It’s taken me a while to say anything in the wake of the decision about the Phoenix convention. I’ve been waiting, partly, to see how others are reacting and responding. So here goes.
Almost everything about the decision to continue to hold the Mennonite Church USA National Convention in Phoenix in 2013 leaves me with very little hope. I recognize the difficult nature of the decision and respect and than the Executive Board for it’s hard work and prayerful discernment. That being said, I’m left without much hope on this particular issue.
First a quick recap, for those who don’t know what I’m talking about. MCUSA holds a national convention every two years in a different location. Plans had already been made when Arizona produced the immigration law known as SB-1070. MCUSA’s official immigration stance is :We reject our country’s mistreatment of immigrants, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters, regardless of their legal status. (Read the full document here) Many in MCUSA have seen these two things as being in conflict, calling the Arizona law discriminatory and outright racist. Others disagree. There then was a call from Iglesia Menonita Hispania, the largest organized Hispanic Mennonite group to call off the convention. This is not only because of their feelings on the law, but also because they feel the law creates a hostile environment even for legal people of color that would make it very difficult to attend the convention safely. The Executive Board of MCUSA spent almost a year listening and discerning what to do. Finally they decided to go ahead and have the convention in Phoenix but to also work at setting up a satellite location for others to participate at who don’t feel comfortable coming to Phoenix. There’s more to this, and I’ve left out a lot, but that’s the basics of it
Like I said above, as I’ve watched this decision come down I’ve felt a great sadness on a number of levels.
First I feel a sadness with the fact that this decision goes against IMH’s recommendation. I am keenly aware that when we go to Phoenix, I’m not the one at risk. I’m a 360 lb white male. There are very few people who are interested in messing with me. The same cannot be said for my brothers and sisters who do not enjoy the same privileges. Deferring to those who will suffer the direct consequences of discrimination is still at the top of my decision making list.
Second, the idea of a satellite location is incredibly problematic for me. I’m from Kansas. The state where Brown v. Board of Education said that ‘separate but equal’ was unconstitutional. Having a second location for the convention is a clear signal that one group of people are second class citizens. Period. You could argue that it’s better than not being at the convention at all, but I disagree. This is insult to injury.
Finally, my biggest point of sadness comes from seeing how this decision has exposed some very deep divisions in the Mennonite Church. For the commonalities that we have, there are some major fault lines out there and this is one of them. These harsh divisions seem to have been exposed most clearly to me in some of the responses that I’ve seen come from some of my fellow young adults. Two in particular have warranted concern for me. Tim Nafziger on The Mennonite Blog and on the YAR blog as well as Andy Alexis-Baker on Jesusradicals have both begun to sound like they are throwing their hands up with the Mennonite Church as a whole. And these are young adults who are significantly and powerfully involved in Mennonite institutions. While IMH put out probably the most level headed response to this decision, both they and Christian Peacemaker Teamss are boycotting the Phoenix convention. I am encouraged by Laura Amstutz’s response to both of these articles, but this should be a major red flag for anyone paying close attention to the health of the Mennonite Church.
The state of the Mennonite Church is more fragile than most people think. Many times it is held together with a thread and some intentionally ambiguous words. I hope and pray that God is still leading us somewhere. But from where I sit, that future is very much uncertain.