In this age of chaos, anger, and thoughtless reaction I take great heart that there are people like Julia and Jeff who continue to cultivate Christ-like leadership within the Church and within the many institutions that represent Christ to the rest of the world.
Since my last post I am pleased to share that the Annual Conference Assembly of the Mennonite Church has chosen to remain within Mennonite Church USA. The vote to remain within MC USA was much stronger than expected, with 70% voting to remain.
Ohio Conference itself remains very conservative and maintains a very strong stance against performing same sex marriages, with immediate suspension of credentials if pastors were to perform same sex ceremonies. It remains to be seen after the dust settles, following this turbulent point in our history, if there is room for a change within our conference.
However, the posture of intolerance towards anyone who could possibly disagree with a traditional interpretation of scripture seemed to have been humbled at this last meeting.
Our denomination, in the Spirit of Anabaptism continues to try to toe the line of being a congregationally based denomination in which the community is entrusted with its own interpretation of scripture.
The question remains, however, if the variance of interpretations warrant a review of whether we should consider ourselves a denomination centered on a common Confession of Faith, which in the past has functioned as for many as the lens by which to read scripture, while for others it is a human document unable to reflect the variety of views within our denomination.
LEARNINGS FROM THIS CONVERSATION
I think what stands out for me in this conversation is the importance of taking the time to process decisions well.
I appreciate the example Eastern & SPC have given us in allowing a process to take shape and grow without the need to control the outcome.
One thing I regret about Zion’s initial process was that it was set up against a time barrier and that it was conducted within the height of conflict.
I think by allowing the process to take on a life of its own, both Eastern and SPC allowed the spontaneity of the Spirit to move the process in a helpful and holistic way.
I think the encouragement from Julia to remember the voices of the LGBTQ communities within our congregational discernment are important for us as we move forward. I think initially, because of the heightened emotion surrounding the conversations, we as a leadership were trying to “control” the opportunities for people to say hurtful things to others.
I also value the in depth way that SPC allowed their process to grow into a longer forum in which family-like relationships were formed. This could not have happened had the church felt like they were in a hurry to move immediately.
KEY INSIGHTS: OPEN ENDED ENGAGEMENT WITHIN A COMMITTED COMMUNITY
What I have learned the most from these two institutions is the value of an open ended process which involves all along the spectrum of opinions and experiences, as well as a full engagement with scripture and tradition.
The central role scripture played in the discernment period for SPC is a great example for me in the way our congregation can take “next steps” in discerning and engaging the conversation.
I wonder however, what such a process of engagement with scripture and community would look like if one were to do it with the entire congregation, rather than simply a small group of people. Would it be possible to cultivate the trust and value of “the other” as SPC was able to do with the small group of people who met.
I think when Zion is finally at a place, emotionally, where we can engage the next steps of discernment, it would take into account the intense scripture study demonstrated by SPC, and diversity of opinion as demonstrated by Eastern.
In the meantime, I think we as a congregation, conference and denomination (if not the global Church) need to seriously evaluate how we understand being disciples of Jesus Christ, and to what extent we hold ourselves accountable to each other and to the rest of the Church.
In order for the Church Universal to engage in discerning scripture in terms of Christian faithfulness and human sexuality, we also need to recognize the degree to which we fail at being faithful in every other aspect of our lives.
It strikes me in the heart of this conversation across the global church that we as followers of Jesus Christ so often do not act like him. Perhaps we as leaders of the church can use these turbulent times to cultivate disciples of Jesus Christ who value others as Christ would value them.
In Debra Hirsch’s 2015 IVP Book Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations on Sexuality and Spirituality she says in the introduction, “…It is never my intention to overwhelm you or even to necessarily convince you of the rightness of my theological opinion. This book is about the posture one takes, not the positions one holds… (p.17)”
While Hirsch is talking about sexuality, she is also talking about spirituality. I think as disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to remember that our posture communicates so much more to the watching world than does the values we espouse or the strong opinions we hold.
It does not matter at all to my unchurched neighbor the rightness or the wrongness of my ethical or moral views, but rather the love I am willing to show whoever I deem to be the foremost sinner.
I think the Church Universal has an opportunity to show the rest of the world that followers of Jesus are different in the way we engage conflict and disagreement with fellow believers, let alone with the rest of the world. We need to be able to show people a different way of being broken in this world, because ultimately we are all broken people. Can we together do it well, with the amazing grace, and the surpassing love of Jesus Christ our Lord?
Thank you to Jeff, Julia, and Harold Heie for engaging this important work.