1st Year Reflections from a 1st Year Mennonite – Gonna be a long one folks

A friend of mine invited me to a Mennonite church with her to experience their message this past November of 2006. I looked into the history; I examined the theology. And it made sense to me. As a result, I had a Christian conversion.

And then I spent some time in the church, and found that faith can smolder even among Mennonites. Despite a great theological understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit, I rarely hear Mennonites talk about the Spirit in their lives. Though preaching pacifism, some Mennonite lives out passive-ism. And still others cling to an ethnic identity which, while certainly important to heritage, is also exclusionary for those folks who don’t share that history.

I found this blog and thought perhaps it could be a helpful spiritual outlet for me. And, indeed, it has been.

But even us folks I think warrant a bit of constructive criticism, which I do submit comes from within my limited worldview, so take it with a grain of salt. YAR ain’t perfect. I may love this space, but I don’t unflaggingly support it. In the upcoming year, I would suggest the following to be considered by us folks:
1) Polarizing arguments are, well, polarizing and not constructive.
Polarizing arguments tend to lead to polarizing debates between two really impassioned people writing comments at 1am while they finish a paper on Russian Mennonites and their relationship to borscht. Everybody else gets drowned out or tired by the back and forth and then we have a post on the same issue two weeks later with two new people contributing their vitriol to the debate. It’s really tiring. Try to be more inviting with your debates, and never assume that your word is the final word on the subject.

2) If you are arguing something pretty conservative or pretty radical, “check yourself before you wreck yourself”.
I’ve encountered folks on this blog espousing conservative ethics and theology without feeling the need to explain themselves because their argument should be self-evident. I’ve encountered folks using incredibly radical arguments that throw scripture out the window despite the fact that, in my estimation, the supremacy of the Bible is key in the development of Anabaptist thought. Feel free to argue that one till the cows come home (because it can be argued), but you are definitely in the fringe of Anabaptists at that point. If you want your argument to be compelling for the majority of folks who don’t agree with you, at least try to reconcile your argument with the Bible in some way.And for folks with a conservative argument: you can be very selective with scripture. Don’t cite a verse and then say “see – that’s the Word, and it’s true” because I guarantee you can be proved wrong by another book. That’s the beauty of the Bible.

3) Your theology sounds great: can you help me understand it even a little?
I’m just as guilty as the next on this one: spewing forth some kind lofty theology with big words learned in a Christology class at seminary X. Dense concepts don’t need dense arguments: they need simplified arguments. If you are able to explain a dense theology with simple arguments, you’ve proven you understand it way more than if you use dense arguments. Please try to keep this in mind.

4) In the next year, do we need 28 more posts on LGBTQ?
I think Skylark noted something significant when addressing our underdeveloped topics. Most of the comments I’ve written on this blog have been defending/elaborating LGBTQ inclusion. However, there’s a great blog doing the exact same thing, and probably a lot better than we could: Coming Out Strong. Maybe we should be encouraging the work they do by engaging the issues there rather than trying to own it here. I’m not suggesting a moratorium on posting on the topic, but let’s be conscious of the fact that we may be spending so much time on this simply because it’s controversial and not because we’re getting to any productive or life-giving point with the discussion.

5) Encourage sound dialgoue, not simply controversial flaming.
I can’t think of simple tactics for this beyond real intellectual vigor, respect for others contributing on the blog, and being open to new ideas.

Given that, I’m curious what you YAR’s out there think. Here’s your assignment:

1) Find an example in our archives of what you feel was a sound, enriching dialogue on YAR
2) Post a comment with the link to that dialogue/post.
3) In the comment, tell us why you think it was a good dialogue

I’m sure among our archives we could even find one or two somewhat constructive discussions on LGBTQ. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Comments (7)

  1. TimN

    Thanks for this, Devan. It reads like a breath of fresh air in many ways.

    I decided to take your challenge and do some digging through the archives for some good conversations. I took a look through our recently retroactively created education category. This spring we had a number of lively discussions on the tactics, goals and effectiveness of Mennonite colleges. Among them, this post stuck out to me as one in which the discussion was engaging and at least somewhat enriching:

    Anabaptist and College

    I think it was a good conversation because lots of people offered different perspectives. People expressed strong opinions, but not in a polarizing way. And when presented with a good argument, folks responded gracefully, conceding in some cases and clarifying in others.

  2. Lora

    Devan, first of all — happy anniversary! I’m in orientation right now at the seminary I’m attending, and it’s actually a fairly diverse place — perhaps more so than any community I’ve ever been a part of. They’ve done a number of sessions with us that in essence relate to what to do when you’re offended by something a fellow student says or in turn say something that offends someone else. Their mantra is, “Don’t judge; wonder.” Ask what in that person’s life or belief system would have made them say something like that — invite them out to coffee and then listen. Part of the motivation is to create a healthy environment on campus, but the other part is that it’s a skill all religious leaders should have. Most of us who participate in YAR can’t take each other out for coffee since it’s geographically just not possible, but maybe we could encourage the wondering side more.

    I tried to think of a good post that fit into your qualifications, but I couldn’t. Thanks for the reminder, though; I’d love to see us diversify our topics a bit. I’ll volunteer for “chosenness.”

  3. carl

    Actually, I disagree with the premise of this post :-) I think that discussions on YAR have been heated at times, but have frequently been both instructive and stimulating for that very reason. Personally, I would pick out some of the LGBTQ threads as some of the very best of YAR so far, precisely because people cared enough to get heated about it (though I’m all for diversification of topics, too). In general, I think Anabaptists are too scared of heat, conflict, and passionate beliefs. Overall, I think YAR has been admirably free of personalized flaming – even the heated discussions have mostly (with some notable exceptions) stuck to addressing the issues and not the person.

  4. RonL

    As I have studied and experienced various religions, I have noticed something. In every religion- Buddhist, Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, etc. there are really several religions. There is the religion of the saints of the religion and of the theology and the sacred writings, which is what people first learn about. Then, there is the religion that is really practiced- with all its human flaws.
    It appears to me that you were attracted to the Mennonites because of their ideals. Then, you found out that many Mennonites do not live up to their ideals. You are absolutely right. Mennos are not perfect.
    It is easy to put a group or individual on a pedestal, but inevitably it will get knocked off that pedestal because of its humanity. I know it is disappointing. In my search, I have discovered that there is no perfect religion as it is practiced. They all have flaws.
    On a different point, I do not feel that I am on the fringe of Anabaptist thought to believe that Christ, not the bible is supreme. Sorry, I do not have a citation to back that up, but neither did you for stating it in the first place. Many Anabaptists oppose the flat bible concept and instead place primacy on Christ’s life and teachings.
    Here is a cite on “Our Christ-Centered Faith” by J.C.Wenger of Eastern Mennonite Seminary:


    Anyway, thanks for the post and for bringing up the issue.

  5. DevanD (Post author)


    People have cared enough to get heated, but my point is that when it gets heated then it becomes a back and forth between two people, rather than a community-wide discussion. Once people get heated, other folks drop out. If you think it hasn’t just become a battle between two, show me by linking a discussion here.


    Wenger may have a fascinating point of view on this topic; but I turn to the Mennonite Confession of Faith if we are to talk about a theological document which reaches the masses of Anabaptists, not just scholarly-inclined ones:

    Article 4, while in the commentary mentioning that biblical interpretation must be in harmony with the message of Jesus, nonetheless says that “Anabaptists have sought to be a biblical people”, meaning that the Bible is central to understanding faith and truth. Denying the centrality of the Bible is exactly what Anabaptists first opposed the Catholics on. It is why infant baptism was even challenged in the first place – it wasn’t scriptural.

    I’ll amend my statements to say that perhaps the bible isn’t “supreme”, but it is certainly central and authoritative. Nonetheless, if we are to overlook whole books or chapters of scripture because we don’t like what they say or they don’t help our argument, then we are simply being selective with scripture, which has been going on for a long time and hasn’t served faith incredibly well. But, maybe we naturally do that; maybe that is how we are led by the Spirit to understand scripture. I can’t be sure.

  6. carl

    hey Devan,

    There may have been times where threads got down to being between two people, but I don’t think it happened that often. Maybe you can show me some examples? The LGBTQ threads, which you singled out, actually had some of the broadest participation of any of the YAR threads. Just glancing quickly at the most recent one, I count seven or eight active participants – and it doesn’t decrease as the thread goes on.

  7. eric

    You could also say that any post without enough passion behind it to incite a flame war has no place on a radical blog. If you want to say something here – say something worth fighting about. Otherwise you can go say it on every other menno-blog out there. Aren’t they better suited for it?

    Coming Out Strong is absolutely not the place for any of these LGBTQ conversations, because Coming Out Strong is actually a safe place for LGBTQ people, not a place for bashing out their worth as human beings. Any straight people heading over there had best be ready to sit back, keep their mouths shut, and listen for a long long while before pulling their bigotry out. We have every other forum in the world, isn’t that enough?

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