MENNONITE CHURCH USA CHURCHWIDE STATEMENT ON LGBTQ COMMUNITIES, DIVERSITY, POWER, OPPRESSION &Â PRIVILEGE*
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…)
When I began looking for an Anabaptist congregation, I was immediately drawn to the San Antonio Mennonite Church here in the Alamo City. Truth be told, I probably would have stayed within our house-church if it weren’t for the fact that many of our families were moving. But as necessity compelled me to search for a tribe, the Anabaptist emphasis on Jesus discipleship, servant minded non-violence, and its history of persecution welcomed me. I’m glad we found a home in the MCUSA.
Having grown up as the son of an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, I was frightfully aware of the denominational politics our family encountered having served under two SBC Presidents. But Anabaptism offered more than that, with less, or so it seemed.
Theda Good’s recent ordination seems to have served as a sort of catalyst in the ever growing divide between the young and old, urban and rural MCUSA membership. But from my location, these reactionary reverberations seem to find their epicenter on the conservative side of the aisle while the almost certainly inevitable LGBTQ ordination seems to originate on the progressive side. Regrettably, I feign to even use the binary language associated with progressive versus conservative politics, but it seems that such language indicates that we have already bought in to the us vs. them mentality that dominates our American culture.
What about the Third Way?
I’m perplexed as to why we’re having this conversation in the first place. Looking at arguments from “both sides,” I keep asking myself, “where is Jesus in this?” I see Jesus in the calls for humility and servanthood. I see Jesus in the cautionary language encouraging dialogue instead of schism. But I don’t see Jesus in the Soddom and Gommorah rhetoric, and neither do I see it in the practice of ordination.
It is strange that I live in Pennsylvania, a state with a strong Anabaptist population and history, but in my county (Allegheny) there was very little presence. Part of the problem is that I live in western Pennsylvania, while the historic Anabaptist populations primarily settled in the east, on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains.Â Until the 1960â€²s, there were no Mennonite congregations in my county–the nearest Mennonite community was in the next county. There were a couple Brethren congregations, but it was still mostly the same.
It was in the late sixties, when a small community from various backgrounds and denominations began to meet that things started to change. This small community admired the Anabaptist–specifically Mennonite–vision, and the called themselves “Pittsburgh Mennonite Church,” even though they did not belong to a Mennonite denomination at this point. A little while later, they decided to join the Allegheny Mennonite Conference of the Mennonite Church, and it was with them that an Anabaptist movement started in my area. (more…)
When I look at my life so far, I realize that I really shouldn’t be a Christian. I grew up in a culturally Christian environment, where neither of my parents really cared about religion, and the few experiences I did have with the church growing up were not good ones. Add to that the fact that I am part of the generation called “Millennials,” which tends to be less religious than previous generations. In all respects,Â I really shouldn’t be a Christian.
What changed was that I discovered Jesus.Â I found the radical, subversive, Sermon-on-the-Mount Jesus, and I just couldn’t let him go. My mother, who dislikes religion, has found my affection for this strange character particularly frustrating. She wanted me to be a teacher, or perhaps a professor. I chose to be a pastor. She wanted me to be concerned for material goods and financial stability like she is. I have a habit of not caring much for money. I also collect different Bible translations and theology books, which also annoys her.Â My faith is foolishness to her. (more…)
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.
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.” 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.” 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.”
Last Friday, the city of Philadelphia handed out eviction notices to Occupy Philadelphia, notifying the residents that they had to leave by Sunday at 5pm, or they would be removed.
While, I haven’t been a part of this movement, I’ve been observing them from the edges.Â And, when I heard about the eviction, I was anxious.Â I saw the UC Davis footage, I read stories about violent evictions in other cities–I was worried about Occupy Philadelphia.
The Interfaith Clergy group called on Philadelphia pastors to go to City Hall on Sunday night, to stand as a witness and reminder that we are called to the way of peace.Â So, my colleague and I headed downtown.
It was obvious that we were clergy–some people would walk by us, and thank us for coming, but mostly we were relegated to the edges of the event.Â We were marginalized, and that was ok.Â We were observers, not participants.
When the Eagles football game let out, we saw more movement around the Occupy Philadelphia encampment.Â Disappointed sports fans were coming up from the subway, and streaming into the square.Â Many were intoxicated.Â A few were very angry with the Occupiers.
One group of young men concerned me right away.Â I heard them making plans to pick a fight with the protestors, to get themselves on the news.Â They were convinced that they would be hometown heroes.
Isaac Villegas, a regular contributor to Young Anabaptist Radicals, has a new book out from Cascade Books called Presence: Giving and Receiving God. Here’s an excerpt from the book blurb:
Through a variety of sermons and meditations, Sider and Villegas bear witness to a grace that disarms our guardedness and makes room for us to fall into the love of God. Preaching becomes a dispossessive practice, as each person is invited to give and receive God’s transforming power.
The proclamation of the gospel, Villegas and Sider say, should display the priesthood of all believers. us, the call to preach belongs to the whole congregation and its conversation rather than to the lone preacher and her (or his) sermon. Presence: Giving and Receiving God draws on the Mennonite tradition of the Zeugnis (“conversation”) to explore how the preached Word echoes through all of our voices.
In January I saw an article in the Wichita Eagle about a woman who was thoroughly convinced that the rapture and the end of the world would be on May 21, 2011. Â At 6pm to be exact. Â Well, this Saturday is the fateful day and, as one would expect, the story has been picked up by variousÂ news outlets.
Now forgive me if I sound a little cynical, but I know my history. Â From the very first moments that Jesus walked the earth people have been predicting his return, and thus the end of the world with it. Â So far, no one has been right.
What’s more, I know what happened at Münster. Â To recap, a group of Anabaptists violently took over the town of MünsterÂ and swiftly began killing people, running around naked and doing a whole bunch of other things all because they were certain that Jesus was coming back right then and there.
Ultimately the controversy stems from the fact that Bell is raising core questions about issues that are central to the Christian faith. Â He has posed the questions in ways that have led some to conclude that Bell is promoting something called Universalism; a doctrine where everyone gets saved, no matter what. Â Again, these are all assumptions because none of his critics have actually read the book yet. Â The only worthwhile critique I’ve read so far is Greg Boyd’s, namely because he actuallyÂ has read the book. Â (As a side note, as an Anabaptist, it’s worth paying attention to Boyd partly because he’s grown very close to Mennonites in recent years, even flirting with the idea of joining MCUSA.) (more…)
Brian McLaren recently published an article addressing the question, “Is God Violent?” In it he makes a case for God’s nonviolent nature that merits a response–both internal and external–from those of us who desire to follow Jesus.
To read McLaren’s article, click here (NOTE: you will be prompted to register in order to view it).
I’ve wanted to respond to McLaren’s essay for a while.
So when the March 2011 issue of Sojourners showed up in my mailbox, I determined it was time to slow down and reflect on his propositions and the nature of God as I understand it.
McLaren frames his essay in response to the notion that God is violent, as is reflected in the Old Testament narrative and which culminates in Christ’s crucifixion at Calvary.
It’s an idea that many Christians (and Jews, and Muslims) hold true, but McLaren identifies how this profoundly impacts how we interact with one another on multiple levels.
I just got back from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Â Our church took a group of 10 high schoolers on a week and a half long service trip. Â Our primary work was on the Samuelito Daycare building, a project of the Mennonite Churches in Bolivia. Â Our church here in Harper, Ks has had a relationship with the Bolivian Mennonites for going on 20 years. Â For a fairly typical rural Mennonite church, it’s a partnership that is pretty special and really quite amazing.
One thing to know about our group is that the majority of the kids that we took aren’t particularly involved in church. Â Also, most of them haven’t really been out of the state or even our county, let alone to another country. Â That to say that this trip was the first profound experience of the working of God on a global scale for most of our kids. Â As with most service trips, yes we did do some amount of good work on the building project. Â However, we certainly received more than we gave and were changed in some profound ways.
As part of our reporting back to the congregation, I offered the sermon below. Â Hopefully it’s a helpful reflection. Â It’s specific to this trip and to Bolivia, but I think it really should to many cross-cultural situations.
I went to the Grand Canyon with my family when I was in High School.Â As my family toured various parts of the canyon and different times of the day it felt as though I was seeing new things about every 10 minutes.Â And of course, I felt compelled to take picture of every new thing that I saw.Â When we got back home and had our pictures developed I remember looking at all of the pictures and thinking, “yep, that’s a hole in the ground.Â Yep, another hole in the ground.” Â What had been so vivid when I was experiencing it lost it’s uniqueness when I tried to put it on film. (more…)
Note:Â This is a repost from my personal blog at http://ballymennoniteblogger.blogspot.com/.Â Since there are a number of post-modern/post-Christendom Anabaptist radicals hanging out here, I thought y’all would enjoy participating in the conversation.
It’s been a little over a year since I set that challenge before myself.Â Well, guess what.Â I’m starting this now.
See, I’m working on my MLI for the Mennonite Church Leadership Database and one of the questions in that database is my reactions and responses to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.Â Since I’m going to be spending the time looking at that in detail for that purpose, I thought I would blog about my reactions as well.
If I can swing it, tomorrow I’ll be hitting Article 1 on God.Â If y’all wanna follow along with me, you can read the articles as I go.Â I’ll be sticking to the order in the document.
Before that, though, you might want to review the Introduction.Â There’s a lot of information there about the importance of Confessions but also points out that the commentary published along with the Articles are important in understanding the articles as they were written.Â Instead of looking at the commentary as “opinion” commentary (as some commentaries on Scripture are), these commentaries should be viewed the same way the book of Romans would be if Paul had written it as a blog article and interacted with commentary.Â (more…)
So I’ve recently run across the Catholic Rosary.Â While I’m drawn to it’s structure and it’s ability to help people pray, as a good Anabaptist, I take issue with some of it’s theology.Â So here is my initial thoughts and proposal for an Anabaptist Rosary.
First- An orientation to the actual Rosary.
How to pray the Rosary
1. Make the Sign of the Cross and say the “Apostles Creed.”
2. Say the “Our Father.”
3. Say three “Hail Marys.”
4. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
5. Announce the First Mystery; then say
the “Our Father.”
6. Say ten “Hail Marys,” while meditating on the Mystery.
7. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
8. Announce the Second Mystery: then say the “Our Father.” Repeat 6 and 7 and continue with the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Mysteries in the same manner.
9. Say the ‘Hail, Holy Queen’ on the medal after the five decades are completed.
As a general rule, depending on the season, the Joyful Mysteries are said on Monday and Saturday; the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday and Friday; the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday and Sunday; and the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday. (more…)
There is a fair amount of change on the horizon for me as a YAR. I seek to face the changes with a soundness in mind, body, and soul. When I look back at the times when I was the healthiest and times I was the unhealthiest………I see that one factor is whether or not I was doing one or more spiritual practices.
Do you have any spiritual practices (sometimes called spiritual disciplines or spiritual exercises) that you hope to pursue this next year or the next decade?
I’m thinking about the ones that I hope to do this year (or at least for the next little while) and my challenge is also to “not pick too many”.
People have asked me if I grew up in the country or in town.Â Well, kinda.Â I technically lived within the city limits of Goessel but I could see a wheat field from my back yard.Â In addition, while Goessel was an official town (signified by it’s own telephone prefix and a post office) the booming Mennonite metropolis of roughly 500 people isn’t exactly what I’d call “urban”.Â Being the biggest football player, not only in my high school but my entire league, I followed the natural progression and went to Bethel College in North Newton, Ks to play ball.Â Eventually I wound up with a Bible and Religion degree.Â After college I worked for Buhler Mennonite Church as a youth pastor as I began studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Great Plains Extension (AMBS).Â After four years at Buhler I finished up my degree at the AMBS main campus in Elkhart, In.Â This last spring my wonderful, and patient, wife and I moved to Harper, Ks where I now work at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church as the solo pastor.Â Even though Harper is three times the size of my hometown (1,500 people) living here would still place us firmly in the rural category.Â My wife works as a nurse at the local hospital which has a whopping 25 beds and an emergency room that is literally has a sign “ring bell for service”.Â We’re not quite in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from where we live.
That being said, if you have never been to the prairies to witness the great expansive and dynamic sky, then you are really missing out.Â One can hardly question the awesome power of God watching a massive thunderhead develop in the hot summer evening.Â With beauty comes power.Â These storms that give life through their rain and are so beautiful to watch from a distance are also the same ones that have been known to destroy entire towns. (more…)