Saturday, March 01, 2008

Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison continues to lend his title for annual prayer breakfast

Saskatoon’s unique brand of conservatism was on display last weekend in the form of the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.

The event, held Feb. 23 at Prairieland Park, featured a keynote speech delivered by Ron Estay, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive line coach.

According to the article Breakfast of champions (StarPhoenix, Feb. 25, 2008) Estay told the audience it was “God’s plan” that he deliver the keynote speech.

The Canadian Football League hall of famer is recovering from recent prostate and gall bladder operations.

He spoke of how Christianity played an important role in his life as a champion.

It was after he was traded to the Eskimos in 1973 that he found religion. His wife tricked him into attending a conference in Chicago for Athletes in Action, a Christian organization, the article notes.

At the conference he approached Mike McCoy, a towering 6-foot-five defensive tackle with the Green Bay Packers.

“And I said, ‘Mike . . . what do you have that I don't have?’”

McCoy replied that he had Jesus.

“And I said, ‘I want him.’”

The news article is odd in that, unlike past years, not once does it mention Mayor Don Atchison or any other politicians. The only faith discussed is Christian.

In Mayor’s breakfast doubles capacity, set to celebrate football champions (StarPhoenix, Jan. 19, 2008), however, Lori Coolican reported that Premier Brad Wall had been formally invited to give an address.

Event organizer and Atchison crony, Don Funk, said “Many from the cabinet will be there, the backbenchers will also be in attendance, and we’ve also had great attendance from the federal level as well.”

Atchison said it is not a political fundraiser.

“It’s all about bringing our city together and giving thanks. This is an affordable family event – that’s what we’re striving for here. This is open to the entire community.” Oh, really?

Tickets to what some have described as an elitist event were $27.50 per person or $220 for a table of eight.

Following a hiatus of several years Atchison and organizers reinstated the prayer breakfast amid controversy in 2004.

StarPhoenix civic affair’s columnist Gerry Klein said, “It’s one thing to hold Christian views…and quite another to use one’s office to propagate the faith. This is something one expects from fundamentalist regimes, not in liberal democracies such as Canada.”

Klein went on to say that “it’s hard to imaging the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast…as anything but an evangelical effort.” [Breakfast evangelism narrow-minded (StarPhoenix, Feb. 18, 2004)]

Columnist Joanne Paulson took issue with Atchison saying that the prayer breakfast “was for city leaders and their wives or significant others” and that the mayor “wasn’t using some bizarre updated use of the term.”

“I’m afraid he can’t wriggle out of this by suggesting “significant others” refers to “everybody else including husbands, partners, and spouses of every description.” He meant male leaders and their wives or girlfriends, or he would have said “wives, husbands, or significant others,” Paulson said. [Many leaders have no wives, Mayor Atch (StarPhoenix, Feb. 18, 2004)]

It’s interesting to note that no negative columns have appeared in the StarPhoenix since. Rumour has it that as a result of Klein’s column a very large company in Saskatoon withdrew a big advertising contract.

Atchison and organizers have been trying ever since to portray the breakfast as non-political and non-denominational.

This seems silly given that politicians like Atchison and Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, all cut from the same conservative cloth, have addressed the audience either in person or via videotaped message with the media always referring to by their political titles.

In 2004 and 2005 the event was sponsored by Leadership Ministries (now LeaderImpact Group), a Christian-based group, and Campus Crusade for Christ (now Power to Change Ministries). The mission of these organizations is to convert non-Christians to the Christian faith. Since 2006 the breakfast appears to have been sponsored by the local Christian community.

This year’s event was advertised on websites belonging to the Cornerstone Church on Lenore Drive, the Holy Family Parish, a Roman Catholic Christian community in the affluent neighbourhoods of Sutherland, Forestgrove, Arbor Creek, Erindale, College Park, Silverspring, University Heights and Willowgrove, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. In fact, the latter in its weekly bulletin urged people to attend the breakfast and “Join other Christians in prayer for our civic leaders!”

Try as they might it’s hard for Atchison and friends to hide the event’s true objective.

In Prayers support mayor: Saskatoon faith community resumes annual breakfast (StarPhoenix, Jan. 31, 2004) Don Funk, chair of the organizing committee, said the main purpose of the event is to give the men and women of Saskatoon an opportunity to meet and pray for their mayor.

“We believe this is a step of obedience on the part of the faith community,” says Steve Savage, who works with Leadership Ministries and is also on the committee. “We are commanded in Scripture to pray for those who are in authority above us.

“Our vision is threefold: to give men and women the opportunity to meet the mayor, to gain a greater appreciation of his role and responsibilities, and to acknowledge God in our city.”

A few years earlier in Breakfast meeting seeks God's direction for local leaders (StarPhoenix, Nov. 27, 1999) it was reported that the first Mayor’s Leadership Prayer Breakfast was held in 1976. It was initiated by Christian businessman, Ed Kliewer.

“I could see that Christian and family values were deteriorating, and it seemed to me we needed to pray for our community leaders. After all, unless we pray for them, how can they function effectively? They need spiritual guidance to direct the political and civic affairs of our city,” Kliewer said.

“The whole idea of leadership prayer breakfasts is based on II Chronicles 7:14, where God says: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.’”

According to its website the Power to Change Ministries “seeks to glorify God by making a maximum contribution toward helping to fulfill the Great Commission in Canada and around the world by developing movements of evangelism and discipleship.”

The most familiar version of the Great Commission is depicted in the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”(New International Version)
It’s obvious the intention is to effect conversion to Christianity. It would be nice if Mayor Atchison and the organizers of the prayer breakfast would simply just be honest with people and say that.

Previous prayer breakfast postings can be found here and here.


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