As of the end of 2015, the Mennonite Brethren Herald, the 54-year-old periodical of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, will cease to exist. This untimely death calls for a eulogy and some lessons learned, some warnings implicit as it goes through its dying throes.
Most of all, we are mourning because, when such a passing occurs, it affects other members of the Mennonite media family, like Canadian Mennonite. Some of the same dynamics voiced by the MB denominational leaders for this historic decision are being voiced by our own church leadership. The official reason is that the Herald has served its purpose and needs to be replaced by a new, yet unnamed publication focussed on the MB goal to “multiply Christ-centred churches to see Canada transformed by the good news of Jesus.”
Canada transformed? That’s a tall order for such a small denomination when national polls show that a majority of Canadians have no interest in religion. And narrowing the focus to serve the needs of church planters? What about the high number of faithful serving the church for a century-and-a-half? Do they not need a forum in which to develop their faith and share their stories, voice their opinions and challenge each other’s faith expression?
According to its own history, the MB denomination began in 1860 as a “new expression of Mennonite faith,” growing to some 250 congregations today. Has that newness worn off? Is it time to change the menu? When I put these questions to Willy Reimer, executive director of the Canadian MB staff, he dodged, saying he had little to say before reviewing everything with his board. This was disappointing. He, of course, doesn’t owe us any explanation, but it does seem to call for some clarity with his own grieving members.
In a Facebook discussion led by Dora Dueck, an MB insider, a high-profile writer and one of those grieving, weighed in on the issue of protecting new Christians—of church plants—from bad news and controversy, by saying “the ‘protection’ is not necessary; the sense of community that was felt, on the contrary, was welcomed and reassuring and enabling. [And the Bible doesn't exactly hide that fact that debate and a variety of voices have always been part of the church.] . . . Nowadays, most people know how to read media: they differentiate between advertisements, public relations pieces and releases, news reporting, editorial opinion, reviews. They ‘listen’ to them differently.”
When contacted, Rudy Wiebe, founding editor of the Herald dismissed after a year for his critical editorials, recalled the initial action of the MB conference in 1961 as creating a weekly magazine that “serves the brotherhood in manifold ways.” In light of this founding concept, he says, “the unilateral decision to replace the Herald with a ‘new print initiative’ is disturbing. What happened to our united believers way of making decisions?”
Another inside MB media observer is disturbed by the top-down approach, saying, “Some of us are looking for something to inspire and inform us about how to deal with the messiness and contradictions and questions of life today. How can you be a Christian in a post-Christian world?”
The MBs share a common Anabaptist spiritual heritage with members of Mennonite Church Canada, but in recent years have struggled officially with that identity and, most recently, with our shared belief in peace and justice as one expression of that faith. In their last national assembly, there was considerable conversation as to whether that tenet should remain one of their identifying core beliefs.
So there seems to be a larger context to the death of this publication than meets the eye. At a time when the faithful need a place to struggle with their sisters and brothers in the faith, we need more opportunity for more open discussion—a “village square” around which to gather as a faith family—not less. We, along with many in the MB community, are deeply saddened by this death.
New letters policy on sexuality
In line with the need for open discussion, we are announcing a new policy regarding letters to the editor on the subject of sexuality. Sensing reader fatigue from the many letters on the subject, beginning with the June 22, 2015 edition, we will print only the essential paragraph of any letter discussing sexuality, with the full text carried online. This will be in effect until July 2016, when MC Canada, finishing the Being a Faithful Church process, will arrive at some conclusion on the sexuality matter.