Readers write

August 29, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 17

Can church conflict find reconciliation?

This letter has been in my mind and heart for awhile, waiting for some response to the article, “The Ministry of War: When office conflict comes to an impasse” by Rachel Bergen (May 2, 2011, page 4).

I want to hope that it did spark a dialogue somewhere and that it proved to be a blessing. The article lifted out three scenarios of conflict, one about a church pastor. What hurts is that the conflict was not resolved at the time of the article. The author touches on the value of mediation but reports that it is not “particularly helpful.” She adds that the offices of MC Canada can help but only in a limited way. It reminds me of a process I have experienced in the workplace—keep me informed but don’t get me involved.

For those affected by conflict, the option to resort to the public courts is frowned upon, so in the end we have a stalemate. As noted in the article, the person continues to suffer. There appears to be no willing and responsible community that can be called on to advocate unless we consider the scriptures offering the solution, but who is going to blink first.

Friends, I am convinced that our failure to consider a way through these scenarios truly speaks ill of us as a people of faith. I pray that the concept of “Being a Faithful Church” will seek to not only address the questions raised at the end of the article, but to also open up a conversation to seek reconciliation with those individuals and communities who are still hurting from the conflicts named.

Ken Kehler, Richmond, B.C.

Caution on marriage teaching

In her “Should I live with my boyfriend?” column (June 25), Melissa Miller says she preaches “the ancient wisdom that sex is reserved for marriage, as ordained by God.” I think we need to be cautious before claiming God has ordained what we believe and teach.

When the Bible was written, virginity before marriage was for females only. Men wanted virgin brides to ensure that any child in her womb was his. To this end, sequestration of women was widespread and legal even in modern England. Authorities averted their eyes from male behavior.

As late as the seventeenth century, the betrothal was the key step in marriage formation. At this event the parents of the bride and groom established the size of the property to be exchanged, and avowed the bride’s virginity. In some aspects they were now married and could begin to live together. According to Matthew, this is how Mary and Joseph married. The book of Ruth details her marriage with Boaz and it tells us that they slept together before she became his wife. The wealthy followed the betrothal with wedding celebrations, which served to broadcast the marriage publicly. The humble folk marked the beginning of marriage with an exchange of promises and gifts at home without a priest. The community considered a couple married because they lived together as husband and wife.

Paul’s words on marriage range from outright rejecting it to his inspiring vision of marriage modeled on Jesus’ love for the church. By the fourth century the church asserted that virgins were the most moral and the only ones fit to conduct the sacraments. It emphasized that sex before the wedding was sin but that the priest’s blessing at the wedding ceremony sanctified the sexual activity of the married couple. Both Protestant and Catholic authorities stressed the need for a church wedding and censured woman seen to be pregnant too soon after the wedding. The church’s campaign to make its priests central to a wedding was partially successful, although at the cost of continuing the double standard requiring a single pregnant woman to apologize before the congregation, but a nameless father went free.

The twentieth century saw the collapse of the universal ideal of lifelong marriage. At the same time, those who do wed desire love, affection, and mutual fidelity in marriage. Meeting these goals is not easy which suggests there is still plenty the church can do today to understand and model the ideals of intimate companionship.

John Klassen, Langley, B.C.
John Klassen is Professor emeritus, Dept. of History, Trinity Western University, Langley, B.C.

Dismayed with church’s LGBT statement

I was heartened to read about the participation of a group of MC Manitoba congregants in the Winnipeg pride parade (“We’re Sorry,” July 9). This is surely an important step forward, not only because it demonstrates a growing openness in many parts of the church towards LGBT people, but also because it acknowledges the historical role the Mennonite church has played in promoting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

I was dismayed, however, to read statements from church leaders that, while no doubt made in good faith, perpetuate problematic assumptions about the church’s relationship with LGBT members. The first is the fallacy that the church can be “welcoming” of LGBT members without being “affirming.” Presumably this means LGBT people may join the church and participate in worship, but may not do a variety of things straight people can do, such as become a pastor, get married, or volunteer abroad with MCC (at least, should they choose to enter into relationships, as do most straight parishioners).

I spent my teenage years in a congregation with a large Hispanic minority. Hispanic members participated fully in all aspects of church life, both in the congregation and the broader church. Had Hispanic members been “welcomed” into the church but forbidden from becoming pastors, getting married in the church, or volunteering abroad with MCC, I somehow doubt they would have felt very welcome at all. And yet this is exactly the scenario in which LGBT members find themselves in congregations that are “welcoming” but not “affirming.”

The second problematic argument expressed was that both those fighting for full LGBT rights in the church and those opposed to such rights ought to admit that they might be wrong. Interestingly, I have not recently heard calls for us to admit doubts about our opposition to slavery, reconsider the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in our society, or grant that we are unsure if maybe Apartheid was a good thing after all, and I suspect this is not a coincidence.

We all recognize that on questions of fundamental human rights, there is little room for compromise. It is high time the Mennonite church acknowledged that the rights of its LGBT members are not a matter for negotiation.

Alex Hunsberger, Waterloo, Ont.

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