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 Differenceâ„¢ 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.

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