By Dick Benner, editor/publisher of Canadian Mennonite
What struck me during our three-day Learning Tour for Anabaptist editors was not so much the wide-ranging justice advocacy of MCC’s Ottawa office, but their broad-based contacts – both on Parliament Hill and among religious groups – and the ease with which conversation flows.
MCC’s work in Ottawa was familiar to me; I am a fairly regular reader of their blog and I have had frequent conversations with Paul Heidebrecht, the director. We have run their video and slide shows in our Photo Gallery on our website and have often linked to specific news and comment pieces in my editorials and stories.
What became abundantly clear as we sat around the table in the Laurentian Leadership Centre was that:
- this is our denomination’s nerve centre in Canada’s power centre on issues of justice that matter to us – issues that spring eternally from our deeply-held Anabaptist beliefs
- and that these core beliefs are given voice in a place and among political representatives where policy is born and carried out.
As I told my fellow-editors at the conclusion of our tour, these three intense days gave me a context that could not have been experienced without hearing, seeing and observing this political process up close and personal.
It was, of course, very timely for me as I am struggling right now with what to do about a “reminder” from Canada Revenue Agency asserting that we, as a publication with charitable status, crossed the line of “partisanship” in several of our articles and editorials, especially around election time in the spring of 2011.
So it was important for me to hear and see how politicians operate in this cultural “bubble.” I must add, however, that seeing them in action in the House of Commons Question Period generated more heat than light, more theatre than substance. Indeed, I overheard one of our group say, under her breath, when leaving this sanctimonious chamber, “children!”.
The breadth of political persuasions that represent the MCC dialogue
While Question Period may have been a little more raucous than expected, what wasn’t raucous at all, was to hear the thoughts of Dennis Gruending, online author of Pulpit and Politics, as he told us how he decides which issues to highlight. It was both enlightening and instructive in shaping and fine-tuning my own editorial voice.
Then to hear Don Hutchinson of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, of which Mennonite Church Canada is a member, was to understand the fervour with which he is pursuing their agenda on the Hill. And to hear Lloyd Mackey, in the library of the press gallery on the Hill, and also an advocate along with Hutchinson, tell of his exchanges with press peers, was enlightening and gave a sense of the breadth of political persuasions that represent the MCC dialogue.
That was contrasted, in part, by the presentations of Joe Gunn, executive director of the Citizens for Public Justice and Jim Creskey, editor and publisher of the Hill Times and Embassy, newspapers he started from scratch. Both are pushing an agenda for justice and transparency on the Hill that tracks, perhaps, more closely with my own theology/ideology, but hearing both causes represented …
- gave me the distinct impression and good feeling that MCC is working hard at non-partisanship
- but most of all wants public engagement of its primary constituency, the Mennonites in all of our stripes.
It was most helpful, then, to sit with our colleagues over mealtimes, and process together what we heard. Turns out this was a most fun group, each one entering into the spirit of ecumenicity that was fostered by our MCC planners.
Thus ended a most intense, but a most invigorating and instructive learning curve of recent days, not to mention the delight of my first trip and exposure to Ottawa. Thank you, MCC Ottawa.