Readers write: March 17, 2014 Issue

March 12, 2014 | Viewpoints | Volume 18 Issue 6

MCC should consider new partner in Gaza

Re: “Flooding worsens Gazans’ plight,” Jan. 20, page 19.

I am pleased to hear that Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is actively involved in relieving the Gazan people from the devastation caused by flooding in December. This action is an answer to the call of God to help those in need.

But I am appalled by the bitter, false and accusatory words of MCC’s partner in Gaza, Al Najd Development Forum, against the nation of Israel. Al Najd claims the flooding caused by rainfall was worsened by Israel opening dams east of Gaza.

This is an utterly false accusation, and one viciously perpetrated by Gaza’s Hamas government. The Christian Post provided a quote by Uri Schor, a spokesman for Israel’s Water Authority, who stated: “The allegation of [Israel] opening dams and flooding the Gaza Strip is baseless and false.” Israel’s authorities have stated that the dams it is accused of opening don’t even exist.

Further, MCC’s partner blamed the Israeli “occupation,” which Canadian Mennonite clarifies as meaning Israel’s control of supplies and people in and out of Gaza.

While I agree with Al Najd that Israel’s management of its border is a frustration to the Gazan people, it is absolutely necessary, considering Gaza’s government is classified as a terrorist organization not only by Israel but also by Canada.

Israel’s purpose in managing its border is not to harm its neighbour, but to ensure its own continued existence as a nation and a people. This is a reasonable and necessary policy in light of an existential threat.

Israel is a beacon of light in the region, upholding similar values as Canada, including the rule of law, democracy and tolerance. These values are reflected in its parliament, which allows both Arabs and Jews to participate equally in the political process.

It is unfortunate that MCC’s partner focused its comments on Israel making “this natural disaster a catastrophe,” rather than on Israel’s actions to save its enemy from catastrophe. Schor further stated in the Post article: “Due to the damage caused by the storm—which affected all neighbouring countries and not only the Palestinian Authority—Israel responded to a special appeal conveyed through the UN, transferring four high-power pumps to the Gaza Strip intended to help residents remove water from flooded areas.”

I am deeply disturbed that MCC’s partner is using the media’s coverage of an MCC humanitarian effort as an opportunity to defame its neighbour. I suggest that MCC consider supporting a different partner in its beautiful and important goal of relieving the suffering of those in need: one who loves the Gazan, Palestinian, Israeli Arab and Israeli Jew alike.

Andrew Pinnell, New Hamburg, Ont.

Proposed charter is nothing but Québec government ‘fearmongering’

Re: “Proposed Québec charter not a threat to religious freedom” letter, Feb. 3, page 11.

The Québec Charter of Values has nothing to do with the separation of church and state. The phrase, “separation of church and state,” coined by American president Thomas Jefferson, refers to the lack of intense collaboration between the institutions of organized religion and the institutions of the state. Such was the case with the Church of England in the 18th century and, to a lesser extant, remains the case today, as bishops still sit in the House of Lords. It does not, however, refer to separating one’s religious beliefs from one’s political actions. A politician who can compartmentalize his convictions is a populist of the worst kind.

Many are the folks in the pages of Canadian Mennonite who advocate for nonviolence, which is a core Mennonite value. Since violence is often an intensely political issue, is that not an example of one’s religion interfering with politics? The fact is, people only object to religious beliefs if they are being used to support an issue they already disagree with. If I said that God told me we need to lower unemployment, I doubt there would be a lot of people crying foul about religious interference.

Like religion, most political ideologies are not based on the scientific method. How is a politician influenced by his religious beliefs any different than a politician influenced by Karl Marx? What is Marxism but an atheistic religion practised by millions, that has frankly been a lot less successful than Christianity?

If you are worried that someone sporting a certain symbol won’t treat you fairly, that says more about your own insecurities. As a middle-class person, should I be worried that someone in a Che Guevara T-shirt might execute me and redistribute my wealth? There are various laws, rules and regulations already in place to prohibit discrimination and to guide people on how to properly do their jobs. This so-called Charter of Values is nothing but fearmongering by a government upset by lack of support for separatism.

Benjamin Weber, Kitchener, Ont.

Conversation starters about the Bible and homosexuality

After reading Mennonite Church Canada’s “Being a Faithful Church 5: Between the horizons: Biblical perspectives on human sexuality,” I felt that starting a conversation about the Bible and homosexuality on the basis of this document might be difficult.

Therefore, I am providing three statements that might help get a conversation going:

  • “Homosexuality as an ‘orientation’ is not and cannot be wrong—it just is; at issue is whether gays and lesbians should be celibate or may express their sexuality within a loving, committed relationship.” (Loren I. Johns, “Homosexuality and the Bible,” ©1998, 2012)
  • “Fifteen reasons why I have changed my mind.” (Roberta Showalter Kreider, © 1995, 2006)
  • “The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sex ethic. There is no biblical sex ethic. The Bible knows only a love ethic. . . . Approached from the point of view of love, rather than law, the issue is at once transformed. Now the question is not, ‘What is permitted?’ but rather, ‘What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbour?’ ” (Christian Century, Nov. 1979, page 112)

I hope that some may find the above helpful in conversing about the Bible and homosexuality.

Jim Suderman, Winnipeg


Don’t be distracted by the opposites of light and darkness

Re: “Homosexuality not necessarily a God-given condition” letter, Feb. 3, page 10.

Yes, we are created in the image of God and our bodies were created from the dust of this earth. As we desire to embrace a divine reality, we must also respect our humanity.

I don’t believe we can fully embrace God without first recognizing the significance of our roots. A tree cannot grow without appreciating its ties to the dark mystery found in the earth. We are all inherently drawn to God in the same way a tree is drawn to the sun.

God loves and desires everyone, and yet we are not always receptive. We cannot continue to be distracted by the opposites. Extreme light or extreme darkness leave us in poverty. One makes us blind; the other drains our soul.

Scripture all on its own is just words, and yet those words were derived from experience in the natural world. Are we listening to the simple truths found in our experience as we attempt to discern what Scripture is trying to say? I am not always certain. Let love be our guide.

John Gascho, Warman, Sask.

Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality don’t make sense today

Re: “Homosexuality not necessarily ‘a God-given condition” letter, Feb. 3, page 10.

Brent Kipfer states, “Even if it no longer makes sense to many in our postmodern age, I trust that Scripture’s prohibition of homosexual sexual relationships reflects the . . . holy love of God.” This raises two questions for me. Do these passages truly reflect the holy love of God? Does it matter that they no longer make sense to many people?

The passages that specifically prohibit homosexual acts are found in Leviticus 18-20 and Romans 1. The Leviticus passage calls homosexual acts “an abomination.” Paul calls them “unnatural.” Both passages call for people who commit these acts to be put to death. It is difficult to imagine how someone with a homosexual orientation could receive this as loving correction.

But what about holiness? It is important here to think about what we mean when we talk about God’s holiness. Does a holy God rigidly enforce a set of eternally unchanging laws? Or does God meet us where we are and show us the way to holiness within our specific culture and circumstances?

Both biblical passages that mention homosexuality tell us not to imitate the godless culture or society that surrounds us. And this is good advice. But today we know that homosexuality is not linked to culture or to godlessness. It is innate.

We know this not because those secular postmodernists have convinced us of it. We know this because people who have grown up in our Mennonite congregations, people who live holy, godly lives, are telling us that it is so. These people are attempting to live out their sexuality in a godly way, just as heterosexual Christians do.

This is why these biblical prohibitions of homosexual behaviour do not make sense not only to people outside the church, but also to many within our churches. In my opinion, the Bible has many correctives to offer North American society. But if God meets us where we are, then it follows that what God says makes sense. We may not always like it, but it has to make sense.

Lora Braun, Morden, Man.

‘Dismissive treatment’ of letter writer concerns reader

Re: “Faithful speech” editorial, Feb. 3, page 2, which references Brent Kipfer’s “Homosexuality not necessarily a God-given condition” letter, Feb. 3, page 10, written in response to Gerhard Neufeld’s Viewpoint column, “Unlearning the Bible to welcome homosexuals,” Jan. 6, page 15.

I applaud the editorial decision in printing Kipfer’s letter. However, the “Faithful speech” editorial, as I read it, is dismissive of his view and thereby those who share it.

I quote: “In response to Gerhard Neufeld’s ‘Unlearning the Bible to welcome homosexuals’ column . . . Kipfer in this issue uses the Scripture—as Neufeld warns—to insist that the Bible’s ‘prohibition of homosexual relationships reflects the same holy love of God. We do no one any favours by unlearning that.’ ”

Whether I agree or disagree with Kipfer, it seems to me this dismissive treatment reveals a bias within which it is difficult to carry on an open and respectful discussion within Canadian Mennonite on the issue of sexuality currently in process.

Herman J. Wiebe, Swift Current, Sask.

The church must not compromise with the world

It is with mixed feelings and concern that I write. Our church has changed considerably over the years; it almost no longer resembles the church I grew up in during the 1970s and ’80s. There has been compromising and undermining the Word.

It’s interesting that some who left the mainline churches because of liberalism, secularism, acceptance and inclusiveness have told me with surprise that they now see the same trends emerging in the Mennonite church.

Sadly, it seems our churches are now deteriorating because of the deceptive liberalism of some in leadership. They have accepted and embrace much of the beliefs of secular society, which we know is exactly what Christ and the apostles preached and taught against in the New Testament. There is no way we can walk in the ways of the world and expect to walk with Christ also.

I work with mostly unchurched people and those of other beliefs, many of whom practise homosexuality. Most of them understand my stance and eventually come to admit theirs is a deceptive lifestyle that they aren’t ready to give up. These people respect my beliefs and wonder why the churches are now so accommodating of sin, yet the very people who are critical and judgmental of my views and the Word are Christians.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), and that we are to pick up our cross, follow him and sin no more. We must preach the Christ who came and died in humility. We must not take offence to the blood and the cross, for by his blood and death he paid for our salvation. Yet so many want to make them palatable by denying or sanitizing some or all of this reality. We must repent of sin and not accommodate it. Rather, we must accommodate him.

Many Christians live in ignorance of the Word of God. We live in a time in which there are more Bibles and access to Scripture than ever before. Yet most Christians are functionally biblically illiterate. They would rather be spoon fed, relying on what they get second hand. If they don’t hear what their itching ears want, they move on until they find what they want to hear.

We must be a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church, not reinventing the Word of God.

Arnold Thiessen, Bath, Ont.

Don’t waste time on ‘narrow definitions of a faithful lifestyle’

Re: “Be careful what the church is ‘shifting’ from” letter, Feb. 3, page 7.

When I read letters like the one from Angela Harder, I feel perplexed and saddened.

Her argument that yoga and other non-biblical forms of meditation and prayer are somehow a contaminating threat to pure Christianity is a clear example of the fearful myopia that grips so many believers in North America today. Too many Christians are wasting time and energy defending their own narrow definitions of a faithful lifestyle.

I offer this beautiful passage as an alternative viewpoint: “I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Our lives are not meant to be spent inside pious boxes that we create and try to keep others in as well. When we scratch the surface of these arguments, we see that living in fear of our evolving world is not only impractical and more than a little hypocritical, but also contrary to the way that Jesus himself lived his life. He let his God-given conscience guide him through a life lived fully within his society and culture, attending wedding parties, mourning the death of friends and celebrating Passover. He also refused to let his active faith be hemmed in by prescriptive rules and mores, challenging even the sabbath itself to heal a person in need.

A life lived in the spirit of Christ need not be rigidly restricted to a finite set of practices or styles of worship. A church focused on Christ will only fulfill its mission if it is courageously engaged, ready and willing to grow and learn even from Dutch Catholic priests (like Menno Simons, for example), Indian yogis, Ethiopian evangelists and more.

Scott Morton Ninomiya, St. John’s, N.L.

Reductionist view of Jesus ‘simplistic and unconvincing’

Re: “Was Jesus just a rebel with a cause?” review, Feb. 17, page 29.

I appreciated reading Amanda Witmer’s generally favourable review of Reza Aslan’s book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. However, I found myself wondering why the reviewer chose not to deal with what I consider to be one of the more significant theses of the author, namely that the followers of Jesus after his death deliberately engaged in a dramatic transformation of Jesus’ message, one which bears no resemblance to the historical Jesus.

According to the author, Jesus’ followers “transformed Jesus from a revolutionary zealot to a Romanized demigod; from a man who tried and failed to free the Jews from Roman oppression, to a celestial being wholly uninterested in any earthly matters.” By transforming their messiah from a fierce Jewish nationalist into a “pacifistic preacher of good works whose kingdom was not of this world,” the gospel writers and Paul ensured that their new religion would not be a threat to the Romans and, in the process, developed an altogether new doctrine which, according to the author, would have been “utterly unrecognizable” by Jesus.

To make his case, Aslan is very selective as to which parts of the New Testament narrative to give credence. He discredits a wide swath of New Testament testimony in defining who Jesus was and what he taught. The death and resurrection stories are viewed by Aslan as “flat fabrications full of contradictions and inconsistencies.”

Paul’s conversion is seen by Aslan as a “bit of propagandistic legend created by Luke,”  and that Paul had no interest in the historical Jesus and his goal was to transform the historical Jesus into Jesus the “Christ,” an other-worldly messianic figure who would pose no threat to the Hellenistic Roman Empire.

I found this reductionist view of Jesus as an essentially misguided, zealous revolutionary with political ambitions who dared to take on the Roman oppressors and the temple establishment—but beyond that contributed little to the radical teachings of the emerging new religion, Christianity—an interesting but simplistic and unconvincing point of view.

Victor Fast, London., Ont.

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