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On Holy Ground Book Reprinted at Request of USMB and CCMBC Boards

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The CCMBC and USMB Executive Boards, made up of men and women leaders from across Canada and the US, requested that the MB Historical Commission remove about three pages from their book On Holy Ground which carries the imprint of the MB publisher Kindred Productions owned and operated by CCMBC. The book itself is a collection of women’s stories (“life-writing”) about their experiences of encouragement and/or discouragement as they served in various ministry/leadership roles in the MB family across North America. The book was designed as a parallel volume to Doug Heidebrecht’s recording of the MB story in his book Women in Ministry Leadership.

However, three pages of one author’s writing suddenly departed to record reflections, experiences, and questions about her evolving perspective on gay, queer, and transgender folks and the MB church. The writer describes her journey where she expresses joyfulness at the marriage of a Christian woman to her same-sex partner and how she found her “perspective on gay marriage beginning to turn.” She proceeds to make several biblical analogies from 1 Samuel 9 and Genesis 27 to raise questions about whether “homosexuality” (to use her word) should be seen in a similar way as the OT monarchy (a compromise) and whether “queer” individuals are like Esau who still gets a partial blessing from his father. Finally, she cites River East’s statement of inclusivity, presumably as a possible model for the way forward.

These three pages move beyond the recording of personal experience about being encouraged and/or discouraged in leadership, to more of a brief theology essay advocating for a type of LGBTQ+ inclusion in conflict with a straightforward reading of our MB Confession of Faith. While the book’s disclaimer acknowledges that the book may contain material that is not affirmed by the MB Historical Commission, USMB, and/or CCMBC, this disclaimer does not seem robust enough to justify a credentialed leader including a brief theology essay on something other than women in ministry leadership.

 For many MB readers, these pages will overshadow the important contribution of the other writers, create confusion about what it means for MB credentialed leaders and local MB churches to “affirm” the Confession of Faith, and unfortunately, it will reinforce the damaging stereotype that embracing women in leadership leads necessarily to an affirming stance on gay marriage for Christians. It is primarily for these reasons that the men and women leaders on the two Executive Boards took this unusual step, wrote a letter of request to the MB Historical Commission, and contributed financially to the reprinting of the book in its present form. We do regret that because of the urgent timeline of the original book printing/distribution and the complexity of working as a joint USMB/CCMBC team, we were unable to have personal conversations directly with the author, editor, and others involved.

We are thankful to the men and women of the MB Historical Commission Executive and Membership for the very kind and gracious way they have worked together with us in response to our unusual request. We value our cooperative work together and look forward to more of the same in the future.  Finally, we do believe that the slightly shorter edition of On Holy Ground being distributed by Kindred Productions will reach a larger audience and be more effective in its purpose of sharing MB women’s stories of their personal experiences in leadership.

July 8, 2022: The term “mini-theology” in the third paragraph is updated to read “brief theology.” – Ed.

17 comments

17 comments

Dora Dueck July 6, 2022 - 11:32

As editor of this volume, I have tried to be gracious in describing my reaction to this action of the executive boards — my sense of deflation, discouragement, and so on — in a letter I wrote to two Canadian leaders about it, but to read this justification of the action and process this morning, subsequent to all that, has me stunned. And angry. It badly mis-characterizes both the book (making it narrower than described in the invitation to the contributors) and the portion that was removed. Anyone who reads the entire essay will see that it has not “suddenly departed,” will see that it is of a piece with the story of a long ministry, of struggle and change. To say it “proceeds” to make OT analogies within “a mini-theology essay” is simply false. The writer is recounting the experience of being asked by “a sincere young man” studying heresy what it was like to be “rebuked,” and then giving the context for his question. It was about speaking at a study conference, something that is very much a part of her history as a leader in the denomination. There is narrative throughout, this is *her* story! And can the executives not read the pain and complication here? And the bit about Esau, which runs throughout this writer’s piece, it’s a parallel, can’t they see?

And the waste of time and money and goodwill in destroying new books — accepted and cleared by the Historical Commission and already printed — and reprinting! And to simply “regret” that the “urgent timeline” didn’t allow for “personal conversations directly with the author, editor, and others involved”? This is tepid almost beyond belief. Perhaps it felt urgent then, but in the interval between when the action was taken and the need to explain themselves as leaders became apparent, there was plenty of time in which I, for example, could have been consulted. I could have helped them read this passage properly, could have explained why it belonged. Could have tried to make them see that this collection of life-writing is, essentially, historical document. The decision was wrong, the process was wrong. And there could have been conversation!

And saddest of all, for me, is the notoriety now given to a small portion, which the majority of readers — I’m convinced — would have understood as a part of one woman’s story, would have “let it be” whether they agreed or not. In the Editor’s note at the front of the book I said, “To be public with it [each woman’s story] carries some risk…and so my invitation to every reader is to listen well–with gratitude and interest, and without judgment–to the variety of voices here, and to each unique expression on the theme.” These stories deserve to be heard, each is unique, and somehow I can’t help feeling the book has been devalued and that the others will not be heard. I hope I’m wrong, that many will still buy the book and listen carefully — without judgment. (And, for those interested, the missing pages are available online to be read there.)

I am responding with passion about this, yes, for all the above reasons, and perhaps, my “unusual step,” like theirs. I wish I could weep but this has hollowed me out.

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Jon Brandt July 6, 2022 - 11:36

So disappointing. The MBs have continued to deny the moving of the Spirit. I’m grateful I have found other Mennonites more willing to engage in a communal hermeneutic and listen to God speaking through God’s people. ‘Your daughters shall prophesy’ has been ignored for decades. This control of power from the centre is symptomatic of the rot eating away at this denomination from the inside.

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Peter July 6, 2022 - 15:00

This is such a travesty. Shame on the Mennonite Brethren denomination. I am saddened that the churches of my youth have doubled down on misogynistic and homophobic doctrines that only serve to divide the body of Christ, rather than to unite it. I am not joking when I say that it is the continued sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and general disdain for the poor that has driven me out of the church.

Let me be clear: I am no longer a Christian precisely because of actions like these. What did Jesus say? “Leave town and shake the dust off your feet?” Consider it done, and with pleasure.

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Lee July 6, 2022 - 16:31

So a woman’s voice was silenced in a book commissioned to feature women’s voices. Sadly, this seems to be indicative of the struggle women continue to face in this Conference. This article leaves out the fact that 270 copies of the book printed with the objectionable 3 pages were destroyed at the CCBMC office. This article’s claim that the censored 3 pages would reinforce the “damaging stereotype that embracing women in leadership leads necessarily to an affirming stance on gay marriage for Christians” portrays a need to hyper-control messaging and infantilizes the book’s readers. I do not think that the three pages that were censored, which can be found at the link below, are “a mini-theology essay advocating for a type of LGBTQ+ inclusion.” The author clearly talks about her experience of wrestling with matters of LGBTQ+ inclusion as analogous to her experience of having an evolving understanding of women in leadership as a result of study, discernment and practicing a community hermeneutic. The censored pages also explore what it means to struggle with deep cultural questions in light of Scripture and to hold safe space for real dialogue among Christians who have different understandings of the Bible. The fact that MB leadership did not have a personal conversation directly with the author, editor, and others involved is yet another example of what I have seen as anxiety and a utilitarian ethic that sees the upholding of current Confessional convictions as the supreme goal, resulting in a disregard of relationship. To me, these are not the actions of a Conference committed to God’s dream of shalom – peace in all our relations. Being a Christian (individual, church, or Conference) is about more than rigidly defending what you think are right beliefs. I urge those who were part of this decision to move beyond a mere expression of “regret” and to consider confession and repentance for this disrespectful process. Sadly, the handling of this situation misses the mark. https://timetotellcanada.blogspot.com/2022/06/read-missing-pages-from-new-book-on.html

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Craig Cressman Anderson July 6, 2022 - 16:33

Thank you for publishing Dora Dueck’s heartfelt eloquent response. Please resist pressure to remove it!

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Lori Matties July 6, 2022 - 16:58

This official response shows again how little understanding these decision makers have of the issue of women in ministry and the experiences these women have had to endure as they have tried to follow the call and invitation of God for their work. I doubt there are many pastors of any gender who have not had to navigate the growing questions about inclusion within the church. Mary Anne was brave enough to describe what this journey has been like for her. It is very much a story about being a woman in leadership. I, to, am disappointed and angry that her experience has been silenced. I can only conclude that such silencing is a reaction of fear toward the inevitable reinterpretation of what it means to be faithful in the context of our age.

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Jeff Taylor July 6, 2022 - 19:04

Whenever any change is at hand the more cautious of us warn of “slippery slopes,” as if all change leads to an unstoppable slide downwards into depravity. But that’s just not true. Change can just as easily take us a step further upwards, nearer to the mind of God whose thoughts are not always our thoughts. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, love, and a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

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Tanya Ratzlaff July 6, 2022 - 21:50

This is disappointing and sadly, expected from Mennonites in Canada. Women have been censored for centuries and there’s finally an opportunity to hear their voices…yet they’re censored once again?!

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Walter Thiessen July 7, 2022 - 12:12

The grace and humility that was apparent in the pages that were so unfortunately deleted are a contrast to the lack of grace and humility in this official response from the CCMBC. That contrast speaks for itself. Thanks to you, Dora Dueck, for your heartfelt words in reply.

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Ryan Kargel July 8, 2022 - 11:34

It seems to me the unanimity of these comments is indicative of a greater problem. Some leadership in the conferences may not be headed in the same direction as many of the members. We are ready for this conversation. It isn’t a danger to our faith, and we are not afraid. Open discussion is part of who we are, and in 2022 this discussion is now critical to our peacemaking doctrines. As we have too-recently learned, people of the LGBT community are not the “other”, but are our parents, siblings, friends, and partners. They are us. The community isn’t going to magically vanish and save us the trouble of self-evaluation and critique. While the denomination is somehow still debating whether girls can be trusted on stage, the rest of us are generations past that question, and have become eager for even more inclusiveness. Openness of narrative should dominate here.

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Bryan Born July 8, 2022 - 17:20

At the risk of facing considerable opposition, I thought I would stumble into this extremely treacherous minefield of a discussion. I’ll begin with a few observations. First, it appears the author of the disputed piece has accomplished what every author desires when they write for the public – lots of people are reading those three pages. Probably far more than would have ever read it had it not been excised from the book. Second, a quick perusal of the comments section here, and at other sites, would indicate that she has garnered considerable support for her position. Third, we are in a place where it has become extremely difficult to have a serious conversation about the merits or demerits of what she has written. However, instead of the commenting on the editorial process, the recall, or the way it’s being used to promote or discredit certain views, I want to address the content of those pages, in particular, the references to two passages of Scripture.

Here’s my brief perspective on the author’s use of Genesis 27 (story of Esau’s ‘blessing’ from Isaac), and I Samuel 8 (where God grants Israel’s request for a king). To be frank, I am somewhat surprised that anyone would seriously use these texts to argue for an inclusive position in terms of accepting sexual intimacy outside of a covenantal relationship between a man and woman. Consider for a moment the character of Esau. I’m quite sure that he is not included in any list of the ‘heroes of the faith.’ Do you really want to make Esau your exemplar? And even more concerning, study the ‘blessing’ he received. Personally, if I had been him, I’d go have taken a hard pass on that ‘blessing’.

When it comes to Israel’s request for a king (I Samuel 8), I suppose it is a little more ambiguous, but certainly not an unqualified endorsement. Through the prophet Samuel, God warned the Israelites that it would be a disaster: “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you on that day” (I Sam. 8:18). Clearly this prophecy was fulfilled in Israel’s history. And yet, someone would argue that this passage is an appropriate passage to bolster their position? I find that rather bewildering. Perhaps there are more compelling biblical arguments for making a fundamental theological/ethical change from what the church has believed and taught regarding this topic for millennia? If so, I would suggest that those promoting a progressive position on this topic, and others, work harder at developing a biblical apologetic. Unless, of course, what the Bible has to say on this topic and others is no longer their concern.

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Geoff Dueck Thiessen July 9, 2022 - 12:09

When confessions of faith and pastoral credentials are weaponized; when censorship is used as thought control for the preservation of a theology rooted in “what has always been”…this is when a new reformation is called for. What kept me in the MB world was opportunities to work out my own faith through inquiry within a safe community at MBBC/Concord/CMU. There is still opportunity for us to see the violence here and shift, but it must be done quickly as lines have now been crossed which signal that we have more than ever traded plow shares back in for weapons.

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Sue Sorensen July 10, 2022 - 00:40

Editor Dora Dueck’s impassioned, intelligent, and committed response is in stark contrast to the patronizing and offhand tone of the official statement. This does seem to be one of those “one step forward, seven steps back” moments in the institutional church. The boards’ action speaks loudly about the silencing of women past and present and the very-much-related silencing of other marginalized and disempowered individuals and communities. It is a blessing that Christ’s church can be found everywhere and is not confined within narrow walls and narrower ideas.

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Tim Neufeld July 12, 2022 - 00:28

Commenting from south of the border here… All excellent points in the above comments. One of the most interesting pieces in this statement is the very conspicuous defense (as part of a larger justification) that the Executive Boards are “made up of men and women leaders.” This seems an odd thing to lead with. Yet, a quick check of the directories on both the CCMBC and USMB websites reveals some telling data. Of the 20 CCMBC Executive Board members, six are women (30%). Of the 18 USMB Leadership Board members, just two are women (11%). Both national directors are men. On the American side of the table, all the board offices (chair, vice chair, etc.) are held by men, as are the pastoral positions (five district ministers). At a study conference in January of 2019, the USMB leadership doubled down on the assertion that women cannot be ordained, yet adamantly pronounced a new era of opportunity for women (just not as lead pastors), conveying affirmation in all other roles. The dismal data above points to a very different and gloomy reality for MB women. And the contradictory message that women are valued but only up to a certain point is further fortified in the decision to censure a woman’s personal experience, then release a statement of justification rather than an apology. Which, in the end, makes this book profoundly important, beyond anything the creators ever could have foreseen.

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Laura Kalmar July 13, 2022 - 08:58

I recognize that our current culture makes it extremely challenging to be a leader, with secularization, intense polarization and pressures on so many fronts. But the leadership of the church needs to do better – to be a witness of community at its best, to have enough courage to engage in tough conversations, to be messengers of Jesus’ gospel of reconciliation.

I disagree with the decision made by the boards to remove part of Mary Anne’s story from On Holy Ground. And I take issue with the process.

The fact that the editor, writer and other contributors were not informed of the decision is simply unacceptable. The manuscript was available far before it went to print (I know my chapter was edited and ready to go almost a year ago), suggesting there was ample time to review and make decisions using appropriate processes, including consultation and conversation rather than last-minute reaction.

Did board members even have a chance to read the whole book? I would plead with each one to read the whole volume to fully understand the experiences recorded. These are critical voices – reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit among us as Mennonite Brethren – and should not be dismissed. These are enlightening journeys. And I know that each one (mine included) was submitted with some fear and trepidation, knowing our stories could be dissected, judged, ignored or dismissed. Which is, sadly, exactly what happened.

The act of silencing voices and creating a culture of fear has created a toxic environment within our denomination, resulting in the departure of many fine and godly leaders. I believe this grieves the heart of God, who calls us to a posture of love, faithfulness and reconciliation (which, ironically, was the very message of Mary Anne’s story).

In the 2018 CCMBC board review, moderator Bruce Enns outlined several commitments, including: 1) endeavour to create a culture where people feel heard; and 2) commit to changing our posture toward those who disagree with us, and strive to be more humble in engaging with them. The process by which content was removed from On Holy Ground without consultation has made a mockery of these commitments.

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Annette Vogt July 14, 2022 - 11:00

As an ethinic Mennonite, I’m embarrassed, once again, to read about such a powerplay and to be associated with such a narrow minded, judgemental group. Such disrespectful actions by those who feel they represent God and the church is surely a sign of deep insecurity in ones faith. God’s spirit and grace is ubiquitous…far-reaching. Those who waste their effort, in God’s name, to shut down stories of grace and peacemaking are sadly misguided and stand in the way of promoting a faith worth joining.

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James Klassen July 16, 2022 - 09:21

I remember (in the sense of historical memory) that once upon a time Mennonites were the derided because they didn’t fit the categories of their Age – because they chose to stand against the status quo, holding that true evangelical faith meant clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, caring for the destitute. They knew what it meant when the prophets reminded ancient Israel about their obligations to the “widow and the orphan”, code language in the first Testament for the marginalized. Standing where our Mennonite forebears did perhaps wasn’t intended as a political act, but it had enormous political implications, and they paid for it with their lives. And they did this with outstretched hands to help their enemies, even as their enemies confiscated and burned their books (“Joriaen Simons Burned”, The Martyrs Mirror; Part II, p. 179, 1685 ed.). This I remember, with gratitude.

That was then. Today, we seem to have forgotten. We are beset with amnesia. We have forgotten Matthew 25 and Jesus’ story of the sheep and goats, where the question posed to the characters in the story is not whether they believed the right things but about how they treated those who lived on the margins. In our forgetting we have moralized faith to extremes. Now, what we believe appears to be more important than how we behave. We are no longer known as a people who clothed the naked, fed the hungry, and welcomed the stranger. Now, we are known for our ‘right beliefs’. And, it would appear, we are pretty vigilant about that.

In the 1991 film “Hook”, a grown-up Peter Pan has gone corporate. He has forgotten who he is and now is all about making the deal. He is angry, aggressive, conniving. He has become a “taker”. But when he and his family travel to London for Christmas to see his aunt Wendy, she confronts him. “Peter, you’ve become a pirate.”

Perhaps amnesia can lead to piracy.

Let’s not become pirates. Welcome others as Christ has welcomed you (Paul).

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