Theology professor testifies on flyer during Bill Whatcott's “hate speech” trial in Toronto.
Big court case over pro-family flyer handed out at 2016 Toronto “Gay Pride” parade.
Professor is asked: Were the flyer’s statements about Christianity accurate?
This is what happens in a country without a First Amendment. But could it happen in America?
November 2, 2021
Imagine a major criminal trial being held – with prominent expert witnesses – over a pro-family flyer that the government disapproves of. It’s happening in Canada.
During days four and five (Oct. 19 and 20) of pro-family activist Bill Whatcott’s trial for “willful promotion of hatred,” the discussion and cross-examination was about Christianity.
The defense brought in Dr. Douglas Farrow as expert witness to testify about the religious aspects of the flyer. Dr. Farrow is a prominent professor of Theology and Ethics at McGill University. His task was to answer the question: Are the religious elements in the flyer consistent with Judeo-Christian tradition?
As we’ve reported, the Attorney General of Ontario (“the Crown”) is prosecuting Bill Whatcott over flyers he and his friends passed out at 2016 Toronto Pride. The flyer (which has now been banned from publication in Canada) warned about the medical dangers of homosexual behavior and admonished people to seek salvation in Christ. The Crown is claiming that the text of the flyer amounts to illegal “promotion of hatred” – a felony in Canada – and is seeking a prison term for Bill. Fortunately, Bill is being defended by John Rosen, the most prominent criminal defense attorney in Canada.
The first day of the trial mostly featured the video of the Toronto Police interrogating Bill after his arrest in 2018 - which occurred two years after the Pride event. (We have the video of the interrogation and will be posting it soon.) The second and third day included the testimony and cross-examination of the Crown’s medical expert, an infectious disease physician, regarding the medical statements in Bill’s flyer.
Professor Farrow’s testimony on the flyer was particularly pertinent because the Canadian statute in question states that a person “will not be convicted…if in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text.”
Here is the text from Bill’s flyer that pertains to religious issues:
Natural law is clear, homosexuality is incompatible with human nature. Disease, death and confusion are the sad and sordid realities of the homosexual lifestyle. The “Gay Zombies” [Bill's group] are concerned about the spiritual, psychological and physical welfare of all potential homosexual pride attendees, so we want to give you this accurate information and encourage you to abstain from the homosexuality.
Canada has embarked on a destructive journey towards sexual anarchy and homosexual inspired oppression. The fruit of sexual anarchy is the rejection of God’s plan of life long heterosexual matrimony and replacing the virtues of chastity, fidelity, unconditional love, and life long commitment to one’s spouse, with promiscuity, polyamory, pornography and homosexuality. The clear evidence contained in this package shows Canada’s new sexual ethic is contrary to natural law and no good will come from it.
The rejection of true marriage is also in direct opposition to God’s law and it is our duty to warn you that those who choose to rebel against the God who created them, do so to their eternal peril. For those reading this Gospel package we also want to let you know there is a God who loves you, and who is real, and who has made a way for you to come to Him.
If you are tired of your sin and want to come to your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and receive the free gift of eternal life, you can call: Bill Whatcott [gives phone number, email]
“To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:21-24
Defense attorney questions Dr. Farrow
On October 19, defense attorney Lindsay Daviau (on Atty. Rosen’s team) questioned Professor Farrow.
A warning ... and invitation. She began by asking him about the line in the flyer: “… it is our duty to warn you that those who choose to rebel against the God who created them…” Prof. Farrow said that the warning, combined with the invitation to come to Christ (also in that paragraph), is a significant part of Christian tradition.
Moreover, Farrow said he was “impressed” that Bill ended his flyer with the quote from Peter which reiterated that point. As a whole then, the messaging in the flyer “seemed fairly remarkable in its internal consistency.” That the warning was followed by the invitation to the reader is a message of inclusion in the good; not exclusion, he said.
Love thy neighbor as yourself. Daviau asked about the flyer’s statement:
The ‘Gay Zombies’ are concerned about the spiritual, psychological and physical welfare of all potential homosexual pride attendees, so we want to give you this accurate information and encourage you to abstain from the homosexuality.
Prof. Farrow put this in the context of St. Augustine on how one fulfills the two great commandments, to love your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. In order to fulfill the second, you have to love the whole neighbor’s person: body and soul. He sees this balance in the flyer which deals both with the physical and spiritual.
The flyer as a whole. Looking at the flyer as a whole, he was asked, does anything stand out in terms of messaging? He said he was “not expecting to find all of the religious elements present in such a short document. And the level of religious coherence is surprising.” He elaborated three important elements in the underlying text and ideas: (1) created order (natural law); (2) warning about deviation from that; (3) the invitation to be a follower of Jesus and experience restoration.
The Professor noted that Bill’s sign-off, “In Christ’s service,” is typical for one seeking to fulfill the mission of the Church: ultimately to share the mission of Christ.
Questions about Bill’s blog post after the event
In order to further prove Bill’s “hateful” intent, the Crown entered as evidence his blog post shortly after the Pride event. The post is available here (via Internet Archive). Daviau asked Prof. Farrow some questions about that post, particularly the Biblical quotes in it. He noted the blog post’s frequent appeal to scripture that include guidance for Christian living, he said. He saw no contradiction with the flyer.
Quote from Ephesians. She asked about the blog’s quote from Ephesians –"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." – Prof. Farrow referred to Judeo-Christian cosmology: People need to be alert to these larger forces when entering spiritual combat. That seems to be the context for the blog’s reference to Bill’s group of “Christian commandos” who infiltrated the Pride event.
Quote from Joshua. The blog includes the quote: "Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” Joshua 2:1 The Professor saw a parallel with the Book of Joshua where spies were sent out to Jericho by Joshua. He explained that the Hebrew armies did not directly assault the city but marched around the walls – and it was God who made the walls fall. Also, calling the Zombies “Christian commandos” seems to fit into Paul’s text on spiritual combat.
Quote from Corinthians. Daviau asked Prof. Farrow about the blog’s quote from Corinthians: "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings." He pointed out Paul understood you can’t communicate with a group if you stay separate. Bill and his friends, dressed as “Gay Zombies,” were approaching the audience at the Pride parade in a way they might respond positively.
Indignation at naked men with child. Prof. Farrow also noted that Bill’s blog described his legitimate indignation that naked men were casually standing next to a young child. Bill included the photo of that, with Luke 17:1-2 quoted below it:
This is a severe warning text, Farrow explained, about what the flyer called “eternal peril.” Here it is applied to exposing children to deviant sexuality.
Zoom broadcast of trial attacked by homosexual activist
During the October 19 proceedings, which observers were attending via Zoom, someone – clearly a homosexual activist – hacked into the broadcast and displayed graphics of sex organs and anti-religious slogans. Although the trial continued, the Court briefly shut down the entire broadcast. Soon afterwards they let in specific observers (including MassResistance).
The missing part of the questioning apparently focused on the Biblical understanding of “natural law” which the flyer addresses, i.e. its statement: “Natural law is clear, homosexuality is incompatible with human nature." Dr. Farrow agreed that statement was true.
Crown Counsel cross-examines Dr. Farrow
The next day, October 20, Crown attorney Rebecca De Filippis questioned Prof. Farrow. Her hope was to get him to agree that Whatcott’s material was un-Christian – i.e., rather than following Christ and acting out of love, Bill was willfully promoting hatred against gays.
Opposition to gay marriage. She began by attempting to insinuate the Professor’s bias by citing his admitted public opposition to gay marriage. But he explained that is how all traditional Christianity – and natural law – view marriage, despite what civil law may say about it.
Lifelong matrimony. Thus, when De Filippis then asked whether the flyer’s focus on “lifelong matrimony” was consistent with core Christian tradition, Prof. Farrow answered that monogamy and lifelong marriage are certainly key elements of the Biblical and Christian tradition. He said that sexual behavior outside of marriage such as adultery and homosexuality are problems in this context.
“Homosexual inspired oppression.” She next asked about Bill’s phrase, “homosexual inspired oppression,” and whether there was any Christian basis for that. Farrow said that there is. He gave the example of the “paradigmatic story” of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis, which includes the element of “oppression” of Lot and his family because they chose not to engage in homosexual practices. He also cited the Book of Romans on societal decline as a consequence of sexual disorder, including homosexuality.
… and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:27)
These passages and many others in the Bible give context relevant to this case, he said.
Bill’s lying to get into the parade. The discussion then turned to lying. De Filippis tried to argue that Bill’s registration for the Pride parade, which used fraudulent names and group identity, was somehow criminal – or at least un-Christian. Is it ever permissible to lie, she asked? Prof. Farrow answered this can be complex territory. Take the example of escaping Nazi Germany by using fraudulent documents. Context is important, he explained.
The word “sodomite.” De Filippis pointed out that Bill uses the term "sodomites" and “sodomy” in the flyer and also the blog post. She asked if the term is pejorative. But Farrow pointed out that its source is the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. He said that while some people may use the word “sodomites” pejoratively, it is a “literary term” referring to “unnatural sexual relations, their unnatural vices.” It’s necessary to distinguish between the people and their actions. Nothing in the word “sodomite” itself is insulting, he said.
Attacking others. De Filippis asked if it is consistent with Christian tradition to warn by “attacking the other person,” in the sense of “insulting or denigrating them?” The Professor agreed that it would be outside the proper Christian’s role to attack one personally. But just because someone takes offense doesn’t mean the warning was out of bounds or wrong, he said.
The surprising conclusion to Professor Farrow’s testimony: The only image in Bill’s flyer that Farrow thought might hold religious significance was the diseased corpse. He saw its similarity to a famous Christian painting, the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald (see below) of Jesus in the tomb spotted with the plague: Jesus bears all the sins, sorrows, and suffering of humanity. Farrow said he made a mental note at the time, and also recalled a passage in a blog post by Bill: “Jesus died to save homosexuals.” But whether that had occurred to Bill he had no idea, he said.
Prof. Farrow stated that, rather than being hateful, Bill clearly believes that no one is excluded from the salvation story, and what God does is intended to help all people.
One startling observation that we had was that Dr. Farrow praised religious elements of Bill’s flyer – as brief as they are – for their “religious cohesion.” That is, it had all the elements of a cohesive religious argument.
In this ludicrous trial, this would seem to be a slam-dunk for the defense. Whatcott’s religious motivation would appear to be sincere. Recall that Canadian law holds that a person will not be convicted, “if in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text.” But the Judge will get to rule on Whatcott’s sincerity of religious belief.
As we’ve observed in previous posts about this trial, it is unbelievable – and frightening – that the Canadian government would expend such enormous time and resources to prosecute a flyer that would hardly be noticed by almost any other government in the world. Canada actually has a Charter of Rights that (supposedly) allows for free speech. In the United States and other countries, free speech is also being quickly eroded by politicians. Is this our future? We must not let it happen here!
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