Readers write: March 30, 2015 Issue

March 25, 2015 | Viewpoints | Volume 19 Issue 7

‘Well-worn clichés’ can hide the truth

Re: “A father’s struggle with his gay son,” March 2, page 29.

The well-worn cliché of “God loves the sinner but hates the sin,” just like the well-worn cliché of “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” is the essence of the gospel. Because God loves the sinner, he sent his son Jesus. Because God hates the sin, he sent his son Jesus. Because God loves the sinner, those sinners who believe will be saved. Because God hates the sin, those sinners who do not believe are condemned already (John 3:18).

Some clichés express eternal truths. Some phrases, like “well-worn clichés,” hide the truth.

John Zylstra (online comment)

‘Mennonite’ name should stay

A recent proposal by senior management of Ontario’s Mennonite Savings and Credit Union to remove the name “Mennonite” from its name needs to be challenged. They claim that an increase in membership is needed to ensure sustainable growth and profitability and that the name is a barrier to new membership. But the growth over the last several years has averaged approximately 6 to 8 percent annually—hardly insignificant. Our CEO said we need 9 or 10 percent growth to remain profitable. In 2004 the assets of MSCU were $444 million. Ten years later, in the spring of 2015, the assets of MSCU are approximately $950 million, but apparently that is not enough.

Why this obsession with growth? Is placing our focus on expansion in keeping with our Mennonite values? As a member of MSCU, I am concerned. We claim to be a faith-based organization, yet there seems to be a disconnect here.

The fate of the Niagara Credit Union is a case in point. It was started in the 1950s by a few Mennonite farmers; it expanded and eventually merged with Meridian. Now all that is left are a number of branches, cogs in a huge financial machine run out of Toronto. Is that what we wish for our Mennonite credit union?

Before scrapping “Mennonite” from the name, I urge the senior management and board to consider a greater focus on marketing and promotion of the MSCU brand. A few years ago, the bond was opened to allow members from churches other than Mennonite, BIC, and Amish to join MSCU, so long as they could sign a statement of shared convictions. Why is MSCU not being actively promoted and championed as an option for people of faith who would wish to conduct their financial business in a faith-based organization?

In the end all we have left to pass on is our legacy. Will our grandchildren and great-grandchildren say, “It was amazing, they built the biggest financial institution in the history of the Mennonites” or will they be able to say, “Our grandparents tried their best to live up to their faith and ideals.”

Albert Isaac, Waterloo, Ont.

MC Canada needs to find ‘the way to life’

Re: “The church will prevail” editorial, Feb. 16, page 2.

I regret editor Dick Benner’s stated impressions of what transpired in God’s church during his sabbatical: that by now we are a wounded and immobilized faith community.

Although he may be right, he seems to suggest that the only way for the church to prevail is to “make every effort” by cooperating with the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) 6 document. The “Last call” letter from Mennonite Church Canada moderator Hilda Hildebrand and executive director Willard Metzger on page 14 of the same issue makes the same appeal.

I do not see BFC 6 as the only way out of the morass. There are other hints of life that I see in the Feb. 16 issue:

  • Phil Wagler’s “For better or worse we are Pharisees” column on page 10 that invites us to discover Jesus again.
  • Dionisio Byler’s account of a fresh Spirit among European Anabaptists (“Spain: Old churches in new Europe,” page 22);
  • The letters on pages 12 and 13 that show a strong resistance to same-sex marriage; and
  • As one who also spends countless hours among truckers and working class citizens of this country, I am totally inspired by a picture of Vernon Erb standing humbly beside one of his hundreds of trucks after 56 years of honourable service to our economy (“Another cool move,” page 28). We are still a simple people whose best witness is an unassuming modesty.

The way to life is not through more scholarly articles, not through diplomacy and nuanced Bible teaching looking for societally non-offensive interpretation, followed by plebiscites or votes.

The way out is to receive the “easy Scriptures,” as Loren Johns calls them, and by publishing articles of how they are celebrated among our common ordinary congregations all across this country.  Our church will not prevail if we try to be something that we are not.

Jacob Froese, Calgary

Calling author ‘angry’ is just mean

Re: “Author hints at his own personal story” book review, Feb. 16, page 32.

I appreciated the book review, but the following line in it was unkind and unnecessary: “There are a number of fine Mennonite writers, but too many are angry—I think of Miriam Toews—and time and again beat up their loyal Mennonite readers, and I am one.”

Does the reviewer know Toews, and does he have the right to make a personal comment about her being angry? Toews has indicated that some things in her books are connected to her own life, but the work is still fiction. Besides, if a writer’s work is, in fact, angry—although I don’t think that accurately represents Toews’s books—maybe there’s a good reason for that.

I love the church, but there are aspects of it that are worth getting upset about, and working with others to change. To shine a light on uncomfortable truths about the church is not to “beat up” loyal readers. One could make the case that her work can move readers to work for greater justice and peace.

Toews’s work is brilliant, hilarious, heartbreakingly sad and unbelievably joyful, by turns. I don’t know her, but at a few readings, and in one brief conversation, I was amazed by how joyful a person she is, particularly given the losses of loved ones she has experienced.

To say “too many” Mennonite writers are angry is an unfairly cheap shot that requires a whole article to discuss, one as thoughtfully written as the rest of the review is. And while the reviewer may not have intended it, to specifically name one person in such a disrespectful way is just mean.

Yorifumi Yaguchi, a Mennonite poet, said, “If it is Mennonite literature, it should be about one thing: peace.” Perhaps reviews in Mennonite publications should take the same mandate: Critiques of literature can rate work anywhere from excellent to terrible while still being respectful, and adding to the peace of our own community and the larger literary world.

Kristen Mathies, Waterloo, Ont.

Forcing gays to be celibate doesn’t meet their ‘deeper needs’

Re: “A biblical and better way” feature, Jan. 19, page 4.

I appreciate Ronald J. Sider’s feature as a proposal to bring harmony into a debate that threatens to divide the church. However, I find that the solution he gives—let gays be celibate—offers nothing towards meeting the deeper needs of the gay and lesbian communities.

I admit I am biased on the side of gays. I feel their pain, their fear, their social isolation, their spiritual and emotional deprivation. I was a family therapist; gays shared their secrets with me. I believe that, as Christians, we are called to minister to their suffering.

If we require gays to be celibate, we leave them open to sexual temptation, and some to promiscuity, which leads to disease. We have seen the devastation of the AIDS epidemic.

Perhaps in our zeal to uphold scriptural law, we can go too far and find ourselves transgressing Christ’s way of compassion and grace. Have gays not suffered enough? When we require them to be celibate, are we not adding to their deprivation and suffering?

Consider what we are taking from gays when we ask them to be celibate: the security of a life-long partner, and the mutual support and intimacy of home and family life. These are God’s good gifts to all humankind, the gifts of “common grace,” meant to bless and enrich our lives.

Which is more important: to uphold the law against homosexuality or to promote the well-being of gays? It seems we cannot do both.

I find my response in the gospels, where Jesus set aside the rules based on the fourth commandment. He chose to heal people on the Sabbath and let his disciples pluck wheat kernels to eat, thus breaking the required observances of his day. Jesus chose to put the well-being of people above rule-keeping on the occasions when the law and human needs would collide.

My response to the homosexuality dilemma follows from Jesus’ example. For me, it is more important to seek the well-being of gay and lesbian persons; to be life-giving, rather than life-denying; and to welcome them to the blessings of home, family and faithful partnership.

This, to me, is more important than requiring them to be celibate in order to uphold the law, and more in keeping with the undeserved grace we enjoy in Jesus the Saviour.

Joyce Gladwell, Waterloo, Ont.

Bible reading meant less Canadian Mennonite reading

Re: “365 days later . . . A Year of Reading Biblically concludes,” Feb. 2, page 35.

I hope this letter is an encouragement to Aaron Epp, who believes that about 25 people participated in A Year of Reading Biblically, but I really hope that the number is higher. We really are the “quiet in the land,” and don’t blow our horn, but I guess I’m No. 26. I started on Boxing Day in 2013, after reading Epp’s first article.

Here are some observations:

  • I used a bookmark and did not read daily, but read a lot when I did.
  • I kept the Bible in the middle of the house, where I got a constant reminder.
  • I didn’t skip the hard parts; instead, I asked why this was put in here.
  • I put away other books and even Canadian Mennonite was read less. I noticed that when I read elsewhere I didn’t get back to the Bible.

As a new Christian in my youth, I read the Bible cover to cover five times in five years, but it took 40 years before I could complete it again. I read through the Bible using the NIV translation and finished last August. And then what should I do?

I enjoyed it enough to start again, using an unfamiliar translation put out by the Roman Catholic Church, as it had the extra books like the Maccabees and Tobit. I am learning a lot about where my Catholic-turned-Mennonite friends came from.

When people started reading the Bible for themselves nearly 500 years ago, a Reformation happened—even a new church called Mennonite. I think that when we read the Bible for ourselves, we can get a direct message that is less filtered by the thoughts and beliefs of our Christian authors and pastors.

Earl Martin, Stratford, Ont.

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