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CBC TV juxtaposes Hutterites and Mennonites: Same sex marriage


February 18, 2005
-by Dan Dyck


Dan Nighswander interviewed by Allison Brachman, CBC Television

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Winnipeg, Man. — On Feb 17, Dan Nighswander, general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, appeared briefly on The National in response to CBC television’s request for reaction to the proposed same sex marriage legislation.

The story focused on the Hutterite reaction to the legislation. “They rarely get involved in politics, but Canada’s Hutterite communities have made an exception, jumping into the same sex marriage debate, sending a letter right to the top,” said news anchor Peter Mansbridge in an opening to the story.

When the CBC invited Nighswander to comment on the legislation, he regarded it as an opportunity to witness to broader society about the church’s convictions, and to do so with grace.

“We have a history of standing by our convictions no matter what the government or other people have set as their values and practices,” said Nighswander in the news report.

The report went on to quote excerpts from a letter sent by Nighswander to the Prime Minister and other government leaders (see, which states, “We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life,” and that “It is our intention to retain the practice of blessing and sanctifying marriages according to our convictions.” (See below for a complete transcript of the news report.)

Many people still regard Canada as a “Christian nation.” But that view is increasingly challenged both within and outside the church, says Nighswander. “A key conviction of Anabaptist understanding is that the church cannot assume that government or society is aligned with Christian beliefs,” he said. “As Christians, our starting point is to understand the mission of God and the church in the world. Especially because we live in a democracy we testify to the legislators and the population about our values and beliefs, but we do not expect non-Christians to share those until they come to faith and to maturity in faith.”

“Mennonites have a long history of being in the world, but not a part of it. While this issue is important, I pray that the media attention and the churches’ attention to this issue will not distract Christians from the other important work that God calls the church to do in the world,” said Nighswander.

A transcript of the CBC’s The National Feb 17, 2000 report follows:

Broadcast music  
Announcer They rarely get involved in politics but Canada’s Hutterite communities have made an exception jumping into the same sex marriage debate; sending a letter right to the top. David Common reports.
Reporter For nearly four centuries Hutterite colonies have insisted on self sufficiency, growing or building for their needs. Outside luxuries are rejected, outside pressures shunned. And in keeping with their strict observance of the Bible they view same sex marriage as an abomination.
Peter Hofer There is only gonna be one judge over that one, and that’s our dear Lord up in heaven. He’s gonna the judge people the way they live.
Reporter So passionate are Canada’s Hutterite colonies over the issue of same sex marriage they’ve taken the unprecedented step of writing to the Prime Minister. Representing 50,000 Hutterites the letter warns “we will be classed as traitors in God’s eyes and we will live the darkest day in all of Canada’s history” if the legislation becomes law. And though his beliefs prevent him from appearing on camera one of the letter’s authors spoke to us by phone.
Joseph Wollman The Bible forbids it and it’s a terrible sin. If all people on earth would turn that way, the world, the people in the world would die out.
Reporter Ordinarily private, many Hutterites call this issue important enough to speak out.
Hutterite Woman God made only man and woman, Adam and Eve.
Hutterite Man If there are two males or two females doing it, that’s their business but it’s not allowed in our community. It’s wrong, that’s all there is to it.
Reporter Catholics and other religious groups have also come out against the marriage change. Canada’s Mennonite Church, in a letter to the Prime Minister, characterizes marriage as “a covenant between one man and one woman for life.” But it won’t oppose the legislation provided the church can refuse to “sanctify same sex marriages.”
Dan Nighswander: We have a history of standing by our convictions no matter what the government or other people have set as their values and practices.
Reporter Meanwhile the Hutterites want the debate withdrawn from parliament and put to the people in a plebiscite. But say ultimately they’ll take their lead from the scripture. David Common, CBC News, on the Arm River Hutterite colony in Saskatchewan.