Readers write: January 12, 2024

January 11, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 1
(Graphic by Betty Avery)

Touched by death and life
After reading the November 3 issue of Canadian Mennonite, which focuses on Gaza, where so many people are dying (“Attending to war”), contrasted with people who are dying due to illness (“As he lay dying”), I was deeply moved. 

Those themes have been preoccupying me deeply and simultaneously recently. 

First, my oldest sister, who was 86, died recently and I was invited to write a tribute for her memorial service. That was very difficult because she faced many challenges, including an abusive husband and the death of an infant son. 

I felt like I was walking through a minefield as I wrote. Thankfully, the service was a wonderful time of healing and celebration, and it was a great send-off for my sister, whose four amazing daughters, and their families, called her blessed. 

In the middle of writing that tribute, during a Sunday morning service at Aberdeen Mennonite Church, a friend who worked in the Middle East with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for several years and is married to a Palestinian-Lebanese man made a passionate plea for us “to at least see the children” caught in that war. 

I felt compelled to write a letter to the Winnipeg Free Press on behalf of all the children in Palestine and Israel.

After that, I remembered how deeply war, and especially the suffering of children, impacted me personally while my husband and I served as MCC country representatives for Swaziland-Mozambique in the 1980s. During those devastating years, I found some relief by writing about those who suffered and died. 

I’m sharing this because I was moved by the power of your November 3 issue. I continue to care a lot for the work of Canadian Mennonite, having been on staff there for a few years myself. Blessings as you keep up the good work.

—Leona Dueck Penner, Winnipeg (Aberdeen Mennonite Church)

Journeying together
I am responding to the editorial in the December 1, 2023, issue (“What kind of peace church are we?”). I am embarrassed that I have not been able to do more during the Israel-Palestine event. 

Much has been reported about antisemitism and Islamophobia; I have said little, but I oppose both. As a member of a priesthood of all believers, I need to speak out more. I have written my MP and MPP and have heard no response. I have prayed daily.

I was surprised to learn that Mennonite Church Canada finds it difficult to speak out because of lack of support from regional churches. Are we not all on the same page? 

We are all on the same journey together. We need to ask ourselves if we are living the right way and truly following Christ’s example.  

—Lindy Tiessen Fazekas, LaSalle, Ontario (Windsor Mennonite Fellowship)

An informative interview
The interview with Uri Weltman was very informative (“Battle for the character of Israel,” December 1, 2023). 

Unfortunately, Zionism and Judaism seem to be inextricably intertwined, making it hard to differentiate between what is political and what is religious. 

When does Judaism become Zionism, or when does Zionism become Judaism? Is opposing Zionist thought antisemitic? Can one oppose the policies of Israel as a state without being considered antisemitic?

—Ken Drudge, Komoka, Ontario (Valleyview Mennonite Church, London)

Raising our voices
Kudos to Will Braun (“What kind of peace church are we?” December 1, 2023) and Geraldine Balzer (“The church cannot be silent,” December 15, 2023) for highlighting the weakness of our church organizations. 

Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has not called for a complete ceasefire in Gaza, and Mennonite Church Canada is just as reticent to go on record against the ongoing violence. 

As Christians who claim a peace church heritage, we need to raise a strong and consistent Canadian voice against the slaughter of civilians, regardless of who is doing the slaughter.

—Dean Peachey, New Hamburg, Ontario (Pioneer Park Christian Fellowship, Kitchener)

(Note: Since the letter was written, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for a ceasefire in Gaza.)

Apropos of nothing
Belated Merry Christmas and a blessed 2024 to all. I like Christmas and totally approve that it has morphed into something big and all inclusive. 

Now that our celebrations are over, we can get back to thinking and praying about death and destruction in Palestine-Israel and Ukraine. 

When we need an interlude, let’s thank our ancestors and God for holding firm on pacifism.

—Peter A. Dueck, Vancouver, B.C. (Peace Church on 52nd)

MAID considerations
We are writing this letter in response to the news that in 2024, mental health concerns will be an acceptable reason to choose medical assistance in dying (MAID) in Canada.

I (Susan Hackett) have been working with the mental health concerns of youth and their families as a registered psychologist for 25 years.

I (Walter Driedger) worked as a psychiatric social worker for 53 years. My workload included clinical social work, administration and teaching. Direct psychiatric casework was always a part of my work-life balance.

We are concerned about the dangerous implications represented in secular and religious articles we have read on the topic. A death wish leading to suicide is fueled by a decrease of hope. When hope is completely spent, death wishes can easily turn into a preoccupation of planning a method of how to attain death. We have seen this phenomenon in all age groups, from childhood to advanced old age. Most often, after psychotherapeutic counselling, plus antidepressant medications are provided, hopefulness will be restored.

Many of these previously hopeless clients return to thank the therapist for the help received, for holding onto the hope of a better future when they could not.

Offering MAID to people with mental health issues is assuming that they are competent to make the choice, when their judgement is temporarily compromised by a mental health disorder that may, by definition, cause them to want to end their life.

If inexperienced professionals are consulted regarding the viability of choice of MAID, there is a high degree of likelihood that premature death could be the result.

—Walter A. Driedger, MSW (retired RSW)
—Susan M. Hackett, PhD, RPsych

Change is happening…
Regarding the upcoming changes at Canadian Mennonite, I am perhaps an oddball reader in that I am not elderly (I was born in the 1980s) and prefer the printed format of the magazine.

I am making a conscious effort to spend less time on screens, so I keep a copy next to the kitchen table where I can peruse it over breakfast instead of scrolling on my phone. 

I also appreciate the basic newsprint as I use Canadian Mennonite to line my kitchen compost bucket once I’m done reading it. Glossy paper would not be suitable for this purpose. 

I’m glad to hear I’ll be able to continue using Canadian Mennonite in both ways, even if there will be fewer issues.

—Diedre R. Sportack, Vancouver, B.C.

Online comments

Put Jesus first

I find the Hamas-Israel war incredibly sad, and I agree that our peace church voice needs to be raised (“The church cannot be silent,” December 15, 2023). 

But concerns for the world’s timeliness are troubling. Denominations must show independence that respects our commitment to put Jesus first. Not responding until we are ready is a Christian response modelled by Jesus.

The world’s timeliness could lead to the undesirable result that our denominational voice is raised into congruence with specific, widely reported political stances that are not Jesus-focused. It is not Jesus-focused to be overly impressed with memorable statements from august groups, particularly if the august groups share the same funders.    

Why, in our world of Zoom and similar options, is our denominational peace church unable to process statements against war? 

Numerous possibilities come to mind. One is that people closer to congregations grasp the lack of a Jesus focus in some statements from groups with long-term allegiances elsewhere. 

The slow response to the war might show that our current structure allows our denomination to be more independently Christ-focused. Mennonite Church Canada should keep that organizational feature.

Might MC Canada craft a few quintessentially Christian sentences? Sentences that propose protecting civilians no matter what their allegiances. Statements that there are never justifications for promoting genocide or violence of any kind would be appropriate.

A whole lot of groups would dismiss MC Canada. So be it.

—Lois Epp, Calgary (Trinity Mennonite Church)

(Graphic by Betty Avery)

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It's an enormous deception to equate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism, but Zionists and anti-semites do it all the time. It brings bigotry into politics. It muddies the water, further complicating solutions.

Credible accounts of the past 100 years show Israel muscling in Jews and muscling out Palestinians by the hundreds of thousands, grinding them into the dirt, killing many and keeping up a steady campaign of terror. Yet, our media only called Palestinians terrorists and constantly gave us biased reporting.

There's little rationale for a people who occupied a land anciently to take it by force, currently, except in the minds of fundamentalist Christians and some others. Similarly, there was no rationale for Europeans to genocide and steal the Americas, but many evils are justified through religion.

It doesn't much matter what Mennonites say about Gaza. We don't even support UN peacekeeping. We're the well-meaning idiots of global affairs. We have no solutions, yet promote radical ones which can't work.

We prefer emotional and "theologically correct" approaches to conflict, over more useful ones. When we become more credible, our voice will become relevant. Until then, our main work is to sort through 500 years of idealism and confusion.

Alas, in security and conflict issues, only compromise solutions can work, usually. When we accept that, we'll become helpful. However, our peaceful living and the assistance we give to those in need are very great.

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