Readers write: December 7, 2020 issue

December 2, 2020 | Opinion | Volume 24 Issue 25
(Graphic by Betty Avery)

Liberals let off easy in Tommy Prince feature
Re: “Expanding the reconciliation tent,” Oct. 12, page 4.

This unnecessarily politicized article comes across as a subtle demonization of Conservatives. To illustrate, I point out the highlighted quotation on page 5: “The Conservatives acknowledge the racism Prince faced upon his return from war, when he and other Indigenous veterans were denied benefits received by other veterans.  Prince eventually died homeless in 1977.”

What does author Will Braun wish the reader to infer from this statement? Why did he omit the fact that Liberals were in government while Prince was at war and when he returned?
—John Hildebrand, Mississauga, Ont.


No such thing as a ‘Mennonite name’
Re: “You must be a Mennonite!” column by Arli Klassen, and “Be bold! Make yourselves known” article by Joanne De Jong, Oct. 26, pages 10 and 23, respectively.

I appreciated Klassen’s column in which she challenges us to acknowledge our racism and prejudice in regard to names, ethnicities and backgrounds in Mennonite churches. There is no such thing as a “Mennonite name.”

Several pages later, I was disappointed to read De Jong’s statement that “Giugovaz is not a Mennonite name.” She explains how Steven Giugovaz experiences his “otherness” when people in every Mennonite church he has attended ask about his name. Her own opening words reflect that stereotype of Mennonites that keep Giugovaz from being seen as an authentic Mennonite.
—Elenor Taves, London, Ont.


Old Outtatown photo evokes thoughts about ‘poverty porn’
Re: ‘Outtatown Discipleship School discontinued indefinitely,” Oct. 12, page 27.

The photo in the news brief was a picture of me at age 18 while visiting an orphanage in South Africa. I was excited that day to take photos with the kids because I wanted to post them on my social media.

Unconsciously, I wanted my network to know that I was a good person out changing the lives of those living in poverty. The reality is, as I’ve come to understand since, those kids had far more to teach me about myself and the world than I did for them. Me visiting for an afternoon was not the solution to their life of poverty.

Matt Collin, in 2009, defined “poverty porn” as “any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers, increasing charitable donations, or support for a given cause.”

I used the child in that photo to market my own self-image. We did not know those children’s names. We did not have consent for their picture. They did not know how or where we would use them. It was exploitative.

Even though I regret that this photo is still being used, I am glad for what I have learned. Outtatown was a year of learning and growth, not about ending poverty. It is really important to think about how the photos I take represent the people in them in a positive light and that dignity remains intact. Even more importantly, there are times to put the camera down and spend time getting to know people instead.
—Allison Goerzen, Calgary
The writer is a 2011 alumna of Canadian Mennonite University’s Outtatown program.


‘For our own survival’
As a capitalist, I am heartened to read in leading business journals that the private sector is starting to realize that it’s not “business as usual,” and it may never be again.

When the market changes, successful businesses listen. The market is us—the people—and we can no longer ignore that it’s unhealthy to pack so many animals (industrial feedlots) and people (New York, Beijing, Mexico City) into one spot. The coronavirus is telling us this.

Also climate change. It has happened throughout Earth’s history, but never as fast as it’s happening now. Not every person in our family needs a car, even if we can afford it. There is no reason why a family of four needs to live in a 280-square-metre house. No reason why we have to live on food that is over-processed and overpacked.

And stop spending every waking moment looking at a screen. Be aware of your surroundings and learn a bit about the magical creation that is around you and sustains you, both physically and mentally. Mother Nature (God) is speaking, and we should listen and adjust accordingly, for our own survival.
—Richard Penner, Saskatoon


Church overreacts in John D. Rempel case
Re: “Credentials terminated for theologian-academic-pastor,” Nov. 9, page 18.

While nobody today would want to minimize the pain reported by the claimants to Conrad Grebel University College and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada regarding their accusations of sexual misconduct against John D. Rempel more than 30 years ago, the institutional leaders have been insufficiently transparent about the nature of the accusations and excessively harsh in their public shaming of Rempel.

These leaders have chosen the most extreme form of punishment from an array of other options that have been used effectively elsewhere in sexual-misconduct cases. It is as if, with the U.S. Mennonite institutional shortcomings in the late John Howard Yoder case in mind, Grebel and MC Eastern Canada are overreacting to the opposite extreme.

They have unleashed a public defamation of Rempel’s character without end, unless, at some point, one of the claimants has had enough and says “stop it.”

Are all vestiges of Rempel to be removed from Mennonite organizations? Do we stop using the Ministerial Manual? Are his books to be removed from our shelves? Are his writings to be stamped by a warning of his transgressions? Just how far will this public cleansing go? This is a new challenge that those of us within the church now face.

There are many faithful, thoughtful and loving souls within the Mennonite church who understand that institutional interests can get in the way of searching for the “lost sheep” to welcome them back into the fold. Hopefully these friends will rise to the occasion in this case and offer a helping hand to Rempel as well as to his accusers.
—David L. Swartz, Boston, Mass.
The writer is a graduate of Goshen (Ind.) College, where he initially met Rempel. He visited him regularly while Rempel was pastor of Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship in New York City.


How did sexual misconduct become the unforgiveable sin?
Re: “Credentials terminated for theologian-academic-pastor,” Nov. 9, page 18.

By whose authority has it been established that sexual misconduct is the most serious breach of Christian ethical behaviour? It has, of course, never been formally established, but in contemporary church life it appears to be a settled issue.

Pastors have their ministerial credentials rescinded, and from then on their reputations are destroyed. A sexual blot cannot, it seems, ever be removed. Lay people, on the other hand, are not normally subject to exclusion from church membership for sexual misconduct. How can this discrimination be justified?

The church has the obligation to be more reflective about its headlong following of the popular culture. Unlike popular culture, the church does not have the freedom to sow division by destroying reputations. The church welcomes the sinner home.

And what can be the meaning of the question raised by MennoMedia about whether what John D. Rempel has written should still be used in the church?

Does a blot on my coat make that coat useless? Its function to warm me is in no way changed. If we are going to be moralistic in this case, what happens to a considerable portion of the church’s literature written by people whose lives were not sexually immaculate? Not only that, but we’d have to edit out a number of the psalms of David because he was a sexual predator who even committed murder to satisfy his sexual appetites.

Rempel’s book Recapturing an Enchanted World, a treatise on the Lord’s Supper, is without question a major ecumenical contribution to the understanding of the Holy Supper. Are we actually proposing that it should be thrown into the shredder?  Does it contain false teaching? Is it an intellectual and spiritual threat to tender readers because of an unrelated ethical lapse?

It is time the church grows up on this issue.
—Walter Klaassen, Saskatoon


‘When is forgiveness in season?’
Re: “Credentials terminated for theologian-academic-pastor,” Nov. 9, page 18, and letters by Tom Yoder Neufeld and Marcus Shantz, Nov. 23, page 7.

The Oct. 20 press releases of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada and Conrad Grebel College University College clearly support the victims of John D. Rempel’s abuse, as they must. And the punitive action they have taken against him is clear: termination of his ministerial credential, of his role as Senior Fellow at the Toronto School of Theology, and any affiliation with Grebel.

But the specific details of his transgressions are not as clear. Since we do not know the details, we must place our trust in the judgment of these church leaders that the punishment fits the crime. Those who know Rempel only by his public profile may now imagine the worst, and some apparently do, in their letters online and on social media. And other church bodies, like MennoMedia, have been quick to disavow any further affiliation with him. 

So we were heartened to read Yoder Neufeld’s response. As an esteemed recently retired New Testament professor at Grebel, we regard him, too, as a church leader. He states unequivocally that church leaders must “take a clear stand with those who have been harmed,” but he ends with an eloquent plea that we must all “do everything possible to recover the offender from the wreckage of sin, shame and brokenness.”

We find the response of Marcus Shantz, Grebel’s president, to Yoder Neufeld’s rebuke particularly limp—that this is not the “time and place” for forgiveness, that it’s not the “season.” When is forgiveness in season? Do we have to wait until both Rempel and his accusers have died?
—Erwin Wiens, Ottawa (Ottawa Mennonite Church), Elias Mina, Stratford, Ont., Ron Tiessen, Pelee Island, Ont., Ernest J. Dick, Granville Ferry, N.S., Victor Klassen, Valle de Bravo, Mexico, Ed Cornies, Kingsville, Ont.

Online comments related to the John D. Rempel article are now closed. If you wish to respond, send a short letter (maximum of 300 words, addressing the topic, not individuals) to It will be considered for inclusion in the Readers Write section of the print edition. –Virginia A. Hostetler, Executive Editor

(Graphic by Betty Avery)

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