Readers write

January 18, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 2

Gender identity not just based on biology

Re: “Letters to my sister,” Oct. 31, Nov. 14 and 28.

These letters reflect an honest attempt at informed dialogue which is often missing when discussing how to view homosexual persons. I agree with Joyce Gladwell’s statement, “Our understanding of homosexuality is a work in progress.”

This reality became more apparent to me when I read Ross Bender’s book Christians in Families. He notes that gender identity is not based just on biology (looking at the genitals). He says that to grow up masculine “nature counts on a heavy helping hand [though not exclusively] dependent on the socialization process.” He also says that “nature apparently prefers Eve as the basic model.”

He also says sexual identity is not clear-cut male and female, but runs on a continuum. Some clearly exhibit one type or the other, with others less clearly defined, which is especially true in adolescence. At this stage of development, socialization is very significant. Gladwell’s reference to being in an all-girls school is an example of my point.

Bender was dean for many years at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind. He was a clinical member of the American Association for Marital and Family Therapy. During one of his sabbaticals, he served part-time as a research associate to the office of Family Education of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. His book, published in 1982, helped me view sexuality in a new light.

Ralph Lebold, Waterloo, Ont.

Sex is proper for everyone in lifelong loving relationships

Re: “Unwrapping sexuality,” Oct. 31, page 4.

I agree with Keith Graber Miller, that infidelity, too-early sexual engagement, promiscuity, sexual objectification, sexual exploitation and sexual violence are more of a threat to our churches than same-sex sexuality.

In my view, too often these things have been ignored, trivialized, winked at, covered up or denied in our churches in the past. We have been so anxious to fit in with the rest of society, so careful to protect our good reputation and good names of “prominent” and “important” people, that we have muffled ourselves from speaking out and addressing or dealing with these problems. As a result, people have been hurt or damaged for life; they have given up on the church and been given up on by the church. Our testimony to the world has been badly damaged.

These things are sinful, whether engaged in by heterosexuals or homosexuals, as God’s plan for our happiness and well-being requires sexual intimacy to be reserved only for relationships of lifelong commitment. Same-sex orientation is no excuse to live promiscuously.

I believe we have spent so much energy debating this subject that we have lost sight of God’s true plan for our happiness. So let’s respect our sexuality for the beautiful God-given gift that it is, and—whatever our gender preference—reserve sexual intimacy for a committed lifetime relationship. And let’s respect and love those who are different from us, as God would have us do.

Frances Weber, Elmira, Ont.

Homosexual controversy ‘may not last a whole lot longer’

Thanks to Canadian Mennonite for its thoughtful articles on homosexuality (Oct. 31 issue). I realize that this issue is still a minefield within the church, and I’d ask individuals on all sides to demonstrate respect and love towards those who disagree with them.

I also think, however, as the younger generation often considers homosexuality to be a non-issue, that the controversy may not last a whole lot longer. Another divisive issue may simply take its place. I can only hope that conflict will ultimately end in understanding.

Robert Martens, Abbotsford, B.C.

Parents, churches should be talking about sexuality

Re: Oct. 31 issue on sexuality.

I acknowledge your courage to tackle the topic of sexuality. I found it especially courageous to bring up homosexuality, a topic that has alienated families and split churches in the past, and still does.

Talking about sexuality was very much taboo in Mennonite churches and families during my younger years, and when it was attempted it was done in such a stilted language that we adolescents didn’t quite know what it meant.

Now schools have taken over to enlighten students about sexual behaviour, which churches and parents should have done. I hope they are now doing more, encouraged by your articles.

The series of  “Letters to my sister” were very sensitively and thoughtfully written; they were not confrontational, condemning or condoning. They referred to Scripture in context and are applicable to our present way of life and research in science. I hope they will give troubled people, parents and church members more insight into this still difficult topic of sexual orientation.

Helmut Lemke, Burnaby, B.C.

Charges of proof-texting marginalize the Bible

I would like to enlarge the discussion of proof-texting to include how we cite authorities in general, biblical or otherwise. In the “What about proof-texting?” editorial, Dec. 19, 2011, page 2, you cite two biblical scholars and a humanities professor to support your case. This is a normal part of our discourse; I do the same in my preaching and teaching.

I have some thoughts about our use of sources and appeals to various “authorities” in discussions of sexuality and other issues:

  • We need to honour the integrity of the text, representing its intended meaning as best we can.
  • In short letters or editorials, it is a challenge to cite any source without appearing to proof-text.
  • Humility and love are crucial, whether citing Scripture or a scholar’s social analysis.
  • Consciously or not, we determine the weight of an authority’s testimony based on how trustworthy we perceive it to be. Christian faith gives primacy to the Bible as the revealed Word of God.
  • When the charge of proof-texting is limited to our use of Scripture, it marginalizes the Bible in our conversations.

I am particularly troubled by your statement that includes a quote from Walter Brueggemann: “We must acknowledge that none of us has the final authority to say that the Bible says anything definitely because the God revealed by the text is a ‘living, breathing, constantly changing God.’ ”

It is indeed important to understand how our passions, convictions and perceptions shape our interpretations, and we, of course, cannot claim to be “final authorities” on anything. Still, I believe that with careful study we can have confidence in what the Bible says about a great many things, including homosexual relations.

I disagree with Brueggemann that God is “constantly changing.” My understanding and experience of God changes, but the character and purpose of God is consistent. Overstating the uncertainty of biblical teaching and defining God as “constantly changing” sets our conversation about sexuality on a shaky foundation.

Without intending to proof-text, I accept the testimony of the Apostle James, who insists that “the Father of the heavenly lights . . . does not change like shifting shadows.” This is not an isolated conviction within Scripture: God is indeed living, but not evolving, our designer whose word is eternal and stands firm in the heavens (Psalm 119:89).

Brent Kipfer, Brussels, Ont.

Rethinking our violent salvation

Re: “Say NO to the logo,” Oct. 3, page 4.

Thank you for publishing these articles that prompted us to examine our acceptance of the depiction of violence in our sports logos and violence in the sport itself. There is no doubt in my mind that Don Cherry, who was offered an honorary degree from the Royal Military College, embodies the long-standing relationship between sport and militaristic nationalism.

I once attended a hockey game at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and watched with horror the way Tie Domi pummelled his opponent and viciously threw him down, smashing his head hard on the ice. Fans were up on their feet, giving their last breath with each blow. Yet when the player lay motionless on the ice, the crowd suddenly turned deathly quiet, as if something sacred had touched their hearts.

I feel it is very appropriate that we, as a pacifist church, should challenge the sanctification of murder in the act of war and the legitimization of violence and abuse in our national sport. After all, we have made cockfights, dogfights and bullfights illegal in our society, yet we send our young men in the prime of their life into the arenas to bash each other’s brains out, all in the name of entertainment. While Cherry may do a lot of good, his pleasure in another’s pain is abuse; it’s criminal and should be addressed at that level.

Surely the recent suicides of several NHL “enforcers,” and the extent of brain injury to players, should alert us to the fact that these players are not unlike combat soldiers who, when they come home from war, experience post-traumatic stress disorder and often turn to drugs and alcohol. Are these players just collateral damage, a price to pay for the way the game has evolved?

It has occurred to me that in our endeavour to address violence in hockey, maybe we should first address the way theologians have embedded warfare and child abuse in the Christian doctrine of salvation. How can we say that God is love if that God uses threats of torture and death if we don’t worship him? How is this God different from Satan in the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness? We need to rethink this story of how Jesus saves us if we wish to communicate to the world that God suffers long to save us from our sin in order to create shalom.

Ernie Martin, Durham, Ont.

Peace is not possible through the use of propositions

Re: “Faith beyond belief, Oct. 31, page 15.

The development of doctrinal statements or confessions as collections of primary “beliefs” goes back to the early church as it adjusted to the Constantinian establishment of Christianity in the early fourth century. In the late 19th century, challenges to Christian “beliefs” by scientific doctrines expressed as theories and laws resulted in the cementing of the practice of making written propositions of the basic truths affirmed or held by the various Christian churches. These statements are not the faith of people; they are not trustworthy in the way that we think when we trust God or another person. At best, one could say they are derived from the Bible and the faith community.

Often these documents are used as gatekeepers for church leadership positions. All this work is understood as “beliefs” made explicit. The statements are not Scripture, but usually try to show that they are derived from Scripture. They are not linked with the faith of real people, although we often say these are faith statements.

It is well known that, over the centuries, the various church traditions have rewritten and revised their belief systems or doctrinal statements to respond to changing contexts in different times and locales. There has been, in recent times in North America, a penchant for a “personal faith statement” that is called for when applying for certain jobs. Another pattern is the notion that there are core beliefs and non-essential beliefs, thus allowing for an abbreviation of the doctrinal statement for use in non-denominational or multi-denominational contexts. But none of these is tied to the faith of people in community. They are all one step removed from the faithful, yet the common practice for outsiders is to look first for a community’s list of beliefs.

I would suggest that our next confession will inevitably be influenced by our contact with people of other faith traditions. People of faith will avoid primarily emphasizing their beliefs and their religion in the course of seeking to live harmoniously and peacefully with all men and women. Our true radical confession is to seek not only to love our neighbours, but also our enemies. This cannot be done by propositions!

Dan Jack, Calgary

What really happened in Durban?

Since I advocate on behalf of smallholder farmers who are especially vulnerable to climate changes in my daily work at Canadian Foodgrains Bank, I’ve been asked what really happened at the climate change talks in Durban, South Africa, a lot recently.

Foodgrains Bank staff and  supporters were busy in the run-up to the conference, calling for policy decisions that help vulnerable people adapt to climate change. But as important as the meeting was, we weren’t convinced it was worth the financial and carbon cost to travel to Durban to continue those efforts.

One of our partners, the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief, did feel that it was important to send senior staff to Durban. I was moved to learn of their desire to bear witness to the plight many communities are experiencing in India due to climate change. It was a powerful statement of how important an issue climate change is for our southern partners.

For some, Durban represented a bitter disappointment, as urgent action was again postponed for another year. For others, the Durban Platform—which calls on nations to work towards a global climate change agreement with legal force by 2015—represented a hopeful breakthrough.

As for the Foodgrains Bank, we celebrate any movement in the direction of addressing climate change, however incremental. We were particularly pleased to see the Canadian government confirm in Durban that it will give $1.2 billion to a global Fast Start Finance Fund between 2010 and 2012 to help developing countries address climate change. The government did not share any details about how this money will be spent. As in the past, we are urging it to make sure these funds go to the most vulnerable who are affected by climate change.

Also at Durban, countries agreed to get the Green Climate Fund up and running in 2012. This fund should provide longer-term funding for poorer countries to respond to climate change. Unfortunately, there was no agreement on how to fill the fund with money—and an empty fund won’t help anyone. At the Foodgrains Bank, we believe that Canada could take a leadership role by being one of the first to concretely express support for the Green Climate Fund. This would signal Canada’s concern for those who suffer the consequences of climate change and provide meaningful assistance to them.

Carol Thiessen, Winnipeg

Carol Thiessen is a Canadian Foodgrains Bank public policy advisor.

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