Monthly Archive: April 2010

Bureaucracy, professionalism and dissent in Mennonite Church USA institutions

Jumping over the Sunset

This is the second article in a series on Mennonite Church USA and its institutions. Part 1 is here and part 3 is here.

In the first article of this series, I critiqued “professionalism” in Mennonite institutions without defining it clearly. In the comments responding to the article, a number of people rightly pointed out that professionalism plays a very important role in allowing us to work in consistent, safe and effective ways. As Alan Stucky said in his comment:

Make no mistake that our seriousness and professionalism had a hand in helping to get MVS be the first recognized Christian alternative service organization in 25 years. Professionalism is not inherently evil, or antithetical to the Gospel. Yes, it should be kept in check by the Gospel, but they are not opposites.

Roses shared in their comment about their experience of seeing God move through values of professionalism. Paco, on the other hand, over at Young Anabaptist Radicals speculated on how well Jesus would have done at project proposals and budgets.

I’d like to take the opportunity to define my concern with professionalism more specifically: I am concerned by the way it views internal dissent. During my meeting with Mennonite Mission Network staff that I referred to in the first article, two staff involved with the capital campaign defined professionalism as prohibiting them from publicly dissenting from their institutions public position. As they saw it, their only public option for public dissent was to resign from their organization.


Young Church of the Brethren Radicals

Things are picking up over at Feetwashing and Four Square, our sister blog started by Nick Miller Kauffman (nicolas here on YAR). I’d particularly commend to you the recent post Anabaptist Fierce by Katie Shaw Thompson. Here’s an excerpt on the relationship between some theories of nonviolence and white privilege:

Bob cited a weak (or rather antithetical) version of non-violent theory he often hears from seminarians as symptomatic of the problem. Concerning Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount commandment to “love your enemies” these seminarians want to claim that we have no enemies, which as Bob cited is not really nonviolent theory at all.

Only someone at the top of the food chain, with all kinds of privilege, could claim that we have no enemies. (more…)

Bureaucracy and Buildings in the Mennonite Church

Exhibition of Jean-Michel Folon. Photo by by Marco Bellucci CC BY 2.0

crossposted from As of Yet Untittled

A few weeks ago I sat down with a group of Mennonite Mission Network staff who have been managing the $10 million capital campaign for the new Mennonite Church USA building on the campus of Associated Mennonite Biblical seminaries in Elkhart, Ind. The staff members were meeting with a number of people inside and outside of the institution who have had significant concerns and questions about the direction this project is taking the church.

In listening to the the responses from Mission Network staff to theological and missiological questions raised by the dissenters, I was struck by how much they focused on institutional values such as finances, efficiency and professionalism. The conversation made real for me the way the institutions of the Mennonite church are centered on values of professionalism and institutional interests in their decision making process. I heard them asking: What would a professional do? before asking, “What would Jesus do?”


The messy meaning of Easter

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Over the years, I’ve been a semi-regular reader of Revolution in Jesusland (now archived at, a blog by Zack Exley. Zack was a secular progressive activist who discovered the church a few years ago and was blown away by what he describes as "the fourth great awakening", that is, the church discovering and acting on God’s heart for justice. The blog was an attempt to tell the story of this movement to secular progressives.

When I visited the blog again today after a long absence, I was introduced to his new baby daughter Esther and this powerful passage:

… one side effect of Esther’s arrival was that I had to take over some of Elizabeth’s responsibilities to friends in need. She was eight months pregnant but calls kept coming in from refugee families needing help with medical, legal, financial and paperwork emergencies. So I finally crossed the line that I had been resisting for 20 years: I started getting wrapped up in the messy details of other people’s hard lives — as opposed to "organizing" them, or advocating for "policy" to help them.

Finally getting my hands dirty in various hopeless situations stunned me into silence. What it actually did was give me TOO MUCH to say, and left me tongue tied.

For the past 20 years, I witnessed and condemned systemic injustice. I thrived on the drama of “organizing” against it. But I carefully avoided ever getting my hands dirty in the messy business of merely surviving in the face of it.

For me, the temptation to focus on the systemic injustice and to miss the personal is very real. (more…)

Bodies Matter: a footwashing protest

For Holy Thursday a bunch of gathered at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Cary, North Carolina, and held a footwashing worship service–we told them we wanted to wash the feet of the people detained inside. If you haven’t heard about these ICE detention centers, that means the federal government is good at what it does: Obama is turning out to be just as good as Bush in keeping secrets from U.S. citizens. ICE sets up field offices in unmarked buildings, tucked away in business parks throughout suburbia. Once citizens find out about a particular site, ICE closes up shop and moves to another unmarked building, tucked away in one of the other many business parks in a different suburb. The detention center in Cary we visited is next door to the offices of Oxford University Press, the publisher of many of the books on my shelves. (For more information on ICE detention centers, read this article from The Nation: America’s Secret ICE Castles).

Here’s some local media coverage of our worship service and protest: “Protesters hold demonstration,” and “Taking the Cross to the streets.”

And here’s an excerpt from the short sermon I preached at the detention center as a Cary police officer kept telling me to stop preaching and leave the premises:

This chair here will remain empty as a sign of all the bodies that the department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement have hidden from us, the bodies that law enforcement agents have torn from our communities and our families in the middle of the night, the bodies that they have ripped away from our churches. By refusing to let us wash the feet of the people hidden in their detention centers, the federal government has dismembered the body of Christ, they have torn apart the church, they have pierced and severed the body of Jesus.

For the rest of the sermon, follow this link to my church website: “Bodies Matter, part 1

Never doubt that a small group of marginal wierdos chan change the world.

In fact, according to Clive Thompson, marginal weirdos brought us computer, democracy and the novel. Basically, Thompson argues that when the audience gets too big for a conversation, it stops taking risks. Which is why I’ve come to see these long posting breaks on YAR as pruning moments. A 10% drop in visits to YAR in March means 10% more risk taking! Another part of Thompson’s argument is the way small groups can have wider ripple effects.

For example, I have to admit that I’ve been a Twitter skeptic. I just can’t bring myself to try to squeeze a meaningful into 140 characters. Its probably quite closely tied with my lack of enthusiasm for texting. Maybe its a generational thing. But I discovered that technology doesn’t wait for us to get used to it. Turns out people have been tweeting about YAR for at least a year. (more…)