Eli Ridder | The Post

The church associated with evangelicals recently on campus promoting their belief in the female identity of the Christian God criticized several stories published by the Post via a lengthy statement emailed on Wednesday.


Strangers on Campus: The full story

All Post coverage of campus


An individual claiming to be the secretary of the World Mission Society Church of God sent a statement saying that the institution “values the role that a free press plays in society” but criticized Post coverage for sowing “more confusion about our members’ motives.”

Several evangelicals citing a “heavenly mother” have been approaching students at the University of Guelph-Humber and Humber College North Campus, along with campuses across eastern Canada and in the United States, according to reports.

The Toronto branch secretary of the church, Anh La, said that “two of the articles you published have defamed the character of our church and our members who are Humber students and graduates.”

“Reputation is a precious thing…and while we anticipate a certain amount of persecution for our faith, we find it hard to tolerate our good name being dragged through the press,” La wrote.

The secretary went on to “respectfully request an apology” and a retraction of the original article citing “alleged sex traffickers” and a second one reporting that it was confirmed the church was not related to sex traffickers.

La detailed all contentions she had with the “not sex traffickers” report, denying “shoddy reporting by campus papers in the U.S.” and an NBC News affiliate report describing the church as a “cult”, a description not claimed by the Post.

“We do not deny your right to cover what happens on your campus, we only ask that you do it fairly and responsibly,” the statement reads, claiming that Post reporting has “severely damaged” the reputations of “real people”.

La also requested that a quote from her and a statement from Maria Fernandez, who she said is a Humber College alumnus, be posted in the Post’s series of testimonials from student interactions with the female God evangelicals.

Fernandez, who the Post could not independently confirm as a former Humber student, said in her statement that she was a student on the North Campus in 2014 when she met a pair “who preached to me about Heavenly Mother.”

“As a Christian who had never heard about a female God before, I was intrigued and arranged a Bible study,” the statement reads, with Fernandez explaining she became a member of the World Mission Society Church of God soon after.

“I understand that not everyone on a college campus is going to want to talk about God, and they are free to walk away, but there are many others like me who would love to listen and be a part of this amazing church.”

“I hope that a vicious rumour that started on social media will not deter people from taking a few minutes to talk about the Bible with our members,” Fernandez wrote.

Several students have spoken to the Post publicly and in confidence saying that the evangelicals were aggressive in their approach, with one student describing her experience as being “backed me into a corner for 45 minutes”.

However, others gave descriptions saying their interaction was not a negative one, with some just stating they may been annoyed.

“I am so thankful that I was approached four years ago,” Fernandez concludes, signing off with her name and “class of 2016”.

Two of the evangelicals were kicked off campus on Feb. 9 for trespassing, according to security escorting the pair to a Mississauga bus.

The Post reached out for comment from Humber College, the University of Guelph-Humber and the Department of Public Safety but received none regarding the trespass report.


‘Eager to share’

Anh La accused the Post of sowing “fear and doubt” across campus, saying “you had a chance to alleviate any unease on campus caused by these serious — yet baseless — rumours. What a missed opportunity.”

La requested a statement be posted as an official response to the two criticized articles and the testimonial series published by the Post.

“The World Mission Society Church of God is a Christian organization with 7,000 branch churches in more than 175 countries,” La wrote.

“Our church has grown rapidly because we preach the truths in the Bible about the Sabbath and Passover and reveal the prophecies about our Heavenly Mother, the female image of God.”

“We believe that passionately preaching the gospel is the duty of every Christian, as Jesus instructed us to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’”

“However, we also realize that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so when we preach the gospel, we try our very best to be respectful of those beliefs.”

“While we are eager to share our message with people from all different races and backgrounds, it is never our intention to push our message on anyone.”

“If anyone at the Guelph-Humber campus feels that our members have been disrespectful of their time or their beliefs, we would like to sincerely apologize,” La concluded.


Full statement

In the interest of transparent and unbiased journalism, the Post has decided to release the full email from Anh La.

It should be noted that the Post was not able to independently verify that this email was from a secretary of a Toronto branch of the World Mission Society Church of God.

The Post stands by its reporting as fact-based and in the interest of the student body and will not be removing or altering any articles.


Dear Mr. Ridder,

My name is Anh La and I am the secretary of the Toronto branch of the World Mission Society Church of God. Some of our members have brought to my attention your ongoing reporting about our preaching activities on the Guelph-Humber campus. I understand from a comment on one of your articles that you have been trying to contact our church, but unfortunately no such message has reached us, so I am emailing you now in response to your coverage.

The World Mission Society Church of God values the role that a free press plays in society, especially in this age of “Fake News,” when lies and rumours spread via social media can easily overtake the truth. Vigorously fact-checked articles from a reliable mainstream press are vital. We appreciate your attempt to correct the record by publishing an article about the false rumours circulating about our church, but it is our belief that the way you have formatted your coverage has only served to sow more confusion about our members’ motives. Two of the articles you published have defamed the character of our church and our members who are Humber students and graduates. Reputation is a precious thing, Mr. Ridder, and while we anticipate a certain amount of persecution for our faith, we find it hard to tolerate our good name being dragged through the press.

I am writing to respectfully request an apology and a retraction for the articles published earlier this month under the headlines “Students concerned by alleged sex traffickers” and “Female God group not sex traffickers.” And I would like to provide a statement from myself and a Humber graduate that can be added to your story about two of our members who were asked to leave campus and your series of “testimonials.”

In the first story, you use a lie posted by an unidentified social media user, and shoddy reporting by campus papers in the U.S. – which nonetheless confirm that the police have found absolutely no truth to these rumours – to justify the republishing of unfounded and damaging rumours under a headline that labels our church members “alleged sex traffickers.” Who is alleging this? It is not enough to prove defamatory rumours are circulating, you have an obligation to determine the veracity of the rumours and decline to print them if they are defamatory lies.

While the headline in the second article states that our members are not sex traffickers, the rest of your article seems to serve to undermine that fact at every turn, making use of innuendo to sow doubt in readers’ minds and not-too-subtly suggest that there is more to the story. There is not. I would like to draw your attention to these sections in particular:

  1. Paragraph 1 states that we do not “appear” to be dangerous. There was no reason to use the word “appear” when you have been presented with no evidence that we are anything but a harmless Christian organization that likes to discuss the Bible with strangers.
  2. Paragraph 2 merely repeats damaging rumours that other outlets have confirmed are baseless. What was the point of this?
  3. Paragraph 5 undermines the fact that we are not human traffickers by stating “but the instituition has been described in the past as a cult, according to an NBC News Lexington affiliate.” In fact, we are not a cult. We are a worldwide church with 7,000 branches in 175 countries. In 2016, our U.K. branch was the first church to ever receive the Queen’s award for voluntary service (UK Zion: http://bit.ly/1X0jqDZ) We are also the first church the UN has invited to participate in a high-level pledging conference.(The general pastor of our church is introduced at the 3-hour mark of this meeting for the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund: http://bit.ly/2Hwsht5). We have also received numerous other rewards for our voluntary service in the U.S. and around the world.
  4. The last four paragraphs of your article only serve to sow doubt and confusion in the readers’ mind about our church members. An anonymous source was “confronted” by “horrible” people and she realized “how wrong it could have turned” based on social media posts. Since the only social media posts referenced are about human trafficking, ending with this source only serves to make the reader wonder whether the rumours are true, when in fact they are false and you know they are false. This paragraph is particularly egregious: When Smith heard of similar experiences being posted about on social media by peers at Guelph-Humber, the source said she realized “how wrong it could have turned if I had given her any information [or] even given her more of my time”.
    What exactly are you insinuating could have gone wrong?

We do not deny your right to cover what happens on your campus, we only ask that you do it fairly and responsibly and keep in mind that the members of this church are real people with friends and families and reputations that your coverage has severely damaged. And for what? To sow fear and doubt on your campus? You had a chance to alleviate any unease on campus caused by these serious — yet  baseless — rumours. What a missed opportunity.

We hope to hear from you soon in response to our request to heave the aforementioned articles removed. Please also accept the following statement in response to your article about two of our members and the testimonials:

“The World Mission Society Church of God is a Christian organization with 7,000 branch churches in more than 175 countries. Our church has grown rapidly because we preach the truths in the Bible about the Sabbath and Passover and reveal the prophecies about our Heavenly Mother, the female image of God. We believe that passionately preaching the gospel is the duty of every Christian, as Jesus instructed us to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’ However, we also realize that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so when we preach the gospel, we try our very best to be respectful of those beliefs. While we are eager to share our message with people from all different races and backgrounds, it is never our intention to push our message on anyone. If anyone at the Guelph-Humber campus feels that our members have been disrespectful of their time or their beliefs, we would like to sincerely apologize.” – Anh La, church secretary

And please include this statement from a Humber alumnus in your series of testimonials:

“I was a student of Humber College North campus in 2014 when I met two members of the World Mission Society Church of God who preached to me about Heavenly Mother. As a Christian who had never heard about a female God before, I was intrigued and arranged a Bible study. Shortly afterwards, I became a member of the church. I understand that not everyone on a college campus is going to want to talk about God, and they are free to walk away, but there are many others like me who would love to listen and be a part of this amazing church. I hope that a vicious rumour that started on social media will not deter people from taking a few minutes to talk about the Bible with our members if they are curious about the evidence for two Gods in the Bible: our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother. I am so thankful that I was approached four years ago.” – Maria Fernandez, Class of 2016

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Anh La


More details to follow. Image of the University of Guelph-Humber Humber College North Campus from Transit Toronto. 

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Written by Eli Ridder

Eli Ridder is a journalism student at the University of Guelph-Humber and a senior correspondent for multiple independent publications including, but not limited to, The Anon Journal, Berning Media Network and the Ribbon. Find out more at eliridder.ca

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