Readers write

August 15, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 16

Must respect be earned, or simply expected?

Re: “Where are the manly mentors?” June 25, page 34.

Rachel Bergen expressed disgust with males who are disrespectful towards females. Perhaps we can help each other with this kind of challenge in our promiscuous post-Christian era.

In one of my pastorates, we had a very godly, highly respected deacon in our congregation, who was also a professor and supervisor at the local teachers college. At one of the board of deacons meetings, he expressed a deep concern about the Sunday school superintendent who regularly wore a micro-miniskirt and a top with a plunging neckline on Sunday mornings; he was worried about the kind of message she was sending to all ages in our congregation.

How many times have wise, mature people told us that respect must be earned, that it cannot be demanded or legislated? Yet some years ago, one of our female pastors at a Mennonite Church Eastern Canada cluster meeting said, “A women has every right to dress as she pleases, and males have a responsibility not to have lustful thoughts.”

At present, we are faced with a widespread challenge in our church gatherings. With more and more women sitting on the platform as pastors and worship leaders, people in the pew are having difficulty knowing where to focus their eyes. Looking at the floor or ceiling can be a pain in the neck!

So how do we respond to Bergen’s disgust regarding respect?

Reynold Kipfer, Kitchener, Ont.

Take care” feature, April 30, page 4.

Many thanks for the timely article on church safety policies. Garry Janzen hit it right on when he stated, “Increased awareness of incidents of abuse in recent media coverage and encouragement for victims to speak out are pushing churches to consider that there may be both victims and abusers in their pews and among their leadership.”

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ontario has had a Sexual Misconduct and Abuse Response/Resource Team (SMARRT) in place since 1995, to assist churches when allegations arise. The team moves quickly and impartially to diffuse the situation, easing conflict and saving the reputation of the leaders involved.

SMARRT is introducing to Canada a program providing a great age-appropriate resource that supplies this training for church protection policies. This “Circle of Grace” program firmly links the protection of children with God’s will, and provides children and their parents a common vocabulary for discussing concerns.

Helma Schmidt, Kitchener, Ont.
Helma Schmidt is the administrative manager of SMARRT (www.mcco.ca/restorative/smarrt).

Dress more modestly

We certainly need fathers and grandfathers who model and teach respect for women and men (“Where are the Manly Mentors?” June 25, p. 34). Showing respect is a sign of strength and character.

As a mother and grandmother, I believe women also have an influence and responsibility in encouraging and commanding respect. Over my lifetime, in secular society, women have fought for, and achieved, a much greater degree of equality and respect in the academic and business world. On another level, however, I believe women in our Western societies are often jeopardizing this respect by how they dress and conduct themselves.

In many Eastern societies, women are forced to wear clothing that completely covers their bodies. While this approach is domineering and unacceptable, our Western women have gone too far in wearing clothing that is too body-revealing in both formal and informal situations. Where do women and girls wish to identify themselves as followers of Jesus?

As I “dust off my Bible,” I am finding that in the scriptures, women are valued for unique gifts of homemaking, nurturing, inspiring and supporting, as well as contributions in the business and professional world, and that these gifts are far more important than any physical beauty we may have.

By dressing ourselves appropriately and modestly, we can encourage the men in our lives and around us to honour and respect womanhood. What do you think?

Name withheld on request

‘No longer persecuted’

I might agree that Mennonite traditions of the separation of church and state are still relevant (Letters “Mennonites can serve Jesus Christ . . . or Stephen Harper” by Walter Quiring, May 28, p 8; “MCC must now compete for CIDA grant money” by R. Penner, July 9 p 8). How this is accomplished, however, warrants re-examination and experimentation. We are no longer being persecuted for our religious liberty.

Call for volunteers

There is consensus from most Mennonites, for example, that we have a responsibility to vote during federal elections. Our churches are filled with New Democrat, Liberal, Green and even Conservative voters. This is how it should be; there are good and bad policies within all major political parties.

I cannot accept, however, that we should stand idly by while refugee claimants are being denied basic health care, environmental protection policies are rapidly being dismantled without due process, and our political elite are slow to openly evaluate non-partisan voices calling for a more participatory democracy.

I believe individually and as church organizations, there can be separation of church and state even as we become pro-active and dialogue with the individuals and institutions that govern and control our society.

Myron D. Steinman, Kitchener, Ontario

Reactions to abuse eerily identical

Thank you so much to Amy Dueckman for writing “Killing her softly” (July 9) and to Canadian Mennonite for publishing it. I grew up in a home where domestic violence was both physical and verbal/emotional. I vowed I would never let what happened to my mother happen to me. However, when I experienced the relationship cycles of verbal/emotional abuse as described so well in this article, my reactions were identical to those described in the article. It’s kind of eerie really. My husband is outgoing and well-liked. I didn’t recognize what was happening. I was afraid. My self-esteem was extremely low. I told myself if only I did more he wouldn’t be angry. I did not make good decisions. My greatest regret is the twisted model of marriage I provided for my children. I hope that, through efforts such as these, awareness will be raised and support can be provided to families suffering from abusive relationships.

Name withheld on request

Women can be abusers too

While I have very little personal experience with romantic relationships and the politics within them, I find it hard to generalize abusers as a men and victims as women (“Killing her softly,” July 9, p 4).

It is dangerous to assume that men are the only ones in a relationship that can be domestic abusers, because in some cases, women can display almost all of the same traits as the ones listed in the article. I can imagine from a psychological standpoint, these women try to exert their authority in a relationship because of past abuse, or because they want to break out of the social norms of male dominance and female inferiority. The same phases of abuse can apply to a woman abuser as well as a man.

These same steps towards mental and emotional abuse stand for any kind of relationship, not just romantic, intimate ones. For a few years, in my university residence, I had a roommate who developed these traits towards me over time. I got to know her in my first year and we bonded fairly quickly. We had our differences and our arguments, but they never lasted long. In second year, we decided to stay together, and that’s when I began to notice things I had ignored or not known the previous year.

Looking back on it now, it was exactly the same phases as described in the article, with a sort of “honeymoon phase” where we would have fun with our mutual friends. Then the “tension phase” would happen, with her barely or not speaking to me for weeks on end. At the end of that time, we would often find ourselves in some sort of major argument that affected our other friends as well.

I’m not proud of my behavior towards her at some times, and regretted some of my actions and words that escalated arguments, but in most cases, I found myself questioning where I went wrong, or what I could do to fix it, and was relieved when we parted ways. Ending that relationship was the best way to go for both of us, but every now and again, I think of her, and pray that she’s doing all right.

It just goes to show that people can get hurt by emotional abuse in any kind of relationship, whether romantic or not.

Name withheld on request

Mental health ‘stigmatization’ not helpful

Chris Summerville’s reflections on mental illness (June 25, 2012) perpetuate a misunderstanding that has become common in recent years. There is a world of difference in the extremes of mental illness, and to label society’s reaction as a monolithic stigmatization or avoidance not only does a tremendous disservice to people who meet and deal with sufferers every day, but also flies in the face of advocates who claim “most people do not even recognize sufferers of mental illness when they meet them.”

Summerville’s frankness seems superficial: on one hand, his experiences with Vincent Li, whose traumatic illness resulted in the death of an innocent person, remain incompletely processed with the glib phrase, “Schizophrenia is treatable and recovery is possible,” and thus belies the depth of healing and monitoring that are necessary to ensure that such illnesses are truly in remission, and not merely papered over with a thin veneer of civil behaviour enforced by a regimented routine found in health care institutions, but not found in the messiness of real life.

On the other hand, “Persons with mental illness are the lepers of today,” incompletely distinguishes those who suffer low-grade illnesses such as depression that are unremittingly crippling yet harm no-one but themselves, from those that are violently harmful to many people—family, friends, coworkers and strangers.

The truth is that individuals in society embrace mental illness in a variety of ways. To ignore the manifold ways that individuals treat those with mental illness around them does a profound disservice not only to society, but to sufferers as well. Each needs to participate in the health of those around them at the level they are able. Those who can care for depressives should do so, and most people are not only capable of so doing, but the literature indicates they indeed do so.

To castigate ordinary people without the skills or tools gained through decades of dealing with manipulative behaviour found with untreated or relapsing schizophrenics, narcissists and borderline-personality-disorder sufferers as uncaring, is to encourage them to become the next victims. Pastors in particular must beware of the depth of their engagement with such individuals.

When those who are ill recognize their illness—without the need to separate themselves from society, to blame society for their illness, or to make society responsible for curing their illness—and tell their stories, people are empowered to help them.

This is truly the message of Jesus and the man possessed in Mark 5. The man with the unclean spirit admitted the possibility of recovery in his acknowledgment of Jesus as a great healer, yet was desperately confronted at the thought of having to live without the possession of his illness (Mk 5:10). This man was cared for, but it took the power of Jesus in his healing to do what the people could not. 

Andre Pekovich, Vancouver B.C.

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