Mennonite Church USA, Phoenix 2013 convention and Anabaptist networks and alliances

Goose Sunset on Hampstead Heath

On Saturday, the Mennonite Church USA executive board decided to hold the MC-USA 2013 convention in Phoenix, thus saving the $300,000 deposit $460,994 (source: MCUSA staff) that otherwise would have been lost. Any delegates who feel unsafe (or uncomfortable) meeting in Phoenix due to Arizona’s targeting of the Latino community will be shepherded to a “satellite” gathering at an unspecified location. Thus, their marginalization will move from the realm of metaphor to a literal, physical fact. The decision is a real triumph of institutional logic.

As I read the news in my inbox this morning, I felt something inside me drop. I realized that I had let myself hope that the executive board might listen to the clear message from Iglesia Mennonita Hispana and many others. I had let myself hope that this decision would be different from the decision to move ahead with the building in Elkhart last year. I let myself hope that the institution could re-member itself as the beloved community and take a prophetic stand with a real cost.

If you’re looking for a further critique and de-construction of the decision, I recommend, Andy Alexis-Baker’s piece Becoming Anabaptist: A Protest to the Mennonite Church. I want to focus elsewhere in the remainder of this piece.

What now?

In processing this decision, I notice a shift in myself and already heard a similar sentiment from others. Last year, many of us put a lot of energy and time into trying to convince Mennonite Church USA institutions to shift as part of the Spark Renewal movement. As I sit with the Phoenix decision and read some of the response, I feel a sense of release where I did not expect it. Perhaps it is time to stop focusing on trying to change or influence the Mennonite institutional structures and focus instead in building an alternative community outside of the shell of the old.

Trying to affect the institutions of Mennonite Church USA feels to me increasingly like a path to burn out and cynicism. Instead, focusing our energy on building an Anabaptist network outside of traditional denominational structures is hopeful and life-giving alternative.

Over the last month, Mennonite Weekly Review has curated a series on its blog responding to an article from from Myron Augsburger in which he called for a new, non-institutional Anabaptist “alliance”. Augburger’s vision is big and sweeping, including all existing Mennonite denominations from Old Order Mennonites to Church of the Brethren. While this sort of grand alliance is exciting, I find the focus on those denominational structures is distracting. We can’t wait for these structures to yield them selves up in some scheme of grand unification. Rather, as “>Mark van Steenwyk suggests, let us notice the myriad small ways in which this network is already happening.

I’ve been dreaming in this direction ever since I worked with the Anabaptist Network in the UK, a group that consciously names its goal of not becoming another institution. Over the past four years, I’ve seen the filaments of a similar network here in the U.S. begin to coalesce, interweave and cross-pollinate. Neo-Anabaptism is increasingly independent and outside of the traditional Anabaptist denominations. It challenges not only imperial Christianity, but the structures that go with it. In envisioning what this new creation looks like, I am reminded of Ched Myers and Elaine Enns reading of 2 Corinthians 5:16-17:

The flesh (Gk. sarx) does not refer to our bodies or our sexual passions, the widespread mi-understanding of Christian pietism. Rather it is one of Paul’s favorite metaphors for the deeply rooted, socially conditioned world- view we inherit from our upbringing. It is the sum total of personal and political constructs and conventions that define what it means to be a member of a given culture–in other words, the way most folk think and act. from Ambassadors of Reonciliation, Vol 1. p. 10 (emphasis in the original)

How much of our institutional logic is part of this sarx? Certainly the early Anabaptists had a clear sense of what they were being called out of. What can we learn from their critiques of the society around them? In the midst of the assimilation of traditional Mennonites can we listen to the voices of non-cradle Mennonites calling us to a new creation? Today is the second day of “Hope for Change … Hope for the Future”, an un-precedented meeting of Mennonite racial/ethnic leaders in the U.S. Let’s listen carefully to what hope they offer.

The Phoenix decision is an clarion call for Anabaptists committed to prophetic witness to to shift our focus from the institutions to the new community that is rising up.

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Photo by Tim Nafziger on Hampstead Heath, London, UK, September 24, 2009

Comments (28)

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  2. TimN (Post author)

    Here’s a powerful prayer of lament from Martin Troyer, pastor of Houston Mennonite church, in response to the Phoenix Decision:

    Phoenix: A Cry of Lament

    Reply
  3. Tim Baer

    A couple quick thoughts:

    Starting an “alternative community” outside of traditional mennonite structures sounds like it may work. But would the hispanic churches come? If not, then what has been solved? The old institution continues. You haven’t solved the problem, Tim, you’ve hidden it from your own view. And as much as I disagree with you on nearly everything, and as much as I wonder how we can be involved in the denomination, something about you and your peers leaving, for this reason, just feels wrong.

    Also, who is to say that if we moved it elsewhere that a similar law wouldn’t be adopted in the new location? Or, as it’s been stated here many times, while Arizona has an official law, other states actively round up and deport aliens all the time. I.C.E. is a FEDERAL agency, rounding up aliens at their whim, should we not hold the event anywhere in the US?

    How about us being a witness to the powers that be while in Arizona? Isn’t that a possibility? Should we let ‘evil’ be to grow and fester? Should we run from those we disagree with when we grow weary of fighting for our ideals? Oh. Maybe you shouldn’t answer that.

    As far as I know, Arizona’s law isn’t terribly unfair. I disagree with it. I don’t think it will solve any problems. It doesn’t tackle the larger issues at hand. It makes people feel unwelcome (And, in all honesty, that’s what its aim clearly is.). MCUSA also didn’t plan the convention after the law was passed. It isn’t like the institution purposely put the event is a hostile place. If someone is an illegal alien and is part of our church, maybe they should take a pass. They have to hide anyway, everywhere, not just in Arizona.

    We can continue to fight the rules and laws of this nation that we think unfair. But don’t blame MCUSA for a situation that was out of their control. And, as a side note, seeing as the issue was money, a cool 300 grand even. If you don’t tithe 10% (if you’re able), maybe you shouldn’t complain. If the church was overflowing in resources, maybe we could afford to live by our ideals and not by our wallets. As it is, MCUSA, like all denominations, is cash poor. 300 grand could go to missions or homeless shelters or schools or resources for aliens. Don’t scoff at the cash, it’s a big deal.

    Reply
  4. TimN (Post author)

    Tim,

    You’re absolutely right that building an alternative community outside of traditional Mennonite structures that didn’t include Latino and Latina Mennonites would be pretty pointless. I think that’s an important reminder as we’re imagining something different.

    Also, an important clarification: I’m not focused on getting people or churches to leave their denominational structures. Rather I’m suggesting that other networks and connections might rise to the surface as just as important.

    And indeed, these new models are already among us. This blog is one of those experiments. It is certainly not going to replace face to face community, but it does offer an opportunity for Anabaptist conversation outside of traditional denominational structures. It also suffers from the lack of non-white, non-male voices that you name so clearly. Interestingly, it is a community in which you have been one of the most loyal members with your strong dissenting voice. Which gives me hope that it is possible to avoid these experiments simply becoming an echo chamber reinforcing our own viewpoint.

    Reply
  5. Sam

    Not to disrupt what I think is a good conversation, but do we consider doing face to face things? I’d love to meet some of the other YAR in real life (I mean beyond those I already know). I know I’m going to be at Pittsburg, is there anything happening there?

    Reply
  6. TimN (Post author)

    Sam,

    I think a face to face YAR gathering is a great idea. We last had a face to face meeting in conjunction with the Mennonite convention in San Jose in connection with the Mennonite convention there in 2007. That in itself is a good reminder that new experiments rarely develop completely independent of the existing ones.

    The Jesus Radicals website is a great example of a strong internet community that has spawned regular physical gatherings all over the world.

    Do you have suggestions on how to organize a YAR gathering in 2011? If nothing else, some of us might be attending the Pittsburgh convention in July.

    Reply
  7. Tim Baer

    I know I’ve often thought about meeting some YAR folks in person, but time and travel are cost prohibitive. Maybe in Pittsburgh, though I wouldn’t be able to wear my Ravens gear there ;).

    @Tim, I’ve often wondered if the lack of non-white, non-male voices is because this structure (online) so clearly favors radical opinions and exploring questions and ideas with (often) hazy answers. To me, and pardon my generalizations here, women seem so much more interested in real relationships and practical application. It’s men who wrestle with philosophy after dinner is eaten while women do the dishes. (I’m not saying that’s the way it SHOULD be, I’m saying that women seem to enjoy tangible results while men bicker over deep meanings that don’t really matter.)

    Perhaps, if we want female voices, a different medium is in order. For instance, I notice in church that discussion over complex theological issues are dominated by men. Whereas the Christmas pageant, a true celebration of community, is run almost exclusively by women. The mediums are different.

    What draws in Latino believers? I dunno, I don’t have a whole ton of experience with them. But maybe we could draw them in to the conversation as well if we knew what motivates them. What do the Latino segments of our church want? Need? And how do we provide a forum for their voices? Is it enough that they have their own churches? Should our churches merge and mingle? Do we want them to? Do they want them to? Is the cultural divide too large?

    And maybe, just maybe, the seperation in 2013 will be a GOOD thing. Maybe, by all of us in Pheonix, knowing that a large portion of our church is at some satellite location, will increase the hurt on OUR end. Maybe that hurt will cause further change. It’s almost always worse right before it gets substantially better. Maybe that’s where we are headed. That’s promising…I guess…..

    Reply
  8. AlanS

    Tim, Tim and Sam, Thanks for your thoughts and responses here. I’m still trying to figure out what I think about this decision and I’ve found your discussion and thoughts encouraging. I am especially interested in the face to face meeting at Pittsburgh. I would enjoy that greatly.

    TimN, First off, it’s $500,000, not $300,000. ;)

    Secondly I have a question for you that has been nagging me for quite a while now. I hope that I can word this sensitively and compassionately but please forgive me if it doesn’t come across that way. It is a genuine question.

    How do you (we) gracefully accept a decision that you do not agree with while remaining in community with those who made the decision?

    Hopefully I can explain that a bit more. I read this blog post as well as Andy Alexis-Bakers today. I find myself both agreeing deeply with them and turned off by them as well. I find myself resonating with the deep longings for justice and change that both you and Andy express. I am fully with you in the recognition of the justice that God calls us to.

    What I found so disturbing was what felt like a very black and white logic that showed a blindness that is truly disturbing. Andy A-B aside, I have watched your reaction here, and especially the work of the Spark Renewal campaign, with great lament. The message that it feels like many put out is that “we are on the side of God’s justice and if MCUSA leadership does not see it our way, or implement everything that we wish, then they are clearly and willfully rejecting the work of God.” This might be somewhat hyperbolic, but isn’t that far off from the rhetoric that I’ve heard.

    The problem is that you aren’t always going to have it your way. What’s more, if you’re asking people to be open to changing their beliefs and practices, yet remain so unchanging in yours, it shuts down any hopes for real change.

    What’s more, I’m concerned by the inability, or maybe just unwillingness, to recognize the faithfulness of MCUSA leadership who you disagree with. I have the ability to understand and articulate multiple sides of the Phoenix issue. While you might feel differently, there is not just one clear response in my mind. There are many faithful responses, all of which are incomplete and have their problems. The sense that I get from you, and especially Andy, is that because you disagree with the decision that MCUSA leadership made that they willfully chose to do the work of the Devil. That just isn’t the case. The issue is that they are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who were charged with making an incredibly difficult and painful decision. We just happen to disagree with it. It doesn’t mean they’re rejecting us or oppressing us. They are doing their best to make a faithful, difficult decision.

    What I find especially interesting in this whole discussion is that it’s the white people who have an all or nothing mentality. I was greatly encouraged by the statement from Iglesia Mennonita Hispania which said

    “If the Phoenix site is chosen,” they wrote, “we will bless the people who will be attending the event and will continue to pray. While we are blessing the people and the event, it does NOT mean we endorse the decision.

    ” Even the Hispanic group that initially called for it’s cancellation seems to be showing more maturity and understanding for the difficulty of this decision than Andy or many of my other white friends. That gives me significant pause to contemplate my own reaction.

    This all being said, I’m deeply troubled by the possibility of a satellite location. To me, that’s almost worse than the simple decision to have it or not. It’s also worth clarifying though that the satellite site was only part of the recommendations. I don’t think that that has even been officially laid out as the plan going forward. I could be wrong on that, but that’s how I read the articles and recommendations that have been released so far.

    Again, TimN, I’m genuinely trying to raise this issue in an honest way. I don’t have the answer to the question of how to lose gracefully. I’m not trying to attack you or Andy or anyone else. I ask this and raise it as someone who agrees with you. If I’ve come across attacking, I ask your forgiveness.

    peace,
    alan

    Reply
  9. AlanS

    This is also an important response in this discussion.

    Reply
  10. Tim Baer

    The more I think about MCUSA’s decision, the more I like it. The more I think it was the right thing to do. We need to be a witness to Arizona. To take our light to dark places. To reveal Christ’s way to the sinner, those in power, those without power…everyone. Ah, it forces Mennos to do what they are so poor at doing, taking the message to the heart of the problem.

    Now we just have to respond that way. We have to be bigger than the problem presented to us.

    Reply
  11. Melanie

    Thanks for your comments, Alan. The assumption that the leaders of MCUSA are acting in bad faith, with money as their primary motivator, is a very harmful one, I think, and one that some of the rhetoric around this issue (and the new building, and the GC flag decision) seems to be based on. I’ve read rumors of conspiracies and purposeful misleading by leadership that I think are unfounded.

    It’s true that institutional behavior is often driven by the desire to perpetuate the institution itself, and that makes change very difficult and slow. I think we’re right to question the reasons behind that behavior and even the need for institutions themselves. I love to have conversations about the need for institutions within the body of Christ. But I wish that we could come to the table with the belief that the primary players are at least acting in good faith and work from there.

    Reply
  12. TimN (Post author)

    AlanS,

    Thanks for the link to Laura Lehman Amstutz’s article. I hadn’t seen it yet. I responded to her on her original article here:

    http://emu.edu/blog/work-and-hope/2011/01/11/when-the-enemy-is-within/

    Do my comments there respond to some of your concerns in your comments above? Briefly, I think it is important to offer critique in ways that maintain relationship and honor the humanity of those involved. I’m saddened that you read my post as saying that MCUSA leadership “willfully chose to do the work of the Devil.”

    I hold off on writing more here until you’ve had a chance to read my comments on Laura’s post.

    Reply
  13. TimN (Post author)

    Since Melanie has a similar point to Alan’s I’ll just quote part of my comments on Laura’s article here:

    I think it also important in conversations like these to differentiate between structures and the people, especially when we are at our most prophetic. I find Walter Wink’s images of the Powers and Principalities (Ephesians 6:12) and Angels of the Churches (Revelation 2: 1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). In both cases, this is biblical language that differentiates the spirit of the structure from the individuals who are part of it. This biblical language calls us to honor and love the individuals who make up churches or institutions, while also recognizing that the structures they are part of are at the same time good, fallen and being redeemed. Of course, living out that dance in our lives together isn’t always so easy.

    I think Wink’s framework is much more helpful in understanding how institutions and churches work then talking about conspiracies or purposeful misleading. I do believe that good people can make bad decisions while acting in good faith. This is especially true when they are acting as part and on behalf of an institution. That’s why I think clearly understanding how institutions act is critical in offering prophetic critique while humanizing individual leaders and maintaining relationship.

    Reply
  14. AlanS

    TimN,

    Thanks for your response, both here and on Laura’s article. I’m often wordy and inarticulate at the same time. I think this might be an instance of that. Part of what is going on in my head is that I read both your post and Andy’s back to back. After further reflection, I should not have gone so far as to say that you think MCUSA leaders are doing the work of the Devil. I’m not sure that I can say the same thing for Andy. I’ll have to give that more thought. Unfortunately, reading the two pieces back to back, I can’t escape the common threads of a desire to walk away from the Mennonite project. Which I am saddened by as well.

    Also at play is the strong feeling of either/or thinking. That might not be intended, or completely representative of what you actually believe. However, in a black and white mindset the implication of saying that one side is on the side of justice naturally implies some things about the other side.

    I’m also probably bringing in feelings from prior discussions and issues as well. That’s unfair and I apologize.

    I think one of the common themes that I have been picking up as I’ve read the myriad responses to this decision is one of lament and sadness. No matter what side of this issue anyone seems to be on, there seems to be a great weight and sadness at the level of division and dysfunction in the family of God. For those of us committed to the way of reconciliation and peace, this is a dark reminder of just how far we have to go and how impossible peace may actually be. That’s not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t do all we can for peace, but that we still need to place our ultimate hope in the power of God to bring that final peace. I don’t know if that’s helpful for you, but right now that’s where I kind of need to place my hope.

    I’m getting ready to head out on the road this week for a family funeral. I look forward to your response but if I’m not able to respond, I just wanted you to know why.

    Peace to you all.

    Rev. 21:5

    And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true”

    Reply
  15. JimR

    Alan,

    You make some very strong points.

    I’m not sure I find the financial aspect of things irrelevant or necessarily negative. Money is not something we like to talk about, but it represents a hard reality. If we have $300,000 in deposits to be lost, along with an additional $500,000 in penalties that must be paid instantly, we have effectively giving Arizona an $800,000 bailout with no services rendered because of policies we find morally reprehensible. With a boycott like that, who needs customers? While I do not see a reason to speculate what else we could do with the $500,000, or the $300,000 for that matter–the former is money we do not have, the latter is money we already spent–some cost-benefit analysis should definitely be in order.

    That said, why is there only one way to address issues of racism or this Arizona legislation? Given the political realities in this country with the overwhelming win of populist demagoguery this past election, it is likely that other states will follow Arizona’s lead. If we boycott them, too, then we may find ourselves with no place to hold the convention at all. Surely racism must be confronted, and we can use the convention in Phoenix to create a strong oppositional presence. Further, we can use our experiences in Phoenix to better confront copycat legislation that may well be in the works at home.

    Reply
  16. Tim Baer

    Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
    for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness,And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

    Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

    Yes, we could look at it from the perspective that church leadership is comfortable with hurting some members of the church. Or, we could, look at it that we have ALL been hurt by this course of action. I choose the latter. We can make it right by being SUPER-JESUSY while in Arizona.

    Reply
  17. Joseph P

    JimR (do you really go by ‘Jim’? :)-

    I agree that the money is not irrelevent.

    For me, I’ve been waiting to see if Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH) would concede that given all the other factors (i.e. the money and the likelihood of similar laws popping up elsewhere) it makes sense to stay in Phoenix even though it is not fair to their constituent group.

    In the absence of that, it’s felt to me like there is a principle to uphold of supporting our oppressed members, which should always trump financial concerns. Let’s remember the obvious that ‘Hispanic Mennonites’ are ‘Mennonites’ (that is, members of MCUSA in this case) and the finincial burden of withdrawing is equally theirs.

    It’s felt as if people expect IMH to lobby for their unique self-interest (holding a convention in a place where they feel safe), while we then expect the executive board to hear those concerns and then weigh them against other factors, like money. Why aren’t we assuming that IMH is weighing all those concerns and giving their final conclusions more weight?

    I would have supported canceling convention altogether for 2013. I think we need to hold national conventions less frequently. As the world’s oil supply shrinks and climate change accelerates, traveling across the country is becoming less and less responsible.

    Reply
  18. JimR

    Joseph,

    I think there is some value in not holding the conventions as often. But that should be a separate matter of discussion.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that the principle that racism is wrong, and that is black and white. As one body, we can not very well get along as a part of us suffers.

    However, the methods we use to fight the racism of the Arizona legislation is far from black and white. Is canceling the Phoenix convention is the only way, or even the best way, to address the issue? I am not convinced that the MCUSA Executive Committee is “selling out,” ignoring, or otherwise discounting the concerns of IMH in its decision.

    Although Arizona has the law, it is incorrect to say that Arizona has a monopoly on the thought behind the law. I could see Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and other states following suit by the time of the convention. It is up to us and our creativity to find a way to confront this. Phoenix may make for a good opportunity for us to get organized and get started. Given the implied direction of the executive board’s plans, they may have precisely this in mind.

    Reply
  19. TimN (Post author)

    If the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board is going to gearing up the church to organize a creative, SUPER-JESUSY witness for justice and peace in Phoenix over the next 3 years that models an Anabaptist, anti-racist identity in new and exciting ways, more power to them.

    My point in this article was to say that I feel called to invest energy and time in Anabaptist networks and campaigns that don’t depend on action or support from Mennonite Church USA institutions. That said, I’d be delighted to have my hope restored by a dynamic, church-wide campaign led by Ed, Dick, Elizabeth, Addie, Tina, James, Brian, David, Kim, Charlotte, Janeen, Merrill, Juanita, Pat, David, Kenneth and Sharon. I’m sure they could do it. But will they?

    Reply
  20. Dave Hockman-Wert

    TimN, I wrote a really long response on The Mennonite’s copy of your essay already, but I am intrigued by your last comment and want to respond to it here.

    Frankly, I’m not sure it’s the EB’s role to lead a dynamic, church-wide campaign to organize a SUPER-JESUSY witness in Phoenix. It’s the CHURCH’s role. And that’s *ALL OF US*. A Board’s role is governance, not implementation. So yes, they could call for the organizing of such a witness. And they have called for and committed to a lot of different efforts in light of the Phoenix 2013 decision: http://www.mennoniteusa.org/Portals/0/Convention2013/2013Recommend.pdf

    But to assume that they should lead in the implementation of this effort, as volunteers, along with all of the responsibilities they already hold, is unrealistic. By assuming they should, aren’t you falling into the fallacy of institutionalism/bureaucracy: that the leaders should do everything and the people don’t need to do anything?

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  21. Tim Baer

    Dave, you make a good point.

    Tim, if you wish to start an outside campaign, to what purpose? To affect change within the networks’ churches, churches that do not even exist? Or to affect MCUSA’s churches?

    The first is obviously ridiculous. The second is disturbing. For instance, you clearly take issue with the fact the MCUSA’s institutions seem impenetrable. But how much more so than some sort of democratically run organization like you envision. For a great example, see Pink Menno’s response to Jim Schrag’s letter regarding last year’s conference. While Jim’s letter has a name attached, Pink Menno’s was issued forth by, um….who? In fact, the lack of organization seems to create the very sort of bureaucracy you wish to avoid. In fact, larger, even.

    Secondly, it seems kind of obnoxious to create a network to establish some sort of leadership over an organization that already has leadership in place. Make no mistake, such a network, no matter how democratic or informal, has a leadership style. And if the goal is non-traditional leadership or “prophecy” FOR MCUSA, what a horrible thing to establish to circumvent the affired leadership of the current organization. And I believe this is what you’re after. If you don’t wish to create your own denomination, then the only reason for such an organization to exist is to challenge the existing organization’s leadership. In other words, a coup. A mutiny. Such a thing may be deserved (or may not), but it is what it is.

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  22. TimN (Post author)

    Dave,

    I think you may want to re-read my comment again. You’ve misunderstood my intention. This is the key sentiment:

    I feel called to invest energy and time in Anabaptist networks and campaigns that don’t depend on action or support from Mennonite Church USA institutions.

    The rest was an attempt to acknowledge what Tim B and JimR were saying about the Executive board. More power to them, but that’s not my focus.

    Tim B,

    Your argument assumes that the network or campaign I’m referring to would be focused on working for political change within existing church institutions. Let’s call those internal advocacy groups. Certainly there are examples of these, including Pink Menno and Spark Renewal. But that’s only one small piece of the what Anabaptist networks and campaigns can be about. These other (non internal advocacy) groups are all around us already, they’re not some abstraction. Look at Mennoneighbors or Becoming Undone or Anabaptist Disability Network. And there are many other examples of Anabaptists in the US (or elsewhere) getting together to build relationships and take action together around shared vision.

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  23. Dave Hockman-Wert

    TimN, I understand that you are preferring to invest your energy and time in networks outside the institution. And you’re doing that, as I understand it, largely because of being unhappy with the direction of the institutions.

    But you also said that you’d “be delighted to have [your] hope restored by a dynamic, church-wide campaign led by” the EB, which is what I was responding to in my earlier comment.

    This latter statement demonstrates to me that your frustrations with the institution are in part due to unrealistic expectations of the institution.

    On the one hand, I think you ascribe to them too much power, i.e., sometimes when you talk about “the Church” (MC USA), I hear the same kind of rhetoric and sensibility as if you’re criticizing the U.S. government for some awful empire-ish action. This is MC USA, for goodness’ sake. You share its values. (Heck, you grew up in the same church I did; your values *came* from the Mennonite Church.) You have had conversations with the Executive Director. He’s hardly inaccessible or hidden behind some bureaucratic maze. We’re a small organization, in the big scheme of things.

    If you are waiting for your hope to be restored by Christian superhero actions (on the order of MLK) by our EB or ED, then, I contend, you will *always* be disappointed by “the institution”, because of what I wrote previously.

    And on the other hand, when they don’t live up to these heightened expectations, instead of saying, “well, they’re just a bunch of fallible people who agreed to serve the church at this time and place; they’re no better or smarter than me, really, so I’ll do what I can to help them out – respond to calls for feedback, serve on committees and boards, offer productive suggestions during the discernment phase”, you say, “to heck with them, I’m going to work on the outside.” You’re certainly welcome to do so, but a clean break might be more satisfying (and less coup-like, per Tim B’s comments). http://www.aemc2000.org/

    And although you may say, well, look, I have evidence that they are an unresponsive bureaucracy and a self-protective institution that has renounced their core Anabaptist values, because they didn’t do what we ask (e.g., national anthem, Spark Renewal, Phoenix 2013), I would respond by saying that just because our leaders do something you (or I) don’t like doesn’t mean they’re being unresponsive or un-Anabaptist or bureaucratic. It just means they’re not agreeing with our opinion (this time). Their role is to care for the whole church, and lead all of us, not just the young (or old) activists or the old (or young) covering-wearing traditionalists (both of whom I love), but *all* of us. I can understand that you get frustrated when the church doesn’t always follow your advice (they didn’t (and still don’t) always follow mine either), but that doesn’t mean they’re being unfaithful. It might just mean that they’ve listened to many different sides of an issue, and are making one of many possible difficult choices, none of them perfect. Until you can imagine the kind of challenge that is “holding the center” between Lancaster Conference and Central District Conference (as one example), it’s hard to take your criticisms of MC USA leadership too seriously (although I always find them articulate and provocative).

    Reply
  24. Joshua Brockway

    A quick outside voice (CoB). The latest Iconocast at Jesus Radicals is an interview with Richard Rohr. Towards the end (at least the second half) he starts to engage the tension between a movement (or as he says Charism) and the institution. Two interesting things emerge out of that discussion for me. First, a charism (movement, network) will always try to perpetuate itself- hence the institution. It’s nearly unavoidable. Second, as Rohr tried to describe the emerging church crowd, he offered a great bounded set image. Here is a group of people who are trying to be at the outside edge of “the institution” while still remaining a part of it.

    I want to say one thing about networks which try to do what institutions cannot- it must be great to have all the fun with none of the responsibility. I know that sounds harsh, but I think it gets to some truth. A “network” across, within, or in spite of denominations carry very little need to be “political”. The mutual accountability is only as strong as the agreement to be in relationship. When money, property, or communities are added the need to play the game increases. In other words, those in leadership have to navigate competing concerns, political alliances, the money given to them in good faith. A network barely has to do that. And as a recent quote from William Cavanagh states so clearly, we are often tempted to think that politics is antithetical to the Church, when in fact the distinction is really a modern one.

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  25. Pingback: Phoenix 2013 « The Wandering Road

  26. SteveK

    I have to say that I am really torn between Tim’s point of view and Dave’s reasonable concerns.

    I am angry at MCUSA’s decision to remain in Phoenix, especially given the fact that those attending the conference will unlikely make any kind of realistic, tangible “witness”. If there is any time for a prophetic statement– which I am confident there will be– I doubt that it will be attended in enough numbers to make any kind of impact in Arizona.

    I have been really disturbed at the administration’s lack of ability to act on issues of justice or mercy, instead relying on vague language and more vague actions. The prophet in me wants to see an Anabaptist network developed apart from MCUSA, not as a “lesson” for MCUSA, but as an opportunity to be a church that acts on justice and mercy.

    But Dave gives me pause. As much as I want to “witness” to Arizona, the fact is, our calling is to evangelize and witness to the church. If MCUSA needs to change, to be more just, then should we leave it? Yes, the administration has made mistakes. I’m sure they’d admit it as well, if not on this point, then on another. But eventually Tim or someone like him will be in an important, policy-changing position in MCUSA. And what will happen then? They will make their own errors of justice and mercy.

    I think it’s great to develop networks and to have places to express our concerns like Jesus Radicals and YAR. If we recall, MCUSA has given us the opportunity to use their media machine to communicate these opinions. And it is true, little has changed. But some has. I certainly don’t think enough has changed. But maybe, just maybe, someone or a couple of someones will really make changes in our church. Because it is ours.

    I personally don’t know if I will go to Phoenix when it comes time. I suppose it will depend on the response of the Iglesia. But whatever I choose, it will be to en-courage the church to do right, not to just separate.

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  27. Heidi

    I think that the convention needs to be held in Phoenix because maybe in a small way it can bring about small changes and make people stop and think about the way things are (and may continue to be)in Arizona. I am troubled by the satellite location because I don’t think that people should have to do this. We need to be a light in a very dark place.

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  28. AlanS

    I just got back from Pastors week at AMBS where this topic was very much on everyone’s mind. After some reflection I decided to share something with my congregation. If you’re interested, here’s what I shared with them.

    http://thewanderingroad.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/phoenix-pastors-week-reflections/

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