Relationships, not rituals, are what’s important
Mennonite Church Canada’s online study conference, “Table talk: Does the church still have legs,” had thought-provoking talks.
In Sara Wenger Shenk’s talk, she asked, “Why do instructions about how we do communion become more important than its meaning?”
Theologians N.T. Wright and Bruxy Cavey remind me that one of Jesus’ goals was to end religion and what all that entailed for his day and for ours. God, in Jesus, was, and is, demonstrating and advocating for deeper relationships with God and within the church and society. In typical God-like accommodation of humanity’s frailty, Jesus participated in temple ritual even as he pointed out its inadequacy.
When our rituals and traditions become ends in themselves, we have created idols. I have seen this too often and probably contributed to it. Too often, I have observed how Mennonites, whose ancestors rejected the rituals of the other churches, have done just that.
Baptism, communion, foot washing and church all imply important and practical relationships. I do not believe that Jesus intended to make religious rituals out of his illustrations or ancient Jewish memories. But they have become institutionalized or made into sacred rituals.
In our inconsistency, Jesus’ invitation to emulate him in washing feet has not become a common practice or sacrament. It is spiritualized, ignored or appropriately practised in daily servanthood living.
Church is another example. Jesus’ primary reference was made to church (Mathew 16 and 18) in conjunction with “two or three gathered in my name” (as believers assembled with the consciousness of Jesus’ Spirit being present). How often does Paul’s image of church as interdependent body parts express itself in humble mutuality? Sadly, what contrasting images of church first come to mind?
—Ivan Unger, Cambridge, Ont.
Patriarchy breeds both domination and victimhood
Re: “Credentials terminated for theologian-academic-pastor," Nov. 9, 2020, page 18.
In response to the Mennonite church and Conrad Grebel College’s actions of public shaming and retribution toward John D. Rempel, it is important to recognize that the repeated incidents of sexual violations are a symptom of a patriarchal system that is based on domination, submission and the abuse of power. This system exists overtly and in more subtle forms in the many different Mennonite communi-
The male privilege to dominate women and men who do not fit into the traditional masculine mould is alive and well in our world, in spite of heroic attempts to eradicate it by some women, some men and now children.
Mennonites have historically set themselves apart from this world by adopting a nonresistant stance to life and by living in closed communities to achieve this. There are many different Mennonite groups, but one thing they all have in common is that the social structure is patriarchal. Men, women and children have been deeply wounded by this patronizing, hierarchical structure of domination and submission.
Until the wider Mennonite community begins to recognize that our social structure is largely responsible for the abuse of power, and begins to create revolutionary changes, there will be harmful sexual relationships that consist of a perpetrator and a victim. The manner in which church officials have chosen to deal with this situation is a prime example of a patronizing, hierarchical, patriarchal system.
Using public shaming and supporting victimhood does not promote healing. An effective way to promote healing is for both parties to become empowered in a way that allows justice to be the major source of healing. The perpetrator is as powerless as the victim in a different way. Domination is not empowerment. Neither is victimhood.
—Susanna Klassen, Toronto. The writer attends Toronto United Mennonite Church.
MC Eastern Canada clarifies church membership rules
Re: “How did sexual misconduct become the unforgiveable sin?” letter, Dec. 7, 2020, page 8.
Walter Klaassen writes, “Lay people, on the other hand, are not normally subject to exclusion from church membership for sexual misconduct,” implying that when a minister’s credential is terminated due to ministerial sexual misconduct, the pastor’s membership in their congregation is also terminated.
In Mennonite polity, only a congregation can decide who is a member; the action to terminate a credential is about the credential alone. It is the Leadership Council of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, made up of seven pastors and lay leaders, which oversees the processes of ministerial accountability and makes the decisions about a minister’s credential. We encourage congregations to maintain their relationship with the disciplined minister. We support congregations as they seek to walk with the person and hold them accountable.
Safety for all in the congregation is the first priority, but it is within the congregation, where the person is known and loved, that they can come to terms with the harm they have done and begin to walk the path toward their own healing and reconciliation with the church.
—Richard Ratzlaff, chair of Leadership Council, Marilyn Rudy-Froese, church leadership minister, Kitchener, Ont.
Victim advocate critical of letters supporting John D. Rempel
Re: “Church overracts in John D. Rempel case,” “How did sexual misconduct become the unforgiveable sin?” and “ ‘When is forgiveness in season?’ ” letters, Dec. 7, 2020, pages 8-9.
As a victim advocate, I must address the flaws in these letters about the Rempel matter.
No one outside of Rempel and those who have been subjects of his abuses of power are entitled to any details in this investigation. Institutional leaders have an obligation to inform their constituency of breeches in moral and ethical expectations of the institution. In fact, the institution has an obligation to protect Rempel and his victims by not sharing details that simply promote shaming of either the victims or the perpetrator.
Walter Klaassen’s comments are particularly dangerous and caustic. He is attempting to delegitimize the seriousness of abuse of power by reducing the abuse to “a sexual blot,” a stain on a coat.
One does not own one’s job title. When one crosses the line of institutional expectations, one’s title is revoked and one is asked to leave. Rempel knows what he did, and he alone is responsible for accepting the consequences of his choice to abuse his power and harm others.
Mennonite Church Eastern Canada and Conrad Grebel University College are not interested in dividing or harming people. They do have an obligation to hold their employees, pastors and professors to a higher standard, as these are positions of power where trust is of utmost importance.
When pastors, professors or theologians abuse their power, they betray all of us. I would suggest that the letter writers find productive work in dealing with the betrayal by their friend rather than working to minimize or delegitimize those who were victimized or those who took swift and proper corrective action.
—Jeff Altaras, Bellevue, Wash., U.S.A.
Churches were ‘never safe for some’
Re: “A church once sacred and safe is now suspect,” Dec. 7, 2020, page 14.
The author is struggling to make sense of the church he loves. He might want to start by acknowledging that the church, like our schools and other institutions, were never safe for some.
—Judith Dyck (online comment)
MAID provider thankful for MB leader’s words on assisted death
Re: “ ‘He asked if it was okay for him to die,’ ” Dec. 7, 2020, page 29.
I am not a person of faith but I am a medical-assistance-in-death (MAID) provider in British Columbia. Apart from my thanks to John Regehr’s family (and to John, of course) for sharing the story about his choice to have a medically assisted death, I would also like to thank Jason Dyck, director of church ministries for the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba, for his words:
“I don’t know what it’s like to experience the last stage of life. I don’t know the pain, I don’t know the loss, I don’t know what questions I’ll ask. While we Mennonite Brethren aspire to believe that all life is subject to God’s sovereignty, John’s story reminds me that nothing in life or death is simple.
“. . . I’m grateful that we serve a Saviour who welcomes us into his loving presence in spite of all of my inadequacies and imperfections.”
Dyck’s comments will be far more helpful to the religiously affiliated people who are interested in MAID that I meet, but who are conflicted because of their religious leaders who offer little in terms of acknowledging the complexity of the decisions to be made at this point in their life, and almost nothing in terms of humility regarding their own position—or that of their church—regarding this complexity and the possibility that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is correct.
I feel it is important that MAID providers should be alert to the possibility of moral distress in a person seeking MAID whose religious community teaches that seeking MAID is sinful. Dyck’s acknowledgment of the complexity of the issue, and his final reassurance that the Christian God is full of forgiveness despite the person’s frailties, will help me in my discussions with people of faith.
—Jonathan Reggler (online comment)
Send free copies of CM to Steinbach and Altona
Re: “Choir perseveres through pandemic,” Nov. 24, 2020, page 22.
I’m trying to reconcile reading Canadian Mennonite’s cover story with recent stories in Postmedia about “anti-mask protests” in Steinbach and Altona, Man.
I thought Steinbach and Altona has the highest concentration of Mennonites of any municipality in Canada. Now they have the highest concentration of novel coronavirus infections in Canada. Their hospitals are so full, patients are found in hallways, in ambulances outside the hospital, and in cars.
Maybe we need to provide some free distribution of CM to those communities!
—John Piera, Calgary, Alta.
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