Readers write: September 25, 2017 issue

September 20, 2017 | Viewpoints | Volume 21 Issue 18
Various Contributors |

Watson’s wisdom is ‘a pernicious fable’
Re: “Wisdom, where art thou?" (Pt. 10), July 24, page 13.

After reading Troy Watson’s column, I’m inclined to wonder if we’ve gone backward to a time when emotions were lodged in the heart, anger in the spleen and reason in the brain. It’s my understanding that the human mind is the only repository of not only our thoughts, but our allegiances, our emotions, our ethics, our longings and our beliefs. A brain-damaged person in a vegetative state is unable to express or demonstrate any of the attributes we historically attributed to other, still-functioning organs.

The splitting of personality into parts can lead to absurdities like, “Whether you are aware of this or not, you probably believe your mind is who you are,” or, “. . . try to stop your mind from thinking thoughts in your head. Your mind will not obey.” At the same time—and this is its most malicious attribute—it leads us to voodoo-ize the Christian experience: that we are optionally possessed or not possessed by the Holy Spirit or by Jesus Christ in opposition to the recalcitrant wickedness of our minds can take over the core and the impetus of our theology and drive us off in what have proven historically to be directions of madness. 

I would grant Watson that the mind is capable of becoming undisciplined and erratic, but I would much prefer to see mental illness for what it is: schizophrenia, paranoia, obsessive/compulsive neurosis, sociopathy or psychopathy.

“When we elevate the role of the mind above the heart, soul and body in our faith, we naturally shift the focus from loving to understanding,” is, in my view, a non sequitur. Without our mind and the consciousness it enables, the heart, soul and body are nothing more than carbon, water and a smattering of minerals, their independence a pernicious fable.

George Epp, Rosthern, Sask.


Colonel Dennis a saviour to thousands of Mennonites
Re: “A moment from yesterday,” July 24, page 12.

Thank you for reminding us of Colonel J. S. Dennis’s contribution when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) saved the lives of thousands of Mennonites. The CPR benefited from cheap labour from internment camps set up by the Canadian government, using incarcerated immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian empire during the First World War. That experience was quite negative for the CPR. Then Dennis was seconded to the International Red Cross and travelled to Siberia, where he saw firsthand the destruction of the Russian civil war. It was upon his return from seeing suffering firsthand that he made the agreement with Bishop Toews. The story of the CPR’s change of heart is yet to be told. And our grandparents’ suffering changed the course of Canada’s narrative and its history.

Walter Bergen, Abbotsford, B.C.


The ‘hard work’ of evangelism
Re: “Are you prepared to die?” editorial,” July 3, page 2.

I was very moved when I read your editorial. When I saw the reference to the film Silence, I did a double take. We were quite aware of Endo, because he is a writing hero in Japan. (A review of the film can be seen here.)

I was moved to tears at how you brought in mission and martyrdom. Our work was on the Island of Kyushu in Japan, and we have visited the various places where Christians were martyred for their faith. One was in Nagasaki, where 26 Catholics were crucified for their faith at one time. Seeing that monument is very sobering. Another place was Unzen, a famous hot spring tourist attraction. When we first visited Unzen, there were many white crosses in and around the hot springs. When we visited a number of years later, the crosses had all been removed, as Japan is very concerned about how it is portrayed to the world.

Closer to home in Oita, the city had a Christian memorial park with a huge statue where a young person is on his/her knees, with two soldiers hovering over her with swords, challenging her to recant or die. In the centre of Oita stands another statue, a semi-round scene of Japan in the background, and in front Francis Xavier  with outstretched hands holding a Bible out to Japan. Xavier was the first one to bring the Good News of Christ to Japan.

Although these were all Catholics, they have left a lasting impression on Japan. The mayor of Oita when we were there was a Catholic and I had a very devout Catholic friend. Christianity was not frowned upon in our city, but evangelism was still hard work.

 Mary Derksen, Vancouver


Nazi denialism must end

I was troubled to read the review of my book Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era (“Menno-Nazi connection unconvincing,” Aug. 28, page 31), in which Barb Draper expressed scepticism that tens of thousands of Mennonites sympathized with, and benefitted from, National Socialism. 

On this subject, the historical record is clear. Pro-Nazi movements developed during the 1930s and ’40s among Mennonites in Brazil, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Paraguay and Ukraine. By the height of the Second World War, a fourth of the denomination lived in the Third Reich.

Nazi denialism is, sadly, not surprising. Just last year, Canadian Mennonite also published a letter (“Ukrainian survivors rebut ‘Aryan’ claims,” Nov. 7, page 9) alleging that Mennonites under Nazi rule “had not heard of Aryanism and other racial theories until well after the conclusion of the war”—a claim simply at odds with historical documents.

Nor is denialism new. In fact, during the late 1940s, prominent Mennonite leaders Peter Dyck, C.F. Klassen and Harold Bender claimed in numerous memos to the United Nations and other organizations that European Mennonites were “not collaborators,” but rather peace-loving non-Germans who had suffered “as the Jews” under Nazism.

Such claims also obscured the extent to which some North American Mennonites had flirted with Nazism. C.F. Klassen was an anti-Semite who owned shares in Canada’s largest Nazi newspaper.

Now, more than 60 years later, it is time to face our history. Church-affiliated institutions in the Netherlands, Germany and the U.S. have already begun this process. Of all countries with substantial Anabaptist populations implicated in Nazism, Canada remains the only location where Mennonites have yet to undertake a robust public reckoning.

The time has come for Canada’s churches and institutions to consider what obligation they have to the victims of Nazism, both during the last century and in this age of rising white nationalism.

Ben Goossen, Cambridge, Mass.

Ben Goossen is a historian at Harvard University.


Future Directions might include Catholic liturgy

I grew up in the small rural community of Rosemary, Alta., that was dominated by Mennonites and Mormons. I was 12 when we got electricity and had left home for university by the time we got television. Certainly a sheltered upbringing.

After completing my education, a friend and I decided to see the world before settling down. We started by driving a VW beetle to Brazil from Canada. It was 1964. I vividly remember crossing into Mexico and couldn't believe the abject poverty and general living conditions. This in contrast to the magnificently appointed Catholic cathedrals dotting the countryside.

The Kennedy assassination had just taken place and there was much in the press about the Kennedys, including their Catholicism. I remember thinking, how could a Kennedy from upscale Massachusetts have anything in common with the peasant grandmother in Mexico in terms of their religious experience.

Perhaps it’s in the ritual and symbolism so prevalent in the Catholic liturgy and so absent in typical Mennonite worship. Perhaps we can learn something from this inclusiveness, as our Future Directions Task Force investigates Mennonite trends. Perhaps making the same sign of the cross or facing a similar altar allows the worshipper to experience a very personal spiritual depth regardless of class and cultural background. 

Richard Penner, Calgary


‘Silence him. We are speaking’
Re: “Constants in the context of change,” July 24, page 14.

In his column, John H. Neufeld asks, “What would you like to tell the church before it restructures in the fall?” A good question, and hopefully many will respond either individually or corporately as a church. Here is my response:

Before we restructure, Mennonite Church Canada should first put the issue of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage back on a biblical basis. In Leviticus 18:22, God says, “You shall not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.” In I Corinthians 6:9-11, it says, “such will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.”

Assembly 2016 in Saskatoon will go down as a watershed event in the life of MC Canada. It was at this time and place that the brotherhood and sisterhood openly declared and documented that it overrules what God had to say on this issue. The assembly discussion seemed to say, “Same-sex relationships and same-sex marriages ‘done in love’ are above God’s Word on this. The Bible needs a new interpretation on this.” In other words, “God does not have the last word on this. We do.”

Some 2,000 years ago, another assembly took place in Jerusalem. Pilate asked the Jews, “Whom shall I release: Barabbas or Jesus?” And in a chorus they answered, “Barabbas.” “What then shall I do with Jesus?” Pilate asked. “Crucify him,” they shouted with one voice. In other words, “Silence him. We are speaking.”

Do we see an analogy between the two assemblies? While there is time, we should repent in sackcloth and ashes of our sin of insubordination. Then, maybe God will forgive us.

Then, maybe there is a point in restructuring MC Canada. Let’s heed these words: “Sin will not ultimately be judged by the way we see it, but by the way God sees it.”

Helen Redekopp, Winnipeg

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As long as the loudest voices in our church preach half the gospel;
that for some there is sin without forgiveness,
that for some there is judgment without grace,
that sin is a thing that other people do

Until we confront that sexual sin lives in each of us equally
and none of us are justified under the law,
that our sin does not divide us from each other
but unites us all in our need for Christ

Until we live and speak as though we have no excuse when we judge others
those who seek salvation
will keep on looking
somewhere else

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