Archive for the ‘MCUSA’ Category

Reading old Newspapers can often be an exciting experience.  Especially in small town newspapers many editors were quite blunt and do the point.  Sometimes this makes for rather humorous descriptions of the rough and tumble life of early white frontier settlers.  Other times, their bluntness cut straight to the heart of an issue, convicting not only the readers of old but those who still gaze upon the articles today.  Recently I found such an article.

On May 18, 1888 the Harper Daily Sentinel in Harper, Ks published an op-ed piece about one of the Asian workmen who had left Harper to go back home.  While the wording grates on modern sensibilities, especially in the final sentence, the point comes across loud and clear.

1888 also happened to be the year that our church, Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church, was formed.  While I would say that the Mennonites have had some significant positive impact on our community, it is also still unfortunate that this article is just as applicable to our community as it was 125 years ago.  While the ethnic group in question has changed overtime, the core response of Christians those in our community who are “different” than we are seems to have changed very little.

For that matter it seems as though this article could also be written about our entire denomination.  Yes, there is a sweeping change in our understanding of what mission work is and where it happens, but that change has yet to permeate every person in our pews.  Perhaps the bright spot is that things really are shifting.  With the help of people like Alan and Eleanor Kreider we are re-thinking mission in a post-Christendom world.  We are changing the question from “How do we take Jesus to ‘those’ people over there” to “Where is God at work in this world and how can we get involved with that”.

I will continue to hold on to hope that things are changing.  In the mean time, however, articles like this continue to convict me that things have not changed enough and that there is still a lot of work to be done.

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Sometimes I wonder if Menno Simons would approve of how we’re using his name. If one pauses to look around one can find a plethora of institutions, products and websites that have added the prefix “Menno” to their name.

Some have ties to official church institutions or ministries in one way or another. MennoMediacomes to mind, along with church camps MennoHaven and Mennoscah. Then there are various groups of MennoSingersMennoHouseMennoHof, at least three different MennoTravel services and a host of Menno hospitalsclinics and retirement communities.

An Internet search also brings up numerous other gems, including MennoTeaMennoDiscuss,MennoMeet, and my personal favorite turn of phrase, Mennolicious.

With almost every kind of institution or product under the sun bearing the name of Menno Simons, it seems as though it’s worth pausing to examine why we’re invoking his name and whether or not we may be using it in vain.

As best I can tell, the addition of the name Menno to an institution or product serves a couple of key functions. First is that it identifies a product with an already existing culture, set of assumptions and worldview. It is an attempt to communicate something about the character of the business or product and the people who make it. Some, like MennoTea, are explicit about this, saying, “We’re brewing a culture.” That being said, there does not seem to be one particularly unified worldview among the various organizations; each draws on a part of the Mennonite worldview to which they are attracted.

The other reason the prefix Menno is used is to draw in a very specific demographic. To the people who are steeped in Mennonite culture, hearing the prefix Menno is almost like a Labrador hearing a dog whistle. While Menno does communicate a potential set of values, more fundamentally it sends the initial message “they’re one of us.”

Using Menno for these purposes is not inherently reprehensible; however it should raise some questions for us. Namely, does using Menno this way stay true to what Menno Simons actually believed? Someone once pointed out the irony to me that Che Guevara’s image has become an iconic, trendy engine of American capitalism, which is the exact opposite of everything for which he stood. Has Menno fallen into the same trap?

It’s worth noting that the primary list of reasons to use the name Menno as a prefix does not include communicating our faith. One can make the argument that our worldview and even our sense of community flow out of our faith, which Menno would conceivably approve of. However, if we’re honest, that’s not the primary reason for using it. If our faith really is the primary thing that some groups do want to communicate, using Menno only communicates a very specific version of faith.

To be clear, I raise this question as someone who most certainly has blood on my hands. I helped to start the website MennoShirts.com, where we sold a bunch of clever shirts (or so we thought), most of which were based on Anabaptist-specific theology or culture.

What’s more, I have been a vocal opponent of the trend to remove the name Mennonite from churches and church-related institutions. My resistance to these changes being that it sends the message that the name Mennonite is more of a liability than an asset.

Menno Simons had a clear and consistent message that the core of all faith was Jesus, not himself. Would Menno approve of how we’re using his name? Would he approve that we’re even using it at all?

Cross posted from Mennonite World Review

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Fair warning:

Severe pessimism ahead.

In my more pessimistic moments in the last few years I have made the comment that the existence of MCUSA over the next 10 years is not a certainty to me.  It is well within the realm of conceivability that the denomination could fall apart.

Now I have something of a road map for what that could look like, and it starts in my back yard.

To begin the progression, you have to go back a couple of years.

1) 2010- Joanna Harader, pastor at Peace Mennonite in Lawrence, Ks, performs a same sex union ceremony.

2) 2011- In may, according to the agreement set out at the founding of MCUSA, Western District Conference Leadership Commission (the credentialing committee) reviews her credentials and finds them to be “in order”.  This is the first time in the denomination that a pastor has preformed a same sex union and has not been disciplined.

3) 2011- This upsets the conservative end of WDC and at the annual meeting of WDC in July they try to have the actions of the Leadership Commission overturned.  This motion is voted down because delegates a motion of this magnitude needs to be carefully considered by the whole constituency.

4) 2011-2012- over the next year the conservative churches get organized and bring several resolutions to be voted on at the July gathering.

As of this post, these are the current events.  From here on is my speculation.

5) 2012- The two motions are brought forth to the delegate body and both are defeated because a majority of congregations either a) agree with the original decision or b) do not see this as a big enough problem to overturn the authority structure of the conference.

6) 2012-2013 –  most of the Oklahoma churches leave not only WDC but also MCUSA.  Maybe one or two join South Central Conference, but most likely none will.

7) 2012-2013 – WDC is now out of step with the rest of MCUSA leading to two implications:

7.a) The MCUSA denominational leadership will begin to deal with the implications for church polity.  Specifically, how do pastoral credentials transfer from conference to conference when the conferences are at odds over credentialing standards?

7.b) There will be a congregational level backlash throughout the denomination.  There will be several churches that simply leave the denomination altogether, but most will wait for the denomination to respond to WDC with some sort of disciplinary action.

8) Most likely MCUSA leadership will not take a major disciplinary action towards WDC because a) it is one thing to remove a church, but removing a whole conference is a matter that they will defer to the delegate body and b) even if they wanted to, the polity structure isn’t really set up for that.

9) 2013- MCUSA gathers in July in Phoenix, AR.  Numerous resolutions and motions are brought to the floor (in spite of there still being no official resolutions allowed) calling for WDC to be sanctioned or removed from the denomination outright.

10.a) If there is no official action taken by MCUSA, many individual congregations will leave the denomination as well as several whole conferences (most likely led by Lancaster).

10.b) If there is an official action taken by MCUSA there will probably be an exodus of the more liberal churches, but more concerning there will probably be a mass exodus of individual young adults for whom this will be the final straw.

11) Either way, however, there will be a mass exodus of young adults for whom this is not a central issue (or they are in support of Gay rights) and who are tired of fighting about this issue.  This exodus is primarily facilitated by the fact that when this fight comes before the MCUSA delegate body, it will be an ugly, nasty, and hateful fight.

Other possible implications from this course

1) A new conservative Anabaptist denomination takes shape made up of the conservative churches and conferences that leave in the near future as well as those who have left in the past.

2) A new liberal Anabaptist denomination, or potentially a rather simple network of independent churches, takes shape.

3) Young adults leave Anabaptism for other denominations.

4) Young adults leave the faith altogether.

Best case scenario: 1/3 of the churches in MCUSA leave by 2015.

Worst case scenarios: MCUSA splits along several different factions and, combined with severe disillusionment, there is no denomination in 2015.

I genuinely hope that neither of these things happen.  I genuinely hope that the spirit of love and unity in the name of Christ prevails.  But in order for that to happen it is going to take some pretty amazing leadership.  What’s more, it’s going to take the entire denomination embracing a spirit of humility that, quite frankly, I’m not sure we’re capable of.

Let’s hope I’m wrong.

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