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Religion is the story not fit to print nowadays

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Only in public does faith take a back seat to the NHL
by Paul Schratz

 Photo: Kent Spencer

Kent Spencer claimed a distinction very few Vancouver journalists could. He was a religion reporter in a city that doesn’t give a rip about religion.

At the best of times, newspapers don’t have line-ups of writers trying to get on the faith beat. Outside of Douglas Todd at the Vancouver Sun, I’m not aware of any other religion reporters in Canada, apart from those writing for religious publications.

In Canada, religion seldom rates a mention in the news – except for the nutty or the nasty. As I heard one national newspaper editor say, religion may be important to some people, but so is stamp collecting, and he saw no reason to give one more space than the other.

In Vancouver, one of the world’s most secular cities, it’s even worse.

As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge for a religion reporter, Spencer wrote for The Province, a paper better known more for its wall-to-wall sports coverage than its reporting on faith and spirituality.

So when Spencer, an experienced sports and news writer, took up the religion beat, I initially wondered if he had crossed someone and been exiled to this new journalistic gulag created just for him.

Some reporters are easier to deal with than others, and it turned out Spencer was among the more affable. He also took his writing seriously. He called me for story info, comments, and help setting up interviews. Sometimes his articles were positive, sometimes not so much.

I once tried to get him to balance a story he was doing on declining numbers of women religious in Vancouver, urging him to mention some of the orders that are attracting members. I was unsuccessful.

He also wrote pieces on the monks at Westminster Abbey and on the Catholics Come Home program the Archdiocese of Vancouver ran a few years ago. The stories were fair, but not fawning.

The irony is that although we both worked at The Province at the same time, we didn’t cross paths much, and I only got to know him after he took up the paper’s Sunday faith page.

His Sunday feature was an opportunity for him to interview local people of faith, talk to them about their beliefs, and ask them icebreaker questions like what’s the most surprising or beautiful thing about their faith. It was The Province, so that’s as heavy as it got, but it was a nod to the large number of people who take spirituality seriously.

Whoever dreamed it up deserves credit because it was recognition that only a small percentage of Canadians say they have no religious belief. More than half say they are religiously committed or privately spiritual. That’s more people than follow the NHL, and yet consider how much ink and airtime is devoted to faith compared with hockey.

I’m reminded of all this because Spencer sadly passed away a few days ago, just a few weeks after taking early retirement from The Province, apparently so a junior reporter could keep her job.

I thought of him too in the context of religion’s influence on news and events, particularly Donald Trump’s whirlwind religious world tour, visiting Muslim and Jewish leaders before meeting with the Pope.

Religion permeates our world and affects what’s happening around us in important, sometimes critical ways. Yet:

-A provincial election just took place and there was more analysis of how Canadian Armed Forces members voted in CFB Comox than how religion influenced B.C. voters. With the election results hanging on the outcome of recounts and absentee ballots, surely the religious vote should have been relevant.

-A national political leadership contest just ended, and the only time I saw religion mentioned was in the context of immigrants adopting Canadian values.

Until journalists stop ignoring the role of faith and spirituality in society, they’ll continue to miss stories like the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump, and the rejection of mainstream candidates in France.

As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, the Angus Reid Institute, the Faith in Canada 150 initiative, and the Cardus think tank are trying to remind Canadians just how much religious faith influences our news, from politics to social trends.

I’ll be touching on elements of the Faith in Canada 150 initiative leading up to Canada Day. In the meantime, you can look at some of their impressive work to “stimulate greater public appreciation for the contribution of faith-motivated activities and organizations to Canada’s social fabric.” They’re at

Twitter @paulschratz



Last Updated on Friday, 02 June 2017 10:00  

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