Thinking Out Loud

April 18, 2016

Epidemics: Divorce in Christian California 1970s and Suicide in Aboriginal Communities in Ontario 2016

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 am

They lived in “Gospel Gulch;” an area in great proximity to Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. The church had been part of a youth explosion that made the cover of Time Magazine early in the 1970s. As the decade closed out, the couple found themselves with a problem on their hands that may seem almost trivial to us today, but was rarer in the Christian community 40+ years ago: Their marriage was crumbling.

They weren’t alone. California leads the nation in certain types of cultural or social trends, which generally sweep from west to east. I’ve heard the same said in Canada about British Columbia. Christian marriages in the state were crumbling at a time when Christian values and standards in the rest of the United States were much more conservative.

So they went for counseling. The counselor didn’t spend a lot of time on learning to get along better or disagree more agreeably. There was no “5 steps…” or “7 keys…” or “10 tips…”

He told them to get out of California.

His best advice to them was to get away from the contagion of divorce. Get away from a spiritual community where struggling couples found their best option was to opt out. Leave the state and escape the culture of divorce that was sweeping through Washington, Oregon and Northern and Southern California with the force of the Santa Ana winds.

Attawapiskat, Ontario shown by pin: It's waaaay up there, and not much else is nearby.

Attawapiskat, Ontario shown by pin: It’s waaaay up there, and not much else is nearby.

I thought about that this morning as our church prayed about another contagion sweeping through another community: Suicide among youth in Attawapiskat, Ontario, Canada. This isn’t a local story; this is the top national news story in the country and is being picked up by The Guardian in the UK and the Chicago Tribune in the US. Newsweek reported:

Canadian legislators told an emergency parliamentary session on Tuesday night that a rash of suicide attempts by aboriginal teenagers in a remote, poverty-stricken community was “completely unacceptable” and vowed steps to keep it from happening again.

Over the past weekend alone, 11 members of the Attawapiskat First Nation community in northern Ontario tried to kill themselves, prompting the chief to declare a state of emergency. Separately, a second group was hospitalized on Monday after suicide attempts…

…Health Minister Jane Philpott said the suicide rates among aboriginal youth were at least 10 times higher than for the general population of young people. Aboriginals make up about 4 percent of Canada’s population…

Would our California marriage counselor just suggest they get out of town? The advice is certainly valid if you see the situation as contagious, but these people have a family and spiritual connection to their land. They have a way of life that doesn’t translate into moving to Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto.

As we remembered that community yesterday morning, the pastor drew a line connecting this to another one of Canada’s top news stories over the past few months: Doctor-assisted suicide. This has been a contentious issue in the country since the nation’s Supreme Court ruled in February, a story that has been covered by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and BBC News:

Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that doctors may help patients who have severe and incurable medical conditions to die, overturning a 1993 ban.

In a unanimous decision, the court said the law impinged on Canadians’ rights.

And then, there’s the obvious: These people are living without hope and this is something that as the Church of Jesus Christ, we can offer them, right? Well, when you consider the track record of abuse involving churches dealing with aboriginal children placed in residential schools, we may offer our help to them, but they may not want to turn to us…

As Christians, we also have to wrestle with the implications of suicide when someone claims to be a Christ-follower. Is this unpardonable? Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey recently posted a video response to that question, but even if we allow that this action doesn’t lead to eternal damnation, it does not sit well with Evangelicals…

…Many years ago, the son of a woman I know had a friend who ended his life. In the weeks and months that followed, she monitored her son carefully, knowing stories of the contagious nature of suicide. But what if this epidemic started sweeping the nation? Native teens are not alone in feeling they have no future; no hope.

The “Get out of the state” advice for divorce became invalid just a few short years later when, even in Christian circles, separation and divorce became more rampant. Today, as Evangelicals wrestle with the “Gay and Christian” controversy, divorce seems rather tame and has fallen of the map of church concerns. Divorced people now sing in the choir, teach Sunday School, serve on boards of elders and deacons and even pastor some of our churches.

Are we allowing the culture to dictate our definitions of acceptable morality for Christians? Do we simply allow new issues to take the place of others on the front page? What if a climate of suicide swept your church’s youth group? What are the implications of a drug epidemic or pregnancy epidemic occurring among your church’s teens or preteens? 

Obviously, I believe these things are worth thinking about.

 

 

 

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