Conversing in the ‘big tent’


June 8, 2011 | Editorial
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

“If we step back and review the letters to the editor in this magazine over the past several years, we generally find debates in the church and religion framed in terms of conservative and liberal.

“Each side thinks the other is at best misguided, perhaps even profoundly wrong, and misinterprets Scripture. There tends to be a fair bit of each side yelling at the other.”

No, this is not me, your Canadian Mennonite editor, speaking, but it might as well be. This is a direct quote from David Harris, editor of the Presbyterian Record, in his latest editorial. Harris frames his remarks in the context of what he calls “Christianity reforming into two overarching worldviews.” One is concerned with morals, calling out the rightness and wrongness of our choices; the other, as discerning on how to be good, making community and relationships paramount. 

Harris’s comments are just as applicable to our small group of 32,000 believers making up Mennonite Church Canada as to the much larger Presbyterian Church in Canada. And Mennonites are no more unified than the Presbyterians, both communions experiencing a great deal of dissension over the past 150 years.

What brought this home to me in the last two weeks is the passionate response to my editorial of May 16, “A political lament,” in which I voiced my disappointment in two national events: the killing of Osama bid Laden by the U.S. military and the victory of the military-oriented Conservative Party in the Canadian national election. My sentiments apparently hit a raw nerve among you, our readers. Letters will tell the story over the next several issues. 

While the majority of the responses agreed with the thoughts expressed—so far 9-3 in favour—it was not a little unsettling to see how deeply held are our political views and how revealing they are in exposing the fault lines in our Anabaptist-driven belief system.

One critic, taking issue with my comments about Prime Minister Stephen Harper holding the most uncompromising views on the Middle East peace process, warned that I would be condemned and judged in the “final war when God takes command and gives the Jews their land back and punishes their enemies. You again picked the wrong horse.”

On the other side, another person echoing the sentiment of the majority of the respondents, “was delighted to learn” he wasn’t alone in his mourning about the election, sadly observing that “the success of the Conservative Party can be partly contributed to the unquestioning support of Mennonites.” 

Yet another off-the-record response advised that “the function of a church newspaper is to [reasonably] reflect the diversity of its constituency with a view to educating and engaging us as to that diversity,” suggesting I write a few editorials on what Canadian Mennonite is primarily about (reporting and dialogue) and what it primarily is not (a devotional journal), and why it’s important to engage political questions rather than just safe churchy topics. “This would help people to remember that our church is a very big tent; very diverse in politics, theology and culture,” the writer stated.

With that cue, let me have a little heart-to-heart about the process of engaging this diversity. First off, yes, we are a big tent, including our young people who are not the mythic “future church” but part of church now (see our new Young Voices section beginning on page 34).

Second, inside that tent we should be able to discuss anything that is dear to us in civil and respectful discourse. “What if we could lay these (conservative/liberal) distinctions aside?” Harris further asks. “Instead of demonizing the other side, we might agree that everyone is trying to conform to God’s will, just in different ways, and so with different outcomes.” Good advice.

Third, let’s stop using the Bible as a weapon and consider it reverently as our primary guidebook. In the very divisive debate over sexuality, for instance, those on the one side quote Leviticus and Paul to prove that homosexuality is wrong, and the other side quotes Jesus’ “love of neighbour” as the defining commandment. Oh, how we love to hit each other over the head with the Bible!

Rather, let us “reason together” as a faith community in the days ahead. God is much more honoured with that style of discernment.

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My name is Artur Esau, I come from a conservative Mennonite church in Brazil, and presently pastoring the Hague Mennonite Church in SK. Two things I would like to mention: I am happy and so is my church, for the conservative outcome of the last elections. Mr Harper is a fellow Christian. and we pray for him and praise the Lord for his life.
As for the issues of homosexuality and Lesbians. Our view as church is that, YES we are to love and accept these men and women.. definitely love them lot's. but that does not mean to love the things they do, simply because sin does offend God. ( for this matter any sin is included) However, since we all know it is wrong, we should not "institutionalize" sin. If we do we will pay. Therefore if we do accept the sin, it is not real love, maybe passion, but certainly not love. Real love for these men and women from our part, would be to tell them to stop the sinful behaviour and include them in body of Christ at the moment of repentance. Just as Jesus told the prostitute.. "I love you, I do not condem you..and.. because I love you.. and do not want you to go to Hell.. he said: "GO AND SIN NO MORE"

I agree with Artur Esau. God does both, He loves all sinners unconditionally, and expects truthful obedience. A right relationship to God is formed in coming to God on His terms. Everyone who does so is welcomed into fellowship with Him and other believers.

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