September Letters

Mennonite should be a multi-ethnic, theological term

Re “Mennonite should remain an ethnic term” (Letters, Aug.) I appreciate John Redekop’s ongoing interest in the issue of Mennonites and ethnicity. His letter offers a good opportunity to clarify my views.

John and I both agree that everyone who becomes part of an MB church is a person shaped by a particular cultural setting, and that a person’s ethnic identity is derived from this cultural setting. We both recognize the way the MB denomination has become ethnically diverse, and celebrate such diversity as biblical.

I find it odd, then, that he disagrees with my assertion that all Mennonite Brethren are ethnic Mennonites. If Chinese MBs (or Congolese, or Canadian, etc.) aren’t ethnic MBs, what kind of Mennonites are they? One of my objectives in the presentation at the BFL study conference was to prod MBs into becoming more self-conscious about their ethnic identities (and the influence of culture generally), so that we can respond more appropriately to cultural influences.

I’m also interested in avoiding the theological confusion and offense that occurs by linking the DGR (Dutch-German-Russian) ethnicity that characterized most (if not all) of the early MBs in Canada with what it means to be a true Mennonite. I’ve met many people who have come to know Jesus Christ, and have joined MB congregations, who have been made to feel like second-class citizens by suggestions that they can never be “true” Mennonites because they don’t have the “right” (i.e. DGR) ethnicity.

How can this be so in a denomination that clearly affirms the gospel is for all people? If being an ethnic Mennonite can only mean being a DGR Mennonite, are we to insist that those who want to join our MB community of faith must adopt a DGR ethnic identity?

I have no desire to minimize the ethnic identity of those MBs who, like both John and me, happen to share a DGR ethnic identity, but there is no place in the body of Christ for the kind of ethnocentrism that suggests or implies that only one kind of ethnic identity qualifies one to be a true MB. My attempt to be more precise about how we talk about “Mennonite” ethnicity is all about (a) using the term “Mennonite” to identify a multi-ethnic, global religious community with specific theological affirmations, and (b) making it possible to celebrate the presence of all the ethnicities within our denomination while avoiding a kind of ethnic elitism.

Bruce Guenther
Abbotsford, B.C.

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Confront government on military spending

Re “Caring for the least of these” (Features, July). Even if we agree with the idea of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), I think we can and should do better.

In 2006–2007, Canadian Mennonites donated $15.5 million to MCC. These same people also paid more than $68.7 million in taxes to support the Canadian military.

So we Mennonites, who believe in a loving, nonviolent God and are committed to loving our enemies pursuant to Jesus’ command and example, paid more than four times as much to support the proposition that peace will come about through force, rather than by addressing the causes of conflict like illness, ignorance, poverty, greed, and hatred. There is no doubt the money we donated to MCC did much more to build global stability, peace, and security than what we paid to support Canada’s military.

Have we, either through MCC or the Canadian conference, approached the government of Canada with a request that the money that’s now being channelled through the military to enhance our security be used, instead, to help enhance global security by addressing the root causes of conflict and war? It’s our democratic right and duty to do this – and surely it would be consistent with our assertion in the Confession of Faith that the “Church reveals God’s saving purposes to the world.”

Dave Hubert
Edmonton, Alta.
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Don’t abandon peace position

Re “Caring for the least of these” and “In defence of mothers and sisters” (Features, July). I was encouraged to read these two fine pieces on the peace position. Gene Stoltzfus and Ted Koontz are correct when they say this isn’t the time “to negotiate away five centuries of Mennonite pacifism.”

Mennonites have often failed to live up to their beliefs, as Henry Neufeld’s article “In defence of mothers and sisters” shows. However, it’s not too late to learn from our history and especially from what Jesus taught and lived.

Harry Loewen
Kelowna, B.C.

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Mental health issues addressed by “Living Room”

Re “When mental illness arrives in the pews” (Features, July). People with a mental illness need what all of us need: a safe place; an opportunity to share our struggles; guidance for life from the Scriptures and through prayer; healing from the hurts and disappointments of life; freedom from guilt and shame; and removal of stigmas associated with any condition we might suffer with.

These needs are common to all people. However, when they apply to people who suffer with mental illnesses, they’re rarely if ever met, especially in the church, where we all want to be seen as doing OK, enjoying life to the full, and experiencing success.

For this reason, Marja Bergen, author, activist, advocate, and fellow-sufferer began a faith-based support group for people suffering with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. “Living Room” was started in 2007 at Brentwood Park Alliance Church in Burnaby, B.C., and other groups have been birthed in Burnaby, Abbotsford, and Kitchener.

Highland Community Church in Abbotsford, B.C. will be the fifth group to start a similar program in September, with the hope of serving people both within and outside the church.
Additional information on “Living Room” is available at livingroomsupport.org.

Lorraine Isaak and John Konrad
Abbotsford, B.C.

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People with mental illness enrich lives

Re “When mental illness arrives in the pews” (Features, July). I really appreciated your article on bipolar disorder. I’m a member of Evergreen Heights Christian Fellowship in Simcoe, Ont., and I’m proud to say we’re a church that has openly talked about and helped those with mental illness. In the 14 years I’ve been at this church, I’ve come to understand how people who struggle with mental illness can really enrich our lives. Our Lord never makes mistakes.

Judy Heidt
Simcoe, Ont.

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Apology could lead to healing

Re “Women also willing before” (Letters, July). I believe Stephen Harper’s public apology to the First Nations people relates to this July letter to the editor. The writer suggests the MB church might “have an obligation to publicly apologize for the pain it caused the many women who were called and equipped by God to minister in their churches but who were told to move along and minister somewhere else.”

The government’s apology was neither perfectly given nor perfectly received, but all Canadians can stand up straighter now. For aboriginals, the recognition of abuse, prejudice, sense of superiority, and other injustices allows for long-withheld dignity to be restored to them. The validation of their pain holds hope for healing and reconciliation. The rest of Canada can also stand up straighter because we have finally, publicly, acknowledged the wrongs that have been committed and we’ve asked for forgiveness.

I wonder if these same benefits could be reaped from the kind of apology the letter writer suggests. I have long thought that the lack of equality in our denomination throughout the centuries has resulted in damage not only to women, but also to men.  These effects run very deep, but if, together, we would listen to those who have felt them, and acknowledge them, there could be much healing for both women and men.

Daphne Esau Kamphuis
Abbotsford, B.C.

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A wonderful surprise

Re “Ordination of two women revives discussion” (People and events, May). I was wonderfully surprised to read the announcement about the ordination of two women to the pastorate. Could this really be happening in an MB church?

My thoughts drifted back to when I was a little girl, and men and women entered by separate doors in the Laird (Sask.) MB Church. My mother sat on one side of the sanctuary and my father on the other, never together. I recall that when missionary women gave reports, they stood at the side of the pulpit, not daring to stand behind the sacred desk.

Decades ago, women were never elected to leadership positions on committees and boards, locally or nationally. They were never delegates to the national or general conferences. They sat, usually at the rear right-hand corner of the gathering place, as a group. At lunchtime they waited for the second sitting. They didn’t eat with husbands.

Some church leaders feared grave consequences if women’s groups were allowed to organize provincially. In local sewing circles, it wasn’t unusual to have a minister or deacon give the opening devotional and pray. Sometimes women weren’t even allowed to teach women’s classes.

If women aspired to write, it was through what was known as Korrespondenzen and devotional essays. If they felt called to serve as spiritual leaders, and many did, they travelled overseas, out of hearing and seeing of local leaders, or moved to other denominations.

But here we are, many decades later, and two gifted women were ordained by local congregations. The sky did not fall in. God is still on his throne. Congregations are being blessed and blessing others. And life will go on.

I celebrate the Canadian conference and a few overseas conferences in leading the way. Praise the Lord.

Katie Funk Wiebe
Wichita, Kan. 

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Take Scripture literally

Re “Time for change” (Outfront, June). As associate pastor at Bridgeway Community Church in Swift Current, Sask., I found Mr. Reddig’s comments very troubling. He says, “Today we’ve become a church with a less literal view of Scripture. We’re bonded together by a more flexible theology and willing to embrace a broad range of believers. At times, we even treat our confession of faith as negotiable . . . we’ve figured out a way to survive and thrive in the midst of constant change.”

If we cease to take Scripture literally, we lose the basis for our theology and any chance of having any ground to stand on when grasping for orthodoxy. It may be that giving up a literal reading of Scripture will expand our congregations because they can believe whatever they want, thus allowing the denomination to survive. But doing this will come at the expense of our denomination’s soul. This kind of survival isn’t survival at all, it’s spiritual suicide.

Ben Kramer
Swift Current, Sask.

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