Monday, February 19, 2018

Religion a Way to Combat Epidemic of Loneliness?

Last month, the British government created a new portfolio called the Minister for Loneliness.

The idea for the new ministry arose out of research that found about nine million Britons—14% of the population—are lonely.

Loneliness cuts across all age groups, but it is particularly hard on the elderly.

More than a third of older people in Great Britain reported being overwhelmed by loneliness. About half of people over 75 live alone, with many saying they can go days or even weeks with no meaningful social interaction.

The situation is similar in Canada, where as many as 1.4 million elderly Canadians say they are lonely.

Overall, between 25% to 30% of Canadians describe themselves as lonely, young and old alike.

Being lonely is hard on mental health, but also on physical health. Researchers say being lonely increases the chance of premature death by 14 percent.

What’s behind the epidemic of loneliness?

Some blame our high rates of mobility—people move a lot today, disrupting long-term relationships. And when children move to faraway cities, parents are left behind and on their own.

Others blame social media. Although it’s never been easier to connect with people, it can also lead to fewer physical encounters with actual human beings.  

And then there’s the general decline in participation in civic life—decreasing involvement in service groups, parent-teacher associations, labour unions, political parties and the like, as outlined in Robert Putnam’s groundbreaking book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

Thinking about the epidemic of loneliness, I wonder: Could the decrease in participation in faith groups also be part of the problem?

Many studies show that regular participation in worship services and other religious activities can protect against loneliness.

And being part of a worshipping community is associated with higher levels of social integration and support—things that help people feel less lonely.

As more and more people drop out of religious groups, perhaps loneliness is an unintended consequence.

But the studies about the positive effects of being part of a religious group only evaluate and measure how it feels to have someone to talk to, to be part of a group, or what it means to get a casserole when you’re sick.

There must be more to it than that; what about the spiritual dimension?

That’s the question I posed to Dr. Delmar Epp, associate professor of psychology at Canadian Mennonite University.

From a psychological perspective, he says, people do “have a need to belong.”

People of faith would call that “being created by God with a need to be in relationship with others . . . its fundamental to who we are as human beings,” he says.

But where does God fit in? His answer was to point me to Lee Kirkpatrick’s work on attachment theory as it pertains to religion.

I am not going to pretend I can do a good job of explaining attachment theory in a short column like this.

In short, it is that idea that humans form deep and abiding bonds with their caregivers when they are young. This provides us with a sense we are secure because someone who is strong will keep us safe.

In Kirkpatrick’s view, for believers God becomes an attachment figure—someone to have a relationship with, and to turn to when we feel unsafe or distressed.

“People can view God as their friend and companion, a comforter and protector,” Epp says.

Through prayer, worship and meditation, people can feel close to God and not so alone, he adds.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out so neatly. People who have bad experiences with caregivers when young can struggle to form an attachment to God when older.

And if your own parents were harsh and neglectful, it can be tough to believe in a heavenly parent who cares for you.

Places of worship aren’t perfect, either. They can be lonely experiences for those who don’t feel they can be open and honest with others about their struggles for fear of being judged.

Yet there’s still something about religion that seems to make a big difference in loneliness and overall health.

At a time when millions of people are looking for a wonder drug, therapy, treatment program or workout routine that will lead to better mental and physical health, it seems that one might already exist: Religion.

But I don’t expect it any western government to create a Minister for Religion and Health anytime soon.

From the Feb. 17 Winnipeg Free Press. Image from the Daily Express.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Rachael Denhollander's New Mission: Stop Child Sex Abuse in Evangelical Churches

Sexual abuse in U.S. evangelical churches "every bit as prevalent" as what happened in the Catholic Church

Like so many others in the U.S. and Canada, I was profoundly moved by Rachael Denhollander’s powerful victim impact statement at the trial of convicted sexual abuser Dr. Larry Nassar.

But as I listened to Denhollander—the first woman to go public with accusations against the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor—one short phrase caught me.

In a list of things she lost through the experience, she said, was “my church.”

Lost her church? What was up with that? I wanted to know more.

So I sent Denhollander a Facebook message, asking if she would like to elaborate.

Since messages between people who aren’t friends on Facebook disappear into a junk file, I didn’t really expect a reply.

But she answered back.

“I would be happy to speak to you,” she wrote.

It wasn’t long into our conversation last Monday before I understood why.

For Denhollander, a deeply committed evangelical Christian, the way evangelical churches are letting down victims of sexual abuse is deeply disturbing and profoundly disappointing.

Churches, she believes, should be havens for people who have been abused. All too often, however, the opposite happens; instead of protecting children, churches enable and protect their abusers.

She wants to see it stop.

*      *      *

Denhollander was first abused by Nassar in 2000. She was 15 years-old.

She was not the first victim; she discovered later he had been reported by four other gymnasts before her. But nothing was done to stop him.

She was sure she wasn’t the only victim. “It was clear to me at 15 that this was something Larry did regularly,” she says.

She told someone in authority about her abuse in 2004. Again, nothing happened.
It wasn’t until she went public in 2016 that a tidal wave of accusations joined in a chorus against the now-disgraced and convicted doctor. 

While angered by the abuse she suffered, she was equally upset that Nassar’s other victims weren’t believed or ignored.
So when her own church in Louisville, Kentucky began to actively support a prominent national evangelical ministry network that had been accused of covering up child sex abuse, she was very concerned.
“My own church was actively supporting a ministry whose leaders had been very credibly accused of failing to report child predators,” she says.

“They did not report him [the abuser], did not put any restrictions on him. He was allowed to continue abusing.”

She and her husband, Jacob, brought their concerns to leadership at their church. It went nowhere.

“This caused division between me and my church,” she says. “Even though this was one of the most well-documented cases of institutional cover-up I have ever seen, there was a complete refusal to engage.”

Instead, some of the leaders at her church raised questions about the quality of her character, and about her faith.

So in 2016, when Denhollander decided to go public with her story of abuse, she did not expect her church to offer much in the way of help.  

“We did not receive any support from the church when my story came out,” she says.

Her previous advocacy for other victims was “wielded like a weapon” by some of the church’s leaders in an effort to discredit her accusations against Nassar, she says.

“They essentially said I was imposing my own perspective or that my judgement was clouded,” she shares.

Within six months, she and her husband left the congregation.

“We were told it wasn’t the place for us,” she says.

*      *      *

In the two years since she went public, Denhollander has learned that the problem of child sexual abuse in American evangelical churches—and the subsequent cover-up—is more widespread than she thought.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” she says.

In conversations with experts in the field, she was told that sexual abuse in U.S.evangelical churches is “every bit as prevalent, if not worse, than what happened in the Catholic Church.”

The problem is compounded by an unwillingness to hold abusers accountable and report their abuse, she adds.

“If you talk to prosecutors, to trauma counselors, and to activists on behalf of victims of sexual assault, they will all tell you that the Catholic Church and the evangelical church are two of the most difficult groups to deal with,” she states.

Instead of supporting victims, like people would expect, “they are supporting the perpetrators,” she says.

Why does she think so many evangelical churches are reluctant to report abusers in their midst?  

A big factor, she says, is “institutional protectionism”—churches believe that they have to protect their reputations as being holy, and not like the world.

This is especially true when ministries, churches and leaders that are prominent on the national scene are involved.

The problem with this approach, she says, is that perpetrators can continue their assaults.

“Research shows the average pedophile is reported approximately seven times before he’s finally caught,” she says. “The average number of victims a pedophile has is about 250.”
Not holding enablers accountable “is the foundational reason for why we have such an epidemic of sexual abuse, particularly child sexual abuse,” she says.

“People don’t understand that if you do not treat the failure to report sexual assault as a very serious thing, it creates a system where perpetrators know they are safe to prey on children.”

The result, she says, is that churches are often “one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse.”

For her, that’s a tough admission to make.

“That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few [abuse victims] who have ever found true help in the church . . . It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help.”

If churches really want to be positive witnesses in their communities when it comes to protecting children from abuse, “they must be “willing to deal with enablers,” she says. “They must be willing to deal with the failure to report sexual abuse as the very serious and critical issue that it is.”

*      *      *

Despite all this, Denhollander—a lawyer and mother of three children, with a fourth on the way—has not given up on her faith.

Today she and her family have found another church where they “feel blessed.” And she wants it to be noted that some people at her old church have apologized for how she was treated—something she is grateful for.

As for the wider evangelical church in the U.S., she still believes it can be better.

The church, she says, “should be the safest place” for those who have been sexually abused.

“Christ is the greatest hope, he is the greatest refuge for someone who has been wounded and betrayed. He defines what trust and security and love and compassion should look like for sexual assault victims.”

As for her own experience, she says that sometimes “obedience costs,” especially if you have to “speak out against your own church community . . . it will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should.
“If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.”

Does this ring true for Canadians, too? Your comments are welcome on this blog or by e-mailing me at 
From the Feb. 10, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press. One source of information for how churches and other faith groups can respond to child sex abuse is Dove's Nest.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Aid Groups Need to Pay More Attention to Religion: Duncan Green

"We never talk about religion in the aid business . . . ‘why not?’”

In the world of international relief and development, Duncan Green is a rock star.

Author of the acclaimed book How Change Happens, Green has been Head of Research for Oxfam in Great Britain since 2004.

It’s a job that enables the highly-respected former aid worker and journalist to travel the world researching, writing and speaking about the best ways to alleviate poverty and combat injustice.

His popular blog, from Poverty to Power, is a must-read for people who work in the relief and development industry.

So when Green—who describes himself as an atheist—says that aid groups, and the governments that support them, need to pay more attention to the role of religion in eradicating global poverty, people take notice.

Religion, he says, “is central to the lives of poor people in a way that governments, aid and NGOs are not. All the research shows that poor people trust religious organizations, turn to them in times of need.”

Research on how poor people see their lives, he adds, “shows absolutely, without a doubt, that the institutions they most relate to . . . are faith organizations.”

When Green was in Winnipeg last fall to launch his new book, I had a brief chance to talk to him. Since our time together was short, we continued via e-mail.

During our exchanges, he noted that one of the first places people often turn to for help during a disaster are “their churches and mosques.”

He shared an example from Indonesia, after an earthquake in 2006.

In one village, Oxfam aid workers asked residents what they most needed to start the rebuilding process. Their answer? A new mosque, to replace the one destroyed by the earthquake.

This wasn’t what the aid workers expected. But they did it—and it made a big difference.

“The community in question was one of the success stories,” he says, noting it rapidly recovered from “both in terms of rebuilding its infrastructure, but also social cohesion and healing after the psychological trauma of the earthquake.”

Religion is also important when it comes to development—something aid groups spend a lot of time thinking about.

What are the best ways to help people change the structures and systems that oppress or prevent them from reaching their potential?

"As we think harder about how change happens, religion keeps cropping up,” Green says.

For him, this includes how religion influences social norms around things like the role of women. 

“Through worship and education they [faith groups] already play a major role in shaping and reshaping norms,” he says.

It is easier for faith groups, which are already respected by poor people, to change behaviours of their adherents than it would be for “secular aid agencies.”

Religion is also important in fragile and dysfunctional states, where government services are absent.

In these situations, “the role of non-state actors such as faith organizations becomes relatively more important in running society,” he says.

Faith groups, he adds, “are more likely to be in the really remote bits of those places, where the state barely penetrates.”

Of course, it’s not all good news; religion can have both a positive and negative impact on aid and development, he says.

Despite that, “if we [aid groups] are serious about development, we need to understand much more about the diversity, divisions and debates within each church on things like women’s roles.”

This is true, he says, “even if, like me, you are a devout atheist.”

But if religion is so important in development, why does it get so little attention in the international aid community?

“The aid system has a secular way of working,” he says, explaining that it has “an enlightenment, secular, rational worldview.”

As a result, the secular presuppositions they operate under can make “automatically alien to the majority of the people we claim to be working for and with,” he says. “There’s a profound contradiction in the secularism that is so deeply rooted in the aid business.”

The way aid groups ignore the role religion plays in the lives of the majority of the world’s poor “has always struck me as profoundly odd,” he says.

"We never talk about it [religion] in the aid business. The question I have is, ‘why not?’”

It would be interesting to hear the answer.  

From the Feb. 3, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press. Photo Credit: Xavier Cervera.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Canadian Evangelicals Bucking National Trends, But Warning Signs Ahead

The story of Christianity in Canada over the past 60 years or so is well known—a story of numerical decline.

But one group of Christians has managed to weather the storm—Evangelicals.

Over the past number of decades, while other denominations have seen their memberships drop, the Evangelical portion of the Canadian population has remained steady.

What’s their secret?

That’s what Sam Reimer, a professor of sociology at Crandall University in New Brunswick, and  Michael Wilkinson, professor of sociology and director of the Religion in Canada Institute at Trinity Western University, decided to find out.

Based on national research and interviews with over 500 pastors, they show that while many denominations are in trouble in Canada today, Evangelical groups are showing greater resiliency—although there are warning signs ahead.

I spoke to Reimer about their findings. Why, I asked, are Evangelicals doing better than other groups?

“Members of Evangelical churches are more likely to be committed and involved in their congregations,” he says, adding that for many their church is a “hub” for religious and social activity.

At the same time, members go to church more often than is the case for other church groups, and are more likely to volunteer for church programs—something that is important if church going to experience vitality.

But while things are going better for Evangelicals than for other denominations, his research shows trouble on the horizon.

One challenge is leadership. “All Evangelical denominations report that fewer people are going to seminary,” he says.

As many boomers get set to retire as clergy, this is a challenges since there are “fewer leaders to replace them.”

Another challenge is retaining youth.

Although Evangelicals do a much better job of keeping their young people than mainstream denominations, research shows that about a third leave the church by the time they enter their 20s, he says.

Then there is the general lack of interest in religion in Canada.

“Few people go to church regularly, and being religious no longer a normative choice for many,” he notes, adding that this is especially true for younger people.

What about evangelism? If there’s any one thing that characterizes Evangelicals, it’s a commitment to sharing their faith. Will that help them keep up their numbers?

Reimer says no. His research shows that only one out of ten newcomers comes from a non-church background, or from another faith.

According to Reimer, seven out of ten newcomers come from other churches—the so-called “circulation of the saints”—while two out of ten are people who grew up in a congregation.

Evangelism, he says “is not a big conduit for growth,” adding the research shows that evangelical churches might hope to add one to two real converts per year—at most.

And yet, he explains, “evangelism is fundamental to who they are. Even the rare convert can re-vitalize a church.”

Another challenging issue, Reimer shares, is whether Evangelicals should be more welcoming of LGBTQ* Canadians.

“Without a doubt this is a major source of tension” in Evangelical churches, he says.

“Younger Evangelicals have more lenient views than older members on this issue.”

It’s also going to be a growing source of tension between evangelical churches and the larger society, he adds.

“It’s very hard for churches to maintain any sort of positive public presence when they are perceived to be anti-LGBTQ*,” he says.

“It’s hard win new converts if a church is seen as intolerant and bigoted.”

Based on the research, it’s “very likely” Evangelicals will “decline in future,” he concludes, although the decline will be slower than what happened to mainline denominations.

“They are at the top of the hill now, or the bubble, just starting to go downhill.”

When Reimer talks to denominational leaders, he says they aren’t surprised at his findings.

“Not a lot say they can’t believe it,” he says.

Reimer, who attends an Evangelical church, is quick to add that his analysis is through the eyes of a sociologist.

“What I am saying is descriptive, not proscriptive. I’m just identifying the trends, where we are now and where we are going.”

Through the eyes of faith, he states, “God can do things we don’t expect.” 

From the Jan. 27, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

For Some, Relics are Weird. For Others, a Way to Connect to God

As a Protestant, I have to admit: I don’t get relics.

The idea of lining up to look at the bones, flesh or ashes of dead people strikes me as weird, and a little bit morbid.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t meaningful for many people—especially Roman Catholics.

That’s what’s happening across Canada this month as the right forearm of St. Francis Xavier, the sixteenth century Jesuit missionary, travels across the country. (Photo above.)

Although many find the practice strange, the veneration of relics has a long history in the Christian church.

One of the first recorded instances goes back to the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna (now Turkey), who was killed by the Romans in the second century.

After his death, the Romans burned his body to prevent Christians from venerating it. 

But local believers collected fragments of the body to remember him and others “who have run their race and to prepare those yet to walk in their steps.”

By the Middle Ages, the collection of relics, was in full swing.

Today, a tourist location is popular because it has a great beach. Back then, when most tourists were pilgrims, it was relics that mattered most.

Since having a relic was a great way to boost the economic fortunes of a town or city, competition for them was fierce. The bodies of saints were cut up, sold and even stolen.

The body of St. Francis was spirited away and hidden by his friends in Assisi after his death, reportedly to prevent another city from stealing it for its church.

Over time, the Catholic Church came to regulate the trade, display and veneration of relics, putting them into three groups: First class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint; second class are things that a saint owned; third class are items a saint touched or that have been touched to other relics.
As it turns out, anyone can own a relic, even though the Roman Catholic Church forbids making a profit off their sale. (It’s called Simony.)
A search on eBay shows hundreds for sale such as the “rare and holy relic of Saint Mary Magdalene” ($599), the “holy papal relic of Saint Pius the tenth Pope,” ($499), and medal touched by the American Catholic saint Ann Seton—a bargain at only $9.95.
Catholics aren’t the only group known for relics, although they probably have the most.
Muslims show respect to things like the sandals or hairs from the beard of the prophet Mohammed, while Buddhists can reflect on the Buddha’s tooth and ashes.
While relics might still seem strange to me, they are meaningful to many people—like my friend Deborah Gyapong, an Ottawa-based journalist who covers national politics and the Catholic Church.

The former evangelical church member once found them to be “weird, macabre and/or superstitious.”

Today, as a relatively new Catholic, she finds that relics remind her of the “physicality of our Lord” and of the “concrete, historical reality of saints who followed Jesus, perhaps to martyrdom and who brought the Light of the Gospel wherever they lived and suffered.”

Additionally, they help her understand the “incarnational and historical reality of the mystery of Christ's life, death and resurrection, and of Christ in us, the hope of glory.”

For Father Michel Boutilier, a Jesuit priest and chaplain at St. Paul’s High School, relics help connect him with Jesus.

Relics, he says, are not objects of worship. Instead, “they point to Christ—he is the one we worship,” he says.

He is also quick to note “there is no magic in the relics”—venerating them won’t bring you good luck, like winning the lottery. 

Instead, he shares, relics are vehicles of “grace that can change our lives. They don’t impart grace themselves.”

Of course, not every Christian feels this way about relics. Not even all Catholics agree about the place of relics in their faith; it can vary according to age, country and culture.

But at a time when our increasingly secular society seems to be pushing spirituality to the margins, maybe we all need tangible ways to be reminded there is more to life than things we can only touch and see—there are mysteries beyond our physical comprehension.

For some people, one of those ways are relics.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Are Places of Worship Ready for a Flu Pandemic?

Flu is gripping parts of Canada and the U.S., filling hospitals and dominating the news as more and more people get sick. It reminded me of a column I wrote in 2009 about faith groups and pandemics—and if they were ready for one. It still may be germane today.

Is your place or worship ready for the coming flu pandemic?

Does your church, temple, synagogue or mosque have a list of all the members who might be most vulnerable to the illness?

Do you have teams of members who will check in on shut-ins and seniors?

Have you contacted city or provincial authorities to see if your meeting place could be used as a temporary shelter or hospital?

If not, now’s the time to get ready. That’s the message that Dr. Tim Foggin is trying to share with group that will listen.

Foggin, a family physician from Burnaby, B.C., is on a crusade to help faith groups prepare for the coming pandemic.

“Let me put it simply,” he says. “A flu pandemic is inevitable. Period. It’s not hype. It’s going to happen.”

Adds Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious disease consultant at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto: “There will be another pandemic,” she told the magazine Faith Today. “It's 100 percent sure.”

When a serious flu pandemic hits, an estimated 2.1 million to five million Canadians will get sick, and between 11,000 to 58,000 will die. But unlike other disasters, like Hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami, there won’t be help from the outside that can pour in to help victims.

“A pandemic will affect every country, region and village in a relatively close time,” Foggin says.

Already, various levels of government, the health care system and the business community are making plans for the pandemic. But it’s only recently that faith groups have started to put it on their agendas.

But why should faith groups care?

One reason is how a pandemic will affect congregational life. During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the city of Winnipeg was shut down for 42 days in an effort to control the virus—no going to school, theatre, concerts or church services.

Randy Hull, who directs emergency preparedness for the City of Winnipeg, says the city wouldn’t order the closure of public buildings today, but he admits it is likely people will voluntarily not go to places like shopping centres, theatres, sporting events or places of worship during a pandemic.

If that’s the case, how will faith groups minister to their members?

Online is one way, of course; churches prepare daily or weekly devotionals that families can do at home, in lieu of gathering for worship.

What about communion? Churches that use a common cup will likely have to change to intinction, or dipping the bread into wine.

Passing the peace and shaking hands at the door may also have to be suspended for the duration.

And then there’s the matter of the offering; how will it be collected if nobody goes to church for weeks or months?

Some sort of on-line donation form, or pre-authorized cheques, would be required.

But those things pale in comparison to how groups can help the most vulnerable in their congregations—the elderly, shut-ins, single parent families or those without nearby family support.

So, what’s a place of worship to do?

It can create a comprehensive list of people who might need the most assistance during an epidemic.

It can set up a way for someone to check in on them, to be sure they are OK. It could start with the pastors, and include deacons or other caregivers.

Says Hull: “City services will be stretched. Volunteers [from places of worship] will have a very large role to play in helping their own memberships—knowing who they are, and checking in on them.”

Finally, places of worship can be of help to their communities and provincial government emergency preparedness organizations during a pandemic.

This would include providing them with a list of retired nurses, doctors and other volunteers who could be called on to help what will surely be an overwhelmed health care system. 

As well, places of worship—especially those with large gyms and good-sized kitchens—could serve as temporary shelters or even isolation wards.

We can all hope a pandemic never happens. But in case it does, it would be good to be prepared.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

For Religious Groups, Change to Summer Jobs Program Shows a Changed Canada

"Era when churches and religious leaders held sway over public policy in Canada has come to an end.

In a previous post, I wrote about a major change to the way non-profits, businesses and public sector groups will get money from the Federal Government’s Canada Summer Jobs program.

Starting this year, groups that want funding to hire students will have to attest they respect a woman’s right to an abortion, and LGBTQ rights.

For some religious groups, singing this attestation won’t be a problem. 

But for many others, it’s a huge obstacle, and may mean they don’t get funds to support their programs. 

Looking at 138 religious groups in Manitoba that received funding from the program in 2016, my guess is most of them will find it difficult to agree with the new rule.

Some may wonder: Why would the government make such a radical change? Why would it impose this value on groups wanting funding?

Before answering that question, let’s remember this isn’t the first time a government has made funding decisions based on values—not on whether a group did good work or not.

In 2010, the Conservative government famously denied funding to the church-based group Kairos because it believed it was anti-Israel.

That government also made life difficult for environmental groups that opposed Alberta’s tar sands.

In those cases, it could be argued that government was out of step with many Canadians in making those decisions. That’s not the case today.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, a CROP poll earlier this year found that 74% of Canadians support it, up from 41% in 1997.

On the issue of abortion, an Ipsos poll, also from earlier this year, found that 77% support a woman’s right to get one, up from 36% in 1998. 

According to Alain Giguère of CROP, changes like these show that Canada has changed.

Canada, he states, is going through a “unique, historical process of social change. As individuals, we no longer accept the imposition of life choices by our society and its institutions, be it on our relationships as a couple, our sexuality or on any aspect of our lifestyle. These choices now belong to the individual.”

The government knows this; their own polling would certainly reinforce these findings. It’s why the Liberal Party could require all its candidates to be pro-choice in the last election, and not suffer for it in the voting booth.

In other words, it’s a different Canada today than just 20 years ago. 

This was emphasized to me by Angus Reid, a committed Catholic and head of the polling firm that bears his name.

“It’s a new era we are into,” he says.

From his perspective, the big fights about abortion and sexual identity, which defined and consumed religious groups for so many years, “are largely behind us.”

Canadian society, he adds, “has decided what it believes in these areas.”

There are, he says “important pockets of religious opposition to abortion, assisted dying and gender neutralization, but in the final analysis secularism seems to have won the day . . . in a little more than a generation, the religious beliefs that were once the central tenets of Canadian society have been swept aside.”

For religious groups, which once found their views and the views of society at large to be very similar on these issues, this is new terrain.

As Reid noted to me, there was a time when religious leaders could be expected to be part of discussions about policy.

But now, he says, “the era when churches and religious leaders held sway over public policy in Canada has come to an end.

As for the summer jobs program, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised religious groups for the work they do at a town hall meeting in Hamilton earlier this month.

They are welcome to apply for the funds, he reiterated, before going on to clarify that the goal of the new policy is to prevent groups that oppose abortion from getting funding.

That, he said, “is not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society." Applause followed his remarks.

For many religious groups, a difficult decision will need to be made.

Do they sign up to take the money to run their programs? Or do they refuse to sign, and let the programs end? And what happens if the government extends this policy to other programs, like support for international relief and development?

It’s going to be an interesting time ahead.

From the Jan. 12, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press.