Readers write: September 15, 2014 issue

September 10, 2014 | Viewpoints | Number 18

Church needs to learn to ask the ‘right questions’

I wasn’t at Assembly 2014, so I enjoyed reading the summaries in the July 28 edition (pages 4 to 17) and the sharing of the experience by members from St. Jacobs (Ont.) Mennonite Church, who attended.

It seems the disciples in the boat tossed by the storm in Mark 4 were asking the wrong question of Jesus and worried about the wrong things.

Likewise, I wonder if in our Being a Faithful Church (BFC) discussions, we have asked the wrong questions. When sincere, faithful Mennonite Christians discern a topic for years, and when trustworthy leaders analyse the results, only to determine we need to “agree to disagree,” there can be two reasons:

  • Some are not discerning God’s direction properly, so agreement isn’t possible, and further discernment is needed.
  • We’re asking the wrong questions and God isn’t giving us a clear, common answer because we’re worrying about the wrong things.

The Mennonite Church Canada Vision Statement reads: “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit to grow as commu-nities of grace, joy and peace so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”

Where in this vision does sexuality come into play? Where did Jesus ever ask people about their sexuality before welcoming them? The core of the Christian faith—the two greatest commandments, the teachings of Jesus and the guidance of God’s Spirit—have not led us to an answer to the current BFC questions, so let’s ask new questions. Let’s come together to see how we can best live out our calling as Mennonite Christians in Canada and the world, and stop asking God the wrong questions.

I was inspired by the vision and hope in “The changing face of congregations” article on page 8. The Future Directions Task Force, in my opinion, is asking the right questions. If that’s what the next phase of BFC is also intending, then I’m on board!

I trust that God will lead us in the right direction and we will be united in our vision, our calling and our desire to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Brent Horst, St. Jacobs, Ont.

Blind optimism, religion the culprits for climate-change scepticism

Re: “Climate change is nothing new” letter, July 28, page 22.

The Scientific American uses a new term, “ClimeApocalypse,” to describe the looming crisis that G. H. Janzen treats with more than just a hint of sarcasm. And a few days ago the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that only 41 percent of Americans believe that “most scientists agree that climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities.”

Experts rank the reasons for this widespread scepticism as:

  1. Blind optimism.
  2. Religion.
  3. Narrowness in scientific research.

The two most common grounds for ignoring our biblical prophets some 2,700 years ago were likely the same: blind optimism and religion!

Karl Dick, Waterloo, Ont.

Life must come before bottom lines

Re: “Climate change is nothing new” letter, July 28, page 22.

“Oops. Never mind,” is hardly the right conclusion to draw from a 1922 news report on ice loss in one small part of the Arctic. Climate science acknowledges that such natural variations occur, but the climate changes which are happening now cannot be dismissed as natural fluctuations which will correct themselves. They are unique in human history, both in the rapidity with which they are occurring and in the truly global extent of change.

The findings of climate science are clear: steadily rising air temperatures; a steady warming of the oceans; a consistent rise in sea level; massive loss of Arctic sea ice over only 35 years; loss of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and most glaciated mountain ranges; more droughts; more severe storms; more forest fires; less predictable weather patterns; and gradual acidification of the oceans. All of this fits the predictions from established scientific theory, which points to the human-derived emission of greenhouse gases as the dominant and decisive factor.

If Jesus is the truth, then we should value truth. We must face the grim fact that climate change is happening, that it is already killing people and threatens to kill many more, and that the science points unequivocally to our carbon emissions. Like Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb, we must not deny reality, but enter into healthy grief.

If Jesus is the way, then let’s repent of our society’s greed and abuse of God’s creation—the things which have gotten us into this mess in the first place—and embrace his path of simplicity and generosity.

And if Jesus is the life, we can move forward in active hope. God has something better for us if we choose life. We don’t know the shape of that yet. But initiatives all around the world show us that, if we don’t leave things too late, we could build a healthier society by transitioning to clean renewable energy and sustainable, mostly organic agriculture.

Let’s make sure that we are on God’s side by caring for God’s creation, demanding the political changes necessary to avoid cataclysm, and confronting those corporate interests that prioritize bottom lines above life.

Mark Bigland-Pritchard, Saskatoon
Mark Bigland-Pritchard is a consultant in sustainable energy, green building and architectural physics, and a member of Osler Mennonite Church.

Readers question placement of Yoder articles

Re: “More evidence of sexual abuse uncovered” and “Works of John Howard Yoder now available online,” Aug. 18, page 28.

You really thought it was appropriate to put an article promoting Yoder’s theological works on the same page as the article about his predatory works: sexual violations of innocent women? Shame on you!

Barbara Tiessen and Hazel Tiessen, Leamington, Ont.

Mennonite church sends out mixed messages on John Howard Yoder

Re: “More evidence of sexual abuse uncovered” and “Works of John Howard Yoder now available online,” Aug. 18, page 28.

I was saddened to read that documentation of even more sexual abuse by John Howard Yoder has been discovered by Mennonite Church U.S.A.’s discernment group. I was then encouraged to read that this same group is “exploring ways to enable healing for those who have suffered sexual abuse,” and that “they have begun drafting a general statement on the nature and prevention of sexual abuse.”

While I am encouraged by these steps forward, I have to ask why this has taken so long? I also would add that we, the broader Mennonite Church, have a very, very long way to go in demonstrating that we truly understand “the prolonged and devastating impact Yoder’s sexual abuse has had on many women.”

I say this since the next article that appeared on the same page reported that Yoder’s works are now available online in a digital library. It also listed a number of groups and institutions, some of them Mennonite, that are responsible for this undertaking, and mentioned the thousands of dollars that have gone into this initiative.

Are you serious? Am I the only person who is angered by the contradictory—or at least confusing—messages given by the Mennonite church as it pertains to “lamenting” the actions of Yoder while, at the same time, continuing to find ways to celebrate all of the valuable contributions he has made.

The last thing survivors of sexual abuse need is confusing messages about the perpetrator or his actions. If the Mennonite church means what it says about “ways to enable healing,” then they need to stop glorifying the academic works of a man who committed so much evil.

Sue Laverty, Kitchener, Ont.
Sue Laverty attends Pioneer Park Christian Fellowship, Kitchener, Ont.

A letter of support for ‘a letter of unsupport’

Re: “A letter of unsupport for Canada,” July 28, page 25.

Wow! I am shocked and very pleasantly surprised to read the boldness with which a Mennonite pastor, David Driedger, has critiqued the present meaning of Canada. I fear what will happen to Canadian Mennonite when the government thought police read his well-written and direct Viewpoint column.

Driedger has hit several nails on the head. He places responsibility for his four points on Canadian governments that pass legislation. But aren’t these governments doing the bidding of the wealthy and powerful resource-extraction corporations, which also operate outside of Canada in many developing countries to perform the same kinds of resource thefts, leaving the residents with a destroyed environment from which they can no longer make a living?

Isn’t present-day Canada the direct descendant of the first resource extractor, the Hudson’s Bay Company, which gave title for land it did not own to the emerging government? Is not Canada a part of the western world’s neo-conservative/liberal project to make a few people rich at the expense of the many, contributing to the present economic inequalities highlighted by the Occupy movement and the exposing of theft from indigenous people highlighted by the Idle No More movement?

In Canada, people’s lives take a backseat to resource extraction and its transit. Witness the deaths of 47 innocent people in Lac-Mégantic, Que., a year ago because explosive oil had to be delivered by rail through a town at a rock-bottom cost achieved through deregulation by an unholy alliance of the federal government and corporations.

As I write this, Canada’s petro prime minister is visiting Canada’s North, where devastating climate change is visible to all. His response: Melting Arctic ice is an economic opportunity.

Where is the voice of the church, and the voice of the one who loves all of us equally? I give thanks for David Driedger’s voice.

Murray Lumley, Toronto

What about healing and reconciliation?

Re: “Pastor’s credentials withdrawn,” July 7, page 23.

My question is: What makes people “credible” in the first place? Maybe the notion that we have not sinned, at least openly? But we have all failed, we are all broken. If I need the right credentials to be loved and wanted, then I would say, “Time is up.”

I know that this is not the message that Mennonite Church Manitoba is trying to convey. I recognize the need for accountability and good relationships.

We must be aware of the process of life by which we cannot move forward effectively without addressing the messy issues that arise. It’s these situations that give us opportunity to cultivate and prepare for a new beginning.

It isn’t important for me to know whether Tym Elias’s credentials have been revoked. More importantly is the story told of a journey towards healing and reconciliation.

 John Gascho, Warman, Sask.

Prison visitors make for safer communities

Not unrelated to the recent courageous letter by Ken Hinton regarding funding for the M2/W2 Association (“Church should fund prison visitation,” July 28, page 18), I am trying to make the case for more M2/W2 volunteers in British Columbia.

Currently there are some 200 active M2/W2 volunteers visiting inmates in the 12 Correctional Service Canada (CSC) facilities in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. However, there are 95 additional inmates, men and women, who have applied for, and are awaiting, volunteers to visit them. The goal that the 2006 M2/W2 board set was zero, deeming it very feasible. Let’s not give up on the race to this goal.

The challenge and the travesty is that here we have the neighbour right next door, a mission field ripe unto harvest. I am reminded of Matthew 9:37-38: “He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few, so pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send out more [M2W2 volunteers] for his fields.’”

I am sure you will agree that Jesus was, in his day, the ultimate M2/W2 volunteer for prisoners like you and me. It is tantamount to blasphemy to denigrate inmates; they, too, are made in the image of God.

Where are the Daniels, Josephs and Pauls of today who will enter a CSC institution where they are most welcome by inmates, prison staff and wardens. I have personal letters from all who welcome M2W2 missionaries, who bring a welcome tone and spirit when they visit and conduct Bible studies.

Upon the release of each prisoner, the M2/W2 volunteers continue their friendships and help them find housing and jobs. I might say that these friendships endure for a lifetime. And many of the prisoners come to faith, and what joy that triggers in heaven when even one sinner repents (Luke 15:7).

And let’s not forget that all of this makes for safer communities.

George H. Epp, Chilliwack, B.C.

Talk of ‘rape culture’ forces men to deal with their lust

Re: “End rape culture: A Mennonite perspective,” Sept. 1, page 36.

It is tempting to say, “Most of us aren’t like that!” when faced with stories of men expressing sexual interest in such aggressive and frightening ways.

The painful truth is that these men are verbalizing thoughts that the rest of us struggle to suppress on a daily basis. A male co-worker once asserted to me that men would rape every attractive female they saw if they knew they could get away with it. I still think that’s pushing it, but far closer to the mark than I want to admit.

Somewhere in this conversation there needs to be space to be honest about the natural male experience of lust, and the struggle to sublimate it. Men have an intense physical reaction to the sight of female beauty. Advertisers know it and nail us with it time and again.

None of this can normalize the culture of rape or blame its victims. But when you hear a man singing, “You don’t know what you do to me,” he is saying something more truthful than one is generally allowed to say in mixed company.

So tell your stories, ladies. It will help us boys process what is going on with the parts of our brains not driven by lust. (We do have some grey matter dedicated to compassion and remorse.) We will try to sensitize ourselves to the impact we have been having on you for so long.

If you could try to reciprocate that a little, even while holding us accountable, I think we could go a long way towards a more peaceable and reconciled togetherness.

Marcus Rempel (online comment)

Finding God’s word in troubled times

Re: “From milk and honey to a land of rubble,” Aug. 18, page 4.

Who likes war? None of us. I do believe we all need to strive for peace with all mankind. And we need to pray for peace in all the troubled areas.

Some other verses to consider are:

• In Genesis 17:20, God said, “I will make [Ishmael] a great nation.” And in verse 21 we read, “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac.” In Genesis 21:12, God spoke to Abraham, “[I]n Isaac shall thy seed be called.” And in verse 13, God said of Ishmael, “. . . will I make a nation.”

• In Romans 9:7, God said, “Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children; but in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” And verse 8, “That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”

• God’s word to us is found in Romans 12:18:
“[L]ive peaceably with all men.”

Kathleen Rempel, Carman, Man.

--Posted Sept. 10, 2014

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