Canada

O, Canada! And no, this 'God optional' story isn’t from The Onion or the Babylon Bee

O, Canada! And no, this 'God optional' story isn’t from The Onion or the Babylon Bee

Maybe you saw this headline, or variations on it: “Clergy No Longer Need to Believe in God, Liberal Protestants decide.”

That looks like a satirical “news” headline from TheOnion.com or its religion equivalent, BabylonBee.com. However, it’s a real-life precedent set by the United Church of Canada — an event with considerable interest for religionists and journalists. The progressive UCC (not to be confused with the edgy United Church of Christ in the United States) has allowed ample flexibility on much else, but the optional God is brand new.

The Rev. Gretta Vosper (see www.grettavosper.ca), far more publicized in Canada than the U.S., is the pastor of West Hill United Church in Scarborough, Ontario. She faced a church tribunal this month over her atheism. But a terse announcement Nov. 7 said Vosper and the UCC’s Toronto regional body “have settled all outstanding issues” and she “will remain in ordained ministry.” Further explanation of the deal is sealed by court order.

Vosper, who took over West Hill in 1997, says she “came out as an atheist” in 2001, stripping language about any supernatural God from prayers and hymns, followed by her 2008 book “With or Without God.” She openly embraced an “atheist” identity in 2013. Meanwhile, her congregation officially defined itself as “theists, agnostics and atheists” with “roots in the Judaeo-Christian tradition” who seek truth and justice.

There’s no mention of any role in this for Jesus or the Bible

The UCC was formed in 1925 through a union of Canada’s Congregationalists, Methodists and a majority of Presbyterians. On paper, it still enshrines an orthodox founding creed that includes worship of “the one and only living and true God, a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being and perfections.” The United Church of Canada was a celebrated ecumenical milestone, the world’s first major Protestant union across denominational lines. In 1962, U.S. “mainline” Protestant churches launched a similar merger effort that fizzled.

As with U.S. “mainliners,” the UCC has suffered steady decline in numbers and vitality. By government data, Canadians identifying with this body went from 3,769,000 in 1971 to 2,008,000 in 2011. The number of congregations dropped a third over those years to the current 2,894. Currently, the church reports only 424,000 full “communicant” members and average attendance of 139,000.

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It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's time for an update on the inseparably braided political and religious goings-on in two key Muslim nations; Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, and Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace and site of the recently concluded hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

As you may expect, it’s not good news.

Moreover, it’s news that’s in danger of going under-appreciated because of the undeniably more alluring headlines -- for American news junkies, at least -- related to the Catholic Church’s sexual corruption cover up, and the Trump administration’s equally crumbling cover up of sexual, financial and all-around political corruption.

Let’s start with Indonesia, which once enjoyed, and capitalized on, a reputation for being one of the most politically moderate and religiously open-minded of Muslim nations.

These two pieces provide a refresher, should you require it. The first is a news report from Reuterswhile the second is a previous GetReligion analysis by editor Terry Mattingly ("That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?"

Now, it seems, the situation in the Southeast Asian archipelago nation has gone from bad to worse, and perhaps to the absurd.

Here’s what The Washington Post reported last week.

A Buddhist woman’s conviction this week on blasphemy charges has alarmed many in Indonesia who were already worried about the erosion of religious pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.


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Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

I’ve been reporting for some time now on the legal woes that Trinity Western University has been having with its bid to be the first Christian law school in Canada. Like many other Christian colleges, it has a doctrinal covenant students must sign that includes a promise to abstain from sex outside of traditional marriage.

LGBTQ rights folks decided that this doctrinal stand was rampant discrimination and were successful at dislodging TWU’s bid, even as the battle went to the country’s highest court.

Then Trinity moved the chairs around a bit this past week.  

The best-written article on this change was from the National Post with a head reading: “Still seeking law school, Trinity Western drops sexual ‘covenant’ for students." It ran along with a sympathetic YouTube video about TWU, which appears with this blog post.

A Christian university in British Columbia that lost a Supreme Court battle to create an evangelical law school has dropped its controversial requirement for all students to sign a contract that forbids any sex outside heterosexual marriage.

Many observers, including some who intervened in the court case, saw this as a preliminary step toward a renewed push for an accredited law school. Trinity Western University, in Langley outside Vancouver, first announced plans to offer legal degrees in 2012, only to find itself locked in litigation with law societies in Ontario and B.C., which refused to accredit it.

The school’s new motion, passed last week but only released Tuesday, reads: “In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University.”

The decision removes the primary problem considered by the Supreme Court in its June decision, which was the mandatory nature of the “Community Covenant.” 

Further down, you get the school’s denial that the change was done with ulterior motives.


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BBC puts half the facts in its Trinity Western lede, adding note of confusion to this story

BBC puts half the facts in its Trinity Western lede, adding note of confusion to this story

When you look at prestige brand names in the world of news, it's hard to find institutions that can match the global impact of The New York Times and BBC News.

Journalists here in America are constantly aware of the impact of the Times, in terms of shaping the priorities of other newspapers from coast to coast. It's hard to find a small circle of journalists with more power than the editors who decide what goes on A1 in the Times.

However, anyone who has traveled around the world and gazed at hotel-room televisions knows that the BBC is omnipresent and very powerful just about everywhere.

Thus, let me add an editorial note to my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin's report -- "Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed" -- focusing on how Canadian journalists covered the Trinity Western University decision at the Supreme Court of Canada.

In particular, I would like to focus on how this short report produced by the gatekeepers at the BBC handled a key detail in the community covenant (or as the CBC described it, the "so-called community covenant") that defines the doctrinal standards that guide life on that evangelical Protestant campus.

The headline on this report is certainly blunt, but it is accurate: "Canada's Supreme Court rules LGBT rights trump religious freedom." This brings us to the story's lede:

Canada's top court has ruled in favour of denying accreditation to a Christian law school that banned students from having gay sex.

Now, let me say right up front that this statement is accurate, sort of, and half-way true.

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Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed

Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed

Just after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Colorado baker was discriminated against for his Christian beliefs that forbade him to make special same-sex-themed wedding cakes, the Canadian high court has have come out with a ruling that elevates gay rights over religious rights.

The Vancouver Sun, located not too many miles west of the Trinity Western University campus, was one of a number of Canadian outlets covering the ruling. Curiously, they used a Canadian Press wire service story instead of assigning one of its own reporters to it.  

The Sun did provide a local react story by a reporter stationed on Trinity’s campus but it seems a bit odd to run wires for the main story when the subject is in your own back yard. Anyway, here was the top of this story (as we look for a winner in the most-biased lede competition):

Societies governing the legal profession have the right to deny accreditation to a proposed law school at a Christian university in B.C., the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a pair of keenly anticipated decisions Friday, the high court said law societies in Ontario and British Columbia were entitled to ensure equal access to the bar, support diversity and prevent harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students.

The cases pitted two significant societal values -- freedom of religion and promotion of equality -- against one another.

Trinity Western University, a private post-secondary institution in Langley, was founded on evangelical Christian principles and requires students to adhere to a covenant allowing sexual intimacy only between a married man and woman.

Well, at least that final paragraph accurately described the school's doctrinal covenant -- sort of. Notice that it's "evangelical" to teach doctrines common in all traditional Christian churches. 

The Toronto Globe and Mail had a more gracefully written intro:

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God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

So who is that Jordan Peterson guy and why is he so popular with some people and so controversial for others?

Yes, after weeks of getting emails from people asking when I was going to write something about Peterson, the other day I took a look at a very God-haunted Washington Post Style piece that ran with this headline: "Jordan Peterson is on a crusade to toughen up young men. It’s landed him on our cultural divide." Now, readers can click here and check out the "Crossroads" podcast that digs into some of this.

The cultural divide is easy to spot and to explore. On one side you have people -- millions of them -- who follow Peterson's every move in the digital marketplace of ideas. Some see him as the next C.S. Lewis (or a perfect example of trends that Lewis opposed). Some see him as the new William F. Buckley.

Some like his calm, blunt take on political correctness -- including issues related to free speech, gender wars, etc. It' this old logic: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

On the other side there are those who use similar logic, only they assume that when someone endorses one thing or the other that Peterson has said, that then links the University of Toronto clinical psychologist to that cause, whatever that may be. For example, see this take at The Forward:

Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor-turned-self-help-guru, “The Savior of Western Civilization.” Paul Joseph Watson, a prominent conspiracy theorist for Infowars, has tweeted, “Jordan Peterson for Canadian Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, many who admire Peterson see him as a kind of anti-Donald Trump, a person who is making a case for a culturally conservative approach to life using logic, education and discipline as opposed to, well, America's Tweeter In Chief.

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How to cover Jordan Peterson, while avoiding truth-shaped holes in his 'secular' gospel

How to cover Jordan Peterson, while avoiding truth-shaped holes in his 'secular' gospel

At least once a week, I receive an email from a reader asking me -- as a columnist -- when I am going to write about Jordan Peterson.

You see, there are lots of folks who believe Peterson is, well, the next C.S. Lewis.

Then there are others who worry that Peterson's unique worldview -- secular philosophy, with no confessed ties to a religious tradition -- are exactly the kind of thing that Lewis warned about in our modern and now postmodern world. Lewis knew a lot about the lines between deism, theism and Christian faith.

Then there are those who, after careful parsing of several thousand Peterson remarks on YouTube about the Bible and truth, are convinced that there is a faith tradition in there somewhere, one that the bestselling author ("12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos") doesn't -- for some reason -- want to state openly.

However, if you study the Peterson phenomenon you are going to run into religion and, in particular, debates about whether truth is relative and evolving or transcendent and absolute. Yes, we are James Davison Hunter territory once again. What a surprise.

Anyway, the Washington Post recently published an oh-so-predictable feature about Peterson, with this headline: "Jordan Peterson is on a crusade to toughen up young men. It’s landed him on our cultural divide."

I have some good news and some bad news, for GetReligion readers who are interested in this topic.

The good news: There's a ton of material to read in this feature linked to the religion ghosts in his worldview and the issues that have made him so controversial.

The bad news: This long feature was not produced by the religion-desk team at the Post. It shows.

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As Sikhs make headlines, the Vancouver Sun tries a little psychotherapy (and it works)

As Sikhs make headlines, the Vancouver Sun tries a little psychotherapy (and it works)

There’s been a lot in the Canadian press recently about Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party and their dealings with Sikhs. More than 30 years ago, a Sikh man living in British Columbia shot a visiting Punjabi official from India and ended up serving five years in prison. Normally, such folks wouldn’t be allowed within blocks of the Canadian prime minister.

Which is why a lot of people were shocked a few weeks ago when the shooter ended up at a Mumbai reception sponsored by the Canadian government and was on the invite list for a similar event with Trudeau in Delhi.

Naturally, more questions were asked as to just who and what is Canada’s Sikh minority. Which is why the Vancouver Sun’s spirituality and diversity columnist Douglas Todd decided to interview the folks in the Sikh community who know where all the bodies are buried: Psychotherapists. Here's what he came up with:

Canadian journalists have been reporting on how Trudeau and his entourage, including Sikh MPs, invited a convicted Sikh terrorist to diplomatic galas in India, and how early videos have been uncovered linking the NDP leader to Sikh activists and militants pressing for a separate homeland in India called Khalistan.
The Canadian news media have, in the midst of the commotion, sometimes been accused by activists of stereotyping the country’s roughly 500,000 Sikhs, “by portraying all Sikhs as violent extremists.” Sensitivity has been exacerbated by U.S. cases, following the 2001 terrorist attacks, where some turban-wearing Sikh Americans have been attacked, even killed, after being mistaken for Muslims…
However, as Sikh activists urge Canadians to find out more about what Sikhs think, there is one source we have not heard from: Professional psychotherapists of Punjabi Sikh origin. Such insiders work on the front lines with the country’s eclectic Sikhs, especially when they’re distressed.

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New York Times misses the nuances on Canadian battle over abortion, religious freedom

New York Times misses the nuances on Canadian battle over abortion, religious freedom

Justin Trudeau certainly is an engaging politician but he’s seems pretty tone-deaf to how religious Canadians -- and I don't mean just the conservative ones -- feel.

Yes, he is Catholic, although many Catholic officials on both sides of the border believe his policies are solidly against the church's doctrines. So his term in office has been an interesting ride considering his stance on abortion. 

The latest explosion is about who funds student workers in religious summer camps. Even though not directly of Trudeau's making, this issue got the attention of The New York Times recently in this piece

MONTREAL -- A Canadian government requirement that groups seeking federal grants for student jobs must support abortion rights is inflaming a cultural battle and angering religious groups, opposition politicians and even American conservatives.
Under new guidelines announced in December, groups applying for a federal grant program, which provides roughly $113 million in annual funding for about 70,000 student jobs, must check a box on an electronic form acknowledging that they respect “individual human rights in Canada.”
Those rights encompass women’s reproductive rights, including “the right to access safe and legal abortions.”
In what some critics are calling an “ideological purity test,” the application guidelines, for the Canada Summer Jobs program, have not only offended leading conservatives in Canada, but have also led to anger spilling across the border to religious groups and right-wing ideologues in the United States.

It’s a bit foggy throughout the piece as to which religious groups are angry about the policy --  although that answer is easily found if you check Canadian media.

I’ll go there in a minute. Back to the Times: It only mentions one American “right wing ideologue” and no American religious groups.

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