National Post

National Geographic: It's Catholic beekeepers vs. Mennonites (whoever they are) in Mexico

National Geographic: It's Catholic beekeepers vs. Mennonites (whoever they are) in Mexico

I know Mennonites get around, but I didn’t know there was a large colony of them in Mexico. In the U.S., they’re often known as the Amish lite people — with similar German roots and Anabaptist beliefs that got them pushed out of Europe in the 16th century.

Many of those who ended up in Canada emigrated to Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century where the government needed farmers to work on land previously owned by William Randolph Hearst, as foreign landowners were expelled at the end of the Mexican revolution in 1921. The Mennonites bought the land as long as they were freed from Mexico’s educational laws and military service. (You can read more about that here. )

Most of the Mennonites settled in the states of Durango and Chihauhua where they farmed parts of the country no one else was touching and have brought prosperity to the area.

But the National Geographic found a more isolated group on the Yucatan peninsula and wrote about it, which is where the drama starts. Once again we face a familiar journalism question: Do readers need to know anything about what the Mennonites believe?

CAMPECHE, MEXICO — “How did it start?” asks Everardo Chablé. He’s propped on a stool in his living room as the daylight fades outside. The only noise in this tiny Mexican town in the Yucatán Peninsula—where there’s no cell signal and little electricity—comes from the music his father is blasting in the yard. He speaks up. “For thousands of years the Maya people had bee culture. Then the Mennonites came with large machines and started to deforest large parts of land where the bees feed. We had virgin forest with very delicate ecosystems—deer, toucans—but most importantly bees that keep up life. When deforestation started they destroyed everything from millennia back.”…

What he’s describing is a simmering battle between a growing community of Old Colony Mennonites—the insular religion’s most conservative Low German-speaking members, who eschew modern amenities like electricity and cars—and indigenous Maya beekeepers. It has electrified this sliver of the Yucatán Peninsula. …

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Oh! Canada! -- Journalists ignore key questions in Alberta Christian school's Bible battle

Oh! Canada! -- Journalists ignore key questions in Alberta Christian school's Bible battle

Canada, which celebrates its 150th anniversary as a nation this year, is a unique place religion-wise, as my colleague Richard Ostling pointed out recently.

Despite being lampooned by the fictional McKenzie Brothers duo, Canadians are uniformly polite and are among the smartest people around. Any country that can produce literary titans such as Robertson Davies and Alice Munro is no slouch in the scholarship department.

Important trends that have accelerated in recent years are Canada's increased secularization and the acceptance of same-sex marriage. One of the commemorative postage stamps released for the sesquicentennial by Canada Post celebrates the passage of that nation's Civil Marriage Act as a national milestone.

Given those trends, the headlines coming out of the province of Alberta shouldn't be as jarring as they come across -- or should they?

Judge for yourself. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation picked up a Canadian Press news agency story with this blunt headline: "Alberta Christian school worried school division could ban Bible verses." There are several church-state holes in this story (think religious liberty issues, without the scare quotes), which we will be getting to shortly.

Let's dive in at the beginning. This excerpt is long, but necessary. Please read this closely and try to spot what I believe is a revealing typo:

A Christian school southeast of Edmonton says it fears the school division is moving to censor what parts of the Bible can be taught.
Several Bible verses were to be included in a handbook for students at the Cornerstone Christian Academy in Kingman, Alta.
Trustees from the Battle River School Division say they believe the verses might contravene Alberta's human rights code. 

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Oooo, an atheist pastor: Washington Post offers wide-eyed yet manipulative look at Canadian conflict

Oooo, an atheist pastor: Washington Post offers wide-eyed yet manipulative look at Canadian conflict

When I last looked at the Rev. Gretta Vosper, the famously atheistic pastor in Toronto, I praised Canadian media for their measured coverage. "In the United States," I wrote, "we'd be reading and hearing ferocious barrages of rhetoric."

Well, I take it back. Now that a national committee of the United Church of Canada has recommended Vosper's ouster, the report from at least one American publication -- the Washington Post -- isn’t quite that fierce. Just cartoonish. And inferior to the writeup in a Canadian newspaper.

Let's start with the good first. The National Post, that Canadian paper, starts with a straight account of the facts:

A United Church of Canada minister who is a self-professed atheist and has been the subject of an unprecedented probe into her theological beliefs is one step closer to being removed from the pulpit.
Sub-executive members of the church’s Toronto Conference announced Thursday they have asked the church’s general council, the most senior governance body, to hold a formal hearing to decide whether Rev. Gretta Vosper, who does not believe in God or the Bible, should be placed on the disciplinary "Discontinued Service List."
"Some will be disappointed and angry that this action has been taken, believing that the United Church may be turning its back on a history of openness and inclusivity," it said in a statement.
"Others have been frustrated that the United Church has allowed someone to be a minister in a Christian church while disavowing the major aspects of the Christian faith. There is no unanimity in the church about what to do."

This is what Terry Mattingly likes to call the "American model" -- fair, straight, honest. Sad that we had to look outside America to find it.

The National Post continues to say that the conference committee found Vosper "not suitable" as a UCC minister for deserting her beliefs. The 700-word article also allows space for some back-and-forth:

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No moral questions involved? The National Post bungles report on 'selective reduction'

No moral questions involved? The National Post bungles report on 'selective reduction'

I’ve done a fair amount of work abortion and pregnancy issues, including "fetal reduction" and the enormous moral issues it raises. Such “reductions” were first suggested for pregnancies of four, five or more but now people are aborting part of a set of twins. That’s right. And who’s going to explain to the survivor that they were once part of a pair and that they were the lucky one to not get the needle in the heart?

Because there’s been some debate over aborting one of a set of twins, I was interested in this National Post story out of Toronto over a Jewish hospital’s refusal to take part in this procedure. See how the Post handles this matter:

TORONTO -- A Toronto hospital’s refusal to reduce a woman’s twin pregnancy to one fetus — at least partly because of a doctor’s moral objections — has triggered a human-rights fight over the little-known but contentious procedure.
The Ottawa-area patient had been warned that carrying twins at her age could increase the risk of losing the whole pregnancy, and was referred to Mount Sinai Hospital for a “selective reduction.”
That means terminating at least one among multiple fetuses, akin to a partial abortion.
But the institution declined to provide the service, saying its practice was to only reduce triplets or more, unless one of the twins has some kind of anomaly.

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Ghosts in Syria: Christians caught in the war are ignored in Washington Post

Ghosts in Syria: Christians caught in the war are ignored in Washington Post

Ghosts, it might be said, hover over every battlefield. Once you’ve heard or read the haunting World War I poem In Flanders Fields, you may never forget it.

Tragically, the ghosts of Christian communities in Syria -- even the plight of Christians still living there -- are in danger of being forgotten in the rush of secular coverage of the civil war in that cratered land. A story yesterday in the Washington Post stands as a sad example.

The newspaper paints an artful, ominous picture of the "mini world war" it says now rages in Syria:

KILIS, Turkey — Across the olive groves and wheat fields of the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, a battle with global dimensions risks erupting into a wider war.
Russian warplanes are bombing from the sky. Iraqi and Lebanese militias aided by Iranian advisers are advancing on the ground. An assortment of Syrian rebels backed by the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are fighting to hold them back. Kurdish forces allied both to Washington and Moscow are taking advantage of the chaos to extend Kurdish territories. The Islamic State has snatched a couple of small villages, while all the focus was on the other groups.

The Post notes that Russia's involvement affirms its "stature as a regional power" in the Middle East. It says also that, through proxies like Hezbollah and other Shiite militias, Iran is stretching Shia influence far beyond its original centers. But the article doesn't forget the human price -- at least, the price for most humans. Its sources say that driving out civilians has actually become a military tactic: “It’s a much cheaper and easier way to occupy territory than by trying to win hearts and minds. They’re simply going to push people out so that there is no insurgency.”

I say "for most humans" because I see nothing of Christian humans in this story. It interviews a refugee from town that is 95 percent emptied in the contested area of Syria. He and others "tell stories of entire villages being crushed and communities displaced," the newspaper says.

But while talking of Shiite Iraqi and Lebanese militias "extending the sway of Iran far beyond the traditional Shiite axis of influence into Sunni areas of northern Syria," the article forgets that some of those areas have also been Christian.

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German cardinal found guilty of being pro-natalist

One of the most common fallacies of our age is the assumption that simply because we prefer a certain set of social policies they must therefore be compatible.

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