Canadian Mennonite
Volume 10, No. 18
September 18, 2006



This section is a forum for discussion and discernment. Letters express the opinion of the writer only, not necessarily the position of Canadian Mennonite, the five area churches or Mennonite Church Canada. Letters should address issues rather than criticizing individuals and include contact information. We will send copies of letters referring to other parties to them to provide an opportunity to respond in a future issue if their views have not already been printed in an earlier letter.

Please send letters to be considered for publication to or to Canadian Mennonite, 490 Dutton Drive, Unit C5, Waterloo, ON, N2L 6H7, “Attn: Letter to the Editor.” Letters may be edited for length, style and adherence to editorial guidelines.

A call to fast this Thanksgiving

I’m passing up the juicy, tasty Thanksgiving turkey this year. After reflecting on my experience as part of a summer Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation to Kenora, Ont., it became apparent to me that what I have always seen as a celebration of thanksgiving for the bounty God has provided us is experienced very differently by our aboriginal neighbours.

I grew up with the Thanksgiving story of early European settlers who were cared for and kept alive by the generosity of North American aboriginal people for the first few winters. That story feels good to me—something to celebrate. Sadly, the story does not end with the first few winters. In return for generosity, we have systematically stolen land, culture and lives.

With an understanding that the land belongs to the Creator, aboriginal people made treaties with European settlers for the sharing of the land. Europeans, on the other hand, staked claims of ownership, denying common use of the land.

Under British law, people native to a colonized land were customarily given rights to land already used for agriculture. Being hunters and gatherers, the aboriginal population in Canada was not considered to have claim to the land that provided their livelihood. The written English version of Treaty 3, which applies to the region surrounding Kenora, recognizes aboriginal rights to small reserves of land to live on and guarantees traditional land use rights in surrounding land “until such time as the crown requires that land for development.” However, aboriginal leaders were told they were agreeing to use of the land “for as long as the rivers flow.” Meaning, one might reasonably conclude, forever.

We have not lived up to our bargain. We passed laws preventing aboriginal participation in certain economic activities, such as market gardening in the early 1900s. We placed aboriginal children in residential schools, depriving them of traditional knowledge and wisdom until the 1970s. We poisoned rivers with mercury, destroying self-sufficient aboriginal commercial fisheries and causing great illness.

It is tempting to play the distancing game that says, “This all happened so long ago, I’m not responsible.” But sadly we continue to take advantage of our aboriginal neighbours. Aboriginal trappers check their government-licenced trap lines to find that government-licenced logging companies have clear-cut the whole area, destroying their livelihood.

The European occupation of North America has so deeply hurt the aboriginal people that it is no wonder some find Thanksgiving to be an occasion to fast and mourn. To stand in solidarity with our aboriginal friends, the members of the CPT delegation to Kenora have committed to share this Thanksgiving fast and use the occasion to reflect on our complicity in a system that perpetuates injustice and broken relationships. We invite all who feel called to this spiritual discipline to join us.

—Andrew Cressman, Toronto

Graham not a suitable advocate of God’s love

Thank you for raising the issue of the Central Canada Franklin Graham Festival in the July 10 issue of Canadian Mennonite. I hope we will have a productive dialogue on the pros and cons of Mennonite Church Manitoba participating in this event.

The article quotes Norman Voth as saying, “Franklin Graham’s support for war” is one of the reasons for some people to oppose MC Manitoba’s participation. I would like to elaborate on this point. Graham is not just a non-pacifist or an adherent of the just war theory; he advocates the use of weapons of mass destruction that threaten not only American military targets, but the human race and our world as we know it. In a CNN interview on the American response to the threat of terror in the days following 9/11, Mr. Graham stated, “I think we are going to have to use every—and I hate to say it—hellish weapon in our inventory....”

As a pacifist, I ask, is violence ever the answer? But even a pragmatist might ask, was the American response to Pearl Harbour—the “hellish” devastation unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—justifiable in the eyes of the world? Half a century’s worth of developments in weapon’s technology later, Mr. Graham is asking the world to pay the price for America’s grief.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:27 that “anyone who looks at a women…commits adultery.” It’s the thought, not the deed, that is wrong. How can Graham advocate the use of such violence and remain a credible spokesperson for a God who loves all people?

I am not against evangelism or cooperating with other denominations that don’t share our peace stance. But in my understanding Mr. Graham has disqualified himself from being a credible spokesperson for the gospel of God’s love and peace.

—Gerhard Neufeld, Winnipeg

Material explanation preferred over God

There are a number of things in Denyse O’Leary’s letter (“Natural selection points away from God,” July 31, page 14) with which I could take issue, but I will choose the idea of the “irreducibly complex.”

As far as I have been able to determine, no non-controversial irreducibly complex thing has ever been discovered. In physics, it was at one time thought that the atom was irreducibly complex, but then they discovered protons and neutrons within the nucleus. The protons and neutrons were then discovered to be composed of quarks, and so on. Today, they talk about superstrings as the fundamental particle or entity.

In biology, the eye was once thought to be irreducibly complex. After all, how can a partial eye help you? Unless all the parts come together as one, it doesn’t work. That, however, is not exactly true. All you need is for certain skin cells to be somewhat light sensitive and you have something with which natural selection can work.

When people describe something as irreducibly complex, they want to stop further investigation. That is one of the reasons, I believe, that people posit a God. Inquiry has to stop somewhere, doesn’t it?

So, if you propose that something is irreducibly complex and that an intelligence was needed to create it, then it is like we have come to the end of our search. But for me the search is not done.

If an intelligence is needed to create something irreducibly complex, then a second intelligence is needed to create the first intelligence, and so forth ad infinitum. So I look for natural material explanations, finding evermore marvellous and awe-inspiring natural phenomena while knowing that the end is unlikely ever to be reached. If I were to call something God, it would be infinity.

—David Wiebe, Winnipeg


Jong-Sun Kim has been called as pastor of North Shore Japanese Church as of October. Takahiko Yoshiyuki currently pastors both Mennonite Japanese Christian Fellowship in Surrey and North Shore Japanese Church. Incorrect information appeared in the Aug. 21 story, “Pastoral change at Japanese church,” on page 36. Canadian Mennonite regrets the errors.

Children must be seen as integral to worship

Re: “Children assist with communion and sending forth,” July 31, page 11.

I had the honour of participating in the final worship service of this year’s national assembly, and especially the children’s item that introduced how we would share the communion elements. I agree with the article that this experience of watching the children reverently carry the baskets containing the four types of bread and grapes to each of the tables was indeed memorable and moving. I saw the look of pride in the eyes of some of the children I had gotten to know in the children’s program, that they were given such an important role in celebrating one of the church’s sacraments.

The phrase “stole the show” in the first paragraph jumped out at me as I read through the article. This got my thoughts percolating. What is our view when it comes to children and our worship? Are children active participants in worship, or is their activity at best entertainment and at worst a hindrance to our worship experience?

When I hear “stole the show,” I think of events like a movie or concert, rather than a worship service. If the personal sharing, sermon or the singing had been the most memorable part of the service, would we say that that stole the show or would we say it was the most moving part of the service?

A few years ago, like many of my peers, I worked as a camp staffer at one of our conference camps. During this time I had many memorable worship experiences. Some of the questions campers asked challenged me more than those of my theology professors at CMU. During camp worship I felt closer to God than at any other point in my life. One factor that enriched the worship experience was the unpredictable and energetic nature of these children.

I love and value children highly and know that their insights can sometimes seem like divine messages from our Creator. Children are less bound by the conventions of society and are freer to respond from their hearts to the world around them. If our view of children limits us to seeing their participation in congregational worship as entertainment, aren’t we losing some of the richness possible when a diverse group joins together in the unifying experience of worship?

—Miriam Rempel, Winnipeg

Leadership gifts not determined by gender

Will the church ever get anywhere? In 1885, the first North American Mennonites ordained a woman to the preaching ministry. In 1910, the General Conference ordained its first woman to preaching ministry.

More than 70 years later, in the 1980s, we mostly became reconciled to having women throughout our North American churches at all levels of leadership (although I still remember the shocked response I received when I said from the pulpit in 1982 that this was a good thing). Twenty-five years after that, we are still looking on in wonder as a woman takes a significant leadership role in our conferences (“Janet Plenert reflects on challenges and opportunities in leadership,” July 31, page 19).

Will we ever get to the point where women and men can simply work together without anyone asking questions about their gender? How long will it take until we Mennonites can simply look at a person’s gifts and celebrate them without asking questions about the package embodying those gifts?

—Bruce Hiebert, Abbotsford B.C.

‘Tough on crime’ agenda not an effective option

I am left with an uneasy feeling by statements made by Vic Toews, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (“Justice minister cracking down on crime in Canada,” July 10, page 14).

His concept of “cracking down on crime” is one that has been on the landscape in the United States for the last few decades and has achieved considerable success in getting politicians elected, but is very expensive and not very effective. Toews wants to take us down a road that will have exactly the opposite effect that he is working so hard to attain.

Instead of getting “tough on crime,” our goal should be to turn these people into contributors to our society who pay taxes, rather than those who use up our tax dollars. If it is so financially costly and socially ineffective, why would Toews not want to be a visionary and explore what might be effective?

I am also puzzled that Toews sees a place for restorative justice models in provincial and community-based programs, but not in federal legislation under his jurisdiction. We already know about the constructive work Mennonite Central Committee and the John Howard Society do. By naming these, Toews only acknowledges their existence and not that he actually believes in them, for if he did, then he would surely promote them.

By consistently promoting a “tough on crime” agenda divorced from restorative justice emphasizing responsibility, Toews is not only at variance with our Christian faith, but he is also promoting a model of criminal justice that is very expensive and, worst of all, the least effective.

—Ernie Engbrecht, Lethbridge, Alta.


In response to “Anabaptist spirituality explained to pastors,” (July 31, page 8), I would like to commend Arnold Snyder and Sue Steiner for their thoughts. God bless them.

—Harold Widrick, New Hamburg, Ont.

Outside the box

—Phil Wagler

Embrace—not outreach

A couple years ago our congregation decided to reach out to the families of our community. We brought in a well-known speaker (at least to us), planned great music, creative dramas and took the show on the road to our local community centre. Safe, common ground thought we. Our friends and neighbours will happily flock to this non-churchy environment where the grey seating and institutional surroundings were sure to set them at ease and convince them this is not “church.”

The night arrived and the folk did flock. Unfortunately, it was not to hang with us. The local midget hockey team was in the provincial play-offs, and moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, and boys and girls converged on the community centre, but entered the doors leading to the arena rather than the doors leading to our “outreach.”

The event was not an entire flop or waste of time. Lives were challenged by the good news and we had a decent response, although most of our “visitors” were actually sheep from other folds and pastures who wanted to be fed by our distinguished guest. We had planned the perfect event to preach to the choir, and while the choir needs to be retuned from time to time, the dream of seeing families in our community transformed was not realized. Ironically, and almost laughably, those we longed to reach were separated from us by a mere 10 inches of cinder block, while we, the incarnational believers in Jesus, huddled together to save the world.

With the uncanny accuracy of hindsight I see now that the people we wanted to reach that winter with the love of Christ were right where we thought they’d be. The problem was we wanted them to be with us on our terms, not theirs. Perhaps it was the church that should have been on the other side of that cinder block wall at the hockey game—cheering for our young people, getting to know our neighbours, encouraging moms and dads, and building relationships and friendships into which the seed of God’s love could be planted or watered or even brought to fruition. Instead, we separated ourselves by 10 inches of concrete and then wondered why people have no interest in Christ “these days.”

So how do we reach out?

The Gospel reveals a God who didn’t invite us to come to his side to watch a holy song and dance, but sent the Son over the wall to show us what grace and truth look like. He came and joined our game, cheered on our journey, shed tears for us and with us, bore our shame and went to the wall in our place. That’s not outreach, that’s embrace. Jesus’ way is embrace on enemy turf enveloped in sacrificial love. Too often we have assumed we’ll either entertain or enlighten people into the kingdom and, while a relevant apologetic is not to be discarded, the church in this post-Christian era must grapple with whether our “outreach” is more for us than those without Christ before we bang our heads against the brick wall one too many times.

Phil Wagler is still icing his goose egg as lead pastor of Zurich Mennonite Church, Ontario. You can reach him at and read his blog at

New Order voice

—Will Braun

Full-throttle fundraising

It took 30,000 horsepower and $20 million worth of farm equipment on a soggy wheat field near Winkler, Man., to raise $80,000 (to date) for Children’s Camps International and to break the world speed record for harvesting 162 acres of grain.

Although the largely Mennonite event was an inspiring display of good will and community spirit, the image of those 105 shiny combines on the cover of the last issue of Canadian Mennonite left my Mennonite sensibilities agitated.

Frankly, it feels scary to publicly question a Christian organization’s activities—and doubly taboo since I am a Winkler-raised farm boy whose comments will land rather close to home. So I proceed with a healthy degree of trepidation and a prayer for graciousness.

There was plenty of goodness in the harvest event and plenty of godliness in those involved. Nonetheless, the project raises important, broader questions about how to do good in a complicated world.

In the photo of the combines roaring down the field, I see a grand, public display of wealth. This image is jarring because I feel drawn to the very opposite of what I see. I find the adventure of simple, inconspicuous living compelling, so the much-touted emphasis on setting a world record using very costly equipment seems too close to the realm of spectacle and elitism for me. Whatever happened to not letting the right hand—let alone the Guinness World Records people—know what the left hand is doing? And what about the operator of a modest-sized farm whose clunker combine would look ridiculous in the mix of $250,000 machines? Does that farmer have to watch from the edge of the field, along with the widow and her mite?

I also see on the cover image the showcasing of industrial agri-business. This is jarring because I work on a small, non-traditional, largely non-mechanized vegetable farm. My farm involvement is a direct response to the industrial-scale, fossil-fuel guzzling, input-intensive food system that is failing the world’s hungry people, polluting the atmosphere and pushing smaller farmers off their land, both here and abroad. On our farm we’re experimenting with an agricultural model that requires no inputs from big, profit-driven agri-businesses.

Writers like Vandana Shiva of India explain how companies such as Cargill and BASF—both of which sponsored the Winkler project (supplying fertilizer and pesticide inputs)—are devastating Indian farmers by cornering the market on seeds, inputs and transportation, and then driving up prices.

Or consider that John Deere, which dominated the Winkler field, includes on its board of directors Vance Coffman, the former head of Lockheed Martin—the world’s largest arms manufacturer, and Richard Myers, President Bush’s principal military advisor from 2001 to 2005.

The point is not that all these companies, projects or people are categorically bad, but rather that our efforts to do good can get tangled up in a problematic global agri-business system, and that the untangling requires awareness, honesty and creativity.

I spoke with Ray Wieler, the event organizer and head of Children’s Camps International. In response to questions about possible contradictions between helping India by celebrating the power of the agri-business model linked to so much harm there, Wieler said concern about the current course of agriculture, both here and abroad, is a “huge issue.” He also mentioned a successful organic farm project he visited in India, and stressed the importance of North Americans redistributing their wealth globally. But he emphasized that, for him, the Winkler event was about “one thing and one thing only—to draw attention to who we as an organization are.”

For me, it is about many things: the Indian women who are fighting Cargill, global warming, healthy dialogue within the Mennonite family, means that are as consistent as possible with ends, grace in a world of grey, and the hope that Mennonite farmers will make the news for finding creative alternatives to a bankrupt agricultural model, rather than for riding it full-throttle toward a rather complicated benevolence.

Will Braun can be reached at For more information, see,,, and

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