We have entered the days of Advent. It’s usually one of my favourite periods in the church calendar, but this year, the waiting is heavy.
The candle is a tiny flicker in a world of darkness, and Christmas music rings false with its promises of joy and celebration.
Advent hymns, like “Comfort, Comfort, O My People,” recognize this time of waiting, this need for solace in dark times. As we ask “Oh, How Shall I Receive Thee,” I’m confronted with online images of a nativity scene buried in the rubble.
October 7, 2023, was an explosive day that broke open political tensions that have been simmering for decades, if not millennia. We are drawn back into Old Testament narratives of promised land, conquest and retribution and contemporary narratives of restoration and revelation. Sides are drawn and the killing continues; collateral damage takes on new meaning in Israel’s quest to wrest power from Hamas.
And the church is silent...
As moderator of Mennonite Church Canada, I have struggled these last weeks as the lines between personal and corporate voice have been challenged.
Within my work context as a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, I have the right to voice my personal opinion—to offer criticism and dissent. Tenure and academic freedom offer protection, but as I watch academics being censored and student groups being defunded, those protec- tions seem less secure.
Political and financial powerbrokers are evident. Corporate lines are held. As the cries for a ceasefire grow louder, the silence of our institutions becomes increasingly obvious.
And the church remains silent...
As moderator of Mennonite Church Canada, I take to heart Will Braun’s assertion that our new structures have placed the dove in a cage. I would contend that a caged bird can sing, but our dove has been silenced. As we wait for the regional churches to reach a consensus, weeks and months pass, and we say nothing.
In a world where children write their names on their bodies so they can be identified in the rubble; where hospitals are bombed and humanitarian aid is denied; and where rubble has become the norm, I can no longer be silent.
If we cannot condemn the violence of Hamas and the ensuing violent oppression of the Palestinians by the state of Israel and raise our voices and influence in calls for peace, we are complicit in the slaughter of innocents.
In times such as these, the church cannot remain silent.
This Advent season, when asked, “Oh, How Shall I Receive Thee,” I need to answer with a breaking heart and a promise to work for peace. I need to weep for the lives lost and make my cries audible in the calls for ceasefire.
Many of us enter this season of Advent as a season of lament, praying for peace, signing petitions, marching in solidarity. But our individual voices need to unite as a collective voice.
Mennonite Church Canada identifies itself as a historic peace church. If that is who we are, and if we confess to serving the Christ child whose birth we celebrate—who came to free the oppressed and welcome the marginalized—we cannot wait for consensus: the structural impediments identified in my letter to the churches and Will Braun’s recent editorial must be rectified.
The moderator or executive minister must have recourse to respond in a timely manner. Our sisters and brothers in Palestine needed to hear us on October 8, not in December.
I will no longer be silent. The church can no longer be silent.
Geraldine Balzer is the moderator of Mennonite Church Canada and a member of Nutana Park Mennonite Church in Saskatoon.