Sunday, June 16, 2024

Religious groups debate impact of Canada's proposed Online Harms Act

When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked to describe his test for obscenity in 1964, he became famous for his response: “I know it when I see it.” 

Could a similar test be true for hate speech? That’s the question some are asking over the federal government’s proposed Online Harms Act. 

The act, which was introduced in Parliament in February, will hold online platforms like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) accountable for the content that foments hatred, incites violence or promotes extremism or terrorism. It will also require them to actively reduce the risk of exposure to harmful content. 

But just as people have long debated Stewart’s view about what constitutes obscenity, Canadian religious groups are asking what will constitute hate speech in the act, who gets to decide what it is, and whether the Act is the best way to address it. 

Read my column about it here.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

New Vivian Silver Impact Award to promote peace between Israel and Palestine

The family of Winnipeg-born Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver, who was killed during the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, have launched a peace award in her name. 

The Vivian Silver Impact Award will be presented annually to an Arab (Palestinian) woman and a Jewish woman who “embody Vivian’s values and actions” of building Arab-Jewish partnership in Israel, establishing peace between Israel and Palestine, and advancing women to decision-making and leadership positions. 

Silver’s son Yonatan Zeigen, 35, said the award “is a way to keep my mother’s memory alive.” 

Created with his brother, Chen, and Silver’s siblings in Canada, the award will be presented for the first time this fall around the anniversary of her burial. 

“We want to give it to two women who are working in the fields of peace and the promotion of dialogue,” said Yonatan.

It’s a way to “commemorate my mother, continue her legacy and promote the things that were important to her,” added Chen. 

Read more about the award in my story in the Free Press, along with reaction from Jews and Muslims in Winnipeg.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

During Pride month, some positive news about religion and the LGBTTQ+ community

Although some in the LGBTTQ+ community might think news about religion and LGBTTQ+ is only negative, that’s not the case—as some recent developments show.

For example, Fuller Seminary—one of the preeminent evangelical seminaries in North America-is discussing whether to revise its standards prohibiting students and staff from “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct,” and its position that sexual intimacy is supposed to be reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman.

In May the United Methodist Church (UMC) voted at their General Conference to become more open and accepting of LGBTTQ+ people, including repealing the 52-year-old declaration that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada has revised its code of conduct so anyone can apply for any position at the international relief and development organization — including those who support same-sex marriage or are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

And Anglicans and Lutherans in Manitoba have joined together to create a new committee to educate about and advocate for members of the LGBTTQ+ community.

Read more in my recent Free Press column.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

If religion is good for mental health, why are places of worship emptying today?

Study after study shows that people who are part of worshipping communities tend to have better health, less depression and a more positive outlook on life. But if that’s the case, why are so many people leaving religion? Or why aren’t more people seeking out places of worship as places to belong? That’s what a pastor asked me recently. 

Is it because religion gets such a bad rap in the media? Is it because places of worship do a poor job of telling their stories? Or is it because what they are doing really isn’t connecting with people today?

Read a reflection on that topic in my recent column in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Image from the National Association of Science Writers.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

A problem in the pews? Or a new way for Canadian Christians to show faithfulness? A new study raises interesting questions.

God as a three-in-one, Jesus as divine, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead — these are traditional church teachings that all Christians are assumed to believe. But a recent study by Cardus and the Canadian Bible Society has found that assumption to be unfounded.

Titled “Still Christian(?): What Canadian Christians Actually Believe,” the study’s author, Andrew Bennett, found the beliefs of many Canadian Christians don’t match up with what their churches teach on these and other doctrines.

For Bennett, the results are startling. “You could say there’s a real problem in the pews,” he said.

But is that the case? Maybe something is happening in Canadian churches today as people find new ways of expressing and practicing faithfulness—ways that go beyond the need to believe certain things in order to be a Christian.

Read my column in the Free Press.

Photo from Catholic Review.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference withdraws from MCC Canada over change in hiring practices related to same-sex marriage

A decision by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada to no longer require all staff to be celibate outside of heterosexual marriage has prompted the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference to withdraw as an official supporting member of that organization. 

The conference made the decision because of the lack of congruence between MCC Canada’s new position on marriage and the denomination’s Confession of Faith, which defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman, said interim executive director Terry Hiebert. 

“It’s no secret the conference has had some disconnects with MCC over the years,” Hiebert said, noting the denomination has been able to live with those tensions in the past. But the change over its hiring practices related to marriage “shows them heading in a different direction,” than the conference, he added. 

The change only applies to MCC Canada, not to MCC U.S.

Read more about it in Anabaptist World. 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Why do LGBTQ+ people stay in churches that consider them to be sinful? A seminary student set out to find out why

Same-sex marriage and sexual and gender diversity is accepted as normal and celebrated in Canada today. But it is still seen as wrong by some conservative evangelical Christian denominations.

And yet, there are many LGBTTQ+ people who still attend evangelical churches where their sexual identity is considered sinful and their full participation is not welcome. Why do they stay?

That’s what Naomi Isaac, who graduated in April from the Master of Arts in counselling psychology at Providence Theological Seminary in Otterburne, sought to find out in her thesis titled “2SLGBTQ+ Christians’ Experience of Spirituality in Canadian Evangelical Churches.”

Read about it in my recent Free Press column.