Readers write: March 8, 2024

March 7, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 5
(Graphic by Betty Avery)

To pay the price of peace
Thank you for the February 21 webinar with Maoz Inon. He reminds me of the many Israelis who work for peace by embodying forgiveness, hope, justice and reconciliation. Their witness affirms my commitment to Anabaptism.

The three Abrahamic religions clearly value the sacredness of life. The Qur’an states: “Whoever takes a life—unless as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land—it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity” (Qur'an 5:32-34).

The Jewish Torah says, “Thou shall not kill,” (Exodus 20:13) and “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”(Leviticus 19:18).

In the Gospels, Jesus goes further: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Jesus was crucified for these upside-down values. Sadly, each tradition has developed exceptions to these core beliefs, such as Just War theory in the case of Christianity.

Early Anabaptists embraced Jesus’ teachings even when it resulted in persecution and death. How do I respond to Jesus’ teaching? Am I prepared to pay the price? Can I take actions that save lives in Gaza? Can I follow Maoz Inon’s example of living into forgiveness, hope, justice and reconciliation?

Can I plant seeds in my prayers, by contacting elected leaders, by joining rallies and vigils, by adding to the chorus that will grow into a diplomatic pathway to peace with justice that will end the violence and deaths in Gaza?
—Johann Funk, Surrey, B.C. (Langley Mennonite Fellowship)

Sadness over Suriname
A group of us at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church in Winnipeg are reading and discussing The Land is Not Empty by Sarah Augustine. Augustine helps readers understand the roots and vast impact of the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD), especially on Indigenous peoples.

The Doctrine of Discovery was blessed by the church and legitimized the settling of new lands for the purpose of economic gain without due consideration of the peoples and cultures already resident in these lands. The DoD has hugely affected the lives of Indigenous peoples and has contributed to immense trauma within these communities. The greed for land and resources has also had long-term effects on pollution and climate change.

One of the communities that Augustine frequently highlights is the small nation of Suriname. Indigenous peoples in Suriname continue to live in the rainforest, which the government considers uninhabited and therefore available for clearing and repurposing.

Because of Augustine’s repeated referencing of Suriname, we read the news brief “Mennonites threaten Suriname forest” (January 12) with special interest and profound sadness. Mennonites are damaging the environment and cutting down forests without consideration of those who live in and tend these forests?

Are we alone in feeling discomfort and sadness? Who is there to challenge or intervene so that an acceptable resolution is sought?

We wonder if Mennonite Central Committee or Mennonite World Conference, with their connections to the Mennonites in Bolivia, Belize and Mexico, can offer some guidance in seeking a way that is just and follows the teaching of Jesus in loving our neighbours as ourselves.

The challenge really is for all of us to grow in understanding the wide-ranging impacts of the DoD and support efforts to work at reconciliation and appropriate change. Reading The Land is Not Empty provides a good encouragement and start for this direction.
—Janet Peters, Jonathan Muehling, Gerhard Neufeld, Katie Neufeld, Ruby Zacharias, Mary Penner, Wally Plett, Lydia Wiebe, Ruth Epp and Edwin Epp

Breaking the cycle of violence
The smiling faces of Gustavo Zentner and Richard Marceau, both representatives of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), look out from the pages of the January 26 issue (“Jewish perspectives”).

CIJA is a prominent Canadian Jewish advocacy organization. 

When asked to explain Zionism, Marceau said the Jewish people have “the right to the ancestral lands of the Jewish people.” He said nothing about the fact that those lands have been home to Arab Palestinians for generations and that an estimated 700,000 of them were driven from their villages in 1947 and ’48 in what is known as the Naqba (Catastrophe). Many of them ended up in the Gaza Strip.

Marceau and Zentner did not tell readers that, for 17 years, Gazans have been strictly controlled, with Israel controlling the amount of water, food and electricity they are allowed.

I sensed in the words of Zentner and Marceau a willingness to accept massive modern weaponry donated by the United States for the purpose of destroying Hamas, and also to kill some 30,000 Gazans (as reported by the Hamas-run health body), including women, children, journalists, aid workers, doctors, nurses and more.

My wife and I watched the February 21 webinar featuring Maoz Inon, an Israeli entrepreneur and peace advocate. Canadian Mennonite was one of the sponsors. Inon’s parents were both killed by Hamas on October 7. His response to that tragedy was that he would not seek revenge. This was an incredibly difficult thing to do. But it is the right response because it breaks the cycle of killing.

Inon also said he imagines seeing Palestinians and Israelis treating each other as equals. I wish those would be the responses of Israel and CIJA.
—Murray Lumley, Toronto (Danforth Mennonite Church)

Palestine, past and present
I have sat with a Palestinian farmer watching for movement of bulldozers across the valley, anticipating the demolition of his house.

I have sat with a stricken Palestinian mother who was trying to find out which prison her 12-year-old son had been taken to for throwing a stone at an Israeli soldier.

I have seen with my own eyes a whole residential city block demolished by the Israeli forces, leaving dozens of families homeless and without their family momentos.

I have watched helplessly as Israeli bulldozers uprooted a whole olive grove that had been in the family for generations.

I have stood with the Woman in Black in the middle of a large roundabout in West Jerusalem. A dozen Jewish women dressed in black stood silently each Sabbath, holding signs saying “End the Occupation,” while passersby spit at them.

And today I grieve for the village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. I had accompanied the shepherds herding their flocks of sheep, harassed almost daily either by Israeli soldiers, or Jewish settlers. According to Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT), the whole village fled, after intimidation and threats from armed settlers.

From 2002-2011, I spent one month each year in Hebron with CPT. I witnessed the oppression of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Since then, the blatant attacks and restrictions against Palestinians have increased significantly.

Canadian companies supply military goods to Israel. The Canadian government has withheld aid money to UNRWA [the UN body providing humanitarian aid in Gaza] for Palestinian refugees. That makes us guilty of contributing to collective punishment.

Palestinian Christian pastors have asked us for meaningful action. I hope it happens soon.
—Barbara Martens, Leamington, Ontario (North Leamington United Mennonite Church)

Editor’s note: The Canadian government has since reinstated funding for UNRWA.

Mouthpiece for militarism
I applaud the effort to include Jewish perspectives on the situation in Gaza (“Jewish perspectives,” January 26).

However, Canadian Mennonite fell into the trap of centering the view of the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA and its political action arm, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs(CIJA).

These organizations claim to speak on behalf of the entire Jewish community, but a significant segment of Canadian Jews do not align with their position.

It would have been important to include the Independent Jewish Voices Canada perspective.

As it is, Canadian Mennonite was a mouthpiece for a supposed military solution when we as Mennonites are, in fact, opposed to all forms of militarism.
—Suzanne Gross, Edmonton (Holyrood Mennonite Church)

What if 1,000 Mennonites would . . .
In his last column, “A different kind of yes-man,” Ed Olfert poses the question many are asking today: “What does ‘yes’ mean when people are dying in Gaza, in Ukraine, in Russia . . .?”

In the past, some young men chose to say “yes” to a way other than war by refusing the state’s call to arms. In fact, during World War II there were some 10,000 Canadian conscientious objectors (Mennonites, Quakers, others).

We no longer have military conscription in Canada, but since 1978, we have been given the option to state our objection to war and military taxation. This option is made available by completing Conscience Canada’s Peace Tax Return (PTR) in conjunction with our annual tax returns.

The PTR provides two options. Option A is a declaration of conscience and an objection to paying for war. Option B is a declaration of conscience accompanied by withholding/ diverting military taxes. This involves sending the 6.5 percent of federal income tax that goes to the military, or a symbolic amount, to a peace-minded organization instead of government.

Many years ago, we joined Conscience Canada in response to a letter to the editor of Canadian Mennonite in which the writer asked: “What if a thousand Mennonites would refuse to pay for war?”

Sadly, those thousand Mennonites did not emerge, at least not with Conscience Canada.

We wondered why, because even if there was a fear of withholding/diverting military taxes under Option B, there was no consequence for exercising Option A.

Given the horrific nature and consequences of war as we see today, you might want to consider saying “no” to war and “yes” to so many life-giving alternatives available to us.

See for details, and related.

What if a thousand Mennonites/Christians/people for peace would refuse to pay for war and instead support alternative life-giving options?
—Ernie and Charlotte Wiens, La Salle, Manitoba (La Salle Community Fellowship)

Online Comments

Thankful for multiple viewpoints
I’m writing to express my appreciation for this issue of Canadian Mennonite (January 26).

To think about issues well, we need to hear the perspectives and experiences of the parties involved and impacted. I am thankful that you are providing us with multiple viewpoints.
—Lorna Goertz

(Graphic by Betty Avery)

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Re the Wiens letter above, as more Mennonites accept that many types and fairly large amounts of armed security are vital, they will support them, and it is only then that their critiques of excesses and abuses gain credibility.

Mennonites have made law, order, safety and security issues very black and white, but they're far from it. Likewise, in Jesus' day, so he both taught nonviolent ideals and compromised them, for the sake of others. I'm sure he understands the many compromises we must make, too.

Mennonites feigning purity is the greater issue. We've yet to acknowledge that balanced approaches are necessary, much less get involved in them. Mainly, we hide behind others, even as we condemn them for the things that we, society and the world rely on.

And though all wars are preventable, not all are prevented, sadly. Wars also vary in nature. In WW2, there was need to prevent the world from becoming a 1000-year Nazi death camp. Mennonites had no solution, but still support WW2 CO's and ignore the vets.

As you can see, I'd like to see Mennonite Church Canada give these conversations new direction. We need policing and peacekeeping, and many countries need national defense and other things. Anarchy and invasions would be rampant if they were just abandoned. Alas, the black and white approach is unworkable.

What we can do is help make security as peaceful as possible. Our sitting on the sidelines, while stating or implying that all of it is wrong and unnecessary, is detrimental. We should support what works, not what doesn't. It's wisdom that we're really after, not excessive idealism. I'd like to hear from 1000 Mennonites talking honestly and realistically about peace and security issues.

Hello Howard. I have a deep interest of matters relating to military and the police, and the way we Mennonites live out our calling as peacemakers. I am trying to better understand where you are coming from. Three questions for you:

1. Where in scripture does Jesus compromise his nonviolent ideals?

2. When you say that you'd "like to see Mennonite Church Canada give these conversations new direction," what do you mean? Are there specific questions and ideas you would like to see MC Canada congregations wrestling with?

3. In your view, what does it look like to "help make security as peaceful as possible"?

Thanks, Aaron. Mainly, Jesus allowed his disciples to carry swords and advised them to have a few, one dangerous night. Other things about his teachings (and common sense) also suggest that he didn't mean nonviolent ideals could be always be lived fully by everyone. We ourselves don't live them very fully, yet we state or imply that we do and so can everyone.

The world would explode in violence and injustice if many forms of armed security were just abandoned. However, all such issues are stringently avoided by MC Canada and its members. I'm saying we should face them squarely and realistically (far less idealistically). There are 1000 specific questions one can ask if such a new direction were taken. We must be honest and credible. Our beliefs and practices must be doable.

Security can often be done less forceful (as peaceful as possible) and Mennonites can help, but only if they support good policing and such, and get involved, not simply lob their "solutions" in from afar, where they remain "pure". Alas, the world is such that many compromises must be made, though we can be pure as the driven snow within. We can be in the world, but need not be of it.

The difference between inner and outer peace is all-important. Inner nonviolence influences the world greatly, but never completely. We can go extra miles, but only so many. We can risk and sacrifice ourselves, but this quickly becomes extremely difficult and unnecessary, as danger and violence increase. All these and more should be priority topics for a peace church. Strangely, they never are for MC Canada. So, if we struggle to survive and thrive as churches, this tremendous avoidance is likely one big cause. We should be more flexible, and unafraid of important topics and theological adjustments.

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