Out of the many discussions at Canadian Mennonite’s annual board meeting recently in Lethbridge, Alta., came the call, once again, for some clarification on two issues: “Whose voice is Canadian Mennonite’s?” and, “Do we print all the letters to the editor?”
Somewhat related, these questions seem to be driven at the moment by a downturn in financial support for Mennonite Church Canada and the area churches. To put it candidly, when some members or group of members do not like something they see in our publication, or are displeased with what they perceive is an agenda with which they disagree, they take it out on our supporting institutions by lessening their financial support to the denomination and area churches, holding these institutions responsible for what appears on our pages.
Let us be clear. While we appreciate immensely the 38 percent funding support to our annual budget by these institutions, we are not “owned” by the churches and hence do not speak for them officially. While we have heavy representation from MC Canada and the area churches on our 12-member governing board—eight of these members are appointed by these bodies—we are incorporated as an independent body called Canadian Mennonite Publishing Service. We are thus not a part of the denominational church structure.
Historically, this did not come about without serious thought and visioning. Faced with pressure from time to time to fold the publication into the denominational structure, both church and lay leaders opted decidedly for what they cherished as “editorial freedom” over “editorial control.” They felt our particular Mennonite community of faith was better served by having a voice free to critique and be open to hearing diverse voices, rather than to try to control the message, making it more of a propaganda vehicle than a spontaneous and spirited forum for anyone wanting to express an opinion or belief.
Moreover, this model fits perfectly with our Anabaptist priesthood theology, where “ownership” of our faith, if you will, is shared and not husbanded by a hierarchy that feels responsible for the content and expression of faith for its members. We believe all who confess Christ are inhabited by the Holy Spirit for comfort, direction and wisdom, and thus have equal standing in the body.
Larry Cornies, a former board chair, said it best in his farewell editorial: “In the world of church journalism and communication, Canadian Mennonite represents an increasingly rare model—a joint project of six church bodies and a grassroots publishing organization that succeeds, each fortnight, at assembling an information package in which open dialogue occurs about issues facing the increasingly diverse and complex family that are the Mennonites in Canada.
“Canadian Mennonite is a hybrid. It is not the fiercely independent and autonomous magazine devoted to covering denominational and interdenominational affairs as once envisioned by Frank H. Epp and his contemporaries. Nor is it a mouthpiece for the promotion of programs and points of view by church officials, similar to many other church magazines where editorial control has migrated from the newsroom to the boardroom.”
In the same spirit, we print 99 percent of letters sent to us for publication. We would be contradicting our commitment to “fostering dialogue”—part of our mission statement—if we were selective. As we say in our disclaimer, the only restriction is if someone attacks another believer or is rancorous in spirit. Other than that, all voices—letters—see the light of print.