Readers write: November 24, 2014 issue

November 19, 2014 | Viewpoints | Number 23

‘Open invitation’ leaves reader saddened and disturbed

Re: “Come out: An open invitation,” Oct. 13, page 14.

When reading the Oct.13 issue of Canadian Mennonite, I felt sad and disturbed. What is happening in our churches? Are our members also becoming as sex-crazy as society already is? In the beginning, God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

May the Lord have mercy.

Mary Giesbrecht Friesen, Winnipeg

Atmosphere still ‘poisonous’ for many LGBTQ people and their allies

Re: “Come out: An open invitation,” Oct. 13, page 14.

I appreciate Carl DeGurse’s desire to develop relationships and take the conversation about sexuality beyond theory. Many people’s views, my own among them, have changed and grown as a result of such relationships. At the same time, I don’t think he appreciates just how poisonous the atmosphere is in many communities and churches, both for those who identify as lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer (LGBTQ) and for those who are their allies.

Openly expressing support for LGBTQ identities in our community led to verbal attacks from fellow church members and community members. In one meeting, a person spent a half-hour telling me how I was corrupting children, before “giving” me the verse about those who cause a little one to stumble would be better off being killed. Such violent views are not uncommon.

Christians and Mennonites, in particular, led the charge against Bill 18 here in Manitoba a year ago, a bill—now law—that defines bullying in the school context, and which, among other provisions, requires schools to allow student clubs that aim to promote understanding and awareness of, and respect for, various people, including those of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations.

I am glad to hear that some congregations, and even area churches, have experienced more positive responses, but the coast is not clearing for LGBTQ Mennonites in many churches and communities. In some cases, the Being a Faithful Church process has, in fact, increased the repression and the oppression.

Peter Wohlgemut, Altona, Man.

Does out of the closet mean out of the church?

Re: “The ‘preferred model’ not the reality for all” column by Rudy Peters, Sept 15, page 15.

To be clear, this article is about homosexuality, right? It’s surprising that a column could be written with the intent of addressing homosexuality without actually mentioning the word. The passive style of Peters’ argumentation leaves the reader to infer his intended recommendation. He suggests that church members who join the military are not welcome, but if they repent and choose a path of nonviolence, then they may be accepted back. We can extend this logic to conclude that, according to Peters, if homosexuals choose a life of celibacy, they can also be accepted by the Mennonite church. However, if they want to live in a meaningful same-sex relationship, they’re out.

Mennonites are clearly split on the issue of same-sex relationships, so how do core biblical commandments address this issue? Sexuality is not addressed in the Ten Commandments, and when Jesus was asked which commandment was most important, he said, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,’ and secondly, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ” This commandment of love was part of Jesus’ revolutionary welcoming message that singlehandedly debunks Peters’ recommendation of exclusion.

The “different way” Jesus asks us to follow is by demonstrating unconditional love to our neighbours, and being in relationship is how humans articulate that love.

Rather than excluding interested church builders, inclusion will ensure the continued relevance and growth of the church while staying in line with Jesus’ core precepts.

Travis Martin, Vancouver

Memories of painful events can make us more empathetic

Re: “Bearing the burden of memory pain,” Sept. 29, page 4.

Henry Neufeld’s discussion is well balanced and very helpful. You can’t forget the bad things, the painful events, the tragedies that have happened in your life, but we need to be reminded that those events need not define who we are, that we need not be trapped as a victim of those painful memories. In fact, those experiences can make us more compassionate, more understanding and more empathetic.

I especially liked the visual image accompanying the article on page 5. Those tiny tacks have imprisoned the heart and leave no room for the heart to grow or move ahead. With the page turn, though, there should have been another image of that heart with the tacks turned and pushed into the surface, a visual illustration of the fact that the memories are still there and are a part of who we are, but they no longer imprison our heart.

Thanks for all the good work!

Joyce Reesor, Corner Brook, N.L.

Termination of Darryl Klassen ‘simply illogical’

Re: “MCC B.C. ‘refocusses’ Aboriginal Neighbours program, releases staff,” Oct. 13, page 6.

As a former employee of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) B.C. and a colleague of Aboriginal Neighbours program coordinator Darryl Klassen, this news makes me both sad and angry. In the 17 years that I worked alongside him, I can confidently say that his work was done with integrity and a profound sensitivity that garnered him respect with indigenous and Mennonite people alike. I know that his absence will be deeply felt. I simply cannot understand how the staff and board at MCC B.C. would choose to release a 24-year veteran of this work, work to which they claim to be committed.

Why would leadership at MCC B.C. even consider applying a settler goals-oriented process to an aboriginal relationship-based program? To do so goes against MCC B.C.’s own stated commitment to “fostering respectful relations and understanding with aboriginal people.”

How does one define “results”? How does one quantify years of patient bridgebuilding? Is the fostering of genuine, meaningful relationships in communities that have experienced deep hurts not a “result”? Does the participation of Mennonites in events as significant as last year’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission not count?

If the leadership of MCC B.C is truly “reaffirming its commitment to indigenous relations,” then how are they going to do this without experienced staff? Why on earth would they fire the very person who has fostered this work and built these relationships for the past 24 years? It is simply illogical. Shouldn’t they be asking him to stay even beyond his retirement to nurture and mentor someone to take his place so that this work can continue seamlessly?

Finally, the fact that there has been no communication with indigenous partners regarding the decision to let Klassen go seems to show little understanding of the nature of indigenous relations work. If MCC B.C leadership does not understand this, then its expressed commitment to this work is nothing more than lip service. The decisions made by board and staff have already cost my friend and colleague his job; to dismiss him one year before retirement is unconscionable. My fear is that these decisions will spell the end of 24 years of work done with integrity by a man who actually did understand the community he served.

Angelika Dawson, Abbotsford, B.C.

Graphic designer offers her thoughts on church communications

Re: “Improving church communications,” Oct. 13, page 10.

I would like to offer my thoughts about hiring and working with graphic designers:

• Communication is the most important part of the project. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is overlooked by people as they rush toward deadlines or have a favourite style. A professional graphic designer will discuss not only your project itself, but your long-term goals, church demographics, the design process, and, of course, money. If you only have $500 to spend on a website, but also want a logo, it might be time to rethink what you need. Even if you hire a self-employed designer and get a non-profit rate, your budget for the project will still restrict what you can achieve. Talk to the designer about budget constraints; he/she is trained to find creative solutions within tight parameters.

• Content definitely needs to be in place. It is difficult for a designer to create a newsletter or brochure when the text is still being written. You can see a proof of the design with fake text in place, but it’s better for you to have your text ready for the designer to use. Content is the most important part of your piece because it, not the background colour, will convey the information to your readers.

• More people, more problems. Getting the entire church to give feedback on a logo is a headache waiting to happen. There will always be people opposed to any design, and it will cost the church to continually make alterations. A better option is to do a survey beforehand of the congregation’s likes, dislikes and hopes for a cohesive visual identity. This is valuable information that helps the designer understand your church. Feedback on design should always be done with a smaller group of people. Again, it’s important to discuss this with the designer at the first meeting.

• Hire a designer whom you trust. When hiring a designer, you hire a person who is trained to find solutions for communications problems. A designer looks at the big picture, not just a single element, and is an invaluable source of information as you cultivate your church’s communications. Think about building trust with this person as you invest your time, expertise and money in each other.

Karen Allen, Winnipeg
Karen Allen operates her own graphic design firm (www.karenallendesign.com).

Unity must not be allowed to hold truth hostage

Re: “What is truth?” feature, Oct. 27, page 4.

Truth is to be distinguished from knowledge, and truth must exist apart from human knowledge for people to be able to know it.

Dave Rogalsky concludes with what he believes to be a truth: “In the postmodern era, many have given up on finding absolute truth,” which is a statement that he believes truth exists in and of itself, and people can seek to find it or know it, but many have given up on finding it.

All truth arises in and from the self-existent, infinite Creator God. He is “the truth.” Jesus Christ identified with this truth when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

On the other hand, the enemy of God, the devil, is the origin of falsehood: “All of you are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father all of you will do” (John 8:44).

All knowledge of truth arises in and from the self-knowing, infinite Creator God, which is why “[t]he fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).

Therefore, it is extremely important that we come to know the truth. It is only in the knowledge of truth that we are set free from ignorance, darkness and falsehood: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Willard Metzger, Mennonite Church Canada’s executive director, was wrong when he appealed to us to pursue “a unity that was not based on finding ‘the truth.’ ” Because truth and falsehood are opposites, and knowledge and ignorance are mutually exclusive, it is foolishness to throw out truth and knowledge of the truth for the sake of unity.

“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14).

When we find ourselves in despair of knowing the truth, as many do today, we find the answer in the work of the Holy Spirit of God in us. “Nevertheless when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth. . .” (John 16:13).

Steve Swires (online comment)

--Posted November 19, 2014

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Comments

Mary Giesbrecht Friesen writes (November 24, 2014) that "In the beginning, God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Very true, the Bible does say that. God also told Adam and Eve to go forth an multiply, which they did. Their sons and daughters then continued to multiply by having sex with one another (there was, after all, no one else around). Does this Biblical fact mean that God wants us to commit incest? That's the problem with literal approaches to scripture such as Giesbrech Friesen's: they lead to absurdities.

Literal approaches do not lead to absurdities, unless you want them to. Adam and Eve were brother and sister, yes? or even closer than that. God gave them to each other. It was not until after the flood, that we see distinctions made about not marrying siblings, and even the promise of God was given to Abraham and Sarah, who were half siblings, and lived to 175 and 127 years old, but took almost 80 years to have a son together. But later God refined some rules, perhaps due to the influence of deteriorating genetics, which was not such an issue at the beginning. None of this seems absurd to me.
The comparison to homosex is absurd. Homosex was prohibited from the beginning, and also in the new testament. No changes there. Not because of health issues, but because it goes against God's created purposes and design. Some things such as circumcision, unclean foods and unclean people were treated differently in the new testament. Other things such as lying, stealing, idolatry, adultery, fornication and homosex were not treated differently, but were reinforced.

John Zylstra's online comment entitled "Adam's sons and daughters" perfectly exemplifies the folly of interpreting scripture literally: it leads him, for example, to claim that the Biblical characters of Adam and Eve were brother and sister, which no theologian worth his or her salt would endorse.

Literal interpretation is both shallow and easy: it requires no thought, just the mere ability to read words on a page. Even the Bible itself acknowledges that it employs "allegories" (Galatians 4:24), "examples" (1 Corinthians 10:6), and "parables" (Mark 4:33). Jesus says, for example, that the kingdom of heaven is "LIKE" a mustard seed -- not that it actually IS a mustard seed. Are we to think that when Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son he is actually talking about a REAL father and son that he knew down the street? In other words, is that parable a news item or is it a metaphor? Are we to understand it literally or figuratively?

One final example: Mark says that Jesus's last words on the cross were "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"; Luke says his last words were "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit"; and John says his last words were "It is finished." Obviously not all three of these can be the literal "truth." Rather, each one provides a different figurative perspective on the event in question.

Actually, come to think of it, one more example. Genesis says that God created humanity in "HIS own image." Read literally, this passage indicates that God is male. God therefore must have a penis and scrotum. Is that what Biblical literalists want us to believe? Or are the literalists willing to distinguish gender identity from anatomical sex?

In short, be not affeard: our ability to interpret things, including scripture, is a human gift, one that the Creator wants us to exercise.

Should we take the word of God to mean what it says? That is the oldest question in the history of man. When God created man and put him in the garden of Eden, “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die."” (Genesis 2:16,17) Very soon, the first question recorded was whether man should take the word of God literally. Should man take the simple route and understand God's word to mean what it said, or did God intend for man to go to great lengths to evaluate it and find the true deeper meaning by using his great intellect to interpret it?
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any animal of the field which the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’" The woman said to the serpent, "Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’" The serpent said to the woman, "You won’t surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."” (Genesis 3:1-6). The serpent (Satan) offered an interpretation based on the assumption that there was applicable information that they were not aware of, and Eve accepted it, but in the end, it turned out that God had meant what He said. They died spiritually because they listened to Satan and didn't take God's word literally, and the whole human race has suffered the consequences.
When God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after our likeness.”, He meant that literally too. If we take the time to read about the nature of God, we find in John 4:24, “God is a spirit, and they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” God meant what He said literally: however, it was to be understood that man was made in the spiritual image and likeness of God. God literally uses words that are commonly used to describe physical things to also describe spiritual things.
And, yes, obviously God sometimes used metaphor and illustration, but He still said what He meant and meant what He said.
In the New Testament, when quoting or referring to Scripture, Jesus Christ always took God's word to mean what it said. In Matthew 4:4 He stood up to Satan's temptation by quoting Scripture with a literal meaning and application,
“He answered and said, "It is written, MAN SHALL NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.' "
Then, the New Testament writers when quoting or referring to Scripture took God's word to mean what it said. In reference to the writings of Paul, which were very thorough and rich in their teaching, Peter warns in 2 Peter 3:16, “as also in all his letters, speaking in them about these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”
We clearly see from Scripture that Christ and His true followers take God at His word, while Satan and his followers twist the Scriptures and interpret them to suit their own purposes.

My apologies to Mark Morton. My statement about Adam and Eve being brother and sister was a figure of speech; obviously they did not have human parents.

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