Church

Fire and the Sword: An Adventist Finds His Roots in the Radical Reformation (Part 3)

Menno_Simonsz

This is the final post in my three-part series comparing Seventh-day Adventists and Anabaptists. Please see the introduction to Part 1 if you have not yet read it.

Part 1 looked at expectations about God. Part 2 considered expectations of Christians and the Church. Part 3 will look at our common expectations for the world. Since I know many Adventists are reading this series along with YAR’s regular readers, I hope it has helped each faith community understand the other a bit more. Naturally, there is still much to learn about each tradition beyond the similarities covered here.

Before beginning the final comparison, Tim invited me to make a few observations about the CBS television program that was the catalyst or spark for this series—“World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonites” (description, video, schedule). One of the few common features between the three faith communities is that to varying degrees we are outsiders to American culture or society. We struggle with how to be true to our faith’s demands about being different and somehow separate while still engaging and influencing society. To use a decidedly Christian phrase, How is an adherent of one of these traditions to be in the world but not of it?

The first thing that surprised me about the program was how short it was. With a mere 27 minutes divided between the three faiths, only the most basic information could be conveyed. At its best, the program may pique one’s interest, leading to more study. Hopefully no one turns off their TV or closes their web browser after watching it and says, “Now I understand the ___.” They would be mistaken.

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Foot-washing and Conscientious Objection: An Adventist Finds His Roots in the Radical Reformation (Part 2)

Painting_of_the_Foot_Washing_-_Santa_Maria_del_Mar_-_Barcelona_2014_(crop) (300x200)

This is the second in a three-part series comparing Seventh-day Adventists and Anabaptists. The CBS television program “World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonites” (description, program, schedule) provided the motivation for this series. Please see the introduction to Part 1 if you have not yet read it. As I explain in the introduction, this project was initially designed as a way for Adventists to learn about Anabaptist views, rather than the other way around as in this present series.

One additional item I probably should have acknowledged in Part 1 is that this approach may make it appear as though I believe early Anabaptism was uniform, with all believers under that label holding all particulars in common. This was certainly not the case, as readers of this blog know quite well (see the YAR “Anabaptist Streams” series, for example). A more detailed study would note the similarities and differences between the various Anabaptist groups and then compare these with Adventism. However, that approach is well beyond my ability to adequately pull off, so I will continue with the much simpler and less precise comparative methodology I used while taking Anabaptist History and Theology at AMBS.

Part 1 was lengthy because of the extended series introduction. This second installment is long because it covers several expectations about Christians, both individually and collectively. With that warning, let’s get to it. And again, I ask for patience with the lengthy quotes.

Part 2—Expectations of Christians and the Church

Both Anabaptists and Adventists expect believers to (a) voluntarily unite, (b) follow after Jesus in discipleship, (c) be baptized, (d) wash one another’s feet, (e) participate in the Lord’s Supper, (f) form a holy church, (g) study the Bible, (h) show compassion, and (i) not engage in violence.

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Dutch Blitz and Haystacks: An Adventist Finds His Roots in the Radical Reformation (Part 1)

Dutch Blitz by Heartlover1717 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/heartlover1717/8220018600/

On Sunday, December 14, CBS will air the television program “World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonites” (link).[1] I don’t know why CBS selected these three particular faith traditions, and I don’t know if this is an on-going series on world religions, but as a Seventh-day Adventist who attended a Mennonite seminary, I find the combination intriguing. A conversation in the Young Anabaptist Radicals Facebook group about the CBS program led to the invitation for me to share a three-part comparison of Adventist and Anabaptist values and views. I thank the YAR blog editors for this opportunity, especially since I’ve appreciated following this blog over the past five or six years.

Before diving into the comparison, I would like to first share a few limitations regarding both me and this series. First, I have little knowledge of the Sikh tradition. I have taken a class in world religions, and I did my MA internship at the Ann Arbor Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, but I have little exposure to the Sikh community, so I will focus here on Anabaptists and Adventists.

Second, I am not an expert in the history and theology of either the Anabaptist or Adventist traditions. I am a life-long Seventh-day Adventist with many years in Adventist education, including an undergrad degree in religion, but I claim no advanced understanding of the nuances of Adventist theology beyond a layperson’s experience. I am not an Adventist pastor or theologian, but I will invite some experts in those areas to read and comment on the series.

Also, rather than earning an MDiv or an MA in theology, I pursued an MA in Peace Studies from the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, IN. I also studied briefly at Eastern Mennonite University, the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) at Bethel College, and the Latin American Anabatist Seminary (SEMILLA) in Guatemala. However, my focus was on peace and justice themes rather than theology or history. While I know or have met members of both sides of the recent Mennonite-Adventist dialogue (Patricia Urueña, Teresa Reeve, Bert Beach, Denis Fortin), I was not present for the conversations.[2] I say this at the start to acknowledge I have much to learn about both communities, and I invite additional observations and critiques in the comment section. I will offer my observations and leave it to others to correct or expand on these posts.

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Why I am going to “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred” and why you should too

Fabulous Fierce and Sacred Logo

In 2 weeks, I’ll be attending “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred: A gathering of Anabaptist lgbtqa* community” and I think you should too. We’ll be gathering in Chicago at the Cenacle Retreat & Conference Center from the afternoon of Friday, November 21 through noon on Sunday, November 23. It’s sponsored by Pink Menno, Inclusive Pastors and the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT interests I interviewed some of the organizers about why this gathering is so important and here’s what they said:

“There is a widely-felt sense that it is time for a gathering to bring lgbtq people together for celebration, healing, and the sustenance of our vibrant community.” Annabeth Roeschly said, “While some of us have gathered at the bienneal MCUSA conventions, those events bring us together primarily in a spirit of nonviolent resistance and action.”

“Columbus 2009 is when I said yes to the Mennonite Church, when I said yes to being queer and Christian and when I began taking communion again.” said Christian Parks, “I do a lot of work outside of the Mennonite church. I come to this gathering to rest and to renew so that I can be strong. I want to connect to the experience of how resilient queer people of faith are and I want to sink into the story of the people who have come before me. This conference will be sacred space.” (more…)

Is discernment a bureaucratic or a brotherly-sisterly process for Mennonite Church USA?

Do you want a bishop?: Ceramic artist Dennis Maust with his pieces.

In a May 2014 letter in The Mennonite, C. Norman Kraus asked whether the role of Mennonite Church USA Executive Director (ED) and has begun to look like a "new papal office." He said, "…are we not loading an institutional position with official authority that our polity does not accommodate?"

By bringing the pope into it, Kraus is drawing attention to some important questions about how the ED functions. Stay with me as we take a journey through the crufty corners of Mennonite bureaucracy and bylaws. It’s hard slogging, but it matters.

The response from Executive Board and Executive Director

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Ed Diller, current MC USA moderator and a former moderator of the EB respectively, responded to Kraus in an August 2014 letter to the editor in which they stated that "…there is no papal office in Mennonite Church USA.". They went on to defend the current role of ED with this mandate from the bylaws: "an Executive Director as a primary administrative officer who shall be its principal agent in the management of Mennonite Church USA."

Managing Mennonite Church USA… sounds pretty dramatic, eh? They left out the next point, which makes the organizational scope of the role sound a bit less grandiose: "The Executive Director shall conduct the administrative affairs of the Executive Board, serve as an officer, and supervise employees of Mennonite Church USA." The Mennonite Church USA being managed is an organization with a staff of 25 people, not the 90,000+ members of the denomination.

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Remembering Our Identity

We are Anabaptists. We are Mennonites. We are distinct from other Protestants and denominations. We care about peace, justice, community. We are a unique and special people.

Many of us feel this way or at least I know, at times, I do. There is a special quality of Christianity that is evidenced in Anabaptism. Yes, we were persecuted by the Holy Catholic Church, but we were also persecuted by fellow Protestants. There is severity and deep conviction in our confession of faith.

Yet, in truth, too often we rest on the laurels of our Anabaptist forebears. We recall or express nostalgia for the countercultural, anti-empire sentiments and actions of those who came before us, all the while colluding with the current empire on many levels in our life. Some of us (even unwittingly) invest in stocks for pharmaceutical corporations and weapons manufacturers, thus endorsing a system that benefit from death and destruction.

Many persons and whole churches have substituted absolute pacifism with Just War Theory. In that regard we have embraced Augustinean Christianity to the detriment of Jesus’ command to love even our enemies who persecute and abuse us. We claim a Mennonite identity, but too often embrace an American identity or political ideology (whether left or right). We fail to recognize the radical calling upon our lives, which is to root ourselves in a Christ identity.

Some of us need a fresh baptism, a next baptism to awaken us to Christ’s calling upon our lives. We may have been baptized in water, but now we need a fire baptism to burn out the iniquity and inequality that pervades our lives. Like a prairie fire that burns the dead things and promotes richer soil, so too do we need the Spirit of fire to prepare us to live more deeply and richly. (more…)

Gay Marriage Is Not Against Biblical Authority

I am uncompromisingly pro-gay marriage and I am unapologetic in my affirmation of LGBT equality. This is one issue that I refuse to compromise on, and because of this, it has gotten me in trouble in the past. One church that it did get me in trouble with was my local Presbyterian Church USA congregation. The congregation and presbytery I was a part of were and are socially conservative, but I was a flaming liberal. Naturally, I found myself in some serious disagreement, and it didn’t help that I was a universalist, pacifist, and straight up commie-pinko. While the local Presbyterian community did not appear very welcoming, I am happy to see that the PCUSA has recently become fully LGBT-affirming at the national level.

Now that this has happened however, I am seeing the same old arguments from my conservative brethren that I have heard over and over again. It happens whenever any Christian denomination becomes welcoming and affirming, and I see the battle lines being drawn in the Mennonite Church as well. This is especially the case in Pittsburgh, because Pittsburgh Mennonite Church just became officially LGBT-affirming, and even lost their pastor because of it. I remember mentioning my uncompromising position on this issue to the local Mennonite conference minister as well, and I think I saw her cringe. If I remember correctly, she said that might be a problem at some point, but whatever.

The main argument that I see from conservatives on this issue is that gay marriage is somehow against the clear teaching of the Bible. Whenever we become open and affirming in our Christian faith, it is because we are ignoring the authority of the Bible. Guess what, I am not open and affirming in spite of the Bible, but because of it! (more…)

Membership is Not Cheap

The Third World is alive and well within North America. The poor are in the apartments with black mold; they are in the food stamp offices and being run out from under bridges. Difficulty and disease and shame mark their lives; they’re stigmatized like lepers. Jesus is among these people; living with them, encouraging them and doing miracles among them.

But you’d never know this by looking at the churches of North America.

A few churches cater to the upper class, but the massive majority of churches throughout North America see themselves as ministering to “communities”, by which they mean communities of the middle class. The poor are left out of the equation of the normal, everyday life of the church. And because of this, the church itself is poorer. Below are four areas in which the poor are marginalized in most modern churches:

1. Cultural uniqueness
The third world of North America is unique, and has unique features. For one thing, its inhabitants tend to use foul language, even the most religious of them. More poor people smoke than middle class people, and they are also more likely to have obvious addiction issues. Poor people tend to be less educated and focus more on survival. But, paradoxically, the poor are more likely to give their last dollar to someone else in need. Poor folks are more likely to rely on God instead of a system or even their own work. These are unique cultural characteristics, not right or wrong, just different. There are weaknesses and strengths in this culture, just as there are in the cultures of the middle or upper classes (or, indeed, in any culture).

The cultural uniqueness of being poor isn’t celebrated, but preached against in the everyday church. Not that every facet of poor culture should be celebrated; but the same is true of the middle and upper class cultures. When we praise the middle and upper class trait of making and following a reasonable budget, for example, why can we not also praise the lower class trait of sacrificial generosity? The church cannot be a culture-free environment, but in our middle-class model of church, where can the poor worship in a manner cohesive to their culture? (more…)

Re: Elephants, A Call to Allies and Humans in the Mennonite Church

Good afternoon, allies and humans of the Mennonite Church. I (a human who is queer) have a quick note, a “call to action,” if you will.

First, some facts:

  1. I am a human with a human life partner and a human (step/bonus/partner’s) son. In addition, members of my family such as my mother, brother, sisters, and father are humans.
  2. I am not an elephant.
  3. I am not an issue.
  4. I am not a crucible time.
  5. I am not a dilemma, a burden, a conflict, a problem, a discussion, a question, a challenge, a threat, or any other non-living, non-breathing thing, noun, verb, adverb, what-have-you.
  6. I am not even “homosexuality.”

With that out of the way, I’m going to ask you all to do something for me. Please, when you are discussing [insert euphemism for me here, such as "LGBT issues," "the elephant in the room," or "the current dilemma in the church,"] remember that you are discussing me. You are discussing whether or not you would like me to be a full member in the Mennonite Church, whether you would mind if a Mennonite pastor joined my partner and I together for a lifetime, whether you would mind if God called me and the Mennonite Church licensed me to minister to the Mennonite Church. (more…)

MC USA Statement on LGBTQ Communities

MENNONITE CHURCH USA CHURCHWIDE STATEMENT ON LGBTQ COMMUNITIES, DIVERSITY, POWER, OPPRESSION & PRIVILEGE*

Introduction

Mennonite Church USA has roots in seventeenth-century churches planted by what today we might call “radicals” and “social justice activists” from Europe. Our church continues to grow and be enlivened by people who join us from many countries, backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, as well as other diversities and differences. As Christians, we believe we are called to welcome these seekers of church community in our congregations and communities, especially as our government fails to serve all but a privileged few, with harsh laws frequently punishing difference. Assumptions about identity make some people more vulnerable to political biases and discrimination than others. Our concerns about the status of peace and justice in this country and in this world relate to how people are treated based on race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability status, citizen status, religious identity as well as other statuses.

We reject our country’s mistreatment of people, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and on behalf of all our community members regardless of any status. (more…)

Response by Jennifer Yoder to the Response by Ervin Stutzman

You can read Response by Ervin Stutzman here, if you missed it.

Several days ago I noticed a flurry of activity – a letter signed by 150 pastors calling for welcome of LGBTQ folks, the Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA in response “earnestly desir[ing] that our church be faithful to scripture and God’s call,” articles about these developments, and comment section dust-ups. It seemed appropriate for me to acknowledge this flurry on behalf of my queer Mennonite self, and to make an initial response to the hopes and Menno-speak voiced within that flurry.

First of all, I receive the letter from the pastors as an example of allies (and I believe, a member or two of the LGBTQ community!) in positions of power and with legitimizing credentials standing in the gap for queer folks like myself whose voices are nearly always marginalized in any discussion about our lives and spirits in the Mennonite Church. I receive Ervin’s response as difficult to decipher Menno-speak backed by his authority as Executive Director, and positioned as (perceived) gatekeeper to the Mennonite Church.

Partly as a result of this (perceived) gatekeeper role, Ervin believes the 150 pastors’ beliefs and experiences are his and the board’s to judge and deem worthy of rightness or wrongness. Stutzman declares that he “lament[s] that the individuals and groups at opposite ends of the spectrum of concerns related to sexual identity and orientation are no longer willing to be in patient forbearance with each other.” He sat at the table with members of the LGBTQ community (or as he calls it, people on the LGBTQ spectrum), and believes that his recounting – from a position of power and authority – of these conversations with folks accurately represents LGBTQ and allied experiences in the Mennonite Church, and he bases his conclusion on that belief. His conclusion is that “even among the closest family members of individuals with LGBTQ identity there is no consensus on the moral and theological implications.” I am assuming he means the moral and theological implications of being a member of the LGBTQ community, but the sentence is unclear.

Secondly, I receive the letter from the pastors as a plea to the church to find a better way of addressing our differences. I receive the letter from Ervin as a plea for members of the LGBTQ community to continue bearing the brunt of hatred, of silent treatment, of being ignored, passed over, and mistreated while members of our community stand by, and to be patient all the while. I also receive it as a plea for those who have a deeply held, unmovable, unchangeable belief that acceptance of members of the LGBTQ community is a sign of the spiritual downfall of the church to sit back down in the pews, and forebear.

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An Open Letter to the MCUSA

When I began looking for an Anabaptist congregation, I was immediately drawn to the San Antonio Mennonite Church here in the Alamo City. Truth be told, I probably would have stayed within our house-church if it weren’t for the fact that many of our families were moving. But as necessity compelled me to search for a tribe, the Anabaptist emphasis on Jesus discipleship, servant minded non-violence, and its history of persecution welcomed me. I’m glad we found a home in the MCUSA.

Having grown up as the son of an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, I was frightfully aware of the denominational politics our family encountered having served under two SBC Presidents. But Anabaptism offered more than that, with less, or so it seemed.

Theda Good’s recent ordination seems to have served as a sort of catalyst in the ever growing divide between the young and old, urban and rural MCUSA membership. But from my location, these reactionary reverberations seem to find their epicenter on the conservative side of the aisle while the almost certainly inevitable LGBTQ ordination seems to originate on the progressive side. Regrettably, I feign to even use the binary language associated with progressive versus conservative politics, but it seems that such language indicates that we have already bought in to the us vs. them mentality that dominates our American culture.

What about the Third Way?

I’m perplexed as to why we’re having this conversation in the first place. Looking at arguments from “both sides,” I keep asking myself, “where is Jesus in this?” I see Jesus in the calls for humility and servanthood. I see Jesus in the cautionary language encouraging dialogue instead of schism. But I don’t see Jesus in the Soddom and Gommorah rhetoric, and neither do I see it in the practice of ordination.

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Anabaptist Revival in Allegheny County

It is strange that I live in Pennsylvania, a state with a strong Anabaptist population and history, but in my county (Allegheny) there was very little presence. Part of the problem is that I live in western Pennsylvania, while the historic Anabaptist populations primarily settled in the east, on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains. Until the 1960′s, there were no Mennonite congregations in my county—the nearest Mennonite community was in the next county. There were a couple Brethren congregations, but it was still mostly the same.

It was in the late sixties, when a small community from various backgrounds and denominations began to meet that things started to change. This small community admired the Anabaptist—specifically Mennonite—vision, and the called themselves “Pittsburgh Mennonite Church,” even though they did not belong to a Mennonite denomination at this point. A little while later, they decided to join the Allegheny Mennonite Conference of the Mennonite Church, and it was with them that an Anabaptist movement started in my area. (more…)

Embracing the Foolish

When I look at my life so far, I realize that I really shouldn’t be a Christian. I grew up in a culturally Christian environment, where neither of my parents really cared about religion, and the few experiences I did have with the church growing up were not good ones. Add to that the fact that I am part of the generation called “Millennials,” which tends to be less religious than previous generations. In all respects, I really shouldn’t be a Christian.

What changed was that I discovered Jesus. I found the radical, subversive, Sermon-on-the-Mount Jesus, and I just couldn’t let him go. My mother, who dislikes religion, has found my affection for this strange character particularly frustrating. She wanted me to be a teacher, or perhaps a professor. I chose to be a pastor. She wanted me to be concerned for material goods and financial stability like she is. I have a habit of not caring much for money. I also collect different Bible translations and theology books, which also annoys her. My faith is foolishness to her. (more…)

The Christian’s Constitution

There was one text in the Bible that has been the most influential on my life. It was this text that really helped convince me to become a Christian, and it was this text that brought me into radical politics. The passage I am referring to is the Sermon on the Mount.

It was when I was in middle school that I was first introduced to this famous sermon, and it ignited my interest in the gospel. By reading its words, I fell in love with the man who spoke them, and I wanted to apply the sermon to all aspects of my life. It was a big reason that I became interested in left-wing and anti-war movements as well. It would be years later, when I read Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You, that I really started to realize just how much was packed into Matthew 5-7. Recently, a friend of mine who I know from both Young Anabaptist Radicals and MennoNerds, said, ”The Sermon on the Mount or Plain is the Christian’s constitution.” I think there is a lot of truth to that. (more…)