Readers write: May 24, 2021 issue

May 24, 2021 | Opinion | Volume 25 Issue 11
(Graphic by Betty Avery)

Doctors, prof and more weigh in on controversial vaccine letter
Reader calls on Mennonites to reject COVID-19 vaccines,” April 12, page 7.

I am disturbed by the publication of the letter calling on Mennonites to reject the vaccine offered to help people avoid the COVID-19 infection. It contains a lot of misinformation and, as such, is an embarrassment.

It is one thing to accept this false belief, but it is a completely different matter to endorse the avoidance of this life-saving therapy. Vaccinations have protected millions of people over the past hundred years from diseases such as polio, measles and whooping cough.

The writer says he has a fundamental right to avoid this vaccine, and indeed he does. However, to advise people to avoid this life-saving treatment is not only wrong, but it crosses a line. I assume that the writer is not scientifically knowledgeable. He has the right to his opinions. He does not have the right to stop other people from getting vaccinations.

I am surprised that the editor would publish such nonsense without fact-checking. This reduces the value of this publication. The program of vaccinations is not only necessary, it is crucial in halting the spread of this pandemic.

—Arthur Friesen, Abbotsford, B.C.
The writer is a medical doctor.


As a pediatrician with more than four decades of experience practising in Canada—plus volunteer stints overseas in Honduras, Equador, Ukraine, India and Uganda—I can state unequivocally that vaccines are the single most significant advance in medical care in my career and probably the last 100 years.

The reason that you and I are unlikely to ever have known someone paralyzed by polio, scarred by smallpox or rendered deaf from meningitis is—take a guess. It is an irresponsible ignoring of history to advocate against vaccines because they work amazingly!

—Paul Thiessen, Vancouver


I was deeply disappointed to read this letter to the editor.

There are far too many incorrect assertions about the science around vaccines and COVID-19 transmission to address here, but most distressing of all was the writer’s mistaken conflation of anti-vaccine sentiments with being a faithful Christian.

Over the past year, at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), where I teach, students, faculty and staff were able to continue working and learning in person for the vast majority of the last academic year precisely because all community members took seriously recommendations from public-health officials to mask and social distance, as acts of care for community and Christian witness to one another.

In recent months, young adults have, at times, been maligned as “super spreaders,” called out by political leaders and public-health officials as “ruining things” for others who have been working hard to limit their contacts. This has not been my experience; the hundreds of young adults I have witnessed on our university campus have carefully worn their masks and stayed apart, to the extent that our dormitories and cafeteria could remain open, and classes could continue to meet in person.

The letter writer, and any reader tempted to equate faithfulness to Jesus with defying public-health measures, including vaccination when available to them, would do well to follow the example of the younger members of our churches, people like our students at CMU, who have committed to following Jesus’ example of loving one another by masking, distancing and joyfully accepting vaccination.

—Rachel Krause, Winnipeg


While I have no doubt that there are readers who hold these views, Canadian Mennonite has a responsibility to not allow their own platform to spread dangerous misinformation.

Make no mistake, anti-vax propaganda is misinformation and, by allowing the spread of misinformation, CM has abdicated its responsibility to help keep our communities healthy and safe.

Virginia A. Hostetler and whoever else had a hand in allowing this to be published should resign if they are not willing to keep CM free of dangerously misleading information.

—Graham MacDonald, Saskatoon
The writer attends Wildwood Mennonite Church in Saskatoon.


I do appreciate the dilemma of editors as they try to accommodate freedom of expression at a time when some people are embracing anti-truth-seeking voices and “alternative facts.”

At the same time, I was surprised to read this anti-vaccine polemic in CM.

Christians of most denominations have been leaders in alleviating human suffering and preventing death since the time of Jesus and the Good Samaritan. Many of our health-related institutions of today had their origins in compassionate Christian leadership (Salvation Army, Grey Nuns, Youville Centre in Ottawa, Hotel Dieu in Quebec, Concordia in Winnipeg.)

The evidence is clear that once COVID-19 vaccines were introduced in long-term-care homes, the rate of infections and subsequent deaths fell dramatically.

Consider also the burden and risk being placed on health-care workers and first responders by folks who are against vaccines and masks. These health-care heroes then return home at the end of their shift, not sure if they are doing enough to protect their loved ones. Let’s think, too, of those non-COVID-19 patients who are seeing critical surgeries postponed because the medical community is consumed with treating COVID-19 patients.

We are our sister’s and brothers’ keepers. Getting the jab is as much about others as about ourselves. Imagine the burden of causing a health-care worker, neighbour or fellow parishioner to die of COVID-19 by a sin of omission (not taking all precautions).

Discipleship requires that we love our neighbours as ourselves and that includes doing what we can to prevent suffering and death from COVID-19.

I commend our church leaders for endorsing vaccines and encourage them to do even more!

—J. Martens, Victoria, B.C.
The writer is a member of Ottawa Mennonite Church.


We know a number of people who were ill with COVID-19 and survived. One of us has a colleague who had it and died a painful death. The writer says that our bodies can provide us with better protection than a vaccine. If so, why have millions of people died of COVID-19 in the past 16 months?

The best medical advice that we have, including the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control in the United States, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, tell us that the vaccines have been created to provide us with vastly better protection than doing nothing.

We applaud religious leaders who support vaccinations, but apparently some non-experts claim to know better. It’s one thing when willful ignorance endangers only the individual. It is quite another when that ignorance threatens the lives of family, friends, neighbours and the community.

—Dennis Gruending and Martha Wiebe, Ottawa


When people say they are not getting “the vaccine,” I have started asking “So, if you were bitten by a rabid animal, would you refuse to take the rabies vaccine?”

I am old enough to have had children in my class at school who had polio—not pleasant!

And I worked with a man a few years ago whose father did not believe in the polio vaccine. He and his brother both got polio; the brother died and this man recovered.  But in his 50s, he began to again experience symptoms of polio. I don’t think he ever forgave his father.

—Linda Garland, Bluevale, Ont.
The writer attends Brussels Mennonite Fellowship, Ont.


There are a range of approaches to deal with a situation like COVID-19. On one end of the spectrum, an absolute societal lockdown could be implemented. On the other end of the spectrum, a let-nature-take-its-course approach could be taken, in which, based on the evidence from the early part of the pandemic, we would be accepting a reality where hospital-based care for those most affected by the adverse reactions to the disease is not available.

But we live in an infinite game, according to Simon Sinek ( There is no dress rehearsal for something like COVID-19. We can look at the flu pandemic of 1918, and the SARS incident of 2003 for guidance. We also need to understand the present, where there are segments of society that are skewed towards a finite-game mentality that prioritizes the short-term needs of the individual over the needs of the whole, and where opinion and observation are misconstrued as fact.

To maintain the desired balance of individual versus group rights, we need to routinely evaluate the consequences of our actions and contemplate the short-term, as well as long-term, implications of those actions. We should be open to, and accepting of, short-term actions that benefit the whole. As a consequence of following the short-term precautions to the benefit of the whole, individual situations will eventually improve.

I am trustful that leaders within and without government are doing their best to play the long game when making decisions with regards to this situation. I am grateful for the work done by others that prepared for this situation, like chief medical officers who offer their expertise, and the researchers who did the foundational work prior to the existence of COVID-19, to enable new vaccines to be created in such a timely manner.

I will continue to evaluate and assess my actions, and the actions of others, to ensure that we are all working together, advancing the infinite game in a positive direction.

—David Weiler-Thiessen, Saskatoon


I rarely write letters to editors, but when I was questioned about this letter refuting the value of COVID-19 vaccines, by some medically trained professionals, I could remain silent no longer.

I genuinely appreciate Canadian Mennonite, and read it regularly and enjoy the good editorials and thoughtful articles printed. I have been impressed at how open, intelligent and non-judgmental most of the writers have been.

Then, like a lightening strike, a letter to the editor appears that is so shameful and ignorant in content that it should never have seen the light of day. Its author laments that “many leaders of the Mennonite church are endorsing vaccinations for COVID-19.” In doing so, he literally insults and demeans thousands of professionally trained and dedicated health-services workers who daily and desperately seek to save the lives and give comfort to those afflicted with COVID-19.

He implores that God has created humans so wonderfully that they can well develop their own superior immunity to any and all viruses. Historical experiences with polio and many other communicable diseases completely invalidates his claim. Fortunately, our great Creator also created the human being with intelligent reasoning capacity and the responsibility to use it.

I believe CM made a dreadful error in printing this letter, for it most surely violates a basic premise of “doing no harm.”

I truly hope the author of this letter doesn’t contract this dangerous disease and that he doesn’t cause the infections and death of others because of his limited acceptance of the medical truths surrounding COVID-19. He seriously needs our prayers.

—Ernest Epp, Saskatoon


Tone and spirit are more important than words
Words and community” editorial, April 26, page 2.

Thank you for the kind invitation for respectful and thoughtful dialogue. As editor Virginia A. Hostetler indicates, such dialogue is important for healthy community.

She points to primary ingredients of dialogue, such as perspectives, views, opinions, words, and so on. These are, indeed, important.

I would like to add just a few more ingredients that, from my experience, often trump the words and perspectives expressed.

I am referring to the tone and the spirit exuded by the communication. Too often, good and wise words are delivered with a tone of impatience, a spirit of sarcasm, or a sense of harshness that discredit the wisdom of the words themselves.

Most folks have the capacity to receive critique and to be challenged by other perspectives, and are open to further information. Much depends, however, on the tone of the critique and the spirit in which difference is expressed and new information is shared.

Is our communication with each other characterized by a gracious spirit, a humble heart, patient forbearance and loving concern? Is there a sense of gentleness, of personal vulnerability? Is there a tone of respect and genuine interest in another’s view that may be different?

It seems that the genre of a “letter to the editor” itself already mitigates against careful attention to tone and spirit. The genre dictates precision, brevity and the need to clarify. It seems that the genre of online communication further exacerbates our lack of attention to tone: We press “send” too quickly, without the benefit of sober-second thinking. Spur-of-the-moment emotions and opinions upstage careful, humble and respectful reflection.

My plea would be for folks to consider the tone and spirit of communication to be as important—or more so—than the precision of words and the clarity of argument. This would facilitate difficult dialogue immeasurably.

—Robert J. Suderman, New Hamburg, Ont.


Laws are not the final answer to ‘moral issues’
Churches weigh in on bill to ban conversion therapy,” April 26, page 16.

Any number of what might be called “moral issues” remain on the table in North America, and the temptation to urge legislation that will swing the arguments one way or another is always present.

Abortion and same-sex marriage come to mind, but one can easily add anti-racism, or truth and reconciliation, and a host of others, to this docket.

No law will ever prevent gender fundamentalists from using coercive measures behind closed doors to “correct”—or at least hide—an LGBTQ+ orientation. No law will prevent racist cops from finding ways to intimidate and harass people they consider legitimate targets. Some unwanted pregnancies have always been terminated, often by unsafe procedures by money-grubbing charlatans, even when stringent laws existed.

The law will never replace conscientious, wise and informed child-rearing practices and quality civic education.

—George Epp (online comment)


Solar panels do good even after they are paid off
Herman Ens and Tim Wiebe-Neufeld’s “The value of solar power” conversation, April 26, page 7, in response to Wiebe-Neufeld’s “Avoiding an environmental shipwreck” feature, March 29, page 4.

I appreciate the helpful conversation on this theme between Ens and feature writer Wiebe-Neufeld, and agree that there are ways to offset greenhouse gases created in the manufacture of solar panels.

For example, at Erb Street Mennonite Church in Waterloo, Ont., after paying for our solar panels through revenues already generated, our congregation will use solar-panel income to fund “green” initiatives that congregants put forward.

To date, grants from our solar panels support a tree-planting and land-reclamation project nearby, a bio-diverse garden, and reforestation in Haiti.

In short, we are coming closer to constructing a perpetual-motion machine that cares for creation through our solar panels. To be sure, we are not alone; other congregations and businesses are doing the same through their solar-panel projects.

—Richard MacBride, Waterloo, Ont.


(Graphic by Betty Avery)

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I have never written an opinion to this publication but I feel compelled to speak up as I read the vaccine comments. I want to commend the CM for having the strength to allow differing opinions to be expressed. I appreciate the comments of Robert Suderman (May 24 online issue) as a reminder of checking our tone and spirit in our communication. Thank You CM.

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