Home MB HeraldColumns Letters November/December 2017

Letters November/December 2017

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Children of God first

In a world seemingly on a roller-coaster ride of sexual reinvention, I am extremely grateful for the articles on sexuality from Willy Reimer and Thaleia Sawatzky (God, sex, me and you, July/August 2016). Their unwavering commitment to the truth of Scripture, the lordship of Christ, open communication and loving compassion for all people is exactly what we need today in all the church.

Congregations that stick to these principles will always be a “safe environment” for those struggling with gender identity or same-sex attraction. Our culture says our identity is based on our sexuality, but we must always remember that our identity is really as children of God.

Thank you very much for your ministry.

Allan Dowdeswell

Saskatoon

Distressing misunderstanding

Re: “The gospel calls us to be unsettled” (Viewpoint, September/October 2017)

I am an avid reader of your magazine and enjoy it each month. This month I was surprised to see that you had included an article of a person who said that he lived with a partner and three children. 

I thought the article was great, but was a bit disturbed when I read the acknowledgement and had to wonder whether his partner was someone he was not married to.

I was surprised that a paper from my denomination, which I love, would present something that in my mind is not acceptable.

I called your office and was told that his “partner” was his wife.

I was satisfied with that answer, but I am concerned about the appearance of something that can quite easily be misunderstood.

Thanks for the great articles on discipleship this month.

Sylvia Martens

Swift Current, Sask.

 

Mennonite Brethren Herald welcomes your letters of 150–200 words on issues relevant to the Mennonite Brethren church, especially in response to material published in the Herald. Please include name, address and phone number, and keep your letters courteous and about one subject only. We will edit letters for length and clarity. We will not publish letters sent anonymously, although we may withhold names from publication at the request of the letter writer and at our discretion. Publication is subject to space limitations. Letters also appear online. Because the Letters column is a free forum for discussion, it should be understood that letters represent the position of the letter writer, not necessarily the position of the Herald or the Mennonite Brethren church. Send letters to mbherald@mbchurches.ca.

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Matt Balcarras November 1, 2017 - 19:50

Here’s one of the core commitments of the MB Herald: to “share the life and story of the church by nurturing relationships among members and engaging in dialogue and reflection.” I like that this includes “nurturing relationships” along with “engaging in dialogue,” because there is lots of dialogue that does not nurture relationships. Or at any rate there is lots of talking that is believed to be dialogue, but being devoid of listening it does not actually nurture relationships.

I am the author of the article referred to above in the letter to the editor by Sylvia Martens (“The gospel calls us to be unsettled” (Viewpoint, September/October 2017)), and while she may not ever see this reply, I am taking the opportunity to respond and perhaps dialogue. While I was a little shocked to hear that someone would openly state that they are: “surprised” that the MB Herald “would present something that in my mind is not acceptable,” I wasn’t that shocked. The constituency of the MB Herald is, by and large, socially conservative, and this is the denominational magazine. Why wouldn’t you expect to have only comfortable, opinion-confirming, ‘acceptable’ material printed in a magazine paid for by the church you know so well? Does this sound a little biting? Not very dialogue-ish? Well, imagine what it would feel like if you are a member of the MB family who does not live in accordance with the moral judgments of this letter writer – what would it feel like to read from these pages that your perspective is not acceptable to be printed because your relationship label is “disturbing” to the readers of the Herald? I live with the benefit of many social privileges and have a lot of support that enables me to hear (unintentionally) judgmental voices without sustaining much emotional damage. But this is not the case for everyone. This letter is one small example of how people are pushed to the margins, how certain voices are not heard, how the diversity of the body is denied and a false picture of the church is reinforced. The church, including the MB denomination, is filled with people who have valuable things to share and contribute and who live in a variety of relationship structures and use a variety of relationship labels. This letter writer would deny the validity of many (most?) of these people. Would my article about the legacy of colonialism in Canada have been less true if I was living in a same-sex partnership? According this person, probably. And that is pretty disturbing to me. But if we are going to dialogue about what disturbs us, maybe we should take about the ongoing support given in this magazine (e.g. “Meaningful communion in an internet culture” 11/27/2015) to the work of John Howard Yoder, a longtime serial abuser of numerous women.

As a final comment about dialogue, I would specifically encourage Sylvia Martens to speak with some younger people about the labels they use to describe their relationships. She might be surprised to find that many people in committed long term relationships (including marriages) use the term “partner” for a whole host of reasons. She might even learn that using ‘partner’ can do a lot of good for some people. Part of me wishes that the MB Herald office had not disclosed that my partner is my wife and that Sylvia Martens could have completely ignored the content and logic of my article due to the disturbing confusion of my relationship label.

I have taken the time to write this lengthy reply because I believe it is ‘nurturing’ to help people become healthier, and it is always healthy to see how our ways of seeing and talking about things can be damaging to other people, such as assuming that people living in ‘partnerships’ cannot contribute valid material to the MB Herald. Continue the dialogue here or at matt.balcarras (at) gmail.com

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James Toews December 19, 2017 - 21:25

Dear CCMBC Executive Board- “Since You Asked”
I appreciate the effort that has gone into creating a place of feedback for your constituency. You have asked for feedback via an anonymous survey. I have submitted mine. However, I did so with considerable ambivalence, given the survey’s premise that, “the leadership of the national and provincial conferences believes that the Lord is moving in profound and powerful ways in our family of churches.” I believe things are not at all well and for the following reasons.

#1. I believe that the leadership of the CCMBC has not been fiscally transparent or accountable. A rough calculation indicates that tens of millions of dollars of CCMBC money have been spent- with little indication as to what has been accomplished. How many sustainable churches have been planted? What was the cost per sustainable church? How much was spent on travel, salaries and conferences? We don’t know. Satisfactory answers to this line of questions have not been forthcoming. For me, this is a grievous problem.
Added to this is the dramatic erosion of the Legacy Fund reserves. Again, we have little indication regarding how the substantial annual earnings of the Legacy Fund have been spent. Where did the money go? For what? For me, failure to give meaningful accounting to your constituency is inexcusable.

#2. I believe that the CCMBC mission statement is very seriously flawed. On the surface, “multiplying Christ-centered churches to see Canada transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ” is laudable. However by making multiplying churches THE mission of the CCMBC we have left out all the other important ways we are to be a witness to our faith- such as MCC and the many other ways churches are currently serving their communities and the world. (And as was shown by consultant Les Stalke at the Special Meeting, MBs in Canada give almost as much to MCC through their churches as MBM and C2C combined.)
By making church planting THE mission, we fail to capture not only the work of MCC, which is integral to our CCMBC identity, but we also erode other important aspects of our CCMBC mandate such as MBBS and ICOMB.
The mission statement also looks past the vital work of nurturing existing churches across Canada, many of which are struggling to survive. There are few, if any indications, that CCMBC churches are being multiplied and in fact there are many indications that the CCMBC centre of gravity is shifting to fewer, larger and multi-site churches.
If the CCMBC is to be a witness to the whole Gospel, and not just church planting, then we must comprehensively review the mission statement and the accompanying strategies.

#3. But I believe that the biggest challenge the leadership of the CCMBC faces is a loss of trust—which, I believe, flows from the points above. This leaves the CCMBC in a very difficult place.
But trust can be rebuilt. I believe the way forward is a serious commitment to transparency, accountability, conversations with churches and members (not just pastors) AND a willingness to listen AND make changes. The survey signals the desire to listen. Mine is a single voice and there are many others. I sincerely hope and pray that we can preserve and restore the CCMBC legacy that the generations before us built.

In conclusion, let me say that I wrestled for some time about whether to write this, and whether to write publically. In the end, it has been the pondering of Jeremiah’s cry that persuaded me to send this out- “ . . . the word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” In sending this, I am not claiming to be speaking on behalf of God. But this is what I feel, before God. I know others who feel similarly. For the sake of my conscience and for the sake of God’s work through our conference, I feel I can no longer be just another private voice. And in the spirit of Jeremiah I feel writing it down is my call at this time.

Your fellow servant in the Kingdom
James Toews
Neighbourhood Church
4951 Rutherford Rd
Nanaimo, BC V9T 5P1

A note- flaws in the MWR article I have linked have been pointed out to me, but it is the best summary available to me, describing the fiscal journey of the CCMBC.
http://mennoworld.org/2017/11/13/news/funding-cuts-aim-to-make-ministries-sustainable/

Reply
Carolyn Bright December 20, 2017 - 13:43

Thank you for voicing your concerns so well, James. They reflect my concerns as well, particularly with regard to the smaller existing congregations who feel more and more isolated from the conference as a whole. I, too, filled out and submitted the anonymous survey, but wondered if it addressed all the necessary questions.

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Scott Siemens January 3, 2018 - 15:28

As is so often the case, it takes the courage of other sisters and brothers to give voice to matters in order for me to raise mine. Like Carolyn and James, I too completed the survey and have been privately vocal (with CCMBC Leadership and in my circles of influence) regarding concerns around the recent history of my denomination, as well as with regard to the apparent near term trajectory. I am troubled by the lack of transparency. I am troubled by the decisions of what my denomination chooses to emphasize as the core of our mission. I am encouraged by the knowledge that this is God’s church, and we are God’s people who earnestly seek to be faithful. My hope and invitation is that CCMBC Leadership understand faithfulness as more than investing in planting new churches.

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Rick Block January 10, 2018 - 10:38

Greetings fellow sisters and brothers in Christ;
Thankyou James for being vulnerable and openly sharing your concerns. I sense we are a community of people wrestling to define, refine, or re-define who we are as MB’s in Canada. It seems our spaces of meeting together are not affording the time required to have this dialogue around identity. While not my idea, there has been suggestion around a type of “Identity Summit”. With diligent planning and astute facilitation, it could be a significant investment in community-building and understanding both the commonality and the variance within the MB base.
I grew up in the MB church and remain committed to our conference, and certainly to our MB confession of faith (CoF). Our CoF rightfully retains the rich language of our Anabaptist tradition and trajectory. I too feel the current mission statement of the MB conference has unnecessarily been pared down. Granted, I have not been part of the strategic discussions, but I do not understand why we would aim to narrow the manifold wisdom of God and his creative work into a singular goal of multiplying churches? Increasingly as Christ-followers we find ourselves in new and challenging times in relation to secularization, highly-polarized and politicized expressions of ‘Christianity’, and an increasing global environment where conflict is heaped upon conflict. It is in this context that we are to respond in ways that incarnate the Kingdom, and I feel this will require MBs to understand (and integrate) our mission in broader terms.
As a lay-person, I have been blessed through various lay-leadership roles entrusted to me over the past dozen years or so. My professional arena is the non-profit world (largely connected to International Development), and as a family we have served with MCC (Mexico) and currently at home in Sask with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The most enlightening (and practical) training I have done in my vocation was around leadership models and leadership styles. My observation of community or ‘group’ dynamics (and the body of Christ shares some of these ‘traits’) is that the further an organization moves to concentrate decision-making power into fewer hands, the higher the likelihood that at least a segment of the larger group may feel alienated and/or disenfranchised. Its a tough and unfortunate space to be in when one feels this way…..feeling both committed and compromised is emotionally draining – definitely not sustainable.
My experiences in church and work has led me to place high value on congregational engagement, which runs deeper than involvement. Currently opportunities to serve in ways that help shape our identity and trajectory seem designed or aligned to fit primarily within the role of the paid pastor. I certainly see the conundrum faced by pastors too, as often finding willing lay-leaders can be difficult. Yet the way forward is not for leaders alone to determine how to shift the culture around engagement, but for everyone who wishes to share their voice in the process. I pray my words and intent are well received as I felt drawn to share my perspective.

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