Conflict

Surrendering the “War on Christmas”

December 15th, 2010 – by Jeremy W. Yoder

It’s become a Christmas tradition — each year the cultural warriors spread good cheer and the love of Christ by bitterly complaining about the secularization of the Christmas. Leading the charge in past years have been the elves at Fox News, who argue that the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” and the removal of traditional seasonal symbols like the Christmas tree represent the liberal onslaught against religion in the public sphere. And while it’s easy to make fun, pundits like Bill O’Reilly or Gretchen Carlson bring voice to the old anxiety that Christianity is losing its prominent cultural place in American society.

American Atheists Anti-Christmas Billboard

American Atheists Anti-Christmas Billboard. Source: www.atheists.org

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We Come in Peace: A Response to Mark Tooley

November 18th, 2010 – by Jeremy W. Yoder

What if Mennonites ran the world? According to Mark Tooley, we are about to. In October, the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) ominously warned on the website of the American Spectator that the rise of neo-Anabaptism among academics and hipster Christians threatened to become a politically dominant force for the ‘Great Satan’ that is American liberalism. For Tooley, the popularity of Stanley Hauerwas and Greg Boyd signals the rise of a militant pacifism that undermines historic Mennonite sectarianism and seeks to force pacifism onto the world by expanding the power of government. In other words, the great sin of the neo-Anabaptists is that they are liberals.

It’s difficult to take Tooley’s critique seriously. The IRD has long had a history of attacks against perceived liberalism within the church and has often been a provocateur in the current battles over sexuality among the mainline denominations. While IRD’s mission statement claims that it seeks to “reaffirm the church’s biblical and historical teachings” the positions the think tank considers to be “historic” often seem to have more to do with the so-called culture war and a particular type of Christian conservatism that conflates the worship of God with nationalism. For example, in a 2007 IRD press release, Tooley called a Washington, D.C. anti-war march a “pacifist and an anti-U.S. rally” since the promotional literature advocated “the principles of pacifism upon which Jesus based his life and ministry.” As atheist commentator Austin Cline noted, Tooley pretty much condemned a pacifism “that is based on teachings attributed to what he regards as his Lord and Savior.”

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Could We?

October 7th, 2010 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Could we, as Anabaptist, Mennonite, MC USA (insert your denomination here) churches relate to each other as family?

Could we take the risky and difficult stance that we don’t all have to agree on everything, but that we will continue to talk about it, forever, if necessary?

Could we decide that we love each other, even if one of us feels like the taken-for-granted older sister who never gets the glory, and another feels like the youngest brother everyone is always picking on?

Could we accept those who come and go in our family of churches with love, grace and dignity?

Could we be that open to one another?

Our culture is becoming increasingly dichotomized. With us or against us. Right or left. Inside or outside. The cultural climate in the United States is threatening to pull the church apart. Television shows, political rallies and news programs are teaching us that the only way to relate is to shout loudly at those who believe differently. And if they persist in believing something different, then you should defame and vilify them.

Could we have a radical, truly Anabaptist peace witness in the world by doing one simple, but difficult thing, learning to listen and agreeing to love each other despite differences?

Well, could we?

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Longing and Hope

July 28th, 2010 – by Jeremy W. Yoder

Since we posted the first issue of Work and Hope last week, we’ve received a steady trickle of positive feedback about our efforts. It’s encouraging to know that there’s an audience for something like this – blogging is a bit like transmitting radio waves into deep space – we don’t know if there is anybody on the other end interested in receiving them until we hear back. Please keep sending us feedback and constructive criticism; we really appreciate hearing from you.

A response I received from one of my seminary friends prompted this post, who wrote that our editorial expressed her longings for the church. Longing. As I read her comment, I realized that as Laura and I had dreamed up this blog, we had never used the word longing to describe what we felt about the church and our visions for change. We talked a lot about hope and I continue to believe that hope is the right framework for this blog. Hope has positive connotations — the faith and expectation that things will ultimately turn out well.  As Jim Wallis puts it, hope means “believing in spite of the evidence and then waiting for the evidence to change.”  Both Laura and I continue to hope for the church and see this blog as an expression of that hope.

Yet I also believe, that beneath all this hope is a longing for the church to be different.  My Webster’s Dictionary defines longing as a “strong, persistent desire or craving, especially for something unattainable or distant.” As I reflect on my own longing, I realize that I have felt my deepest sense of longing about church when I was the most alienated from it. In other words, the less connected I felt to the faith community, the more I wanted it to change.

I don’t believe that Christianity should bend to my desires; but I do think that whether the church meets our deepest and often unacknowledged longings influences our behavior and attitudes towards it.  Most of us carry around an internal mental image of the ‘perfect church’ that not only accepts us, but also affirms our fundamental beliefs and understanding of the world.  In other words, the ‘perfect church’ is where we come home.  While there is nothing wrong with longing for an ideal, this ‘perfect church’ often contributes to the dynamics of church conflict.  Our desire for completeness and connection is a powerful emotion that can fuel conflict when we have theological disagreements, especially when we believe that the other side threatens our ideal.

I am struck by the amount of longing I see in all corners of the church. When I was in seminary, I sometimes heard students long for a unified body of Christ, and they despaired at the fractured nature of Christian denominationalism.  I often see longing from the liberal edges of MCUSA, who yearn for an ‘inclusive’ church that includes those kept out by traditional boundaries.  I also see longing from conservatives, who desire the church to return to some kind of ‘traditional’ morality and identity. Perhaps one of the most pervasive forms of longing in American Christianity, is the belief that this country was once a ‘Christian nation’ that abandoned its roots sometime after 1950, and must now be dragged back by the church to the commitments of its mythic past.

I believe that the longing and desire for institutions and groups to affirm and accept our basic values is a fundamental and powerful emotion. We desire communion with God and face conflict when we cannot agree to what that means.  Regardless of whether we seek to conform ourselves to a faith community or attempt to conform that community to us, these types of emotions are always at play. The high-profile flashpoint controversies that threaten to split congregations and denominations are just as much about our internal constructs of the ‘perfect church’ as they are about theology. I hope that as we deal with conflict, we can to begin to recognize the role that these fundamental, basic longings play in our disagreements.

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