The good of bad news

May 22, 2013 | Editorial | Number 11
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

Two headlines this week bring into sharp focus the cultural context in which our own faith community
is forming its core belief and practice, one encouraging, the other not so much.

First, the good news: “A little religion could go a long way in helping adolescents cope with depression, according to a new ground-breaking Canadian study,” read the front-page news story in the Ottawa Citizen. Citing a study tracking 1,000 students from grades 10 through 12, the newspaper reported that, while churchgoing (at least once a month) impacted girls differently than boys, the positive effect of regular doses of organized religion appear to be good medicine for both sexes.

This “good news” for churches is especially welcome since the Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that between 10 percent and 20 percent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness and 5 percent of male youth and 12 percent of females aged 12 to 19 have suffered a major depressive episode.

Moreover, Canada has the third highest youth suicide rate in the industrialized world and suicide is second only to accidents as a leading cause of death in 15- to 24-year-olds.

The significance of the churchgoing study is that the choice to attend church was not forced on them by elders, but rather it was a personal decision. The study sample showed that the young people were not regular churchgoers, meaning they were not taken to church by their parents.

Offsetting this good news, however, was another study reported by Religion News Service (and carried on our website) showing that, while Canada remains overwhelmingly Christian, Canadians are turning their backs on organized religion in ever-greater numbers.

Results from the 2011 National Household Survey showed that while more than two-thirds of Canadians, or some 22 million people, said they were affiliated with a Christian denomination, one in four, or 7.8 million people, reported they had no religious affiliation, up sharply from the 16.5 percent from the 2001 census, and 12 percent in 1991. That means that currently 26 percent of our approximately 30 million population do not affiliate with any organized religion.

While this latter news comes as little surprise to keen observers, the churchgoing trend for our youth as an antidote for depression offers hope that the next generation is returning to faith just as the previous generation too often found the church stuffy, too mired in tradition, too tied to the economic and political structures to offer them a dynamic spirituality for which they yearned—and from which they turned away.

It might also be good news for us as Anabaptist Christians, who, though holding to 500-year-old core beliefs of non-violence and a commitment to justice, a hospitality that welcomes the stranger (not forgetting our historical journey as immigrants), a discipleship to Jesus that requires a personal commitment and care for creation, offer a kind of spiritual dynamism not found in the mainstream communions suffering declining numbers.

This rich spiritual dynamic, strangely enough, is something we have to be told we possess by outsiders mostly—Stuart Murray, coming out of the Baptist tradition, Greg Boyd, Brian McLaren, Stanley Hauerwas, and other leading religious spokespersons looking to our beliefs and practices as a way to refurbish tired hearts and minds, and lead the way to more redemptive living in a world crumbling under the weight of violence and greed.

As for our youth, Canadian Mennonite is doing its best to give them voice and place in our circles. Next issue, we will turn a leaf in this two-year-old tradition, with the changing of the editor from Emily Loewen of Toronto to Aaron Epp of Winnipeg. We thank Emily for giving us a strong foundation and wish her well in her new full-time assignment as a writer for Mennonite Central Committee Canada.

Welcome to Aaron Epp

Coming with strong journalistic credentials, he has been an editor of Geez magazine, a national correspondent for Canadian Mennonite, a senior correspondent for Christian Week, both arts and culture editor for the Uniter (student newspaper of the University of Winnipeg), and is currently working also as writer and social media coordinator in the communications department at Canadian Mennonite University, from which he graduated in 2007. He is a member of Douglas Mennonite Church, Winnipeg.

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