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January 30, 2013 | Viewpoints

Free speech more important than charitable status

I encourage you to continue the habit of thinking out loud as you and those who contribute to Canadian Mennonite challenge us to think more deeply about what we believe, and open ourselves more and more to the illuminating light of Jesus. I appreciate the articles and also the responses that they generate.

In the Dec. 17 issue, you printed numerous responses to the letter of warning that Canadian Mennonite received in response to a view that was printed. Freedom of speech is under attack and being challenged in many places in our culture. The church often succeeds in being countercultural, and sometimes we follow a bit behind, taking our cues from the subtle culture around us. I am often not able to open myself up enough to listen in the way that the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers listened to the apostle Paul in Athens. What is so amazing is that they seemed to want to understand what this babbler was trying to say and asked the apostle Paul, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?”

I’m encouraged that the responses to the warning letter from the government also included thoughts that are opening up the idea that our capacity to speak may be hindered by our charitable status and the tax receipt we receive for our donations.

I was part of an interdenominational gathering for a day with Stuart Murray, author of The Naked Anabaptist, when he travelled through B.C. in 2012. One of the items of discussion at our table was the idea that, as Christians, we accept—and maybe even expect—privileges like charitable status and the tax receipt, which may hinder our witness, and we wondered what would happen to our voice and witness if we advocated to freely give it up. At present, I utilize the tax receipt.

I see an opportunity for a collective response from us in the Mennonite church, that is to lead the way and to freely give up our charitable status and tax receipt.

George Goertzen, New Westminster, B.C.

MCC may actually need a ‘big building’ in Kitchener

In response to Will Braun’s article, “MCC’s big building rationale not compelling,” Nov. 12, 2012, page 11, I would like to say that Saskatoon’s Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) building got criticized for being too big when it was built. Now it is just right, although there is limited parking because there are so many activities going on in that wonderful place. I just returned from Calgary two weeks ago, where MCC’s newish building was roundly criticized for being too big. Now it is 25 percent too small.

Braun may be right about the Kitchener, Ont., project, but for the kingdom to grow in Saskatoon and Calgary, bigger buildings were needed.

One final thing: Braun does give MCC a bit of credit when he says that, “despite its imperfections, MCC remains a great organization.” I want to upgrade that by saying, ‘It remains one of the finest organizations.”

Jake Buhler, Saskatoon, Sask.

Make space for each other around MCC table

Re: “Sommerfeld church pulls out of MCC,” Jan. 7, page 26.

Concerns expressed by Sommerfeld leaders around the politicization and lack of overt evangelical emphasis by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) are shared widely among the traditional and conservative evangelical members of the Mennonite family, and have been expressed in Canadian Mennonite as well.

MCC should consider itself fortunate if the Sommerfeld group is the only one to actually withdraw. During recent years it has been possible to assume that MCC is the private domain of liberal and progressive congregations in Mennonite Church Canada and MC U.S.A., with a bit of meat canning and quilt making thrown in for the benefit of conservative supporters.

We have both actively and passively alienated conservative viewpoints, especially in terms of MCC’s advocacy role, and are now seeing the results of our efforts. MCC may eventually decide that progressive social advocacy is worth the high price of alienating an important group of traditional supporters, but we need to recognize that costly price for what it is.

Some of the most strident voices against MCC, especially in connection to perceived left-leaning political advocacy and the situation in Israel and Palestine, come from people who are not Anabaptist Christians. MCC has, in the past, been critical of fundamentalist Christian politics and evangelical practices, and we should not be surprised that they are, in return, critical of us. We should, however, speak out actively, confidently and consistently against fearmongering and conspiracy theories used by some, who have made it their mission to draw conservative Mennonite believers away from MCC connections.

The Christian church in communities where MCC works around the world tends to be socially conservative and evangelical. We should be wary of a situation in which congregations similar to those in which MCC is working internationally are distancing themselves from MCC here. Liberals and social progressives are sometimes accused of being condescending and patronizing. We risk that label again when we alienate those most similar to the ones we hope to serve.

While MC Canada members of MCC must remember to make space for the concerns of conservative evangelical brothers and sisters at the MCC table, we also must continue to ask that they make space for us. While we need to be careful not to bulldoze their concerns, we need to also insist that the voice of liberal and progressive faith is heard confidently and unapologetically, too. The great saving grace of MCC is that it brings together a group of opinionated, motivated, faithful people who can hardly agree on anything other than serving human need in the name of Christ. For any of those groups to walk away in frustration is a loss to all of us.

Jeff Thiessen, Austin, Man.

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Thank you for an excellent letter, Jeff Thiessen.

Very nicely written Jeff.

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