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February 13, 2013 | Viewpoints

‘Freedom of speech is hard work’

I am writing to share my thoughts on the relationship Canadian Mennonite has developed with the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA).

First some observations.

The history of the Mennonite people has been to avoid confrontation and to be left alone. So to be challenged by the CRA (the government), even if it is only a warning, would be unsettling to many.

Freedom of speech and all that goes with it means a lot to Mennonites. Their history proves that. They have sacrificed a lot to have freedom. Mennonites, maybe more than other churches, understand that with freedom comes responsibility. In a way, the more freedom you have, the riskier it becomes. So from that perspective, freedom of speech is hard work.

It is the CRA’s job to make sure that all non-profit organizations follow the laws and regulations that they operate under. Not all non-profit organizations are necessarily altruistic in their operations, and it is important to make sure that the reputation of the CRA remains as high as possible. Mennonites wouldn’t want it any other way.

And finally, we could walk away, so to speak. The implications of walking away—losing subscription subsidy—would be very controversial within the Mennonite community.

So how do we come to a successful resolution of the issue?

First of all, we must be sure we are working within the law. We will do that by listening carefully and by making sure that the CRA is satisfied that we are, in fact, doing that. Carl DeGurse confirms that.

Some words create more of a reaction than others. In your editorial entitled “A political lament,” the use of the word “militaristic” was a bit strong, in my view. When I read the editorial back in May 2012, my first thought was that you are an American. A Canadian would have chosen something softer. But you are the editor and I’m not challenging your work. I enjoy reading your editorials.

So those are my thoughts on the issue. I’m not disheartened. It feels good to step out of our comfort zone once in a while. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did in his ministry?

Bob Siemens, Rosetown, Sask.

Consumers should support ethical businesses

Re: “Why does business matter to God?” by Ethan Heidebrecht, Jan. 7, page 34.

I really appreciate the author’s passion for ethical business, and especially for sharing what inspired him at the Mennonite Economic Development Associates conference.

I have had the privilege of witnessing, and being a part of, ethical businesses throughout my life, as modelled by my father-in-law Jacob Pauls, who owned Lincoln Machine Shop in St. Catharines, Ont., then by my former employers, Ten Thousand Villages U.S. and Canada, and most certainly by my current employer, Jolica Inc.

Yes, ethical, profitable businesses that create jobs, provide services and stimulate economies are possible to create, and a pleasure to support. As consumers, it is important for us to remember that every dollar we spend is a vote for the business practices of the organizations we support with our purchases.

Ingrid Heinrichs Pauls, Oakville, Ont.

‘Attractional’ Christianity a hard sell

Re: “” by David Martin, Jan. 21, page 9.

Martin accurately notes that being an “attractional” congregation in most cases only does church a bit differently than other churches and does little to embody the spirit of Jesus to our secular neighbours.

For a good many years I volunteered on an aboriginal committee in Winnipeg that worked with inner-city gangs and taught them carpentry in order to help them move out of the negative gang structure. I learned a lot:

  • I don’t ever remember meeting an aboriginal who was not spiritual. If there are aboriginal atheists, I would like to meet one.
  • There was a lot of interest in Christianity, from the head of the gangs to their families.
  • Churches were inaccessible, both distance-wise and culture-wise.

I remember taking the leader of one of the gangs to a church service. He got very antsy and wanted to leave early. “I want to live like a Christian, but I can’t handle that structure,” he said. “It is so cold.”

More of the gang members and families went to the local downtown mission, where they felt at home, so I asked the guys about church. Most wanted their kids and female partners to be able to go to church, but inadequate bus service on a Sunday morning and the cost if you had several children made it almost impossible for them to attend.

When I asked what they would like to attend, it was almost unanimous: small house churches—my term—in neighbourhood groups of 15 to 30 people in a congenial space with lots of coffee.

For a time I tried to get something going, but no one from my congregation wanted to miss their church and be part of such groupings. It became clear that we talk a brave attractional Christianity, but in the end we want it to happen our way, never taking into account how difficult that may be for the very people we wish to worship with.

Ken Reddig, Pinawa, Man.

Salvation more important than CRA or CO2

I am amazed over the massive response to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) reminder (Dec. 17, 2012, pages 8 to 10), and the nil response to Jake Heinrich’s letter, “Let’s not hide sin under new names,” Nov. 26, 2012, page 8. I totally agree with him.

Sure, be concerned about CRA, but be alarmed at what’s happening in Christianity. To the new names, Heinrichs mentioned, add Harmony (sounds so nice, but, in fact, so contrary to Scripture), the emerging church and new-age morality.

Cults deny the deity of Jesus. People are indifferent to the non-negotiable doctrines in the Bible and to the claims of Christ, that he is the Son of God, the light of the world, the only way to heaven.

Even Rex Murphy, commenting on modern society (“Hollowing out the Christian consensus,” Dec. 17, 2012, page 29), notes how Christianity has changed. It’s now off-centre and out of the spotlight; with secularization and trivializations of foundational issues, faith is pushed aside. The 2,000-year-old anchors are too rigid and authoritarian for today’s society. New names and organizations have taken their place: gay marriage, human rights, the environment.

Jesus was serious, not indifferent, about the depravity of mankind, our lost and hopeless condition held hostage by Satan. He came from heaven to reveal the love of God, to suffer and die on the cross for our sins past, present and future, to satisfy the wrath and punishment of God, and to restore fellowship and hope with God for eternity. Repentance and faith in Jesus is our passport to heaven. God’s kingdom is portrayed as a wedding banquet. Don’t miss it.

This good news of salvation is to be proclaimed to all nations until Jesus returns. It is more important than CRA or CO2.

I am passionate about the Christian/Anabaptist faith. May we strive to remain on the one foundation (I Corinthians 3:11). I am passionate about the Mennonite heritage and tradition; may we keep striving for peace and holiness, for “without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14), and “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Every generation makes choices with eternity on the horizon.

C. Neil Klassen, Rosemary, Alta.

Objections to the peace tax option raised

Re: “Are you paying for peace or war?” Jan. 21, page 12.

Each tax season we are encouraged to hold back the portion of our taxes that would go to the military, as a form of conscientious objection. I have two objections to this practice:

  • When Jesus was asked if the Jews should pay their taxes to Rome, we are familiar with the response to notice Caesar’s face on the coin and to “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” I do not think Jesus was endorsing his followers to blindly and eagerly support one of the most militaristic societies the earth has ever seen. In a more subtle way, though, I think Jesus was suggesting that it might be just a little hypocritical for his followers to willingly and gainfully participate in the economic system of “the world” and then avoid their responsibilities to that system.
  • It has been suggested that we push for legislation that would overturn our responsibility to pay the military portion of our tax, and turn it into a right to redirect those funds to peaceful purposes. It seems that the logical extension of this strategy would be a new section of the tax form that lists each major line item in the government budget so taxpayers can distribute their taxes the way they see fit. In such a system it would not surprise me if Canada would end up with a larger military budget, and I fear some social safety net programs may fare even worse than they already do. So, philosophically, is this really what we should be pushing for?

It seems to me that a more effective and morally consistent approach to witnessing to our peace stance would be to put our full share of taxes in the big pot and then speak with our politicians directly to influence how the pot is distributed.

Andrew Cressman, New Hamburg, Ont.

Mennonites have a long history of environmental activism

I would like to commend Canadian Mennonite for featuring environmental issues in its Jan. 21 issue. Will Braun’s article, “Crossing the (pipe) line,” page 4, was particularly thoughtful. I feel compelled, however, to comment on several items in Dick Benner’s editorial, “Confessing our fossil fuel sins,” page 2.

First, an issue of accuracy. It is true that both environmental issues and the organizations that work to address them, like the Mennonite Creation Care Network, suffer from lack of visibility. The network, however, was actually formed in 2006, not 2008.

Furthermore, our churches have been active on these issues for longer. The network’s predecessor, the Mennonite Environmental Task Force, served Mennonite churches in Canada and the U.S. from 1991 until 2001, working to promote creation care within the church. The fact that I was not aware of the task force until shortly before its demise speaks to its invisibility in the broader constituency, but this should not negate the committed work of its volunteers for 10 years. This history is described in more detail online at

Second, I question the fairness of raising Menno Simons’ lack of concern for climate change and broader concerns of the earth. A 16th-century church leader can hardly be expected to comment on a climatic phenomenon that scientists only began to notice several centuries later.

One might wish that he had more to say about our relationship with the earth in general, but the engagement of our church, its leaders and its members today is, to me, a more important question. Now that we know these problems exist and are hurting our fellow creatures, human and otherwise, across the planet, are we being leaders, or followers, or obstacles in the search for solutions?

Joanne Moyer, Toronto

‘Wise family planning’ as an antidote to climate change

Re: “Mennonites and climate” letter by Henry Epp, Jan. 7, page 8.

Epp’s comments are well taken. Needless to say, factors influencing climate are very complicated. One thing is for sure, climate has fluctuated widely both before and after the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It seems to me that human cooperation would be more forthcoming on this issue if we focused more on responsible use of natural resources and less on assigning “pollution” blame to this or that. For example, it’s interesting how soon “good things” happen when we responsibly log the forests, replant and then leave for a while. This responsibility should start with wise family planning in the developing world, so that consumption is kept within the scope of resources available.

Richard Penner, Calgary

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