Readers write: Mar. 31, 2014 issue

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March 26, 2014 | Viewpoints | Number 7

Mandela refused to renounce violence to get out of prison

Re: “Lessons to be learned from Nelson Mandela” letter, Feb. 3, page 11.

Nelson Mandela was an admirable figure, no doubt, but I am always a bit perplexed when he is described as being nonviolent. I wonder if he’s being confused with his countryman, Desmond Tutu. Famously in 1985, then South African president P.W. Botha offered to release Mandela from prison if he renounced violence and Mandela refused.

The armed wing of the African National Congress, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”) regularly carried out bombings, torture and summary executions. Upon being elected president, Mandela became commander-in-chief of the South African military. Under his tenure, the military’s capabilities were substantially increased with a controversial arms deal. In the years since the fall of apartheid, South Africa has increasingly aligned itself with countries like Russia and the People’s Republic of China, neither of which could hardly be called friends of peace.

This is not to say Mandela was a terrorist or a warmonger. The violence done against apartheid pales in comparison to that done in the name of apartheid, but “less violence” is far from the same thing as nonviolence.

It’s easy to forget that, in addition to being a revolutionary and a bringer of reconciliation, Mandela was also a politician. There are many heroes of nonviolence out there, but few of them are politicians.

Benjamin Weber (online comment)

Peter’s vision an example of unlearning the Bible

I’m puzzled and perturbed by the “Unlearn the Bible? A thousand times no” letter, Feb. 17, page 12.

What bothers me is the attitude that the way we’ve understood the Bible, the way we were taught the Bible, is somehow what we are stuck with. The Bible itself models unlearning and coming to fresh, Spirit-inspired insights and convictions.

An example of this is Peter’s experience as reported in Acts 10-11. The vision Peter received that he should go to the home of Cornelius was contrary to his upbringing, his Jewish culture and his convictions. Thankfully, he was obedient to the vision and the call of God, and he went to the home of Cornelius. His experience there stimulated him to new insight: “Now I truly understand that God shows no partiality . . .” (Acts 10:34). Peter literally unlearned his former understanding and faith. He came to fresh and surprising insights and convictions.

How could the Anabaptist movement have begun without Conrad Grebel and Menno Simons unlearning what they had been taught about baptism, communion and church, and coming to fresh insights and convictions?

There are other examples in Scripture and in history that challenge the attitude that we have nothing to unlearn when it comes to biblical understandings and Christians convictions.

Biblical truth is not static truth; it is embryonic truth that needs to be nurtured, considered and developed over time, in each new cultural situation. Not all the implications of the gospel can—or must—be found in the Bible. The gospel slowly permeates history and society, and transforms in fresh ways. We do not simply repeat what was known and understood at an earlier time. Jesus’ own word to the disciples underlines this: “I have much more to tell you, but you are not able to bear it now; but the Spirit will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13).

Let us be thankful for all those who re-examine Scripture in the light of experience and tradition. Let us be thankful to God for the opportunity to unlearn inadequate understandings and change our minds as we move to ever-greater maturity in Christ.

John H Neufeld, Winnipeg

Quebec charter meant to ‘stir up’ francophone insecurities, phobias

Re: “Proposed Québec Charter not a threat to religious freedom” letter, Feb. 3, page 11.

John Klassen wrote that Québec’s Charter of Values “reduce[s] the chances of a citizen facing a religiously biased official or policy in daily living.”

Why is a Muslim daycare worker wearing a head scarf, a Sikh parliamentarian wearing a turban, a Jewish surgeon wearing a kippa or a Catholic nurse wearing a cross such a threat to non-Muslim, non-Sikh, non-Jewish and non-Catholic citizens? How are they less able to act professionally than a secular Quebecker? Québec is a very secular society, with only 16 percent of native-born Quebeckers attending serv-ices at least monthly, while 40 percent of immigrants in Québec born outside of Canada attend religious services of all kinds.

The proposed charter in no way envisions a “neutral” society; on the contrary, it promotes a very secular society.

If I lived in Québec and had a child in a daycare with a Muslim caregiver, lived in a riding with a Sikh as my MP, was in hospital in the care of a Jewish surgeon, or was cared for by a Catholic sister, I would be encouraged because they take their religion seriously enough to wear a symbol of their faith.

Every major religion has a system of ethics and respect for fellow human beings, just as Mennonites do. I believe that each of these representatives would be just as able to interact with me professionally as a non-church-going Quebecker.

The proposed charter asks religious immigrants to choose between articles of their faith and their profession.

Why is the Parti Québécois proceeding with its Charter of Values? In the Feb. 26 edition of the Globe and Mail, columnist Jeffrey Simpson wrote that the PQ intends to “stir up insecurities, phobias, fears and pride among the province’s francophone majority, especially in areas where there are almost no ‘others.’ ”

If the PQ receives a majority in the next provincial election, Simpson wrote, another referendum on secession is on the horizon. Remember the last referendum on separation, when Jacques Parizeau, having narrowly lost the vote, stated that it was defeated by “the ethnic vote,” the “others”?

Ruth Heinrichs, Regina

‘Food foresters’ can feed the world

Re: “Who feeds the world,” Feb. 17, page 21.

I find it quite amazing the lack of information in the average farmer’s field of perception (pun intended), considering that most have iPads/iPhones that they use while driving their $300,000 tractors.

I am a permaculture practitioner, and have found that the concept of “food forestry”— a low-mainte-nance sustainable plant-based food production and agro-forestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans—could easily feed the world with a zero-mile diet. The hard part is getting this information to the farmers of North America, several of whom are neighbours and friends.

They look at what we do and shake their heads, saying, “That can’t work.” This seems to be the biggest block to the food forest working: the belief that it can’t work, and the belief that fossil-fuel-driven food production can.

North America currently averages 10 calories burned for every calorie of food eaten. That is unsustainable and wasteful, depleting the planet and all life thereon.

Bryce Murph’Ariens (online comment)

Thanks for exposing the ‘dirty underside’ of the Olympics

Re: “I’m an Olympic atheist,” Feb. 17, page 14.

My gratitude to Will Braun for speaking to the dirty underside of the Olympic Games.

The grace and beauty of the competing athletes is wonderful, but at what cost? As soon as the Games began, we heard little besides cheerleading from the media.

The blatant corruption of the Russians and the indulgence of the International Olympic Committee are not pretty sights. Furthermore, the cost of staging the Games—in this case, at the expense of the Russian poor—is simply inexcusable.

In this context of corruption and media frenzy, the way of the Beatitudes would seem almost laughable.

Robert Martens, Abbotsford, B.C.

Money is the reason for new ‘Bible’ movies

Re: “God’s Word coming to the silver screen,” Feb. 3, page 13.

In response to Carl DeGurse’s Viewpoint column, he rightly asks the question: “Why the sudden interest” in Hollywood films about the Bible?

The answer that he fails to mention is money. While I, too, appreciate that these films will provide an opportunity for everyone to see the Bible portrayed on the silver screen, let’s not forget that these studios have only one agenda: to make films that make money. Even the endorsements by evangelical pastors is a thinly veiled attempt to get those pastors to push the movies on their congregants so more bums will fill the theatre seats. More bums equals more money!

Matt Van Geest, Winnipeg

The church needs ‘our best discernment and visions’

When someone does not know what day it is, or the time of day, we say they are getting older, they have cognitive problems and they may need 24/7 supervision or support.

When an institution or organization does not know what time it is—when a task force on future direction does not know the time—what do we say?

First of all, we say that sounds drastic.

But consider this: If you look at discussion questions from the Future Directions Task Force for a larger meeting, and if those questions could be read equally well in 2014 or in 1964 or in 1914, what do we say?

We might say, “Quiet, do not disturb. Mennonites are worshipping here.”

We might say such questions are either very profound or they are meaningless. If the task force does not recognize today, how can they think into tomorrow? I’m sorry to say this, but the bits and pieces I have read or experienced about the task force are not inspiring or challenging. Am I just missing it or where is the spark?

If the task force is to lead us into tomorrow as a national group, or as congregations, we need more. The children and the sparrows, the least and the lost, the earth itself, all need our best discernment and visions about ourselves, about the Word and about the world. It may be hard to dream when belts have to be tightened, but there are few other choices.

Our future should be less about making sure that the fences are strong, the gates are secure and the temple courtyard stays clean, and more about creating a house of prayer for all nations.

Ray Hamm, Neubergthal, Man.

Letter writers need to ‘become informed about sexual abuse’

Re: “MennoMedia questioned over John Howard Yoder disclaimer” letter, March 3, page 11.

I do not wish to address the Yoder issue as such, since I do believe it is being dealt with by wise, competent leaders.

I am, however, disappointed and appalled by the general theme and tone of the letter signed by Walter and Ruth Klaassen, Harry Loewen and Vern Ratzlaff, which blames women when sexual violations occur.

In instances of sexual abuse, there is a significant power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim. Therefore, it is an inaccurate assumption that women are to blame when boundary crossings and violations occur. Perpetrators are cunning when grooming their victims. The ultimate betrayal is the moment when trust is broken through sexual violations. And clearly the perpetrator bears total responsibility when violations occur.  

I encourage the writers of the letter to become informed about sexual abuse, and I hope none of their daughters or granddaughters are ever sexually violated.

Martha Smith Good, New Hamburg, Ont.

Father hopes his boys don’t ‘discover’ a faith

Re: “Sunday un-schooling,” March 3, page 17.

Let me say I not putting down public education. Having said that, though, we would have never entrusted education about faith for our boys to either the public schools or a church. Neither can guarantee an objective, Socratic approach to this subject. One wants to indoctrinate and the other presents faiths in a dominant-culture, western way.

We are both atheists, although my wife is “spiritual.” Our boys are atheist, and we have left it up to them if they ever want to “discover” a faith. I hope not.

Thom Foote (online comment)

--Posted March 26, 2014

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