Clovis, California (12/12/08)–Within the past couple months, I have been subjected to censorship by both the Mennonite Weekly Review and The Mennonite, the two main periodicals of the Mennonite world. That is troubling enough, but what is even sadder is that my communications were directed to young people and also censored by young people.
That is sad to me because of what it portends for the future of the Mennonite church, and what it says about the success of the free speech restrictionists who are no doubt chortling as they see how their RightThink ideas have taken root in what should be the unwelcoming soil of young Mennonite brains.
Mennonite Weekly Review
The censorship by the Mennonite Weekly Review arose out of a comment I made to an article about dialogue with Iran’s president Ahmadinejad appearing on the on-line version of the paper at www.mennoweekly.org. (The article or an article similar to it, but not my comment, was also carried in the print version.) Carl Meyer, a resident of Goshen, Indiana and former MCC worker in South Dakota (and the son of a college friend, and I believe an alumnus of Goshen College which is also my alma mater), then responded critically, and there ensued further responses posted by each of us. Some of our remarks were edgy, as one might expect in an on- line forum, and I made some use of sarcasm, but there was no foul language or name-calling or anything of the sort. This dialogue continued over the course of several days, without any problem.
A vestige of this communication remains but it is only a vestige, because of the subsequent censorship. After Carl’s latest post had been up for about a week, I finally had time to respond to it. What I wrote can be read here–but not on line any more, because it was removed the next morning.
Unfortunately, that last post now lacks context, and I can only supply some of it because Carl Meyer’s post preceding it–as well as a couple prior posts of each of us preceding that–were then all removed after I contacted MWR to find out what had happened.
Essentially, my last response was to the rejoinder of Carl Meyer after I had suggested he read Judaism Discovered by Michael Hoffman, which is separately mentioned on this website. Carl said a few disparaging things about Michael Hoffman and his website and work, said he would never read such claptrap (my word, not his), and then he quoted from what I had said about Hoffman’s work on this website, namely, that Hoffman had written in a redemptive tone that was not anti-semitic. Meyer concluded his post by saying, “Yeah, well that’s not exactly what I found,” or words to that effect.
Before that Meyer had once again labeled me, as others have falsely labeled me, anti-semitic. In my initial communication to MWR, I asked them why they had decided to effectively give Carl Meyer the last (defamatory) word by not letting me respond. The response of Celeste Kennel-Shank was then to remove all of the posts except my first one, and to cut the personal references out of Carl’s first post.
Kennel-Shank, who works in the MWR office in Chicago and who admitted to being the person responsible for the censorship (my word, not hers), stated as follows, “I moderated comments by you and Carl Meyer because I thought they did not contribute to the overall value of the discussion, including moderation to address concerns about defamation.”
When I showed that to a friend of my generation, my friend was bowled over. My friend recognized, as many of us would, that because determining the “value” of a discussion is a fairly subjective enterprise, that it should be engaged in warily if at all. But Kennel-Shank showed no such reservations.
And only one of the posts arguably contained defamatory statements, and I had simply asked to be allowed to rebut them, not remove them.
At about the same time as these posts were being made, I also responded to another news story about a forum at Fresno Pacific University at which the MCC-Ahmadinejad controversy was discussed, after Mennonites had been criticized by prominent Jewish leaders. I attended that forum and made several statements from the floor, which of course were not reflected in MWR’s reporting, and so I wrote to add perspective to the report of Kathy Heinrichs Wiest.
That post can still be found. But it seemed to me that the article didn’t stay on the MWR page very long.
When I went to Goshen for Thanksgiving, I called up my college friend and asked him to give my e-mail address to his son Carl, so that I could make sure Carl got the post that was excised from the MWR webpage, because I was interested in continuing the dialogue. He politely consented. So far, however, it appears that my interest is one-sided. I am used to it. In the MCUSA only certain positions deserve dialogue. Our young people suffer as a result.
Many people may not be aware that the publishers of The Mennonite send out weekly messages they call “T-Mail.” Among those messages are always links to Tim Nafziger’s blog, and a link to a forum called Young Anabaptist Radicals.
Many people may also not be aware that Tim Nafziger is a nephew of the editor of The Mennonite, Everett Thomas. Does he have a special platform by virtue of being related, or for some other reason? I first encountered Tim almost accidently at the last MCUSA convention in San Jose. Tim came to the independent session hosted by Good Information Advocates at which Michael Hoffman spoke, and was the only person to ask a critical question from the floor (that is separately discussed on this website). He didn’t identify himself then, and he didn’t have to, and I figured I would never know who this cheeky fellow was.
It was only through chance that I then learned who the inquisitor was, and it seemed quite clear then that he had not wanted to be identified. I tried unsuccessfully to engage Tim in dialogue by getting his phone number and calling him before he left the convention, and we then exchanged a couple e-mails after the convention, and I thought there had been some degree of mutual respect established.
But little did I know. Several months later, Nafziger listed on his blog as one of the “lowlights” of his year (2007) an “ugly anti-semitic diatribe” of “Sierra Spade, aka Bruce Leichty.” I had written what I considered to be an enlightening comment on one of Nafziger’s posts on Mennonites and Anti-Semitism. For that post I had used the pen name Sierra Spade–which refers to both my geographical location and my propensity for digging beneath the surface–just because it seemed that the practice among Nafziger’s youthful bloggers was not to use full names. But Tim was going to make sure that he “outed” me.
Cut to last month. Without even knowing it, I responded to another post on a forum that Tim was moderating — a post on Young Anabaptist Radicals called “Proposition Hate.” In that post, the writer was essentially calling anyone who voted in favor of California’s recent constitutional amendment on marriage “haters” and bigots, but even more ironically, he concluded his post with a string of symbols that are usually used as proxies for four-letter words. “Still,” he said, “#@$% the bigots. I can’t completely let go of that sentiment either.”
(It actually reminded me of something that Elie Wiesel is supposed to have once said, that every Jew should set aside in his heart a separate zone of what he called healthy, virile hate for what the German personifies and what persists in the German, or else he would be guilty of a betrayal of the dead. But I didn’t mention that in my response.)
Since I had actually voted on Proposition 8, and since I voted in favor of it (but without hating anyone), I wrote a response which can be read here. But you would be fooling yourself if you think that Tim Nafziger was going to allow my post to be seen by anyone on Young Anabaptist Radicals. No chance.
And what did Nafziger say when I contacted him? He replied in an e-mail, “I and others have tried to make it clear to you in phone conversations, emails and blog comments why the views you advocate are not appropriate or life giving. In none of these conversations have I sensed any openness to change. Therefore I don’t find it useful to continue the conversation on Young Anabaptist Radicals.”
And you thought the day of the stern old Bishops was over! No, never fear, their monopolistic spirits cloaked in new “life-giving” and “useful” raiment are preserved–albeit tragically–in the hearts and minds of Generation Next.