There’s a lot of talk about wanting to be a church open to people who disagree. On the one hand that sounds like a great idea, on the other hand where does it end? How do we define ourselves as a church? Even assuming a model with more focus on central mission than fringe cases, how do you keep your mission strong while remaining somewhat democratic and having such divergent members? How do you keep it strong after, say, 500 years of people joining the denomination for no other reason than they grew up in it? What does it mean to be a “historic peace church” once you are left with only a minority in the church claiming that all war is sin (see the recent church member profile conducted by MCUSA). Who cares what we are historically, if we’re something different now?
Here’s the point:
If we believe in a church with differing voices, and are opposed to schism, why have a Mennonite church at all? Why not just add to the diversity of a mainline protestant denomination? Why not reunite with Catholicism to create the Ultimate Diverse Universal Christian Super-Church?
If we believe there are things worth splitting over, and reasons to have a distinctly Anabaptist or even more distinctly Mennonite church, what issues are worth it? Why not split over ordination of women? Why not split over beliefs about war? Why not split over acceptance and support of GLBT people? These all seem like fairly important issues to me, much more so than coat buttons or the mustache or even child baptism. You wouldn’t include white-supremacists in a civil rights organization just for the diversity of opinion, so why include militants or homophobes in a peace church?
I can see the argument for going either direction boldly, and could stand behind both. What I don’t understand is a middle ground where we want to be a unique and special church without actually standing by anything unique or special, because that would be exclusive to someone else’s opinion. Let’s make a choice. Either the church is a place for everyone together despite our differences, in which case we are reneging on the entire Anabaptist movement and have some major unifying to do, or let’s start excluding people and splitting over important issues like the early Anabaptists did.
Instead we claim to be open to all various perspectives, including the ones that would exclude people. And, so as not to lose those “equally faithful brothers and sisters” who would exclude women and homosexuals (that would be exclusive!) we just go ahead and exclude women and homosexuals. This is another case in which being open to one group or opinion is itself being exclusive to another. Complacency in the face of injustice is consent with that injustice. Or, as MLK would say, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Despite our rhetoric to the contrary, we always seem to side institutionally with the more powerful group because of “tradition” or some other nonsense. Blessed are the meek, as long as they are straight, white and male.
I digress. What will it be? Intentional and clear exclusion? Universal inclusion? Or just try to keep any exclusion hush-hush and hope no one notices?
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