Highfield Road Gospel Hall caught on tape in conflict with gay neighbors

Highfield Road Gospel Hall Toronto has been in the news for a video that was posted online from a conflict between a group of neighbors and a group of people from the church.

Incorrect Assumptions

The street preaching was interpreted by some neighbors as "an attack", "a protest" or a "method to drive out gays from their neighborhood".  "Messages of hate" and "homophobic" as other descriptions appeared on blogs across the internet. Predictably comments from Christians and gays alike condemned the group for its perceived attacks.

Corrections

To the credit of journalists Daniel Dale and Jesse McLean, from The Star, interviews were conducted with people from both sides of the street to try to shed some light on what the two groups were saying. In the article Viral video in Leslieville is not what it seems , the reports show that the church was not, and never has used its sermons, singing or prayers as weapons in the culture war.  

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“I don’t like how the whole issue is being distorted,” said Blair Chiasson, a civil servant who lives with his partner, Paul Collins. “Nothing happened. Nothing happened.”

Christine Oddy was on her porch when she heard a sermon which featured, she said, “something about blood running down the street, souls going to purgatory.” She approached the parishioners. “You are hateful people, that’s what you are,” she can be heard saying on the video.

Online, hundreds of others joined her in condemnation. Prominent U.S. sex writer Dan Savage, who is gay, called the parishioners “Christofascists.” Another gay blogger called them “Christian terrorists.”

To Chiasson, however, they are the unthreatening “church people” — and they did not do anything wrong.

Chiasson, 45, said he believes Highfield parishioners only choose to read the Bible from a spot near their house because a fire hydrant prevents cars from parking there.

He said the parishioners preached on the street long before he and Collins, 47, arrived 13 years ago. Moreover, he said, he and Collins have never felt personally targeted by the parishioners, have never heard them say anything homophobic, and have not even been present for three years on the summer Sundays when the infrequent sermons occur.

He said the parishioners are “a part of the neighbourhood” with the right to speak freely. The neighbours who confronted them, he said, “overreacted.”

“We don’t even know the people that started this,” he said. “So the people who are apparently our defenders, we don’t even know who they are.”

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Some churches try to target gays with provocative statements that are meant to enrange and belittle their opponents.  Churches like Westboro Baptist are well known for proudly display signs saying hurtful and provocative things.  However, the churches that meet in Gospel Hall buildings are careful to refrain from political involvement or name calling.

The debate now has turned to whether or not preaching on the street is a right or an annoyance.  In a follow-up article, reporter Jessica McLean asks the question - A righteous disturbance or a democratic right?