Readers write: February 16, 2015 issue

February 11, 2015 | Viewpoints | Number 4

Conscience Canada offers ‘peace tax’ alternative to taxpayers

Current global events feel overwhelming. Here we are on a globe that seems to be rolling down a mountain, swelling with the detritus of violence as it plummets toward chaos. Is it possible for peace-minded people to get off? No, but if all the earth-loving people would perk up and drag their feet, surely the ball could be slowed down and finally halted.

When leaders of countries stand up and say, “We are at war!” what is our response? “Silence gives consent,” is the old adage. So while we are silent, our country is supporting our Canadian industries to accept contracts for $19 billion for the production of military hardware to send around the world and fuel conflicts, according to the Winter 2014 issue of Ploughshares Monitor.

When forces of greed, lust for power and fear of others are driving our human resources and natural resources into a black hole of enmity and perpetual conflict, it is time for a new resurrection. Those who know something about human hope, divine love and a life of faith in truth and goodness, need to make these realities apparent to the world around them. We must be seen for what we are in our daily lives, our weekly corporate worship, our monthly giving to support our frontline workers, and our annual resistance to the income tax collected to fund the government’s Department of Defence.

Something we can all do is make our convictions known to those we have elected to govern us: Our commitment that our money, as well as our lives, be used for peacebuilding, not for destructive violence. This message can be reinforced by those who have control over the remittance of their income taxes.

You can withhold 7.8 percent of your federal income tax and send it instead to the Peace Tax Fund in Trust of Conscience Canada. This organization has been providing this door—not as yet legally open—to conscientious objectors to military taxation for more than 30 years. It is a way for peace people to drag their feet against globalized violence. To access the online Conscience Canada Peace Tax Return, visit www.consciencecanada.ca.

Mary Groh, Scarborough, Ont.

Understanding a grave situation

It has been 100 years since the masses were mobilized into crowds—foules, to use the French word—and then uniformly regimented into the military to fight in the trenches of northern France and on the Eastern Front in the First World War.

In the aftermath of the assassinations of the cartoonists and editor at Charlie Hebdo magazine on Jan. 7 in Paris, we see this phenomenon beginning again. Will it be war, a crusade against Islamic teachings on graven image depictions of Qur’anic characters, or will it be revolution for the western idea of free artistic expression? Is there no other choice?

Think of Christ in the Gospel of Luke, kicked out of the synagogue and facing the five thousand who needed to be fed. Consider the disciples sent out to heal and cast out demons in houses that Jesus will minister at himself on his road to Jerusalem and the cross.

Can a flock walking through a crowd or a choir singing with a congregation on the Lord’s Day not bring a message—a witness—to such mass assemblages?

Hope this helps Mennonites understand the gravity of the current situation.

James Neufeld, Winnipeg

It costs a lot to keep a senior in poverty

Re: “Holy recklessness,” Jan. 19, page 21.

Having recently “retired” and turning 60 this year, I found the topic interesting. I like Will Braun’s emphasis on simplicity and opting out of consumerism and the financial planning industry that is designed to scare people into buying their products.

However, I would be interested in more details about how he intends to support himself in his “senior” years. Will he accept the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security or maybe even the Guaranteed Income Supplement? Will he keep working? Each of those options come with their ethical dilemmas as well.

Perhaps he could devote a future column to sketching out what it looks like to live simply as we age: Where does the necessary income come from? What types of housing are needed and especially what kinds of support need to be in place as our bodies and minds fail us?

Ghandi is quoted as saying, “It costs a lot to keep me in poverty.” One might rephrase that to say it costs a lot to keep a senior in poverty.

Kathy Shantz (online comment)

Bethany College unfairly targeted by column, says dean

Re: “Walk alongside,” Jan. 19, page 4.

As a staff member at Bethany College, I was very disappointed to read Brent Charette’s column that used the closure of Bethany as an opportunity to make some observations about the church and young adults.

His conclusion: We should take social justice far more seriously than we do. And I agree with this conclusion. My question is: Why does he need the closure of Bethany to make his point?

There are a number of false dichotomies simmering beneath the surface of this column:

  • Institutions are a thing of the past, social justice is the way of the future.
  • Young adults don’t want to talk about Jesus, they simply want to do what he commanded.
  • Old people are regressive, young people are progressive.

The list could go on.

It is simply not helpful to set “institutions” and “social justice” against one another. Institutions are ways of preserving priorities while passing them on to future generations. Institutions come and go, but there has hardly been a church or social movement in history that has been able to avoid them. Can they stagnate? Of course. Can they be transformative? Absolutely.

Likewise, it is unwise to point to social justice as the ingredient that will ignite our practice of young adult discipleship. Presenting this as a strategy for engaging young adults migrates the conversation into the realm of consumerist anxiety, where churches look for hooks that will attract disaffected customers. Is caring for the poor a boutique item in the marketplace of Christian strategies? Probably not. But this is unwittingly where his column’s logic goes.

Finally, I find it very difficult to understand why the editors would include a column that uses the closure of Bethany as a springboard for this conversation. It leaves readers with the sense that the college’s demise has resulted from its failure to do what the article is advocating.

The reasons for Bethany’s closure are complex and would require a highly nuanced conversation. To implicitly reduce it to this particular issue without describing—or even asking—what was actually happening at the college seems careless at best and opportu-nistic at worst.

Gil Dueck, Hepburn, Sask.
Gil Dueck is academic dean of Bethany College.

‘Love each other, but sin is sin’

Re: “A biblical and better way,” Jan. 19, page 4.

First of all, I would like to say that I liked this article.

I have read many other stories about sex and the homosexual comments, and it bothers me.

Finally, using the Bible this piece states in black and white that this behaviour is not natural. God says I am to love my neighbour, and I agree and do so. But to accept the sex part, we should not.

In my opinion, and without prejudice, we need to not participate in gay marriage because that has do to with the world’s ways (“It felt like a big deal . . . it was so powerful,” Jan. 19, page 13). Are we becoming so blind that we do not see that is not right? Love each other, but sin is sin. I say this because I love God and my neighbours!

Barbara Chartrand, Spencerville, Ont.

Homosexuals are ‘a natural part of God’s creation’

Re: “A biblical and better way,” Jan. 19, page 4.

Ronald J. Sider summarizes biblical teaching concerning homosexuality and concludes that it is an unbiblical sexual practice. He concludes that this interpretation, combined with Christian church history of long condemning same-sex practice, should give us “great pause before we bless same-sex intercourse.”

In my opinion, the stumbling block in coming to grips with how to view homosexuality is the belief that all truth and knowledge are frozen in biblical time. The Bible is clearly riddled with contradictory moral practices and stories of “sinful” people supposedly used to further God’s purposes. How are we to understand it? It seems to be an account of imperfect people in a small part of the world trying to understand their relationship to God and interpreting events around them in the light of the knowledge and understanding of their times.

However, times have moved on. Events, circumstances and understanding have moved on. Most importantly, knowledge has moved on.

I would say that the large majority of Christians rely upon modern medical science in case of illness, even while believing in Christ’s healing powers. Modern science also presents answers, based on evidence, as to how life evolved and to the extent of the universe. We now know that the universe does not revolve around humankind.

Knowledge and understanding will not remain fixed in our time either, but will continue to change. Why then do we cling to the biases and prejudices of a society from thousands of years ago? It is time to shake them off and face facts. It is time to exercise Christian goodwill and offer the hand of friendship, understanding and acceptance to those who are homosexual and as much a natural part of God’s creation as those who are heterosexual.

Michael J. Newark, Wellesley, Ont.

Is it a call—or a demand—to celibacy?

Re: “A biblical and better way,” Jan. 19, page 4.

Paul and Jesus made a conscious and individual choice to remain celibate. It was not externally mandated. When we ask homosexual persons to remain celibate for the rest of their lives, this is not a voluntary sacrifice being offered up to God by an individual. Neither they, nor the unmarried heterosexuals that Ronald Sider refers to, are “called” to celibacy.

If we define “calling” as something that is undertaken after serious consideration and prayer, and with the possibility of refusing the said ministry path, then the celibacy that Sider describes is not a “calling.” Whether widowed, single or homosexual, the celibacy that Sider promotes as a “calling” is, quite simply, a demand being imposed by outside forces. It is not a willing sacrifice; it is a denial, and the denial is an imposed one. If homosexual persons—or any singles, for that matter—do not agree to the denial, they risk the loss of a place of worship, perhaps the loss of family, and, if you are in church ministry, very likely the loss of a job.

As a single, female pastor in church ministry, the reality of this is with me everyday.

With the use of Jesus and Paul as examples of the “calling” of celibacy, there also comes a not-so-subtle judgement: “How could you not want to emulate them? If Jesus and Paul did it, why can’t you? Is your faith that weak?” There is a very clear shaming process at work here.

My sense of Sider’s summary invitation to those in the faith community who are not married heterosexuals is this: We would love you to make use of your gifts; put money into our coffers; and donate your time, energy and talents to our endeavours. We would love to benefit from everything you have to offer. In return we only ask that you:

  • Maintain lifelong celibacy;
  • Deny yourself any intimate, loving relationship with a person you are actually physically attracted to;
  • Consent to regular questioning on whether you are maintaining the above standards; and
  • Look forward to your senior years alone, without children or grandchildren.

By the way, we love you and would not dream of excluding you.

Is it a wonder that young people aren’t flocking to our doors?

Erin Morash, Crystal City, Man.
Erin Morash is pastor of Crystal City Mennonite Church and Trinity Mennonite Fellowship, Mather, Man.

Same-sex coupling, marriage are indulgences when discipline is called for

Re: “A biblical and better way,” Jan. 19, page 4.

I would like to express my support for the position Ronald J. Sider takes in his feature article. He reminds us of a distinction between the individual per se and the behaviour of the individual, and thereby comes near the compromise Barb Draper references in her editorial, “A difficult debate,” on page 2 of the same issue.

The coupling of a man and a woman is a good for many reasons: companionship, pleasure and procreation, among them. In my opinion, a same-sex coupling is not a “marriage,” as the term has long been defined, and the church would be correct to reserve “marriage” for a man and a woman. Because something may be legal in the secular realm, it does not follow that the church must automatically conform.

What sexual practices occur in the bedroom should not be matters that require investigation by anyone, church or state. But public advocacy is something else. For what practices should we advocate in order to build the ideal God had in mind for us before the Fall? What practices should we hold on to and which can we let go of?

I fail to see how same-sex coupling and approval of same-sex marriage would bring us closer to the establishment of God’s kingdom. It seems to me they are indulgences when discipline is called for.

Celibacy is an option, Sider suggests, despite what our ever-more secular and sexualized society presents. I truly believe that we should—and can—embrace and love every individual, those like us and those unlike us, just as Jesus called us to do ( Matthew 5:43-48).

I also believe there are good and bad behaviours, that we are called to be good, and that the boundary between the two may change with time and place. May we continue the endeavour to locate the boundaries for our time and place, and to discern altogether the way forward in a climate of mutual love and respect, and remain open to persuasion.

Rudy Peters, Winnipeg

Some don’t think gay wedding was ‘God at work in the Church’

Re: “It felt like a big deal . . . it was so powerful,” Jan. 19, page 13.

For the sake of loving our fellow Christians, and for the sake of church unity, I wish that Rachel Bergen’s article on the same-sex marriage in Osler Mennonite Church had not been placed under the “God at work in the Church” category of your magazine. While some Christians do indeed see this event as God working in the church, those who do not were unnecessarily angered and provoked by this categorization.

I thought it was an extremely unwise editorial choice. Rather than reflecting your guiding value of “provoking one another to love and good deeds,” it was instead a provocation to greater polarization and suspicion. In the future, I plead with you to be more thoughtful in how you present your articles, seeking to enhance—rather than inhibit—our ability to agree and disagree in love.

Lydia Cruttwell, Vancouver

Christian Bible doesn’t include smudging practices

Re: “MCC banquet cancelled due to Pentecostal church’s racism” letter, Jan. 5, page 8.

This issue here isn’t racism. It’s about spirituality. Where in Scripture is there an indication that smudging is to be practised by Christians?

Elaine Fehr (online comment)

Last call for responses to Being a Faithful Church 6

The following letter was originally sent to Mennonite Church Canada pastors, and church council/congregational leaders, and is printed in Canadian Mennonite at MC Canada’s request.

Greetings in the name of Christ, who courageously and compassionately incarnates the love and wisdom of God for us.

Recent media attention to the first same-sex marriage in a Mennonite Church Canada congregation has further sharpened our focus to continue our communal discernment around the question of congregational response to same-sex attraction through our work with the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) process.

We regret that some congregations, because of their particular circumstances, have moved ahead of the BFC process, either by blessing same-sex unions or by deciding to leave our fellowship. Those who have invested hard work, energy and patience with the BFC process feel as if the process has been compromised.

The BFC process, initiated by the General Board of MC Canada in 2008, was to guide our denomination’s discernment in a number of important matters, including the church’s response to same-sex attraction. BFC 6—“Unity, Christ’s love and faithfulness in discerning matters of sexuality”—is the most recent discernment document in the BFC process. The discernment questions in BFC 6 were affirmed by the delegate body (90 percent) at Assembly 2014 in Winnipeg. (The BFC 6 document is available online at http://bit.ly/1CKh80N.)

The discernment questions ask how we will maintain unity in Christ while we understand matters of same-sex relations differently. How will we express our desire to demonstrate the love of Christ towards all, irrespective of sexual orientation, different understandings of Scripture, and our denomination’s Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective?

We are grateful for those who continue to challenge one another’s understandings in love. We urge congregations to stay with the discernment process: to continue to engage in study together, pray together, wait for guidance from the Spirit together, honour those with whom we disagree, and offer counsel to the national body. We can take as our example the Council of Jerusalem from Acts 15. We encourage you to revisit this Scripture passage for insight on disagreement.

BFC 1—“Testing the spirits in the midst of hermeneutical ferment”—declared that discernment is an essential ongoing task of the church. The church must always speak again and when the church speaks again in discernment, she can say what has been said before, modify what has been said or say something new. Congregations, through their delegates, have also said that until we speak again as a body on the matter of sexuality, we are guided by previous confessions and agreed-upon polity.

As a refresher, we provide here a brief outline of our journey so far:

BFC 1: “Testing the spirits in the midst of hermeneutical ferment.”

BFC 2: “ ‘Peace church’ as ‘pacifist church.’  ” (This was a way to test the proposed BFC process.)

BFC 3: “A plan to discern faithfulness on matters of sexuality.”

BFC 4: “Using the Bible in helpful and unhelpful ways.”

BFC 4.1: “Exercising our interpretive muscles: Testing our interpretive framework.”

BFC 5: “Between horizons: Biblical perspectives on human sexuality.”

BFC 5.1: “Between horizons: Biblical perspectives on human sexuality.”

BFC 6: “Unity, Christ’s love and faithfulness in discerning matters of sexuality.” (This is the current document to which we need congregational responses by Feb. 28.)

Please be assured that the BFC Task Force reads and studies all submissions carefully and reports its findings regularly to the General Board. Your submissions are vital to the task force as we move forward together as a family of God. Some congregations have already responded; we thank you. If your congregation has not yet responded, we ask that your feedback be returned by Feb 28 to: wmetzger@mennonitechurch.ca.

Discernment within the national body is not easy, especially on a matter over which we are not agreed, often even within individual congregations. We commend our congregations for consistently offering excellent feedback throughout the BFC process and look forward to receiving the feedback to the questions of BFC 6.

We offer our sincere prayers for each of our family of congregations across Canada, trusting that God will indeed hold us close during this time.

Hilda Hildebrand
MC Canada moderator

Willard Metzger
MC Canada executive director

--Posted February 11, 2015

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