This week, Ervin Stutzman, Ph.D., Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA, engaged EMU students on issues and concerns related to the larger Mennonite Conference. He challenged us with the thought that the Mennonite identity of our school offers a unique critique of the controversial issues within our secular national culture.
On Tuesday evening, Stutzman was joined in Common Grounds by close to twenty students and faculty for an informal period of discussion.
Students were invited to engage their questions and comments about Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA), the national level Mennonite conference to which EMU belongs and for which Stutzman serves as senior staff person and key spokesperson.
Junior Aaron Erb attended the event because he was “very interested in the priority the Mennonite church places on the rising generation.”
Stutzman began the conversation by addressing this very issue, saying, “I’m interested in what you’re interested in…curious about what you care about,” he said. Multiple students responded and proceeded to question
Stutzman about a variety of the issues they were passionate about. The two- hour conversation that followed ranged from discussions of Stutzman’s personal decision-making process (which includes a Quaker style clearness council) to the church’s discussion of controversial issues, such as LGBTQ inclusion, healthy sexuality and immigration.
The majority of the discussion focused on how, as Stutzman para-phrased, “Christians decide things together.”
Questions about the inclusion of Pink Mennos (an LGBTQ alliance with- in the Mennonite church), the controversial location of this summer’s convention in Phoenix, Arizona, immigrant issues, and the moratorium on discussions of sexuality at the 2011 convention in Pittsburgh kept the conversation on topics typically seen as controversial within the Mennonite church.
Erb noted that Stutzman seemed “somewhat evasive” at times. “I was very impressed with the courage he had to come knowing the questions he would receive.”
Stutzman was not shy to mention that “people of good will and good character sometimes disagree” and expressed his own sadness over how such disagreements sometimes discourage people from entering into conversation with each other. “One of the most painful things is people who marginalize each other,” he reflected. “I left more sympathetic … [Stut- sman] is in charge of a denomination that thrives on small communities, and he has to balance between so many different communities,” said Erb.
Wednesday morning, Stutzman continued the conversation about potentially controversial topics during his chapel presentation. Dealing with the subjects of unhealthy sexuality, gun violence, and corporate greed, Stutzman presented three myths prevalent in our society: that “personal fulfillment and happiness come by throwing off restrictions and restraints,” that security lies in having bigger weapons than our enemies, and that greed is the best fuel for our economy.
Stutzman emphasized that students of EMU are uniquely placed to learn to counter these fallacies, as “it is only by the power of love of God and neighbor that you can stand against the myths.”
And thus, he concluded his time at EMU by exclaiming how “the most important thing you can learn at a Christian university is to love as God loves.”