Mennonite opposition to Manitoba crusade

Christian Current
July 2006
Evelyn Rempel Petkau



WINNIPEG - Mennonite Church Manitoba (MCM) and the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba together with nine other denominations signed on last year as supporters for the 2006 Central Canada Franklin Graham Festival.

However, some members of the Mennonite conferences are now voicing concern about participating in the October event.

"A number of concerns have been raised about MC Manitoba's participation in this event due to Graham's support for war, comments about Muslims and concerns about Samaritan's Purse. Because of these concerns some individuals are calling for us to withdraw our support," wrote Norm Voth, director of evangelism and service ministries for MCM, in a letter to MCM congregations earlier this year.

In February MCM held a workshop on the issue at an annual meeting, and came up with a resolution "to engage in dialogue with Franklin Graham and with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and give witness to our concerns regarding statements made by Franklin Graham advocating unrestrained violence and denigrating Islam and its adherents."

In a letter to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Voth wrote, "Many people in Canada, the U.S. and around the world take your words very seriously; for you to advocate for peace instead of war would have a positive impact reflecting God's desire that all things on Earth and in heaven be reconciled in Jesus."

But some say that action is not enough.

Gerhard Neufeld attends Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church and has shared his concerns with MCM and his church. He is disappointed MCM has not done more to inform its delegate members and to engage the churches in dialogue.  

"I am in no way against evangelism or opposed to cooperating with other denominations," says Neufeld.  "My major objection to this is the credibility of the speaker, not the event itself."

He suggests the conference use the discussions about the Graham Festival as an opportunity to examine the traditional Mennonite peace stance and discern what it means for modern Mennonite churches.

River East Mennonite Brethren Church circulated a letter asking the Mennonite Brethren conference "to reconsider its participation in the event, citing reasons of Graham's remarks regarding Islam, Muslims and the use of nuclear weapons." The letter garnered 50 signatures before it was sent to the conference.

Arnaud Mennonite Church has completely withdrawn its support of the Franklin Graham Festival after its adult Sunday school class studied some of Graham's messages pertaining to Islam and war.

"We felt that even though a lot of good could come from the evangelistic [festival], as a peace church we did not want to be associated with a gospel message that could be muddied by the kind of hatred and violence [that Graham appears to support]," says pastor Lynne Martin.

Dan Klug, festival director for Central Canada Franklin Graham Crusade, says the Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Church of Canada conferences are the only denominations that have voiced concern about the festival.

"At first I was surprised by the Mennonite response but I certainly understand," says Klug. "But we are here for one purpose only, at the invitation of local pastors for an evangelistic event. Franklin will preach a gospel message and not express any political views."

For the time being the MCM and Mennonite Brethren conferences are leaving the issue of support for the festival up to individuals. However, some say an organized response to the event may be planned.

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The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada

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