Stewards of the conversation

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February 25, 2015 | Editorial | Volume 19 Issue 5
Dick Benner, Editor/Publisher

“Many members are not happy with the direction and general content of the magazine,” writes a Mennonite pastor, in a solicited follow-up note after one of his members cancelled his subscription. The member was unhappy because Canadian Mennonite has put “homosexuality as a priority,” rather than reflecting our church life.

In a further phone conversation, this same pastor found that “particularly new attendees and new Christians find the magazine confusing and less than faith-formational, and also that it has an ‘ethnic-Mennonite’ or ‘cultural Mennonite’ feel to many of its articles, which leaves those without that background on the outside.”

On the other side of the spectrum comes a letter affirming and requesting, “May Canadian Mennonite continue to challenge us [with friction-causing articles] that we may mature and grow in our faith and attitude.”

These two responses are obviously at opposing poles, implying vastly different expectations. One asserts that we are perpetrating a cultural religious ethos over a faith-formational one; the other is affirming our attempts at faith formation and assuming a “growing to maturity” in the faith stance.

Other critics in the past have accused us of devoting too much space to “issues” over the “gospel,” assuming that these are mutually exclusive. In our view, the so-called “issues” are the gospel, basing that assumption on Jesus’ first sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth when, in the social justice parlance of his time, he said his mission was to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). Nothing is more “gospel” than this poignant message with social-justice implications.

In any case, let me make our purpose as a publication clear: We are stewards of the conversation going on, at any given time, of the faith community we serve: the 235 congregations comprising Mennonite Church Canada. We do not make proclamations or consider ourselves the authoritative voice on any given issue.

Our goal is to give voice to all expressions of faith across the spiritual, ethnic, cultural and political spectrum. There are minimum guidelines for contributors (letter-writers and opinion-makers), namely the disclaimer that appears in every issue in our Readers Write section: “Letters are the opinion of the writer only—publication does not mean endorsement by the magazine or church. Address issues rather than individuals. We do not countenance rancour or animosity. Personal attacks are inappropriate and will not see the light of print.”

Or in the wise words of a fellow church-member regarding the present divide on same-sex attraction: “Respect and humility are the cornerstones of this debate.”

Let me make three observations about this present disaffection by some readers:

  • Canadian Mennonite, with its frequency of distribution and major delivery penetration into our homes, becomes an easy target for frustrations, anger and disillusionment with the local church. As a communication vehicle, it is arms-length and distant from any local congregation or conflict. It is much easier and somewhat impersonal to use written words to engage an issue, rather than to first talk to persons in your local congregation and find some common ground to move on—in faith formation.
  • Life in our particular faith community is messy. Solutions are not black and white, but grey and nuanced. If the answers were easy, our faith sojourn would be boring, the landscape barren. No bumps or ditches to overcome. Some of the controversial issues are unique to life in the church of the 21st century. Same-sex attraction and legalized physician-assisted death are just two examples of what our forbears in the faith did not face. It will take respectful conversation to work through the thorns. Again, we consider ourselves stewards of that conversation, not authoritative proclaimers.
  • A mistaken view of our standing in the denomination persists. We are not the official voice of MC Canada and its area churches. While we present official views of MC Canada and are especially supportive of the Being a Faithful Church discernment process, we are not the creators and endorsers of official statements. Structurally, we are not controlled by MC Canada, but rather consider ourselves partners in the fullest sense of the word. The choosing of members for our 12-member governing board is not done by MC Canada, but is done in consultation with them and the area churches. So for readers to assume that our word is that of the official denomination, is a misunderstanding.
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Comments

The above clarification of what this magazine
is or is attempting to be is much appreciated.
That it attempts to give voice to varying
perspectives on various issues, and not
dictate beliefs and skirt all contentions, is
basically what I hope for.

I'm glad that same-sex attraction is currently
a big issue because it's an important one.
There seem to be cycles in which certain issues
become more prominent than others and this is
often good because they often need to be dealt
with. To a significant degree, at least.

Those who want to shove all contentions
under the rug or are embarrassed to talk about
sex and such, would do better to face their own
inner issues, rather than hope it all just goes
away. Silence and changing the topic is
sometimes healthy, but often not.

Issues like homosexuality and what this
magazine should be about are indicative of the
ongoing struggle between those who are more
fundamentalist and those who are more liberal.
MC Canada is on the more liberal end of
Mennonitism, so fundamentalists are slowly
all leaving, it seems, which is good.

Neither MC Canada or the Canadian Mennonite
can be all things to all people. Such attempts
are often made and I think it's often an error.
I respect diplomacy and balance, but
fundamentalism and over-literalism are
aberrations, in my opinion, so it's necessary
that these perspectives are corrected or those
holding them go elsewhere. Do we want to
"save souls" or deal with spirituality and service
on deeper, more meaningful levels?

I find myself wondering if I spoke too strongly, too offensively toward fundamentalists. Can I rewrite this letter?

I've been informed that it is policy to not allow changing or deleting of letters once they've been posted, so I'll have to let my original letter above stand. I have asked that it not be printed in the paper copy of Canadian Mennonite. If they want my opinion there, I can rewrite it for that.

If I spoke too strongly, I apologize. I only wished to indicate that I strongly disagree with many Christian fundamentalist beliefs. In hindsight, I would probably just leave it at that. I don't like to criticize others, though I'm often open to discussing respective beliefs and positions on many issues.

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