In 2016 Carol Penner, then pastor of Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church in Edmonton, started a blog called “Dear MB Herald.”
The reason she started it was because there were almost no letters to the editor in the magazine, the official publication of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
She thought this was because MB conference leaders were censoring letters by not allowing certain points of view.
She was wrong. As an editor at the publication at the time told me, there weren’t any letters because nobody was writing. And nobody was writing because there was almost nothing in the Herald to write about — nothing to discuss, challenge or disagree about.
The blame for that could be laid at the feet of conference leaders and their editorial policy of only permitting articles supporting official conference positions.
In place of material discussing challenging issues from various viewpoints, the Herald was filled with copy reinforcing familiar opinions and promoting conference programs and ministries.
In so doing, they committed the original sin of journalism: They made the Herald boring and predictable.
It was no surprise then when the Canadian MB conference decided to shut down the Herald, citing lack of interest. Why subscribe to something when you already knew what it was going to say?
As former Herald editor Harold Jantz put it at the MB conference annual general meeting in Waterloo in October, by treating the magazine “as the voice of leaders, not a place to talk to one another,” the Herald was reduced it to a sales pitch about the conference.
What does this have to do with Mennonite World Review? Everything, if you don’t want to see it go the way of the Herald.
At a time when Americans (and some Canadians) are polarizing into ideological, political and theological camps, there is a temptation to avoid any ideas that are different from our own.
People end up watching only certain TV news stations, engaging only with like-minded people on social media or breaking away into conferences and denominations filled with people just like them.
But a healthy national church, like a vibrant democracy, requires people of differing opinions to engage in honest and open discussion. We don’t always have to agree, but we need to hear each other.
MWR is a place where that kind of robust conversation takes place. Some readers may not like articles about churches that affirm LGBTQ people, believe in climate change, welcome refugees or promote peacemaking. Others may bristle at reports about missions and evangelism, or traditional views on marriage.
But healthy church publications are a denomination’s water cooler, its meeting place, an opportunity for people of different views to hear each other out and engage in productive dialogue and critique. That’s their job, even if it occasionally makes leaders uncomfortable.
Right now, MWR and The Mennonite are in the early stages of creating a new publication to serve Mennonites in the U.S. and beyond in print and, increasingly, online. The editors have many dreams for what it could be: Engaging, compelling, thought-provoking.
The one thing they know they don’t want it to be is boring. There’s only one place that leads, as those of us who are members of the Canadian MB conference know only too well: To having no publication — print or online — at all.
John Longhurst is a freelance writer and communications and marketing consultant in Winnipeg, Man.