CBC Ombudsman: Making the links
In the wake of accusations of sexual impropriety involving teenage girls against Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, CBC News provided a feature story about the phenomenon in some Christian fundamentalist communities that encourages marriage between older men and teenage girls. One of the interviewees was Canadian and described as a member of the Mennonite Brethren Church. The complainant, Mary Bender, pointed out there was no Brethren church in the town where she lived. She objected to her inclusion in the article, her identification as Mennonite Brethren and the link to Roy Moore. She had a point. There was context lacking.
Around the time that Alabama Senator Roy Moore was running for office and was in the headlines for alleged inappropriate contact and sexual advances to teenage girls, CBCNews.ca published an article entitled “Courting Trouble” which examined the phenomenon in some Christian fundamentalist communities of encouraging marriage between adolescent girls and adult men. The reporter, Matt Kwong, interviewed some people who had left their fundamentalist roots, but had experience with this practice. One of the women he featured was Sarah Morton, whom he identified as a member of the Mennonite Brethren, who lived near New Hamburg, Ontario, which he described as “a rural area with many Mennonite families.”
You said you could not comment on the whole article, but the paragraph concerning Ms. Morton and the Mennonite Brethren “simply doesn’t ring true.” You added that the Mennonite Brethren Church in New Hamburg dissolved in 1952, therefore she could not be a member of that community. You said your own research into the community indicated that this woman and her family attended various churches, and it was wrong to identify her as a member of the Mennonite Brethren:
… her parents dragged them to many different churches in the area, not staying anywhere for long, but they did not regularly join or attend any Mennonite or Mennonite Brethren churches. Briefly attending a group or church doesn’t make you a member or part of that group. Individuals can have wildly different ideas from the group and will often leave if there is any clash of ideas.
You rejected the idea that any Mennonites or Mennonite Church should be lumped with other fundamentalist Christian denominations that might encourage child or teenage marriage. You said if her parents were encouraging her to court an older man at age 12, this was a product of a dysfunctional family, and not religious teaching. You said the media is guilty of Mennonite bashing:
To paint each religion with the same brush is simply inaccurate and unfair. To equate Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren with other fundamental religious groups or sects that encourage child brides is equally inaccurate, untrue and unfair.
You thought Ms. Morton’s story should be removed from the article. You asked what did Roy Moore, Mormons and southern U.S. churches have to do with Ontario Mennonites. The only evidence of this practice was one isolated incident.
Continue reading this on the CBC website, where it was first published.