British Columbia

Ness Lake Bible camp in Prince George under fire for stance on homosexuality

A popular camp and conference centre in Prince George, B.C., is losing support because of its stance on homosexuality. The camp includes homosexual relationships alongside pornography and criminal activity in a list of items it considers "unethical or immoral."

Code of conduct for Ness Lake Bible Camp says homosexuality is 'unethical' and 'immoral'

Image from a brochure for Ness Lake Bible Camp (Ness Lake Bible Camp)

A popular camp and conference centre in Prince George, B.C., is losing support from leading organizations because of its stance on homosexuality.

Ness Lake Bible Camp is operated by One Hope Canada, an evangelical Christian organization that places homosexual relationships alongside premarital sex, pornography, and criminal activity in a list of items it considers "unethical or immoral." 

This belief has prompted a review by the local school district and rotary club.

Every year, hundreds of children and youth between the ages of six and 18 attend the camps offered at Ness Lake, which are marketed as a place to learn about God while enjoying outdoor activities from canoeing to ziplining.

Pro-LGBTQ teen rejected as counsellor

Julianna Ferguson, 17, attended Ness Lake as a camper for years.

"A friend wanted me to go with her back in Grade 1 and then I loved it there so I just kept going," Ferguson said.

In 2013, Ferguson began volunteering for the camp, first as a member of the work crew and then as a counsellor, supervising younger campers.

She had planned to return this summer, but after sending in her application, she was told there was a problem.

"The camp director told me they couldn't hire me because I support LGBT and all of their rights, and their right to marry whoever they want," she said.

"Even though I volunteered there for three other years and it's never been a problem before."

'Immoral behaviour' not allowed

Ferguson said she identifies as both a Christian and a supporter of LGBTQ rights, and doesn't see a conflict between the two.

She said she was surprised to learn her viewpoints, recently posted on social media, were deemed problematic by One Hope Canada.

"I share things on my Facebook from other LGBT pages," she said, adding she wouldn't express those views to campers.

"Other years I've been there I've never voiced my opinion about it towards campers. I wouldn't do that, that's my personal opinion, not the camp's opinion."

The application form for Ness Lake and other One Hope Canada camps across the country require potential volunteers to sign a statement of faith affirmation form.

Under item seven, volunteers agree to "avoid conduct that is unethical or immoral and to avoid behaviour that is contrary to biblical principles," including "premarital, extramarital or homosexual relationships."

Part of the Statement of Affirmation signed by leadership volunteers at camps operated by One Hope Canada. (screenshot/nlbc.bc.ca)

Diverse views welcome: camp

In an email, One Hope Canada field director Jerry Ritskes said the organization welcomes diverse points of view.

He said Ferguson wasn't selected as lead camper because the organization doesn't want to risk putting volunteers in a position of expressing opinions they don't share.

"Canadian law requires that One Hope Canada ... define our beliefs and govern our organization accordingly," Ritskes wrote.

"We ask that all employees and volunteers involved with teaching or leading children share and adhere to those beliefs, as defined in our statement of affirmation."

Ritskes added that potential volunteers who don't agree with all aspects of the statement of faith are offered a non-leadership position.

Ferguson confirmed she was offered a position with the work crew at Ness Lake, but declined.

"I wouldn't feel right going back there to a place that can't accept what I believe," she said.

School district reviewing relationship with camp

In addition to its own camps, Ness Lake rents its facilities to third parties in the community, including School District 57.

However, that could soon change.

Richard Giroday, president of the Prince George District Teacher's Association, said some teachers were surprised and concerned to learn about One Hope's stance on homosexuality after Ferguson's rejection.

He wrote a letter on behalf of the teachers' union asking the district to review the continued use of Ness Lake for future events.

"The school district is a huge supporter of that business," said Giroday. "Teachers fundraise and save money and make opportunities for their students to attend."

"Given that we do support that business through what they do, if their policies are in direct violation of the LGBTQ policy of the district, then there is a problem."

In 2014, the school board adopted an official policy of maintaining a "safe and positive environment" for students and staff who identify as members of the LGBTQ community.

School board chair Tony Cable confirmed the district's relationship with Ness Lake and One Hope Canada has been referred to a committee meeting in September.

Pride speaker cancelled

The Rotary Club of Prince George is another organization that has used Ness Lake Bible Camp for events.

In 2015, Prince George Pride Society president Stacey Hewlett was scheduled to give a presentation on gender and sexuality at Ness Lake for the the Rotary Youth Leadership Award North event.

Her talk was cancelled, though, after Ness Lake found out about its subject matter.

"I got an email from Rotary with major apologies stating that Ness Lake did not agree to the content of my presentation and that I would be unable to provide that information," Hewlett recalled. 

The rental agreement for Ness Lake states, "any teaching material and/or program activities must not be in conflict with Ness Lake Bible Camp's mission statement and statement of faith," and staff can cancel a rental if there's a conflict. 

The Rotary Club gave Hewlett the option to change the topic of her talk, which she declined.

PG Pride president Stacey Hewlett celebrates as a rainbow crosswalk is painted in downtown Prince George. Hewlett was not allowed to give a talk on gender and sexuality at a Rotary event held at Ness Lake Bible Camp. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

She said she's disappointed a camp that plays such a prominent role in Prince George holds these views towards LGBTQ people.

"There's not a lot of options for agencies and corporations like the school district to have big events," Hewlett said. "It's almost by default that Ness Lake Bible Camp is kept so busy."

Prince George Rotary Club president Ross Birchall said his board is "looking at its options" for future events. 

"Rotary is a non-discriminatory, non-denominational organization, and the activities and events of the organization reflect that," he wrote in an email.

Hewlett said since she shared her story, a number of parents have told her they will no longer be sending their children to the camp.

"I feel bad for the kids that they would be missing out on a weekend that could be really fun and an opportunity for them to meet and get to know some other kids, but it has to be all inclusive. And Ness Lake Bible Camp has shown that it's not."

All guests welcome: One Hope

Ritskes said guests of all backgrounds, including those with differing sexual orientations and gender identities, have always and will always be welcome at Ness Lake and other One Hope ministries.

"As we strive to treat all guests with respect, we in turn ask that guest groups respect the religious nature of the facilities by adhering to various policies," he wrote.

"We will continue to work with organizations interested in using our facilities to find accommodations that work for all parties involved."


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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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