Readers write: November 10, 2014 issue

November 5, 2014 | Viewpoints | Number 22

If lesbians can’t be ordained is there still a place for ordination?

Re: “MC U.S.A. will not recognize pastors in same-sex unions,” Sept. 15, page 19.

The controversy as it relates to the ordination of a lesbian woman has relevance for us here in Canada. It is only a matter of time before a similar incident will emerge among us. Will our Canadian leaders be tempted to argue the same way as their American counterparts are doing and deny ordination to a qualified candidate who also happens to be lesbian?

The MC U.S.A. Executive Board has concluded that it has no choice but to bring down the strong arm of Mennonite church law on Pastor Theda Good’s head. Until the delegate assembly changes the rules of church polity guiding ordination, the Board argues that it is obligated to carry out the will of the assembly. It argues further that the Mennonite conference, of which Denver First Mennonite Church is a part, has “covenantal obligations” to the delegate assembly and should obey its decisions as well.

Unfolding before us is a disconcerting spectacle, considering that the leaders on the Executive Board are spiritual heirs of the 16th-century Anabaptists, who placed at the centre of their convictions the foundational premise that faithful people of God choose to follow God, rather than the dictates of humans, and many paid the ultimate price for their defiance of acceptable church protocol.

At Denver First Mennonite, where Good has been a licensed minister, the Holy Spirit has led the believers to seek confirmation of her as their pastor through ordination. Neither her faith and her commitment to God and the church, nor her competence, appear to be an issue for anyone. It is her being lesbian which has become the sole issue disqualifying her. For MC U.S.A., ordination has taken on sacramental significance, superseding issues of faith, spiritual gifts and leadership competencies.

The Executive Board is in the unenviable position of making a choice between the dictates of a fallible delegate assembly and the leading of the Holy Spirit. One would think the decision would be an easy one and Good would soon have “Reverend” before her name. Odds are this is not likely to happen.

Perhaps the time has come to do away with ordination. Can an ordinance used in part as God’s divine stamp of approval on gay discrimination be used with integrity by a Mennonite church claiming an Anabaptist heritage?

Victor Fast, London, Ont.


Who sets the standard for faithfulness?

During this year, we, as a national church, are focussing on the task of being a faithful church. Letters and articles written in Canadian Mennonite show a determined group of writers whose goal it is to wear down the opposition to homosexuality until the national church is willing to bless homosexual unions. Is the church a democratic institution in which we determine what is acceptable in the sight of God, or does God set the standard?

With the level of education of our church members, we have become experts at splitting hairs. We are able to twist Scripture to our liking, so that it says what it didn’t say for nearly 2,000 years. And what Scripture said very clearly for thousands of years is now attributed to the “ignorance of previous generations” by some.

We need to stop following one step behind a worldly culture and show those who are lost what God wants for his children who supposedly live in a counter-culture. The Apostle Paul teaches very clearly: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality” (I Thessalonians 4:3).

When Norman Kraus writes in “Jesus challenges essence of marriage union,” Sept. 29, page 15, that “[t]he whole purpose of marriage was to legalize and protect the purity of the sexual propagation of Jewish society,” I’m surprised that, as a learned man, he ignores the fact that marriage was not a Jewish invention. In fact, from the time of Adam each culture has had a form of marriage, whether monogamous, polygamous or polyandrous. However, it was only the people of Israel who received divine revelation on the framework of marriage.

One of the most important functions of marriage in all cultures has been the protection of the next generation and the safety of women. In our pleasure-seeking western society, most people don’t seek the will of God. As a result, we end up with the sad reality of single-parent families, children living in dysfunctional homes, abused and confused children, and often open warfare in families.

We need to turn away from the highly complicated religious ways developed by the Pharisees throughout history, and return to our roots: “It’s the old-time religion that is good enough for me.”

Isaak Eitzen, St. Catharines, Ont.


Church needs to get back to the business of salvation

Recently I picked up a Canadian Mennonite and was reading a few of the letters. I can’t believe how distracted we have become and are neglecting the business of the church. Shouldn’t we be out saving souls from an eternity in hell?

I am not advocating being reckless with the environment, but I believe a person in right relationship with God would respect creation enough to care for it. Regarding “My environmentalism is my spiritual ethic” column (Sept. 15, page 10), about deciding if it is responsible to have children, would Christ not return before the earth could not sustain all of us? And with the way we want to preserve the earth forever, don’t we believe Jesus is coming back? Besides, aren’t there enough secular agencies fighting the climate battle?

The thought comes to me sometimes that maybe God is even using evil men to set the stage for the end times. That is how the plan of salvation came about, at the hands of evil men. Judas was one of those evil men who was doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled, which is hard for me to understand because we all benefited from the end result of that betrayal.

Yet Scripture tells us God desires all the rest to be saved. That leads me to ask: Why would he make some people innately homosexual and thus disqualify them from salvation? We need to get back to the business of Christ’s church: Praying for the lost and bringing people to reconciliation to God through Christ.

Myron Derksen, Winkler, Man.


‘MFC does not recommend individual charities to clients’

Re: “Did stewardship consultant subtly influence client?

Della Lee raises a very valid concern whether a stewardship consultant with Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC) might be exerting an undue influence when assisting clients with estate planning. In their wisdom, the founders of MFC determined that MFC would be “donor advised,” which means we distribute charitable funds to any registered charity in Canada chosen by the donor. They also decided our consultations would be free and confidential.

We certainly hope to influence decisions for generosity in will planning! At the same time, MFC consultants provide will and estate counselling to anyone regardless of their ability or choice to make a gift to charity in their current circumstances. MFC does not recommend individual charities to clients, but we do encourage them to support causes that align with their passions.

We are pleased and humbled when we are invited to assist with the significant task of estate planning as part of our mission to encourage faithful joyful giving.

Jesse Huxman (online comment)
Jesse Huxman is MFC’s director of communications.

Clients need personal involvement in dealing with memory pain

Re: “Bearing the burden of memory pain,” Sept. 29, page 4.

The concept of “memory pain” is a perfectly useful and accurate term that depicts a specific malady. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual No. 5, this phenomenon is included under the syndrome pertaining to post-traumatic stress disorder. As a counsellor and clinical therapist, I have seen many clients with this diagnosis.

The cause of memory pain is an historical event, a fact that causes pain because of emotional components. The emotional part could result from injustice, false accusation, the client’s own mistake, abuse, anger, shame, humiliation, guilt or physical suffering. The unresolved, emotionally laden event automatically can enter as a daytime flashback, as a part of a dream or as the cause of nightmares or sleeplessness. These intrusions can be so undesirable that forced wakefulness is sometimes deemed as more desirable than sleep.

These memories should probably not be thrust into forgetfulness because they can burst forth at the most inconvenient times. The duration of these memories are variable; some people take them and the pain with them to the grave.

Many of the first-nation clients I have seen in therapy mentioned that after they left their Indian Residential School, the memory pain was unbearable. Sleep disturbance was the most common complaint. Many of them reported that alcohol or other drugs blocked the pain of memory on a temporary basis, but that their attempts at solving the problem made things worse and led them into addictive behaviour.

Once in treatment, I ask how long the emotional upset lasted after the most recent memory pain event. Clients will clearly tell me when the memory event no longer engages their emotions. The goal of the professional treatment is to help clients work through the emotional factors, be released from their overworked feelings, and be liberated in order to constructively deal with the present and to productively plan for the future.

Treatment should include scientific methods delivered with kindness. In my experience, client-centred cognitive behaviour modification with unconditional positive regard is a treatment choice. I think that the most successful treatment is the kind in which clients feel they have personal involvement during therapy and learn how to help themselves after the treatment is over.

Walter Driedger, Coquitlam, B.C.


Mennonites guilty of patriarchy, paternalism, sexism, misogyny

Earlier this year, Helen Dueck of Winnipeg made a passionate plea to end the publishing of the John Howard Yoder situation. I would like to echo her plea. Yoder died 17 years ago, but his surviving family lives on and does not deserve this continual public shaming.

The public has not been given all the facts. We have been expected to accept all accusations against Yoder as fact without knowing what the process was for establishing the validity of the claims against him.

The 2015 lament service that is being planned by the Mennonite Church U.S.A. discernment group would do well to focus on the social structure of the Mennonite church that allows for a situation like this.

The Mennonite church has historically prided itself on being separate from the world and its sinfulness. At the same time, the Mennonite community embraced and solidly embedded the sins of patriarchy, paternalism, sexism and misogyny into the church, institutions and family life. All of these beliefs were thought to place the man in a “superior” position in relation to women, and have had serious consequences for women, whether or not they had the experience of an unwanted sexual approach from a man.

Hopefully, the lament will also focus on how to free women from the victim role. A case in point is Marcus Rempel’s “Talk of ‘rape culture’ forces men to deal with their lust” letter, Sept. 15, page 13. The ideas expressed epitomize the worst in male attitudes toward women, and, as the writer admits, are regrettably close to the truth. Why is it that an attractive woman inspires a man to think of rape? Appreciation of beauty and violent urges are, I believe, mutually exclusive.

It is not the responsibility of women to correct men when they go astray in their thinking or actions. Men are responsible for this themselves. The first step is for men to have respect for women, their values and their sexuality.

Susanna Klassen Toronto


‘Global caliphate’ letter full of ‘fearmongering mistruths’

Re: “ ‘Global caliphate’ a Muslim goal, not a myth” letter, Sept. 1, page 15.

Canadian Mennonite has an ethical and legal obligation, I think, to reject letters to the editor that contain claims purporting to be facts, but which are actually hate-provoking untruths.

Isaak Eitzen claims that “faithful [Muslims] have the duty to convert all infidels or kill them. This pleases Allah.” As my mother used to say, Eitzen is talking through his hat. I have dozens of Muslim friends, and have worked with hundreds of others in Saudi Arabia, all of whom are faithful Muslims, and yet none of them have tried to kill me. In fact, I know that my Saudi hosts would give their lives for mine, if mine were threatened in any way while in Saudi Arabia.

Eitzen also claims that “the large majority of Muslims” are “very ignorant of the teachings of Islam.” This, too, is a ridiculous claim. The truth is that a far-greater percentage of Muslims have read the Qur’an many times than the average Christian has read the Bible. It is the goal of many Muslims, in fact, to memorize the entire Qur’an.

The magazine should not publish fearmongering mistruths about Muslims. They are our brothers and sisters in faith, and are as committed to peace as we are. The few who espouse violence and hatred are no more Muslim than Reverend Fred Phelps—the pastor behind the “God hates fags” website—was a Christian.

Mark Morton, Kitchener, Ont.
Mark Morton attends Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church, Kitchener.


Native Ministry laid foundation for indigenous-settler relations

Thanks for including Will Braun’s reflection on Mennonite-Indigenous relations, “Can we talk?” as the feature article in the Oct. 13 issue of Canadian Mennonite (page 4).

The relationship is truly one of the defining issues of our time, and for those of us who have participated in this interaction over the last several decades, it is deeply gratifying to see the new surge of attention and concern, the new commitment towards acknowl-edging our role as settlers and to walking alongside indigenous communities as we jointly seek a better way.

However, we cannot fully move forward until we take stock of the entire journey we have already taken. Alongside the story of Mennonite Central Committee Canada’s historic Native Concerns program and the prophetic voice of Menno Wiebe, we must also acknowledge and understand the decades of commu-nity relationships built up through the work of staff and administrators of Mennonite Church Canada’s Native Ministry.

Native Ministry’s presence in certain specific communities in Manitoba and several locations across Canada since the 1950s was certainly not without its tensions and problems, but it did help to create a relationship between peoples that still endures through the Partnership Circles now administered through MC Manitoba. Without these decades of close community relationships in specific locations in Manitoba and elsewhere across Canada, we would have no foundation for even beginning the work of healing relationships across our country today.

Braun has done a great job of reminding us of part of our story, but the rest of that story still remains to be told.

Neil Funk-Unrau, Winnipeg


Faith remains when beliefs fall away

Re: “Faith vs. belief (Pt. 1),” Oct. 27, page 13.

So glad to see this important issue raised here. As one who concerns herself with early childhood spirituality, I have found it helpful to separate faith and belief as follows:

• Young pre-rational children have a sense of relational awareness of the divine—or faith—long before they think in terms of beliefs and doctrine. Faith forms a bedrock for belief and stays with seniors who have dementia, even when beliefs fall away.

• Beliefs, including all our precious and beleaguered doctrines, intersect with, and inform, our faith during our rational years. However, it seems that, especially in the uncertainties of our current context, it is also important for rational adults to value and uphold faith, which is deeper and more relational than belief. Even while uncertainty swirls around in our brains, we can worship, become still and be known by our mysterious God.

Elsie Rempel (online comment)

--Posted Nov. 6, 2014

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