Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FAITH - BY JOHN LONGHURST

GAY mar­riage in the United States, the “Fran­cis ef­fect” on cli­mate change, the war against the Is­lamic State, strug­gling de­nom­i­na­tions — th­ese are a few of the top re­li­gion sto­ries of 2015.

Gay mar­riage has been le­gal in Canada for 10 years, but the U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing in its favour in that coun­try was also big news here. For many peo­ple, the rul­ing ended de­bate about the is­sue, but it re­mains a hot topic for many faith groups.

Some, such as Rev. Franklin Gra­ham, saw the de­ci­sion in near-apoc­a­lyp­tic terms, pre­dict­ing it would trig­ger the per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians. But oth­ers, such as in­flu­en­tial evan­gel­i­cal leader Tony Cam­polo, were more ac­cept­ing.

Said Cam­polo: “I am old enough to re­mem­ber when we in the church made strong bi­b­li­cal cases for keep­ing women out of teach­ing roles, and when di­vorced and re­mar­ried peo­ple of­ten were ex­cluded from fel­low­ship al­to­gether on the ba­sis of scrip­ture... many of those peo­ple (who felt that way) were sin­cere be­liev­ers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong.”

Then there was the Pope’s en­cycli­cal on the en­vi­ron­ment, Laudato Si, with its call to move away from de­pen­dence on fos­sil fu­els and to show greater care for cre­ation. It was a ground­break­ing and in­flu­en­tial doc­u­ment for many, and seems to have swayed many to change their views on cli­mate change.

Ac­cord­ing to a Yale Univer­sity study ti­tled The Fran­cis Ef­fect: How Pope Fran­cis changed the con­ver­sa­tion about global warm­ing, more Amer­i­can Catholics are now wor­ried about global warm­ing than be­fore the en­cycli­cal was re­leased.

“Some of th­ese changes can be at­trib­uted to the Pope’s teach­ings, as 17 per cent of Amer­i­cans and 35 per cent of Catholics say his po­si­tion on global warm­ing in­flu­enced their own views of the is­sue,” the study con­cluded.

The hor­rors vis­ited on the world by IS, and the re­sult­ing anti-Mus­lim back­lash, also dom­i­nated the news. In Canada, this played out in the worst way through the ex­ploita­tion of the niqab is­sue dur­ing the fall fed­eral elec­tion, along with the idea of a tip line for “bar­baric cul­tural prac­tices.”

The re­sult was that many Mus­lims felt fear­ful and un­wel­come in Canada. As Sheema Khan wrote in the Globe and Mail dur­ing the elec­tion: “I never imag­ined that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment would use its hefty weight to vil­ify Mus­lims. Never in 50 years have I felt so vul­ner­a­ble. For the first time, I won­der if my chil­dren will have the op­por­tu­nity to thrive as I did.”

Thank­fully, that dark weight seems to have lifted in Canada. But across the U.S. border, anti-Mus­lim hys­te­ria is in full force. Will peo­ple ever learn not to sus­pect and vil­ify those who are dif­fer­ent? It will be a story to watch in 2016.

The year was marked by the con­tin­u­ing strug­gles of churches and whole de­nom­i­na­tions. Be­set by fall­ing at­ten­dance and giv­ing, in Au­gust, the United Church of Canada voted to cut $11 mil­lion from its $30-mil­lion bud­get. In Novem­ber, Men­non­ite Church Canada, which is head­quar­tered in Win­nipeg, axed five jobs and shut down pro­grams due to de­clin­ing giv­ing. Next sum­mer, mem­bers of the church will be asked to vote on a pro­posal to dis­solve the na­tional body.

Many other groups also face chal­leng­ing fu­tures as more and more peo­ple de­cide church­go­ing isn’t for them. This in­cludes evan­gel­i­cals, a body of­ten is seen as not be­ing af­fected by the down­turn in re­li­gios­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to Sam Reimer, a pro­fes­sor at Cran­dall Univer­sity in Monc­ton, N.B., who has re­cently com­pleted a study of evan­gel­i­cal churches in Canada, evan­gel­i­cals are do­ing bet­ter than other de­nom­i­na­tions, but dur­ing the study he was “hard-pressed to find an evan­gel­i­cal de­nom­i­na­tion that was grow­ing in Canada.”

Those are just a few sto­ries that jumped out. There were many oth­ers, in­clud­ing the amaz­ing re­sponse by church groups to Syr­ian refugees; the ways some peo­ple of faith are build­ing new re­la­tions with Cana­dian abo­rig­i­nals; the suc­cess­ful ef­fort by lo­cal churches to ad­vo­cate for the Free­dom Road for Shoal Lake 40 First Na­tion; the clo­sure of Chris­tian­Week, Canada’s main evan­gel­i­cal news­pa­per; the court case in­volv­ing Trin­ity Western Univer­sity’s law school in Lan­g­ley, B.C.; con­tin­u­ing per­se­cu­tion of var­i­ous re­li­gious groups around the world; and al­most any­thing to do with Pope Fran­cis.

All in all, 2015 was an in­ter­est­ing year for peo­ple of faith.

What 2016 will hold?

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