Seeking a call to discernment
Re: “Credentials terminated for theologian-academic-pastor,” Nov. 9, 2020, page 18.
Last October, John D. Rempel joined John Howard Yoder, Karl Barth and numerous other theologians in the company of men whose personal wretchedness stained brilliant intellectual legacies. Out of respect for victims, their families and friends, it is understandable that ecclesial and academic institutions want to ban their writings.
However, would any theologian, minister, writer or artist—any person of times past or present—survive a close scrutinization of their personal lives? That is not to say that abuse should be overlooked or relativized. Rather, it is a call to discernment.
While acknowledging the harm abusers caused to their victims, we also need to recognize that no one, if analyzed closely, can stand the rigid morals of our time. We would quickly run out of art, literature, theology and science.
Yoder and Rempel gave birth to great theological pieces and ideas that are essential to contemporary Anabaptist theology. Barth is the parent of modern orthodoxy, no less. Instead of banishing them, I urge seminary professors and deans, seminarians and ministers to disclose their wrongdoings but keep their precious contributions. Engage with them critically and remember that no one is immune to losing their reputation in our time and culture.
Seminaries and the church can do without Barth, Yoder and Rempel, but the lack of their works and genius would greatly impoverish our faith and intellect.
—Karl Zeni, Winnipeg
Repentance and forgiveness cannot be rushed
Re: When is forgiveness in season?” letter, Dec. 7, 2020, page 8.
I sense an impatience with a process of moving toward forgiveness in the tone of the question. In this response, and most of the others to the issue of sexual misconduct, I have become unhappily aware that our communal response, including that of our leaders and of our structures, continues to ignore or minimize the place the victims find themselves in. Instead, we are concerned that we do “the right thing” toward the victimizer. It’s like we are telling the victims that Scripture says they must forgive or they are not in the right spirit.
Having ignored the victims’ voices for far too long, preventing any meaningful movement towards healing, we now want to have them move quickly to forgiveness, bypassing a process of transparent, heartfelt repentance from the victimizer and the leadership. Neither repentance nor forgiveness is likely to happen under time constraints.
There is a proper time for the community to speak words of forgiveness and restoration, but, in my opinion, it’s not until the victims have had the “season” they need to move willingly and healthily towards forgiveness, having been truly heard, helped, cared for and affirmed by the faith community. I have come to read Isaiah 40:1-11 as a guide for repentance—do the work of “repairing the road.” God will not come in with a bulldozer and level things out; we have to do the work of removing the obstacles to proper relationships. Then, with God’s help, the glory of the Lord can be revealed in renewed and restored lives.
The victims need to continue to be heard in any discussion of restoration. If the community forgives without their participation, the victims are victimized once again—and the victimizer becomes more important than the victims.
—Albert Durksen, Winnipeg
Mary doesn’t need the title ‘mother of God’
Re: “Gendered images of God,” Nov. 23, 2020, page 23.
In this article we are told that “the language used for God may be unsettling to some.”
What we are not told is that not only the language for God has been changed, but that theology which is totally foreign to, and rejected by, Anabaptists is included in the hymnal. The offence is found in the words of the song entitled “The Angel Gabriel Called Mary Blessed,” No. 221 in the new Voices Together hymnal.
In a worship video by St Jacobs (Ont.) Mennonite Church on YouTube, on Nov. 29, 2020, Sarah Kathleen Johnson, the new hymnal’s worship resources editor, explained why she believes that Mary should be called the “mother of God,” which has been approved by the committee for the new hymnal: “When the committee discussed the classic carol, ‘The Angel Gabriel,’ there was a sense that this is a beloved tune, but that the way the text presents Mary as a lowly maiden and favoured lady, gentle and meekly bowing, does not reflect the Mary we encounter in Scripture, or how we would hope to speak of women today. . . . One significant change is replacing the repeated line, ‘most highly favoured lady,’ with the image of Mary as the mother of God. While Mennonites do not often speak of Mary in this way, it is true to our theology, which claims Jesus is God, Mary is the mother of Jesus, and, therefore, Mary is the mother of God.”
I believe that Johnson has completely misunderstood the meaning of meekness. Would she have us believe that Mary’s humility was false when she said that God had regarded “the humble state of his bondslave” (Luke 1: 48)? I believe that Mary will be remembered and honoured not by the tutelage of a title but rather for her meekness in mission.
—David Shantz, Montreal
Church needs a creative, imaginative approach
Re: “Going to church,” Nov. 23, 2020, page 12.
Arli Klassen’s column sparked a lively discussion at our seniors coffee group. We all fell into the “71 percent of boomers [who] say they want primarily in-person church attendance after COVID is over.” We were also concerned for the continued participation of Generation Z. Klassen draws attention to “disruptions that already exist in our church” that are “increasing the speed at which change is happening.” While not identifying these disruptions or changes, she makes several creative suggestions about potential future directions.
Her column forced me to reflect on changes among Mennonites in B.C. Mennonites have become urban, educated and wealthy. Family size is lower than the replication rate, reducing natural church growth. The values surrounding marriage, baptism and church membership have weakened. Mennonites are influenced by a neoliberal approach to individual autonomy and economics. Authority in the church is more democratic and corporate through written constitutions and elected councils using Robert’s Rules of Order. Ministers are mostly seminary trained and under contract.
There is a continuing struggle to blend North American evangelical theology with the resurgence of Anabaptist fundamentals. Leadership is dominated by boomers, muting the voices of Generation Z. There is a mixed response to the voices of committed LGBTQ+ Christians. These changes keep Mennonite identity in B.C. in perpetual transition.
While change is ubiquitous, it is critical to ask whether Mennonites will keep Christ at the centre of their institutional structures, theology and service, and whether the church will be authentically intergenerational and inclusive? The seniors coffee members concluded they must be cheerleaders or mentors for the next generation, valuing their energy, passion and giftedness. We have had “our kick at the can.”
Mennonites must take Klassen’s creative and imaginative approach as the Spirit leads us into expanding “bubbles” of faith, hope, love, peace and courage.
—Johann Funk, Surrey, B.C.
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