Readers write: March 14, 2016 issue

March 9, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 6

Church leaders thanked for naming Vernon Leis

I want to publicly say thank you to Mennonite church leaders for speaking up against sexual misconduct in the case against Vernon Leis, even if it is decades after the fact.

There is never a good time to reveal the misconduct of a church leader. This is true whether you cover it up, as in the case of the Roman Catholic priests; dismiss it for decades, as in the case of residential school leaders; or name the indiscretion when it happens. The public will be upset, as they should be, no matter when it is brought to light.

Thank you for taking this seriously and doing your best to disclose the truth. As a victim of sexual misconduct by a church leader, it gives me hope when you, as current leaders, name the specific misconduct and expose the secrets. Your courage and openness is appreciated. In the last few months I have received a measure of healing by talking about my experiences with other women who have experienced sexual abuse, some of who have never breathed a word of the inappropriate behaviour because they were too ashamed. Your speaking up has given voice to vulnerable people who were taught by the church and society to live in silence and secrecy.

At a time like this we all need healing. According to Desmond Tutu, healing comes through telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness and then restoring or releasing the relationship. Some of us will need professional help in this process, which you have so bravely begun. Thank you.

Miriam Frey, Paris, Ont.


Unsustainable church work must be left to die

Re: “Ten years later,” Feb. 15, page 2.

Dick Benner’s editorial left me shaking my head for several reasons:

  1. The future is always open and has a range of possibilities, but the editorial assumes almost all of the worst outcomes possible. Perhaps Benner may consider another editorial that is excited about all the positive ways the Future Directions Task Force’s recommendations can go right in the next 10 years.
  2. Parts of the editorial seem to perpetuate some of the exact myths the Task Force is trying to counter in “Future Directions: Myths and message” on page 15. While there’s always room for engagement and improvement in all that we do, Benner, by treating their work like they wrote it last week on a back of a napkin in a coffee shop, isn’t helpful.
  3. Perhaps the biggest indictment is that by bemoaning the lack of vision and donations, Benner isn’t paying attention to what we know about congregational life cycles. When churches realize that they’re on the decline, nostalgia often turns to disappointment and anger. Their first reaction is to double down on existing members, try harder doing what they’re already doing and complain about leaders not casting an adequate vision. This editorial is a prime example of this. But what leads to revitalization is counter-intuitive:  If any of the work we do is unsustainable because of either human or financial resources, we have to let it die, and then organize our efforts and resources around what limited activity that we are excited about, even if that is a new direction or a new purpose.  

I guess I expect more from Canadian Mennonite than  borderline demagoguery based on the speculation of the editor.

Kyle Penner, Steinbach, Man.
Kyle Penner is associate pastor of Grace Mennonite Church, Steinbach.


Updated understandings make Confession a dated document

Re: Being a Faithful Church (BFC) 7, released in 2015.

Seven is a good biblical number, a number for completion, but we cannot let it stop there.

BFC 7 cannot be the completion of our best discernment on being a faithful church in relation to questions of sexuality. To this point, the BFC process has been  primarily about ourselves and our own purities and holiness. It is hard to be a group and be proactive when so many of us are running off in our own directions. Some are leaving our area church groups. But we must follow the light and bring warmth to cold, dark places.

Whatever our stance or belief, have we as a church helped any people who may be afraid to walk alone at night? Have we helped any of those who are alone and lonely? Have we walked with people in their struggles to understand their own identity/sexuality? Have we helped one another or any of our non-church neighbours to understand and articulate thoughts, feelings and questions about these things?

There are the same questions in many coffee shops as there are in our churches, except they may not be throwing Bible verses at each other. On the way to being a faithful church, we need to move beyond our internal debates and our fears about holiness and unity.

The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective is a good document, written and adopted in 1995. But if you read articles about sexuality, you will see that whole new fields of science and research—new levels in physiology, biology, whatever—opened up in the 1990s. Our foundational understandings of ourselves, of identity, of male and female, and of attractions to one another, are different now than they were when the Confession was created. We need to understand more, we need more skills and tools and we definitely need to do some updating.

Ray Hamm, Neubergthal, Man.


 Evana participant wants ‘less spin’ from reporter

Re: “Evangelical Anabaptist Network generates hope and frustration,” Feb. 15, page 20.

In his article on the Evana introduction weekend, Dave Rogalsky missed an opportunity to accurately report and reflect on what happened. He included selective background information, Mennonite Church U.S.A. woes and cautionary tales, and long excerpts of e-mail exchanges which the reporter had with an area church leader—none of which were part of the actual event.

I would like to read something in Canadian Mennonite about this multicultural gathering with less spin and more about what actually happened: stirring worship led by young adults, engaging speakers, a call to personal/congregational renewal and missional church training.

Fred Lichti, Elmira, Ont.


‘Stand tall, young man!’

Re: “Stop hiding behind the jokes,” Feb. 1, page 28.

How edifying to read an article like this. To author Darian Wiebe Neufeld, I say be encouraged by what Paul says to Timothy: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12).

Stand tall, young man! God has work for you to do, and may the blessing you are to others come back to you multiplied.

Helen Redekopp, Winnipeg


Reader questions whether ‘moral law’ applies to gays

Re: “What is ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’?” feature by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, and “Where the ‘good news’ is” reflection by Pieter Niemeyer, Feb. 15, pages 4 and 12, respectively.

I found both articles enlightening and sobering – each very different from the other.

The latter was a long overdue perspective from a gay Christian and pastor. Niemeyer’s reflection begs for changes in the church’s approach to gays, while Snyder Belousek offers limited change; while gays are to be included in the church, they must abstain from same-sex activity in order to conform to the moral law. I question this.

Does moral law apply to gays, whose orientation is not chosen, but occurs naturally, realized even in childhood, as Niemeyer points out? Jesus confronted a similar issue when the Pharisees said that a man was born blind as a result of sin (John 9:1-3). That was a mistaken idea, Jesus pointed out. Are we perpetuating a mistaken idea when we apply moral sanctions to those who are homosexual by nature?

As we seek to be a faithful church, we may have to concede that our traditional perspective was based on insufficient information, mistaken ideas and a misplaced application of Scripture. For example, do Niemeyer and his fellow gay Christians fit the profile of gays described by Paul in Romans 1? Perhaps Paul was confronting homosexuality of a different variety from that of Niemeyer and his peers.

Niemeyer asks us to listen to gays, to learn how we have caused them suffering, to engage with them when we are making decisions that affect their lives, and to hear God speaking through them. Niemeyer knows he is “the Lord’s beloved as a gay man” and that “being gay is part and parcel of God’s good, diverse creation.”

Are we willing to hear this?

Joyce Gladwell, Waterloo, Ont.

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Re: “What is ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’?” feature by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, and “Where the ‘good news’ is” reflection by Pieter Niemeyer, Feb. 15, pages 4 and 12, respectively.
I read both articles with interest as I have struggled with my perspective on this issue. I found Snyder Belousek's article more compelling as it provided a biblical basis for his conclusion. What I found troubling in Niemeyer's article is the inference that we are born perfect, or that how we are born dictates how we should behave. We are indeed God's creation but we are also born into the world as broken individuals with a sinful nature, all needing to be redeemed and transformed.

We also cannot know for certain that people are born with a homosexual orientation. Genetic studies of identical twins have shown that genetics does not appear to be a significant factor in the development of homosexuality; that environment may somehow play a bigger role. Even if we are born that way or come by it naturally, that cannot in and of itself justify the behavior, just as I cannot justify acting out in sin from my sinful nature that I was born with. Nor should I refrain from helping others overcome some of their genetically based behavioral tendencies just because they were born that way, such as those with autism, ADHD, depression, pedophilia, and other psychiatric disorders.
I cannot see myself telling someone who is sexually attracted to children as a result of genetics that he cannot act out on this attraction even while I use genetics to justify acting out on mine. This may sound extreme, but how can we look at two supposedly genetically based behaviors and justify one on that basis but condemn the other? Let us not deceive ourselves with this kind of rationalizing.
In the end, each individual must face God with the decisions they have made and the life they have lived. Regardless of our sexual attraction, I pray that we all continue to repent before God for our failings and allow Him to transform us. The Good News that I see is that we are recognizing the diversity of people that we are and are also recognizing that we often fail to show His love and mercy to all of His creation. Let us continue to love each other and walk with each other in the midst of all of our varied struggles.

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