My intention in joining YAR was not to use the rest of you members as my moral sounding board for difficult questions that I am dealing with in my life, but this is what two of my three posts have turned out to be. I’ll try to make my next post more heady and intellectual, but I think you should enjoy the predicament that I will lay out here.
As my first biographical entry said, I am a youth pastor in a Mennonite church. Being a staff member I get to sit in on the elders (the power-players of the church) meetings and occasionally throw my two cents into the discussion. In our last meeting, we had a decision to make, that was somewhat exciting and completely uncomfortable. This is what we had to work with: There is a member of our church (who happens to be my dad) that owns a large Christian giftware manufacturing business that distributes product nationally and globally. Every March this man has a “Dealer’s Conference” where he invites every retailer who sells his product to come and see the manufacturing plant, buy more of his product, see the local Amish population, and overall does his best to express his gratitude and keep his customers happy. A big part of this conference is bringing in a big name speaker to inspire those who come to the conference and the speech is given in our church. This year, the speaker coming to give the inspirational message is Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind series.
This is the decision that the elders and pastoral staff of the church had to make. Do we allow, and in so doing endorse, Jerry Jenkins to give a message from our church. Or do we say no, and in so doing, send the message that we Mennonites are theologically superior and we will close our doors to a fellow brother in Christ. We want to do neither. Want to have Jenkins come, but let everyone know that we don’t endorse the Left Behind series. We also want him to not come, and not send the message that we are too good for all the people that enjoyed the Left Behind series. Both of the latter two options, I think, are impossible.
I am a graduate of Bluffton University, where people like Jerry Jenkins are easy to bash on. In some religion classes we would role our eyes and make less than uplifting remarks about the people we thought were distorting the true gospel of Jesus Christ. “Those dispensationalists….” we would retort with some theological arrogance, and finish that sentence with comments along the lines of, “too violent,” “don’t know what they are talking about,” or “look how many times they’ve been wrong in their predictions.”
It was becuase of this background, the my very first reaction, which I told my dad, was that there is no way we can let Jenkins into our church. But when I began to think about and process this more, I began to soften up a bit. What am I implying by saying that Jenkins cannot come to our church? Don’t we want to be inclusive, or are we inclusive to people that agree to agree with us?
I do not want to defend Jenkins, or the theology he (and Lahaye) has popularized, but this unique opportunity has made me think more about my own theological bearing. Have we as Mennonites, or just me in particular, come to the point where I can’t learn or dialogue with people of a different theological way of thinking?