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March 13, 2013 | Viewpoints | Number 6

Indigenous believers must be equals in the church

The death of Richard Twiss, a Lakota from South Dakota who began the indigenous outreach program, Wiconi International, leaves a large gap among those who work to bring indigenous Christians around the world fully into the larger church.

One of those who works at this is Mennonite Church B.C.’s indigenous relations coordinator, Brander McDonald. In his latest blog posting, he challenged our churches that our pastors, chairs and elders are not getting on board with this, let alone enough of the membership. As he said, we need to move beyond our conversations about first nations to conversations with them.

I think part of the problem is that first nations people are too invisible to many of our Mennonite church members. They don’t see them and the need. What they need to learn is that we, as a wider church and nation, cannot receive the blessings God would like to pour out on us if we do not move to grasp the importance of the inclusion of indigenous believers as equals in the church, as opposed to continually seeing them only as objects of mission. I do not believe God can fully bless us as long as we continue in our parallel but separate pathways.

We sometimes have talked historically and in literary circles about the two solitudes in Canada, referring to French and English. I would maintain, along with writer John Ralston Saul in his book Canada, A Fair Country, although he may not use the words there, that there are three solitudes: English, French and first nations. As he described it, we owe a lot more to our first nations neighbours than we realize and have ever shown appreciation for.

We need to continue to pray and work at how we can bridge the gap, achieve reconciliation and then arrive at a place where we are really one church. I know there are those who really believe in this thrust, but I have a feeling that for many in our church it’s truthfully something like McDonald alluded to: “We have this token first nations guy on our staff. Great, he’s doing his job. So we, as a conference, are doing our job. End of story.” As we would say translated from our Plautdietsch: “Not!”

But we do need to have patience, too. Reversing 450 years of alienation does not happen overnight.

Lorne Brandt, Richmond, B.C.

Mennonites work hard so they can be generous

Re: “#IdleNoMore concerns Mennonites too,” Jan. 21, page 34.

Janna and Terrell Wiebe (who are quoted in the story as being sympathetic to Attawapiskat First Nation chief Theresa Spence) have great concern with her obscene salary of over $200,000.

The government of Canada has given Indian Affairs millions. It’s the chiefs and councillors who are responsible for their reserves. The conditions inside their homes are up to the parents.

My father fled Russia, came to Canada and worked, bought a house, raised four children. We all worked to achieve what we have.

Yes, Mennonites contribute care, money and help to many disasters around the world. Don’t get me wrong. I do have compassion and support, and volunteer once a week at Siloam Mission.

Kate Kehler, Winnipeg
The writer is a former member of Springfield Heights Mennonite Church, Winnipeg.

More than politics involved in faith issues

Re: “Dodging the liberal-conservative trap,” Feb. 4, page 27.

The issue for Anabaptists is not one of liberal-conservative polarity, but of faithfulness to our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective and to the creeds. If I confess my faith on Sunday—and mean it—then on Monday support lying as a valid Cabinet ministerial tactic, militarism and glorification of wars present and past, punitive non-shalom approaches to prisons, and lack of hospitality to the alien among us, that’s not a political difference. That’s a Christian confessional disjuncture.

Vern Ratzlaff, Saskatoon

Kudos for speaking out about sexuality

Re: “Let’s talk about it,” Feb. 4, page 34.

Thank you for having the courage and insight to write about youth sexuality. I am a youth sponsor at my church, and am aware that we need guiding voices like yours and those you highlight.

I encourage you to go further and suggest specific resources—people, books, processes, retreats—for congregations to work with. You might go further still, and explore what healthy and faithful sexuality looks like in other contexts beyond early life stages.

Even within heterosexual marriage, couples live with a spectrum of experiences:

  • How many find their sexual lives fulfilling?
  • What is healthy and faithful in that context?
  • What can be done when it’s not working, especially during the years of raising young children?
  • And our congregations include many single adults, both unmarried and previously married. Can we talk about that, too?

Yes, youth sexuality is a hot topic, but if we can’t talk openly about what healthy sex and sexuality mean for adults, it will be hard to have credibility with our youth.

In any case, I applaud your willingness to write about a topic that, in your words, does cause many to squirm.

Alan Armstrong, Toronto

Salvation requires the shedding of blood

Re: “A hijacked faith?’ Feb. 18, page 2.

I just want to make a couple of comments regarding your editorial.

First off, you said that the scientists of Menno Simons’ time had “next to no awareness of climate change . . . .” I think it’d be safe to say that such an issue was not on anybody’s radar in the 16th, 17th, 18th or even 19th century! And some people still fail to see it in the 21st!

You also state, “Even some of our theological concepts are changing. Our view of atonement, say our leading theologians, for instance, should be based more on God being ‘nonviolent’ during the history of his people . . . .” Well, that might be their view, but it’s not the one held by God.

To use a quote by such a respected theologian as Tom Yoder Neufeld certainly gives that opinion some extra weight. He said, “His enemies’ murder of Jesus became God’s love offering.” But has Neufeld ever said why Jesus needed to become such an offering? I can tell you why. God has made it very clear that without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sins.

Things like Noah’s flood, or the killing of every first-born who lived in a house without blood smeared around the front door, were not only extremely violent acts, but they were acts of violence carried out by God himself, personally. It’s not pretty, and it’s not what respectable people like to talk about, but we can’t go trying to “sanitize” something a holy God has ordained.

George Macleod, the founder of the Iona Community, once wrote: “I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek . . . at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died about.”

I have no hope of eternal life without Jesus the Messiah having died in my place. And neither do you.

Pat Murphy, Ayr, Ont.

Guard against arrogance and blindness

Re: “Imagination, hope and peace,” Feb. 18, page 4.

As a Christian who left a mainline church 25 years ago to join the more conservative Mennonite church, I now find myself at the same place again. Twenty-five years have changed my place in the bewildering world of scriptural interpretation. I am reading a book entitled Man and his Gods by Homer W. Smith and I realize the immense complexity of interpreting the Scriptures.

It feels comfortable to associate with people of the same beliefs; it is especially true of religious and political beliefs. Articles like “Imagination, hope and peace” have the tendency to ignite a firestorm, with brothers and sisters shouting at each other, and making plans to exit and join others of the same position.

The truth of the matter is, young people are educated, influenced by the Internet and media, and the understanding of our faith is different now. We must guard ourselves against being so arrogant as to assume that the past has no value, nor so blind that the present has all the answers. We must be humble enough to admit that we—including myself—don’t have all the answers, but we have to learn the truth and the truth will set us free.

I would like to conclude with a Tom Yoder Neufeld quote from his Feb. 4 interview with Canadian Mennonite on page 4: “Resurrection as a ‘symbol’ of hope is not enough. We have hope because of the resurrection. If you take the resurrection out of the equation, there is no math left.”

Frank Hiemstra, Stratford, Ont.

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