GAY MARRIAGE, POPE LEFT MARKS ON ’15
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?