Globe and Mail

The Economist: Stuck in a time warp, misses real news about Global South missionaries

The Economist: Stuck in a time warp, misses real news about Global South missionaries

The classically liberal British weekly, The Economist, is known for its authoritative, tightly written, analysis-infused news coverage. While I sometimes disagree with its editorial conclusions, I include myself among those who find The Economist a satisfying read.

But even the news outlets I favor the most are capable of sometimes publishing pieces that leave me wondering.

Such was the case with an Economist piece from earlier this month on the spread of Christian missionaries coming from the Global South (formerly known as the Third World) to North America and Europe — a 180-degree reversal from the historical pattern.

This reverse flow says a lot about the state of global Christianity. It speaks to the real possibility of the political and cultural West entering a truly post-Christian age. And it underscores how the Global South — Africa, Asia and Latin America — are likely to define Christianity’s future.

But why now? Why did The Economist  bother to publish, both online and in print, a story about a phenomenon that’s been picking up speed for several decades and play it as if they’d uncovered a breaking trend?

Why would a publication as exemplary as The Economist  publish a piece that reads as if its been sitting in the magazine’s ever-green file for years?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Not really new news: Immigration has affected churches in Canada (and elsewhere) for years

Not really new news: Immigration has affected churches in Canada (and elsewhere) for years

"There is no new thing under the sun," the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us in chapter 1, verse 9. While it's doubtful that said author was also a newspaper editor, it's a handy point for editors to remember, I believe. Too little of what is reported as "news" is, actually, "new."

These thoughts came to mind as I read a story in the Globe and Mail, Toronto's flagship paper whose reporters cover the whole of Canada as well as the rest of the world. "Immigrants providing a boost to declining church attendance in Canada," the headline reads.

Take a look at this longish excerpt to get a flavor of the piece:

Eli Wu brought his wife and teenaged son to Vancouver this past summer, emigrating from China in search of a better education for his child. He wasn't searching for God, but after arriving in Canada he found himself drawn in an unexpected direction.
In China, he said he didn't pay too much attention to Christianity, although some of his family members attended church. Organized religion was prohibited in China during the Cultural Revolution, but there was a revival of Christianity at the beginning of 1980s, when the government lifted restrictions on religion. Still, the Chinese government maintains some control over worship.
"In China, [things like] getting baptized and accepting legitimate Christianity are controlled by the government," Mr. Wu said. "When the gospel is discussed in China, because of some political factors, it cannot be [considered] too real."
The decline in the number of Canadians identifying as Christian is a well-documented and persistent trend. But among the people who will file into the pews for Christmas services are a growing number of immigrants, many of whom have converted to Christianity after arriving here, often from China.
New congregants such as international students come because church offers them support and community and an escape from loneliness. Others, like Mr. Wu and his son, come after experiencing Canada's religious freedom.

Here's the journalism problem: The fact of churches welcoming and accommodating immigrant populations is nothing new.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

With Canada's shifting demographics, Sikh politician’s rise may be glimpse of future

With Canada's shifting demographics, Sikh politician’s rise may be glimpse of future

How many American journalists, including the dwindling number of staff religion reporters, are capable of accurately writing about the Sikh faith without first needing to resort to a quick Goggle search? Very few, I'd bet.

I'd also wager that Canadian journalists are similarly challenged. This could change, however, now that our northern neighbor has just witnessed the first Sikh being voted head of one of Canada’s major political parties.

That would be Jagmeet Singh, the son of Indian immigrants, who is now the national leader of the liberal New Democratic Party. NDP is Canada’s third largest party, though it was number two for a spell earlier this decade. (Remember, Canada operates within a parliamentary system, unlike the United States where just two parties dominate).

Singh, a provincial parliament member from Ontario, is also the first non-white to head a major Canadian party. Click here for The New York Times story on Singh’s election. Click here for a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation profile of the man.

Note that Singh wears a turban and other symbols of the Sikh religion. I'd call that a bold move for a national politician in a country with a majority white Christian population.

Imagine if Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who was born into a Sikh family that lived in Canada prior to moving to South Carolina, had not converted to Protestant Christianity and still wore traditional Sikh garb.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Keeping an eye on religion-infused intolerance in Chechnya, Myanmar and the U.S.A.

Keeping an eye on religion-infused intolerance in Chechnya, Myanmar and the U.S.A.

Here’s yet another ripped-from-the-headlines example of political oppression girded by cultural norms rooted in religious beliefs. This time it's from the Russian republic of Chechnya -- the Putin-aligned, North Caucasus dictatorship that numerous reports say ruthlessly persecutes gays.

In defense, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov argues, in essence, that because Chechnya is devoid of gays there simply is no way they can be persecuted, so it's case dismissed.

As I said, numerous reports contradict Kadyrov, a hardline Sunni Muslim and the son of an assassinated former president. Kadyrov also backs honor killings and polygamy.

Here’s one such report from The New Yorker. Here’s another from Toronto’s The Globe & Mail detailing how Canada has given asylum to gays who've escaped Chechnya.

Why bring this up? As a warning of the havoc that theocracies can cause when possessing unchallenged authority. It's religion’s shadow side that Godbeat reporters and other scribes should keep in mind. Pollyannaish coverage is no better than censorship, whether imposed or self-generated.

Because homosexuality offends Kadyrov’s Muslim beliefs does not mean that heterosexuals are necessarily safe from his oppressive hand.

His latest move is to force divorced heterosexual couples -- some long divorced -- to get back together “for the sake of the children” and his idea of family values. It's a story receiving broad international coverage. Here’s the top of a New York Times piece on the development.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Lack of compassion or something else? Why Canada's Catholic hospitals won't help patients die

Lack of compassion or something else? Why Canada's Catholic hospitals won't help patients die

We live in interesting times, eh.

In a story in The Globe and Mail, a Toronto-based Canadian national newspaper, a physician upset that a Catholic hospital won't participate in assisted suicide (although that term isn't used) gets heroic coverage.

The lede:

A Vancouver Island doctor is resigning from the ethics committee at a local Catholic hospital because it refuses to offer assisted dying on site, a stand that he says is unnecessarily causing critically ill patients more suffering as they are transferred to facilities dozens of kilometres away.
Jonathan Reggler, a general physician who makes daily patient visits to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox, said he knew the facility, like other faith-based hospitals across the country, had developed a “strict” policy of transferring patients asking for assisted deaths.
But it wasn’t until recently, he says, that such patients began streaming into St. Joseph’s – and transferring out – after a federal law came into force June 17 that legalized medically assisted dying for patients whose suffering is intolerable and whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable.
“We’re talking about very sick patients having to be transferred – people who are close to death – and it’s wrong,” Dr. Reggler said.

Later, the newspaper introduces the question of Catholic hospitals' continued funding:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Catholic school students 'forced' to study their faith, says Globe & Mail

Catholic school students 'forced' to study their faith, says Globe & Mail

"Catholic schools force students to study religion despite court order," says the Toronto Globe and Mail.

That's not an op-ed. It's the headline of a hard-news article by education reporter Kate Hammer that gives ample voice to disgruntled parents of students at Ontario Catholic schools while failing to solicit comment from those on the other side of the issue.

The story begins:

Catholic schools in Ontario are requiring students to take religious courses despite a recent court decision that ruled they can’t be forced to attend.
In multiple correspondences reviewed by The Globe and Mail, Catholic school board officials from across the province have denied requests from Catholic high-school students that they be excused from religious studies on the basis that their parents are Catholic school ratepayers.

Yes, I know that line about "Catholic school ratepayers" is confusing to an outsider. It has to do with the fact that Catholic schools in Ontario are fully funded by the state. Bear with me and all will be made clear.

First, let's look at the "multiple correspondences" that the article cites to back up the lead. It seems that at least three parents provided the Globe and Mail  with the letters they received denying their requests to exempt their children from religion courses. The article gives no indication of how the newspaper came to receive correspondence from all three at the same time. Did they put out a call for such information? Was the story given to them by some sort of advocacy organization?

Please respect our Commenting Policy