When the Enemy is Within

January 11th, 2011 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz

In the last 48 hours a number of blog responses to the decision for MC USA to go to Phoenix in 2013 have disturbed me.  First, of all, let me say right up front, I’m extremely disappointed in the decision to continue to hold the convention in a place with such unfriendly immigration laws. I can’t pretend to understand everything that went into the decision but I am disappointed that it appears as though finances won over truly caring about people. If this is not actually what happened, I hope very soon that someone will set the record straight.

However, I am also disappointed in reactions to this decision. I have read two blogs, the one linked above and this one, where the writers suggests that it’s time to abandon the Mennonite church and form something else.  I hope and pray that these writers are speaking out of (justifiable) anger and disappointment and are not ready to act on their expressed anger. Here’s why: Mennonites in particular have a long history of separation and abandonment of those who are “wrong.” Our righteous anger seems to almost exclusively translate into separation, exclusion, shunning, and abandonment.

We have a very spotty history of separating over things that a generation or two later become non-issues. Past examples include Sunday School and instruments in church. These things seem trivial to us. So trivial, in fact, that I even hesitate to compare them to important issues like homosexuality and immigration. However, I think it’s wrong to assume that our ancestors had any less passion about Sunday School than we have about present issues.

I would weep if these minority (or even majority) voices left the denomination. I would weep if the young Mennonites and Anabaptists who are frustrated with the situation just threw up their hands and abandoned the denomination. We need all the voices of the church and we need to learn to talk to those who disagree. We need to learn to how to stay in fellowship with each other, even when we feel like enemies.

I believe this is part of our non-violent calling. What does it say to the world, when we, who claim to have the corner on the peace market, can’t figure out how to talk to each other? Are we called to have less compassion and love when the enemy is within the church? Jesus harshly criticized religious leaders, yet still met with them, talked to them, and stayed in fellowship.

The United States political climate is such that people no longer listen to those who disagree with them. Please let’s not let that reality turn into our reality. A giant institutional government is probably not the future of the church. It certainly seems unwieldy, frustrating, and authoritarian sometimes. I dream of a future church that is a centered set, rather than a bounded set. One who pays more attention to the core vision, mission, and theology than the boundaried edges.  I dream of a denomination that looks more like a network and less like an institution. I dream of a church that can hold in tension more ideas, opinions, and theology, not less.

We will never achieve that dream if those who disagree just abandon us (or are kicked out). Please, stay. Talk. Listen. For only then does the church have a chance at a future.

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