Convention in Arizona, take 2

Posted on June 28th, 2010 by James

A strong call from Felipe Hinojosa and Hugo Saucedo, 2 Latino Mennonites came out in The Mennonite, entitled “Why Mennonite Church USA Must Boycott Arizona”.

They ask that Convention boycott Arizona due to the state’s treatment of immigrants.

My last post came out opposed to this idea, but I have to reconsider in light of Latinos asking for the boycott. As the mist affected part of the church, their thoughts should have extra weight.

Convention was a formative experience, one that I think future youth will benefit from. It gave me an idea of the larger church and showed me there was a place for me. So I was not sure how I felt about the authors’ call for a Sabbatical year- in other words, canceling Convention.

Perhaps, they say, there can be a meeting of delegates elsewhere to work on church statements, etc. But no youth Convention.

Am the more I think about it, the more almost excited I get about the possibility. It could be a great time to reevaluate key aspects of Convention. I have long been uncomfortable with the youth worship sessions, and feel they don’t adequately reflect a large portion of Mennonite churches.

Maybe this is a chance to downsize convention- not in number of attendees, but in looking at creative ways to do it smaller. Maybe return to the camping out roots of Convention. Or maybe 5 smaller regional youth conventions, with people encouraged to attend in other regions if they have the financial means.

And this has just as much, if not more, possibility to make an impact on youth. It is a concrete action with real consequences that shows the love of Jesus towards the stranger in our land. It shows that following the way of Jesus may not be easy, or fun, but should be central to our decisions.

Boycotting Arizona for Convention would expose for thousands of youth a side of our church that has been heavy on words an light on (at least visible and tangible) deeds. It would teach the youth that stewardship is more than getting your money’s worth and pinching pennies, that it is using what God has provided in a way that brings life and the way of Jesus.

I see the issue of the money already paid (over $300,000, according to the Executive board) being a sticking point for many Mennonites. Could the church absorb that fee? Would Mennonites in favor of a boycott be willing to step up and help pay, which is oddly paradoxical, but I think may be the best solution? (If each person who would go to Convention otherwise pays about  $40, a small portion of the cost to attend, the money would no longer be an issue.)

In his editorial, editor Everett J. Thoma brings up a point I hadn’t considered- in the case that Convention still happens in Arizona, will boycotting Arizona morph into a boycott of Convention? What would that do to church unity?

I’m seeing a lot of calls for creative solutions, a third way. What ideas do you have?

Convention in Arizona

Posted on May 14th, 2010 by James

Mennonite Church USA is planning to hold their 2013 Convention in Phoenix, Arizona, with plans in place since last year.
With Arizona’s recent immigration law, the planning committee is now trying to figure out how that affects the Convention. Check out the article in The Mennonite here.

Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, director of convention planning, is quoted as saying, “The question we will be grappling with is, ‘Will we be helping the situation by refusing to meet in Phoenix to show that we are resisting this unjust law? Or, is God calling us to face this injustice by being a present witness of healing and hope in the Phoenix community?’”

I don’t think the right thing to do would be to boycott Arizona and find a new location, and not just because the Mennonite in me is worried about losing the downpayments already made.

A boycott would potentially hurt the government and businesses who would put pressure on the government, but it would also hurt the people working at the convention center and hotels- people who can’t necessarily afford it.

Not that boycotts can’t be or aren’t used as a successful tool in creating change. But I think they are more successful with a more defined scope – Arizona has a lot of innocent bystanders.

It sounds like they’re leaning towards the second option, and I agree. This is an opportunity to show the Mennonite Difference™ in a real way. It’s a chance to welcome the strangers in our land. Maybe do some service trips to the border, work with organizations that work with immigrants, etc.

It’s a chance to act on the 2003 Resolution on Immigration. It’s a chance to act on Iglesia Menonita Hispana’s 2008 Resolution. It’s a chance to respond to the Pacific Southwest leaders’ 2006 call to focus on immigration issues. It’s a chance to live up to our Statement on Immigration.

But honestly, I hope that this is all a moot point. Hopefully by 2013, this law will be off the books, or even better, unnecessary. Maybe true immigration reform (and the necessary economic reform to back it up) will have happened. Hey, I can dream, right?

It’s also important to note that this isn’t just a thought exercise. This will affect members of the Mennonite Church who are illegal immigrants. These members already have difficulty attending, and I think convention would suffer without their presence.

This hurt isn’t new

Posted on March 16th, 2010 by James

I’ve heard the argument multiple times that the Mennonite church is being torn apart by PinkMenno (and the LGBTQ movement in the Mennonite church in general, but I’m most familiar with PinkMenno). It’s causing conflict, creating divisions and hurt. These movements are not welcoming to ethnic Mennonite groups, who are generally even less accepting of homosexuals than the Mennonite Church in general.

I would argue, however, that these movements are not creating a new conflict. Rather, they are  bringing an existing conflict to the surface, and asking the Mennonite church to deal with it. Racism was a conflict long before the Civil Rights Movement. Sexism was a conflict long before the Women’s Rights Movement. Oppression is a conflict. This oppression, a conflict, has deep roots in the Mennonite Church. So these movements are not creating a new conflict.

And they’re not creating divisions and hurt. The division of gay vs straight and the hurt imposed by those with privilege has existed. It seems to me that these divisions that once were quiet and assumed are now more in the open.

And it particularly irks me to hear the idea that Pink Menno should stop what it is doing because it is hurting church unity and may cause people to leave the church. In other words, a decision to include LGBTQs in the Mennonite church would also be a decision to exclude people who disagree from the Mennonite Church.

The church is actively excluding gay and lesbians from full church life. Gays and lesbians did not make this choice. They want to be fully involved, to be able to use their God-given gifts for the good of the church. But the church says no.

This is completely different than if, by some miracle from above, the church decided to be welcoming to LGBTQs, and people left. Sure, they were affected by a decision the church made. But it is their choice to leave. The church did not stand at the church door and send them away.

Do I want people to leave the Mennonite Church? Absolutely not. That is not the point of these movements. The point is to make the church open to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. How people respond is up to them.

These rituals represent different things

Posted on March 11th, 2010 by James

Goshen College, my alma mater, released its plans for implementing the decision to play the national anthem.

Part of the plan is to include a statement in the programs for events where the anthem is played. The statement includes the following-

Prior to the game, we will invite you to stand for the playing of the national anthem followed by a reading of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. We offer this time as space for people to respond respectfully as they wish, recognizing that these rituals represent different things to different people.

I think that’s a major point right there- these rituals represent different things to different people. Well, to be honest, the ritual of singing the national anthem before a sporting event means different things to different people. Because reading the Peace Prayer isn’t exactly what I’d call a ritual… yet.

To me, the national anthem (and the flag, the pledge, etc) is tied up in a ton of meaning, mostly not good. It represents the wars fought in the interest of making the rich richer and maintaining the status quo. It represents the assassinations of democratically elected leaders. It represents the genocide of the Native Americans, the centuries of slavery, internment of Japanese.

Not that the anthem doesn’t have good meanings to me- the humanitarian aid, the progress the country has made in regards to human rights, freedom of religion, etc. It’s just that the negative is inescapable for me.

But when I’m at a sport event, and I don’t sing along, I can’t explain that to the people around me. I just hope that they respect the fact that the anthem represents something different to me. And I do not begrudge anyone for singing the anthem. It means something different to them (at least I really hope it does), and I may even agree with what it means to them. But it isn’t what it means to me.

So while I’m torn on whether or not Goshen should play the anthem, I’m not torn on whether or not I personally will sing it, because of what that ritual represents to me.

Part of the Body, not Outside Agitators

Posted on March 2nd, 2010 by James

I’ve started getting a bit anxious whenever TMail, the weekly ezine from TheMennonite, hits my inbox every Monday. There’s always something that seems to make me sad, and makes me less hopeful for the future of the church. This week, that came in an article called, “Conference Affirms Teachings on Sexuality“.

First of all, it’s a tricky headline- the conference in question is not a upper-case-C Conference. It’s not Lancaster Conference or Franconia Conference or Pacific Southwest Conference.  I read the article 3 or 4 times, trying to figure out what Conference this was, and finally figured out that there wasn’t a Conference involved. It was the “Affirming the Faith: What the Mennonite Church Believes about Homosexuality” conference. In other words, this was not a church body, but a group of pastors who are in the Mennonite Church. Nothing official happened.

I may get into the article/conference more at length later, but one thing that jumped out at me was something I’ve seen come up multiple times in regards to the PinkMenno movement. Read this quote [NOTE: In communicating with Hershberger after I wrote this post, it seems the "outside sources" was referring to seminary professors, and the need for the pastoral role in this situation, not outside agitators as I read it. Apologies for my misunderstanding. I do think that my general point still stands.]

“As this was a conference to encourage and equip members of our Mennonite community, the input was provided primarily by pastors from this community, rather than outside sources,” (Marc) Hershberger (pastor of Grace Mennonite Church in Lansdale, Pa.) said.

Who are this outside sources he speaks of? They obviously don’t need to be specified- you know who he means.

I actually wouldn’t, except I’ve seen this before. Hershberger is mirroring the idea heard from MCUSA leadership that PinkMenno, Open Letter, BMC, and other groups are influenced by some vague outsiders.

Outside agitators were blamed for the Civil Rights Movement, the Flour Riot of 1837, and many more recent riots and social movements in general. The thinking seems to be that “Obviously, this outrageous thinking couldn’t possibly be coming from inside our community- it must be people from the outside.”

This was reflected in the Fact Sheet put out by the Immigrant Church Leaders-

Most Mennonites seem not to be aware of the funds, training and support pro-LGBT Mennonites receive from secular LGBT groups.

Obviously, these gullible youngsters are being influenced by others. Don R. Martin’s Letter to the Editor in TheMennonite calls the PinkMenno press conference that was held at Columbus 2009 “inappropriate” and said it “demonstrated a remarkable ignorance of Anabaptist-Mennonite history”. The PinkMenno campaign, in his view, was asking for the outside world to put pressure on the church.

Those outsiders!

But the people of Pink Menno are not outside agitators, bent on the destruction of the Mennonite Church. In talking with other people involved in these Movements, looking over the lists of people who have signed the Open Letter, and in general,  my feeling is that these are pastors, professors at Mennonite institutions, and people in general who are invested in the Mennonite Church. They are people who see the brokenness in the church, but still see enough value in it that they deem it worth their time and trouble to work towards what they see as a better, more Christ-like church.

Back to the original article, I think it is important to note that there were “outside agitators” at this conference. They invited Harvest USA and Six11 Ministries (note- Six11 Ministries does have Mennonite ties- see Shawn’s comment below) to speak. In looking at their sites, it appears that there is no Mennonite affiliation- if you can find one, let me know. The message, to me, is clear- outsiders who agree with them are welcome, but dissenting opinions from Mennonites are not.

So call me an agitator, for I don’t hesitate to agitate when there is need. Just don’t call me an outsider.

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