Ethics

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…)

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…)

Pitfalls and Proposals for the Post Christendom Reformation

There is a growing movement of pastors, church planters, and churches around the globe who have become convinced that the center of the Gospel is a Jesus-looking God who calls his people to partner with him to advance a Jesus-looking kingdom.  They sense that God is pouring out “new kingdom wine” that is bursting apart the tired old wineskins of Christendom. They sense we are at the cusp of a rising kingdom revolution that is going to radically alter what people identity as “the Christian faith” and “the Church.”  The majority of these leaders are both encouraged and discouraged. They are encouraged by the Jesus-looking kingdom revolution they see rising up,  but discouraged by the lack of networking and partnership amongst others who share their convictions. –Greg Boyd and Mark Moore

Several weeks ago, Greg Boyd and Mark Moore hosted a network exploration meeting for Neo Anabaptist types in the hours leading up to the conference on “Faith, Doubt and the Idol of Certainty.” The conference, hosted by Woodland Hills Church, was slated to coincide with the recent release of Boyd’s latest book, Benefit of the Doubt. (which I hear is highly worth reading)

But it was the Neo Anabaptist “network exploration meeting” that became the basis of buzz amongst online Anabaptist circles as of late.

There certainly seems to be a need for cohesion among the emerging Neo Anabaptist churches and pastors across the country–something that goes beyond denominationalism, but can work in tandem with existing avenues (such as denominations) that many of us already have relationships with. Many think we have an opportunity to create a missional organization or association that empowers “the boots on the ground,” so to speak–a platform for Post Christendom theology and praxis.

Perhaps it is time to start bringing together minds and bodies in order to create a space for open resources, networking, and mutual affirmation. Still, the conversation thus far has given me pause, and so I want to highlight a few pitfalls to I think we should avoid as well as present a few proposals that cast some vision for the Post Christendom Reformation.

The Pitfalls

1) We need to acknowledge our privilege:

What I am not seeing so far is a space that creates agency for women, minorities, the marginalized as well as those who aren’t “big” theological personalities in the current Neo Anabaptist discussion. Let’s be honest: while I applaud Mark Moore and Greg Boyd for taking the initiative to invite Neo Anabaptist types into  dialogue as an aside to this conference, I fail to see how hosting a “network exploration meeting” opens the space for the diversity the movement is already composed of, when the only ones who could attend such a meeting must have either

a) been conference town locals, or

b) have the time and means to fly to the Twin Cities and attend Greg’s conference. (more…)

the UNkingdom of GOD: Embracing The Subversive Power of Repentance by Mark Van Steenwyk – Book Review

(This post was originally posted at http://drewgihart.com/2013/08/28/unkingdombookreview/)

Mark Van Steenwyk has written a thoughtful reflection on the significance of Jesus and his in-breaking Kingdom as an alternative way of being in our society that is marred by evil forces, social structures, death-dealing oppression, and coercive violence. the UNkingdom of God is a subversive and anti-imperial vision for a repentant life concretely following after Jesus, that doesn’t attempt domestication or try to mince words. The book reflects the radicalism of an Anabaptist vision, as well as a liberative and prophetic witness that takes seriously the abandoning of empire while walking humbly in the footsteps and Way of Jesus.

One of the most important things about the UNkingdom of God is the way that he exposes how America and Christianity have merged so profoundly, being so deeply intertwined, that it has merely become an imperial puppet and tool. This is primarily done through personal stories as he retells his own story of being indoctrinated with American Christianity, awaking from it, and then ultimately repenting from it. It is primarily his own lived experience being told, often humorously, that I believe will resonate with many that consider themselves Christian while also a part of the dominant culture. For example he begins in the introduction explaining his infatuation with America and its ‘Dream’, and how he responded when he heard the song “God Bless the USA” as he watched fireworks in the sky. He explains:

At this point, I could no longer sing along. With tears in my eyes and a sob in my throat, I broke down weeping. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and pride. I wept as the song played out, and I continued to weep as the fireworks began to fill the night sky. It was like a mystical experience.[1]

Clearly, Mark Van Steenwyk understands what it is like to be enthralled with America and American Christianity. However, he didn’t remain there. The goal of the book is to call people to repentance. And this is the particular strength of this book. I am not sure I have read a book that has so clearly and powerfully called people to repentance in a way that resonates with the way that Jesus did so. We are challenged to repent of our Christianity and how we have been unwilling to experience God because we have him figured out already. He names the issue. It is that “We think we are open to learning the way of Jesus, but our cup is already full of our own ideas.”[2] It is something that we are not conscious of, therefore, we go on engaging scripture and sermons as though we are growing in Christ, when in reality our cups are already full, so everything else just spills out. Steenwyk reminds us that “We need to empty our cups. We need to repent of the myths that crowd our imaginations. We need to repent of our Christianity.”[3] Ultimately, Steenwyk describes that we need to even release and let go of our image and understanding of Jesus before we can truly “be the love of Christ in our world.”[4]

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More with Much Less: An Anorexic’s Guide to Mennonite Cooking

Since becoming Mennonite, I have thought more about the ethics of consumption than I had previously as a generically evangelical Christian. I have been challenged to analyze the impact of how I spend my money (and how much I spend), where I shop for clothes, what food I eat, etc. I imagine that–like me–many Mennonites (and other Anabaptists and fellow Christians) had these issues brought to their attention through such classics as Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger or Doris Janzen Longacre’s More with Less cookbook. While I have found the Mennonite emphasis on simplicity to be one of its more attractive (albeit challenging) features, it wasn’t until I met my anorexic friend, Michelle, at our local Mennonite church that I saw the potentially damaging effects this teaching could have on those who already struggle with food-related issues. For those interesting in thinking through these difficult questions, I commend to you Michelle’s new blog, More with Much Less: An Anorexic’s Guide to Mennonite Cooking. In the meantime, here’s hoping that she’ll invite me over for some of Janzen Longacre’s recipes!

Gelassenheit: Radical Self-surrender

As Anabaptism emerged in 1525, opponents of this new movement described those who became a part of this movement as “radicals.” They even described it as “the Radical Reformation.” Why did they describe this movement as “radical”?

In one way it seems fitting. The early Anabaptists did not seek to reform the church but to restore it to the way of Jesus—the way in which the community of Jesus was gathered and was taught. This way meant taking the teachings and life of Jesus seriously; to live according to his example. For example, given that Jesus was the Prince of Peace, it was a call for his followers to live by this same peace. When Jesus taught to love one’s enemies, it was a call to not seek ways of killing someone. Jesus, the kingdom that he inaugurated, and his invitation to participate in this kingdom is radical. Therefore to live by his example would be very radical!

There were several particular reasons why the Anabaptists were described as “radicals” in the 16th century. One reason was that to follow in the ways of Jesus required one to live according to his example. Menno Simons wrote in 1539 that “Whosoever boasts that he is a Christian, the same must walk as Christ walked.” A follower would need to make a voluntary decision to follow the way of Jesus. Second, was the conviction that to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, meant also being people of peace. This meant practicing nonviolence even if confronted by violence. “Pacifism” is the word used to describe this path of discipleship. They believed that God’s shalom (peace) would not come through violence. Third, the ways of Jesus, his kingdom, and thus the ways of the community—the church—seeking to be faithful to Jesus and the kingdom would lead to practices that would conflict with the principalities and powers. The focus of these principalities and powers was not, and would not be, the pursuit of the kingdom of God. This becomes apparent in that “the powers” normally use a top-down, authoritarian form of ruler-ship and power, whereas the Anabaptist understanding of church assumes a bottom-up, servant attitude towards the other. Also, the state could not depend on these radicals to participate in the call to war and killing. This was revolutionary. The call of the disciple of Jesus was to follow his will even if that put them into conflict with the will and desire of the state.

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Did He Mean It?

As I am sure we all know, there was a tragic shooting in an elementary school up in Connecticut. This is not the first shooting in this country either — not at all. It seems like every week or so that there is a major shooting in the United States. Not all of them make national news, but they always make it to the local news. I have heard many different reactions to these tragedies, but I feel that I must address the typical reaction that I see from Christians, especially conservative ones.

I know this particular approach well because it is the view of my father. He feels that all of life’s evils can be solved by violence. He says we should bomb the Middle East, bomb China, reinforce Israel, and increase private ownership of guns. To put some icing on the cake, he also works for the Department of Homeland Security/Transportation Security Administration.

In addition to my father, a classmate of mine, who sits behind me in English, often talks about guns with another classmate of mine. He feels that all of these massacres could just be stopped if people carried guns. His logic is that if someone starts shooting, everyone else can just fire back and kill him. I am sure that we can all agree how flawed this logic is, but it nevertheless makes sense to him.

(more…)

Hell’s Empty!

When God tells us to love everybody, even those who don’t love us back (Matt. 5:44/Luke 6:27-28), isn’t this an imitation of the way God loves?

When God tells us to be generous and give to everyone (Matt. 5:42/Luke 6:30), isn’t this a reflection of God’s universal generosity?

When God tells us to be merciful and compassionate (Matt. 5:48/Luke 6:36), aren’t we following the example of God’s compassion and mercy?

When God tells us to be nonviolent in the face of violence (Matt. 5:39-40/Luke 6:29), isn’t it because God is the ultimate pacifist? (more…)

Manifesto of the Mennonite Anti-Mission Association

We are Mennonites (and fellow travelers) who reject the church’s mission activities.

We believe Christian mission, historically, goes hand-in-hand with cultural destruction. We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. Thus, we oppose evangelistic crusades and mission boards that proselytize, no matter how well-meaning they claim to be.

We reject the authenticity of the so-called “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:19-20). We simply don’t think Jesus said it. Most New Testament scholars doubt its authenticity as well, for a couple reasons. Firstly, any statements supposedly made by Jesus after his death must be called into question. Secondly, if Jesus told his followers to go out and convert the world, then the debate about the inclusion of Gentiles during Paul’s time makes little sense. To modern scholars, the “Great Commission” sounds more like the post-70-A.D. church talking than the historical Jesus.
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Save Buddhism from Christian Missionaries: A Manifesto

Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are some of the hallmarks of the teachings of Jesus. But those concepts didn’t originate with Jesus.

He found them tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the Torah. Almost every saying in the Sermon on the Mount is a commentary on passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. The genius of Jesus was the way in which he put his own “spin” on the Scriptures, highlighting and elevating the positive aspects of God’s personality, while ignoring and rejecting the negative aspects.

The ideals of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity weren’t the unique property of the Judaic tradition, however. They could also be found earlier, and further east, in what is now India, Nepal, Bhutan. In the Fifth Century before Jesus, a man named Gotoma developed a body of teachings based on what are called “The Four Immeasurables”: (more…)

The Golden Thread: The promise of universal salvation throughout the Jewish bible (Bronx Streets Translation)

“God says: I’m gonna have mercy on whoever I’m gonna have mercy on. And I’m gonna have compassion on whoever I’m gonna have compassion on.” (Exodus 33:19)

“God got mad mercy. Mad grace too. She don’t get pissed off much. Her love stretches down through the years. She lets people off the hook pretty easy.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

“God is one merciful dude. He won’t kick you to da curb. Won’t mess you up. Won’t off you neither.” (Deuteronomy 4:31)
(more…)

Bruderville 2020: An urban anabaptist odyssey

Picture this:

As the new millennium dawns, anabaptists do a new thing in the city: Build a communal neighborhood populated by tens of thousands of simple-living sectarians.

The project is initiated by the Bruderhof and some Old Order Amish, partly for practical reasons: (1) the Amish and Bruderhof population explosions, making it necessary to continually branch out and establish new settlements; and (2) the shortage of affordable farmland, making it difficult to maintain a rural way of life.

More importantly, the initiative stems from a “quickening” amongst these plain people, who realize they’ve lost their ancestral impulse for going into the marketplaces & street corners, inviting others to become co-workers in God’s kingdom. They also realize geographical isolation no longer protects them against worldly influences. So they branch out to the Bronx, where they can influence the world instead.

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Jesus sayings from the Sermon on the Mount (the Marginal Mennonite version)

(Revised November 2011)

The Sermon on the Mount is defined as the 40+ sayings of Jesus found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. About half of those sayings are considered by scholars to be non-authentic (meaning they were likely created by the early church rather than originating with Jesus). Non-authentic sayings are not included here. Most Sermon sayings have parallels in other gospels (Mark, Luke & Thomas). Sometimes the parallels are in simpler form, and thus probably closer to what Jesus actually said. Listed below are 21 of the most authentic Sermon sayings, along with Torah passages that Jesus probably had in mind when formulating them. Similar sayings from other traditions are offered as well.

Luke 6:20: “Congratulations, you poor! God’s kingdom belongs to you.”

Compare to:

Matthew 5:3: “Congratulations to the poor in spirit! Heaven’s domain belongs to them.”

(more…)

Manifesto of the Marginal Mennonite Society

We are Marginal Mennonites, and we are not ashamed.

We are marginal because no self-respecting Mennonite organization would have us. (Not that we care about no stinkin’ respect anyway.)

We reject all creeds, doctrines, dogmas and rituals, because they’re man-made and were created for the purpose of excluding people. Their primary function is to determine who’s in (those who accept the creeds) and who’s out (those who don’t). The earliest anabaptists were also non-creedal.

We are inclusive. There are no dues or fees for membership. The only requirement is the desire to identify oneself as a Marginal Mennonite. We have no protocol for exclusion.

We are universalists. We believe every person who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. No questions asked! Mystic-humanist (and anabaptist) Hans Denck was quoted saying that “even demons in the end will be saved.”

We reject missionary activity. Christian mission, historically, goes hand-in-hand with cultural extermination. We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. Thus, we oppose evangelistic campaigns and mission boards, no matter how innocuous or charitable they claim to be.

We like Jesus. A lot. The real Jesus, not the supernatural one. We like the one who was 100% human, who moved around in space and time. The one who enjoyed the company of women and was obsessed with the kingdom of God. The one who said “Become passersby!” (Gospel of Thomas 42), which we interpret as an anti-automobile sentiment. (more…)

Mennonites on the Bowery

Photo of Weaverland Choir by CharlieK

There’s a building boom on the Bowery these days. It’s been happening for a while, but the last couple years have witnessed an escalation in development, turning the neighborhood into a hip destination point.

Fifty years ago the Bowery was the largest skid row in the world. There were gin joints and flophouses on every block. That’s all gone now, thanks to the forces of gentrification. In their place are condos, art galleries and upscale eateries. Only one skid-row relic remains: the Bowery Mission.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting behind the Mission’s pulpit in the 1960s, looking onto a sea of expectant faces while my father preached. In retrospect I realize the men behind those faces were awaiting the sermon’s conclusion so they could get their grub. (more…)