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Readers write: October 23, 2017 issue

Oct 18, 2017 | Volume 21 Issue 20

‘Shared land’ event deserved front-page coverage
Re: “Shared land’ event photo, Aug. 28, back cover.
I was rather set back by the minimal attention you gave to an event at Ancient Echoes Interpretive Centre in Herschel, Sask. This is of front-page importance, not a back-page afterthought.

I have been there on various occasions over the years, as well as this one, and find this an outstanding venture of recognizing the activities of the past by our gracious hosts. These rocks have been preserved for us to recognize because they are located in a ravine that cannot be cultivated.

In this era of seeking to build bridges of healing and reconciliation, we have no greater mandate than to strive ever stronger to cross that “great divide” that separates our two cultures. We need to recognize how God has been speaking through the ages in other forms; not only how he has, and is, speaking through us. The prayers that have been uttered around this rock, estimated to date back as far as 5,000 years, is phenomenal!
—Henry Neufeld, Winnipeg

 

Sorrow over the Holocaust a better starting place than accusations
Re: “Nazi denialism must end” letter, Sept. 25, page 10.
I am surprised at the response of Ben Goossen to Barb Draper’s review of his book. She raises the issue of Mennonite motivation during the Second World War, especially among Mennonites in the Soviet Union. Did they support the occupying regime because they believed in the Nazi ideology or out of anti-Soviet sentiment?

While Goossen is right that Mennonites collaborated with the occupying forces in Ukraine, I’ve found little evidence of widespread support of Nazi ideology among this group of Mennonites. As Holocaust scholarship has shown, people collaborated for a variety of reasons: some out of necessity, others out of boredom, for material benefit, and some on the basis of ideology. Goossen’s insistence on the primacy of ideology obscures the broader and more important point that Mennonite labour was significant in building the administrative system that allowed for the destruction of Jews in Ukraine. Even if they did not believe in these ideas, their actions helped to support them. From this point we can no longer hide.

This, however, does not mean that we should ignore the difference between sympathy and benefit. Many of those who benefitted never expressed any support for these ideas; on the contrary, they remembered the treatment of their neighbours, both Jewish and Ukrainian, with deep sorrow.

Instead of starting the conversation on Mennonite culpability in the Holocaust in Ukraine with accusations, perhaps we should begin with this sorrow. While it cannot undo what has been done, it might remind those of us prone to indignation and judgment to remember to add a little humility as we encourage others to address these painful issues.
—Aileen Friesen, Waterloo, Ont.

Aileen Friesen is the J. Winfield Fretz Visiting Research Scholar in Mennonite studies at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo.

 

One letter doesn’t prove Mennonites are in denial
Re: “Nazi denialism must end” letter, Sept. 25, page 10.
Canadian Mennonite publishes one letter to the editor describing a personal experience under Nazi occupation (“Ukrainian survivors rebut ‘Aryan’ claims,” Nov. 7, 2016) and Ben Goossen concludes that Canadian Mennonites are in denial about their involvement in Nazism.

That pretty well describes the method used in his book as well. All of the evidence Goossen uses to makes his case that some Canadian Mennonites supported Nazism is from published, easily accessible works: the books of Frank Epp, for example, or the Journal of Mennonite Studies. I suppose “published” no longer counts as “public.”

I find curious Goossen’s claim that there was no “pro-Nazi movement” among U.S. Mennonites, but that there has nevertheless been a “robust public reckoning.” Where? When? In his book, the almost total absence of “U.S.-based” Mennonites—more than half of all Mennonites in the early 20th century—is strange. Have U.S. Mennonites entirely transcended their “racialized” identity?

Obviously, the impact of John Howard Yoder has been more profound and successful than I had realized. Goossen might have acknowledged the positive influence of leaders like Yoder, and given us a few more examples of how Mennonites have moved beyond a racialized identity. Or does Goossen believe it’s impossible for us to do so?
—Richard Ratzlaff, Toronto, Ont.

Richard Ratzlaff is a member of Toronto United Mennonite Church. He worked at the University of Toronto Press for 11 years, during which time he was responsible for Jacob Neufeld’s Path of Thorns, Anne Konrad’s Red Quarter Moon, and P.R. Magocsi’s A History of Ukraine, all quoted or cited by Goossen in his book Chosen Nation.

 

Mennonites have a long history of responding to those in need
Re: Now is the time to respond,” Sept. 11, page 14.

Thank you for carrying Will Braun’s very moving report on the devastation being suffered by Mennonites in the Congo, as well as many others there.

Obviously our concern should not be restricted to fellow Mennonites, but we can draw inspiration from the long history of Mennonites in one country helping those in another. The biggest such effort relates to those in the Soviet Union nearly 100 years ago, but already in the late 1700s Dutch Mennonites sent relief and did lobbying on behalf of those persecuted in Switzerland.

Can that history prompt us to respond substantially and imaginatively to Mennonites and others in the Congo? The methods would be different, but the need is enormous, and we have significant resources. 
—Bill Janzen, Ottawa

 

Readers respond  to Maple View’s paid supplement on sexuality
Re: “Honour God with Your Bodies” insert, Sept. 25.

I encourage Maple View Mennonite Church to prayerfully reconsider the statement on sexuality that was distributed with Canadian Mennonite on Sept. 25. Although it’s striking to find a “reference statement” on sexuality that has almost nothing to say about love, I am particularly concerned about the implications of the comments it contains about intersex people:

  • First, the statement incorrectly defines what the word “intersex” means. I plead with all people who want to express opinions about sexuality to take the time to learn the meaning of the words being used. There is more information available at isna.org.
  • Second, the statement uses the existence of intersex people as a particular example of living in a fallen world, which is a non-biblical idea. Nowhere does Scripture suggest that we can see sin in the shape of people’s genitals. If biological variation in sex at birth is viewed as sin, what other physical and chromosomal differences in our church family might be viewed the same way?
  • Third, by claiming that it is the Fall that results in the birth of intersex people, the statement suggests that sin itself shapes human creation, rather than God. This is another non-biblical idea, standing against Psalm 139:13, which says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

 I am happy to affirm that it’s not the Fall that shapes each of us, but God alone, and God is evidently satisfied with a creation that is full of difference and diversity. 

Jesus teaches that all the law and the prophets hang on the commandments that call us to love (Matthew 22:34-40), and so our view of sexuality cannot just be considered in terms of legalism and sin, but must hang on love.
—Matthew Froese, Hamilton, Ont.

 

Earlier today, I opened up the latest mailed issue of Canadian Mennonite, as I always have, and browsed through until I reached the paid supplement from Maple View Mennonite Church. Near the end, it stated, “We recognize it may spur diverse responses.”

Here’s one: I have cancelled my subscription. If I wanted another reiteration of annotated, cross referenced, proof-texted, footnoted “scriptural truths,” I would have asked for one. I didn’t. I didn’t, because I’m already familiar with all the arguments that uphold traditional perspectives ‘in love.’

These interpretations kill people. I don’t let weapons that can kill into my house, and CM snuck one in without me knowing it was coming. For shame. I’m done.
—Benjamin Wert, Toronto

 

I was stunned that Canadian Mennonite allowed Maple View Mennonite Church to do an end-run around its editorial process by publishing this congregation’s “paid supplement.” Apparently, one can write a passive-aggressive rant to attack our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, substantiated by nothing more than a few proof texts and condescending self-righteousness, and get it published—as long as it’s accompanied by a cheque! This “supplement” is in complete contradiction to the spirit of the Being a Faithful Church resolution adopted at Assembly 2016 and should have been refused outright.

Canadian Mennonite should apologize to its constituency and make amends by donating the money received from Maple View to an organization such as the Brethren and Mennonite Council for LGBT Concerns.
—Barry Ésau, Gatineau, Qué.

 

I was deeply saddened and profoundly confused to read the paid statement from Maple View Mennonite Church.

In her editorial in the same issue, Virginia A. Hostetler challenged us to move “beyond judgment to a posture of listening and caring,” and to provide “gracious space for the other.” I agree completely. I am indeed keen to stretch myself, to understand better the convictions of my fellow Mennonites, to build understanding where currently we disagree. But sadness and confusion set in when I read Maple View’s reference paper.

The Being a Faithful Church recommendations advocate for ongoing unity and dialogue in spite of theological differences, but Maple View expresses dismay at them. Is it saying that it doesn’t want to engage in further dialogue? That it has arrived at truth, and is done listening? I want to dialogue, but dialogue can’t work that way.

And in the midst of this confusion, it baffles me that Canadian Mennonite would accept payment and print this statement. In this issue, you asked readers to quest for unity in Christ. I wonder if publishing a creed in the midst of disagreement is more likely to cause disunity. By publishing it, I ask you to consider your role in furthering disunity and perpetuating the ongoing oppression of our LGBTQ community.
—Margaret Andres, Waterloo, Ont.

 

I lament that Maple View Mennonite Church probably considers this insert an affirming (of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” variety) document of LGBTQ people, intended to lovingly chide those of us who have fallen into bad theology back onto the straight and narrow again. (Admission: Ten years ago, I would have agreed with most of Maple View’s sentiments. That was before I knew of any friends or family members who were LGBTQ.)

I lament that once again my LGBTQ friends and family members are reeling from the emotional and spiritual violence of this document. Their entire identities have been trashed again. All of us are broken, but Maple View’s document makes clear that they are a special kind of broken, unsalvageable unless they take a lifelong vow of celibacy, or go against their natural leanings and enter into a heterosexual marriage, which would apparently honour God—an idea which I do not accept.

I lament the deep irony of this insert being published almost simultaneously with the General Board of MC Canada’s Confession to LGBTQ people, less than two weeks before the Future Directions Special Assembly. This insert stirs up more fear, anger and division that will undoubtedly overshadow the mood at the assembly.

I lament that this vision of sexuality is so narrow as to confine all of us, of whatever sexual or gender identity or sexual orientation, to tired old tropes of what men and women should be and how they should behave.  

I lament that this insert decreases my enthusiasm for Canadian Mennonite, and makes me question whether I should continue to read it at all, when it sustains such ongoing violence against my LGBTQ friends and neighbours, many of whom I’m learning unsubscribed long ago.
—Julie Armes, Kitchener, Ont.

To read the Canadian Mennonite response, go to: www.canadianmennonite.org/canadian-mennonite-responds

 

We welcome your comments and publish most letters from subscribers. Letters, to be kept to 300 words or less, are the opinion of the writer only and are not to be taken as endorsed by this magazine or the church. Please address issues rather than individuals; personal attacks will not appear in print or online. All letters are edited for length, style and adherence to editorial guidelines. Send them to letters@canadianmennonite.org and include the author’s contact information and mailing address. Preference is given to letters from MC Canada congregants.


Comments

I have no desire to continue supporting a Mennonite publication that takes money to allow a church to put forth the type of statement presented by Maple View. The excuse that this somehow follows the intent of the BFC process is ludicrous, especially considering the General Board's confession. Shame on you.
John Harder
Chairperson, Windsor Mennonite Fellowship

I wish to respond to Richard Ratzlaff's letter about the absence of U.S Mennonite support of Nazism. I think the explanation, or at least part of it, is quite simple. In contrast to Russian Mennonite immigrants in Canada, those south of the border did have a German identity forged by the trials of Soviet Communism. Almost all U.S. Russian Mennonites immigrated here in the 1870s and so never really had reason to see Germany as a savior and refuge against anti-German forces. Furthermore, being in the United States for more than 60 years meant weaker connections to a place where few grew up. In the meantime, they had become accultured to various degrees. The U.S. mainstream's condemnations of Hitler and Nazism (who, unlike Russia, was the enemy) and correalating pronouncements of U.S. moral superiority no doubt also made an impact. That's not to say that U.S. Russian Mennonites weren't disturbed by the plight of their brothers and sisters in Russia; it just didn't translate into Nazi support.

I am indebted to Aileen Friesen and Richard Ratzlaff for continuing the conversation about Mennonite-Nazi collaboration in their letters to Canadian Mennonite. In “Sorrow over the Holocaust a better starting place than accusations,” Friesen acknowledges the collaboration of thousands of Mennonites in Ukraine and elsewhere with occupying German forces during the Second World War, noting how their labor helped propel the Nazi war machine and Holocaust.

Friesen suggests that most Mennonites “benefited” from Nazi rule without “sympathizing” with Nazi ideology. Of course, there are many forms of sympathizing; adopting racist terms like Volksdeutsche (“ethnic German”) evinces a different level of support than espousing genocide. Nevertheless, European archives contain numerous wartime documents in which Ukrainian Mennonites welcomed occupation, while sources expressing dismay at Nazi atrocities were mostly produced later.

I agree with Friesen that sorrow is an essential posture from which to consider Holocaust history. But so is “indignation” at the systematic annihilation of European Jews. Who cannot “judge” mass murder? Too often Mennonites displace responsibility for evil onto others—we might benefit from unjust systems, but since we do not sympathize, all that is required is to feel sorry.

Richard Ratzlaff, in “One letter doesn’t prove Mennonites are in denial,” correctly identifies a long history of racism among Mennonites in the United States, including some onetime support for Nazism in my home community of central Kansas. But simply noting racism and inequality—which persist across North America and the world—is not enough.

That is precisely why discussing Mennonite Holocaust involvement in all its forms is so vital. We can be implicated without personally pulling a trigger or even “sympathizing.” I look forward to seeing Friesen in March 2018 at the “Mennonites and the Holocaust” conference in Kansas. I also invite Ratzlaff and others committed to racial justice to attend.

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