Readers write

May 22, 2013 | Viewpoints

Editorial sets up false dichotomies

Re: “Whose voice are we” editorial, April 1, page 2, that focuses on the “ownership” of Canadian Mennonite.

I was on the task force in the mid-1990s charged with envisioning the “ownership” structure of Canadian Mennonite. From that perspective I offer some comments.

The editorial highlights adversarial contrasts: “editorial freedom” vs. “editorial control”; “equal standing in the body” vs. “hierarchy”; freedom of “critique” vs. “propaganda”; “independence” vs. belonging to the “denominational structure”; “diversity” vs. “husbanded” control. These contrasting categories do not capture the spirit of the debate at the time.

The discussion then revolved around what it meant to be a body. We were nourished by I Corinthians 12, and tried to imagine how the seven entities—Mennonite Church Canada, the five area churches and Canadian Mennonite Publishing Service (CMPS)—could function together to make the body stronger. We asked what each one brings to, and needs from, the body: What makes us all stronger?

Some mentioned the need for communication, and others the need for resources. CMPS brought the gift of legal incorporation to the table. This was welcomed, not because it gave CMPS a chance to be “independent,” but because it offered needed advantages to all, including expertise and a favourable mailing rate. The national and area churches brought the possibility of an “every-home plan.” None of this was couched in the dichotomous terms used in the editorial.

The editorial policy would also be subject to the building up of the body of Christ. “Critique” and “control” were not the alternatives. Rather, we hoped for mutual discernment that would strengthen the life of the body.

Yes, this process was “serious.” It kept us from affirming “independence,” “control,” “freedom,” “propaganda” and “hierarchy.” Rather, we affirmed the biblical idea of the church as the body of Christ.

We also suggested that the Scripture passage that would guide all of our efforts could be Hebrews 10:

23-25. The key elements there were to “hold fast the confession of our hope,” “stimulating each other to love and good deeds,” “not stopping to meet together,” and, “to encourage each other.” We were confident that Canadian Mennonite could serve the body as an effective instrument in each of these ways.

With nearly 20 years of hindsight, some might say that our view of the church as the body of Christ was too idealistic. Exploring that concern would reflect the historical spirit of the proposal, and would not impose on it an alien agenda that does not.

Robert J. Suderman, New Hamburg, Ont.

Magazine’s independence must be made more clear

Re: “Whose voice are we?” editorial, April 1, page 2.

Despite my reading of this periodical from its very earliest format in the 1950s, and my intellectual recognition that this is an independent periodical, I have a difficult time thinking about its mission other than in the context of its being Mennonite Church Canada’s instrument. Letter responses make it obvious that many other readers have a similar difficulty, making it very unfair for our denomination and its leadership. I encourage you to make its independence very explicitly noticeable in each issue.

While most of your editorial practices do honour our national church, Canadian Mennonite often fails in acting like a denominational publication that could intentionally add clarity to recurrent controversial topics.

Nevertheless, and unfortunately so, Canadian Mennonite is currently the best avenue through which ongoing dialogue and discernment happens within MC Canada. My experience has demonstrated that this happens in a very limited fashion within our congregations and at area church assemblies.

Ivan Unger, Cambridge, Ont.
(Our mission statement on page 3 now notes that Canadian Mennonite is an “independent publication.”)

Inclusion, church identity issues closely linked

I feel that our church discussions could benefit from a more careful use of the term “inclusion.” The term often seems to carry connotations of an unqualified good.

It is generally assumed that we should all strive to be more inclusive. In “Quilt to make space for dialogue on sexuality,” April 15, page 20, the problem was described as “[p]eople continue to be excluded from the Mennonite church, as diverse and welcoming as we are.” The assumed solution is to be more inclusive.

What is often missing from such discussions on inclusion—whether it is on issues of sexuality or people with disabilities (see “Stories of Inclusion,” Feb. 18, pages 16-17)—is a corresponding attention to “identity.” Whenever one talks about including someone, it is helpful to think about “into what.”

All communities exist because of shared understandings or boundaries of one sort or another. Core convictions, common mission, expectations of conduct, mutual promises, all of these make for identity. Inclusion is a worthy goal—or not—depending on our understanding of identity.

Should we be urging our children’s soccer teams to be more inclusive of those who would prefer to use their hands? Probably not, unless our goal is to alter the nature of the game itself. We should, however, be striving to include children from a range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

In church discussions, presuppositions about Christian communal identity are too often assumed without being made explicit. When we talk about inclusion without talking about our understanding of ecclesial identity, we tend to talk past each other.

Scott Brubaker-Zehr, Waterloo, Ont.

Climate-change gatherings negatively impact climate

Re: “Metzger challenges church on climate change,” April 1, page 30.

First of all, thank you to the Canadian Mennonite staff for doing an excellent job of reporting on the real situations we Mennonites find ourselves in. Perhaps for future climate-change gatherings, modern communication devices could replace jumbo jets, as the article calls into question our consumption levels.

Jake Gossen, Staples, Ont.

MCC is a worldwide ministry of the church

In my role as a member of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Joint Ministry Council (JMC), I had the privilege of participating in several of the March meetings of the boards of MCC Canada and MCC U.S., including their annual joint meeting. As an outside observer I offer the following personal observations and reflections.

I am impressed to see how MCC U.S. and MCC Canada have made a way to work together in a spirit of mutual respect, mutual support and harmony. Thanks to an enormous amount of work in developing clear guidelines and policies, thanks to the good will of the people involved, and thanks to the grace of God, the two MCCs are working in peaceful cooperation and speaking with a unified voice. It is my perception that the two partners work together in harmony with the common goal of serving needy people in the name of Christ.

I am delighted to see how much the church matters to the MCC board members and staff. The people of MCC clearly perceive MCC as a service agency or ministry of the church, not apart or separated from it. As such, MCC is rooted in the church and dependent on it.

I am thankful that MCC understands itself as an explicitly Christian ministry, dedicated to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord in deed and word. As such, MCC is committed to support and promote Christian churches abroad and at home.

I am pleased to hear how MCC board members and staff identify MCC as a “people organization,” not a money-granting institution. MCC is about helping people in need, not about upholding an institution.

In summary, I thank God for MCC as a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches which continues to transform the lives of thousands of people, both those who serve and those who are being served.

During the course of these meetings I sometimes felt as if I heard God saying to MCC staff and workers around the world: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:34,40).

Werner Franz, Asunción, Paraguay
Werner Franz is pastor of Concordia Mennonite Church, Asunción, and a Mennonite World Conference-elected member of the Mennonite Central Committee Joint Ministry Council.

Canadian Foodgrains Bank offers thanks for 30 years

April 13 marked the 30th anniversary of the founding of Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Throughout this year, we wish to celebrate and thank the many people and organizations that have created, built and supported the Foodgrains Bank over the years: the early visionaries, the practical people that worked out the mechanics, the many farmers across the country that caught the vision, Mennonite Central Committee that established the initial food bank and then invited other churches to join, and the 15 Canadian churches and church-based agencies that now belong.

We also want to recognize the hundreds of partner organizations around the world that implement programs in often difficult circumstances; the growing number of church congregations, both rural and urban, that are participating; the many individuals who generously donate cash; the business commu-nity that supports growing projects and facilitates grain donations and other efforts; and the Canadian International Development Agency that has supported the Foodgrains Bank from the beginning.

We are thankful that significant progress has been made in reducing the prevalence of hunger around the world over the last 30 years. The most recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization indicates that the prevalence of hunger in developing countries has fallen from 23 percent to 15 percent in the last 20 years. We have contributed to this progress by reducing the impoverishing effects of hunger and disasters, and by supporting the efforts of households and communities to feed themselves.

Yet we are deeply conscious that there are still 870 million people around the world who go hungry. Continued progress in reducing hunger is by no means certain. Our 30th anniversary is a time of re-tooling how we work, expanding some new approaches, strengthening the quality of our program, and inviting Canadians to continue joining with us in this God-inspired work of ending hunger.

While we have much to celebrate, we do so with the knowledge that the work of ending hunger is as urgent and vital as ever.

Jim Cornelius, Winnipeg
Jim Cornelius is executive director of Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

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