated by our willing obedience to His Word (Jn. 14:21). Loving one another includes “doing to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12), avoiding favouritism or prejudice (Jas. 2:8-9), putting the needs and interests of others ahead of one’s own (Phil. 2:3-4), encouraging and building up one another (Eph. 4:29; 1 Thes. 5:11), being kind, compassionate and forgiving (Eph. 4:32), bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), and caring enough to lovingly confront when necessary, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
3. Refrain from practices which are condemned by God in the Bible. These include, but are not limited to, drunkenness (Eph. 5:18), swearing or using profane language (Eph. 4:29, 5:4; Jas 3:1-12), harassment (Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 12:9-21; Eph. 4:31), all forms of dishonesty including cheating and stealing (Prov. 12:22; Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:28), abortion (Ex. 20:13; Ps. 139:13-16), involvement in the occult (Acts 19:19; Gal. 5:19), and sexual sins including premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behaviour and the viewing of pornography (1Cor. 6:12-20; Eph. 4:17-24; 1Thes. 4:3-8; Rom. 2:26-27; 1Tim. 1:9-10).
4. Use careful judgment in the exercise of personal freedom. Gal. 5:16-6:10; Rom. 12:1-15:13; 1 Cor. 8:9-13, 13:1-13; Eph.4:17-6:18; Col. 3:1-4:6; 1 Thes. 4:1-5:24). This entails: the responsible use of time and material resources, and the honest pursuit of spiritual growth including regular personal devotions, attendance at staff meetings and other staff events. It also requires that staff members abstain from the use or possession of alcoholic beverages on camp grounds, tobacco in any form, other forms of substance abuse, and gambling. Staff members agree to remain above reproach in terms of remaining out of the residential quarters of the opposite sex and maintaining modest, inoffensive behaviour in personal relationships. Staff members are to use discretion when using email or internet, making sure that their use of these media consistently reflects the Godly standards the camp upholds.
Furthermore, because many contemporary forms of amusement are of questionable value or diminish one’s moral sensitivities, staff members are to use discernment in their choice of entertainment including television, movies, websites, live productions, book and magazines. Staff members agree to avoid all public use of secular music at camp, except when it is an approved part of the camp program. Staff members should consistently reflect the camp standards in all they do offsite and between camp seasons.
This statement of beliefs and standards is not meant to bind Camp Seggie staff to legalism, but to free each one to pursue personal godliness, to be the light of the world to those in darkness, and to build up the kingdom of God among campers and staff. Certain expectations described above may not be explicitly commanded in Scripture, but have been deemed by Camp Seggie to be necessary to the harmony and spiritual development of its staff and the purpose of this ministry. Therefore, all those who are accepted as paid or unpaid staff of Camp Seggie must commit themselves to follow the application of the Statement of Faith and Staff Standards,
Commitment to the ministry of Camp Seggie
Upon acceptance as a staff member of Camp Seggie, I agree to abide by the Statements of Faith and Staff Standards.
1. I will support in good spirit the traditions, policies, values and mission of Camp Seggie.
2. I will welcome instruction and seek to benefit from it.
3. I will be a good example and a strong Christian witness to all campers and staff.
4. I will perform all tasks conscientiously and joyfully.
5. I will be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to the betterment of the camp ministry, including being willing to serve in other areas if the need arises.
6. I will honour the commitment of the position offered to me.
7. I will be a positive contributing member of the staff team, helping to build unity and support each fellow staff member.
8. I have read, understood, and am in agreement with the Responsibilities of Camp Seggie Staff, and will support the beliefs, values and principles it represents.
9.I will make it a priority to be growing in my walk with God and to maintain regular personal private devotions (including prayer and Bible reading).
10.I am free of any pending criminal charges or convictions that would preclude me from working with children.
Signed ________________________________ Date _______________________