Pulpit and Politics, best stories 2012
I worked for years in newsrooms and each December we would produce what we called Year Enders, which summarized the most significant stories that we had covered in the past 12 months. In that tradition, I have reviewed Pulpit and Politics for the year past and this is a brief summary of what I have found.
Peace or peace-making featured in eight of the 40 items I posted in 2012. In January, I wrote about members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) accompanying six Palestinian “freedom riders” who boarded an Israeli bus and would not leave when asked. Palestinians are excluded from riding on certain buses so police removed and arrested them the six. In a news release the protesters echoed Martin Luther King, Jr., who said: ‘Those who accept evil without protesting against it are really cooperating with it.’
Members of CPT teams in various countries either stand between opposing sides in conflict or accompany the weak in their encounters with the strong. CPT’s stated goal is to “get in the way,” but it is always done in a non-violent manner.
In November, I had a story about a group that is lobbying to have the federal government create a Department of Peace, with its own minister and staff. In December, I featured Quaker peace activist Murray Thomson. More than 100 of his friends attended a celebration in Ottawa for his 90th birthday and they held a seminar on how to reignite interest in efforts toward nuclear non-proliferation.
Another theme that emerged in 2012 related to cutbacks made by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to faith-based development organizations. A number of long established NGOs lost some or all of their funding. CIDA ended its 35-year relationship with the highly-respected Mennonite Central Committee and it cut back sharply in its support to the Catholic aid organization Development and Peace.
While these moves were occurring, CIDA began to provide funds to Canadian-based mining multinationals involved in countries such as Peru and Burkina Faso. Those companies, in co-operation with other NGOs such as World Vision, were to provide employment training locals in those countries. CIDA minister Bev Oda made it clear that she saw no difference between Canada’s trade and its aid policies.
Oda resigned prior to a cabinet shuffle in which she would likely have been dumped but the policy continues. Julian Fantino, the new CIDA minister, says that Canada can best help people other countries through partnerships with the private sector. This policy will likely continue as the Conservative government pursues a new model based mainly upon Canadian self-interest.
Widely read stories
The stories that I posted about cutbacks to Development and Peace and MCC were among the most widely read on Pulpit and Politics this year. There were about 6,500 hits to my site in the four days following the MCC posting. That story also received 23 comments from readers. The main Development and Peace story received 16 comments. All told, I received 225 comments from readers in 2012 and I appreciate them greatly.
I reported also on how Canada’s Catholic bishops ordered Development and Peace to withdraw a postcard to the Prime Minister that was to be used as part of an educational campaign. The postcard asked that he instruct a parliamentary committee to undertake a national consultation on the future of Canadian development assistance.
This is hardly the stuff of revolt, especially given CIDA’s changing priorities, but the bishops said the campaign was too political and would cause division in the church. So they requested that the project be withdrawn and Development and Peace’s national council followed that advice.
The bishops apparently feared the proposed campaign might interfere with a relationship that they have been carefully nurturing with the Harper government. I reported in October that the bishops had invited Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to address a closed door session of their annual meeting. This invitation coupled with the pulling of the post card campaign and the bishops’ tepid response when CIDA cut back on its funding to Development and Peace, provoked unprecedented criticism of the hierarchy by rank and file Catholics.
Canadian Mennonite magazine
Another story that received wide reader attention was one in which the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) sent a letter to the Canadian Mennonite magazine warning that the publication was being too political and could lose its charitable status as a result.
The editor Richard Benner was surprised and called the CRA to ask for more detail. He was provided with a list of offending editorials and articles. One, written prior to the May 2011 federal election, suggested that readers vote based on the Mennonite beliefs of pacifism, social justice and environmentalism. The editorial also offered some critical comments about two Conservative MPs, including Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
In another editorial following the election, Benner wrote about “a militaristic Conservative majority government” in Canada. This story on Pulpit and Politics attracted thousands of readers and received 18 comments.
There were two stories in 2012 about churches and climate change, two others about the Canadian government’s unconditional support for the Netanyahu government in Israel, and two on health care.
The year 2012 was the 50th anniversary of Medicare in Canada, a fact that was pretty much ignored by the Conservative government. I quoted from Janet Sommerville, a former chair of the Canadian Council of Churches, who has written, “The principles guiding our health care system have an unmistakable affinity with the love of neighbour urged on us by God’s word in Scripture.”
In the U.S., the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised that, if elected, he would undo President Obama’s new health care plan. The U.S. Catholic bishops were also opposed. They said that the Affordable Care Act for health would force insurers to compensate clients who receive birth control services and counseling.
The president made an exception which, he said would exempt the employees of churches. The bishops said that did not go far enough, and asked that the exemption to apply to employees in all Catholic institutions, including hospitals and schools. In short, the bishops were prepared to scuttle health care reform for 300 million Americans because of its limited provision for contraception as an insured service.
The bishops’ conference orchestrated a public campaign called Fortnight for Freedom, warning that the health care legislation undermines religious liberty. They asked rank-and-file Catholics to fight back.
The bishops also helped lead the fight against same-sex marriage in states where that issue was on the ballot. Despite all of this, Obama retained the Catholic vote, by 50 to 48 percent, according to exit polls. Also, solid majorities of Catholics supported same-sex marriage.
Out of touch
The New York Times wrote that the 2012 election outcome was “sobering news” for the bishops. They proved to be out of step not only with Americans but with a majority of Catholics as well.
Most or all of these stories will see new developments in the coming year and other issues will arise. Pulpit and Politics is always interested in the place where religious faith and politics meet and sometimes collide. Please stay tuned.