Canadian Mennonite
Volume 6, number 7
April 11, 2002

Personal, but not private


The article caught my attention just when I wanted to hear what it said. I'm referring to the article by Leonard Friesen (pages 6-7), which first appeared as a commentary in a local daily.

Almost buried in the avalanche of stories about religiously inspired violence, I was also being dragged down by the implicit accompanying message that religion is largely problematic. It is also part of the answer, countered Friesen as he pointed out the irony of religious fervour flourishing amidst a proposed secular remedy for religion gone awry.

The resurgence of religion is being flagged more broadly in the media. "The rebirth of faith in a material world," was the tag on the front cover of the book review section in the March 30 issue of The Globe and Mail. The cover tag referred to reviews of several books: Divine Hunger: Canadians on Spiritual Walkabout, by Peter C. Emberley, and Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada, by Reginald W. Bibby.

In another prominent example, Canada's weekly newsmagazine, Maclean's, headlined its April 1 cover story as "Living the faith: nine Canadians who put their beliefs into action." The stories profile four Christians, two Jews, an Ismaili Muslim, a Hindu and a native elder.

What's puzzling, however, is how the editor introduces these profiles. They demonstrate, he writes, that "kindness shouldn't be restricted by spiritual divides: those who understand that make their communities better for everyone." Okay. Then he seems to render somewhat tentative and restrictive his point about the social benefit of a "lived faith" by adding: "That's one of the strongest arguments in favour of the separation of church and state. To believe-or not-is a personal matter."

Personal, yes. But not private!

"The earth is the Lord's," according to Psalm 24, "and all that is in it." This foundational belief seeks to realize in all of life the will of the creator. The time-honoured principle of separation of church and state simply ensures that public administration doesn't come under the control of any one religious group, and that governments in turn do not seek to control or oppress religion.

This same principle opens space for religion to connect deeply with its source, and to seek the best intentions of that source for the common, not only the private, good.

-Ron Rempel



New resolve

This issue (page 14) includes yet another story about the financial woes at Mennonite Publishing House. There are also indications of a new resolve to wrestle this venerable agency back to financial health, and to kick-start some new visions about the future of publishing.

The bad news is that debts and unfunded liabilities were allowed to accumulate, even while the church continued to benefit from MPH publications and resources. By guaranteeing loans, both Mennonite Church Canada and USA are mortgaging their own futures and potentially jeopardizing other programs, should MPH default on the loans.

The good news is that the church leaders are taking ownership of the agency, even if through seemingly drastic steps such as taking over the responsibilities of the MPH board. One immediate challenge is to achieve financial stability and to resolve outstanding issues related to the benefits of retired employees and to some 122 debenture note holders.

A second immediate challenge is to put in place the so-called "transformation team" so that any short-term fix-ups can happen with reference to a broader vision.

-Ron Rempel



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