First off, let’s admit that we’ve all been asshats, even if we haven’t named our Church after Luna Lovegood or Donald Trump’s wife. I’m not calling anyone in the Evana Network an asshat (or at least, only to the degree that all humans are; you say fallen, I say asshat). I don’t know any of their leadership, and the names I do recognize I’ve heard positive things about. But with the formal formation of an “Other Woman” (or other man, have it at your orientation) we now see the potential asshattery of the future in sharper focus.
So some churches went and formed the church they wanted to form. We’re not just talking about seeing other people, we now see the proverbial other woman that our conservative churches want to date. The potential for asshattery–on all sides–is unlimited. But sweet Jesus, if we cannot laugh at each other now, and laugh at ourselves, both of our denomination/networks are wholly screwed. So go on, Google image search Evana to your heart’s content–there’s some quality Lion King fan art out there, and we all need a good laugh.
Take note of the blog title’s punctuation. This is not a handful of churches–it could be as many as a hundred congregations within the year, ones who are currently members of MC USA. That’s a difficult divorce. I’ve heard primarily two critiques of Evana, besides that the name is perhaps trying too hard and the logo looks like it was jacked from Everance. And i’ve been pleased to see that by and large, these critiques are framed as questions, and gentle questions at that. Additionally, Evana seems to have resolved some of their questions about women in leadership and it’s gratifying to see they have three women on the transitional leadership team. The concerns I have heard from those within MC USA are: 1. Evana, in all their press of the last two days, has avoided saying what they mean; and 2. boundary issues with MC USA.
Evana is the a subgroup of the Hartville discussions in January, which was coordinated by the evangelically-minded Anabatist Renewal Circles. But really, of course, the impetus for Evana comes from the church’s divide over LGBTQ inclusion. Evana is a coherent group with a clearly articulated theology–clearly articulated except for the real reason they are forming. They present the Hartville conversation as a gathering of a bunch of leaders who just happened to realize they all liked ice cream so they decided to form an ice cream club. What is truer is that they all don’t like frozen yogurt and their ice cream was starting to taste like yogurt. Nothing is to be found on Evana’s website about GLBTQ concerns, except for one line buried deep in the FAQ under the question “What do you believe about brokenness and transformation?” The group states “We are committed to being advocates for God’s shalom… in marriage.” The statement is so ambiguous it could be inclusive–but Evana is, as far as anyone in MC USA can tell, on the spectrum from welcoming of celibate queer folk to hetero-only. The critique, then, is that it seems disingenuous to tell the story of Evana’s birth without the messiness of MC USA’s debates.
The second criticism is a difficult one to level because as far as anyone can say, it’s too soon to talk about boundaries. The concern, however, is valid. Evana claims itself to be a network–a loosely connected crew of Anabaptist congregations with a strong commitment to peace, life, serving the poor, and bringing the Great Commission. But Evana promises to begin credentialing pastors in September. It is very difficult to credential pastors without becoming a denomination. Credentialing is a professional license and it is very difficult to hold a professional license issued by anything but a professional association. And a professional association looks, feels, and acts like a denomination.
But, as long as they are a network, they accept dual affiliation. At this point, it certainly seems like one could be a member of Evana, hold pastoral credentials with Evana, and still be a voting member of MC USA, sending delegates to convention and voting on polity issues. Evana says throughout their website that they view the Confession of Faith as authoritative. That is, the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, that is, the handy little book put together by MC USA. Oh wait. Evana is equally clear that they are separate from MC USA. Well, which is it?
I hope this means that Evana is simply too early in the process to write their own core belief statement. I worry–and others worry–that it is a way of having your cake and eating it, too. Remaining in MC USA to drag the progressive weight down while creating a second venue for conservative voices. To remain involved in an organization in which you don’t believe is, at best, unethical. There are layers and layers to this issue. Can Evana Network churches lead MC USA organizations like summer camps, colleges, MCC, and MMN? Will these institutions still be Mennonite if they are led by Evana members? If churches are dual members of Evana and MC USA, will they send money to both agencies? Should they? Is this another of those relationships that will be a slow burn, taking years for Evana to actually divorce from MC USA? What they want is a divorce, but they also want to show up as one big happy family of global Anabaptists.
Imagine if a group of churches broke from MC USA and formed the RainClusion Coalition, a loose body of churches that held credentials for gay pastors who couldn’t be credentialed by MC USA, but all these congregations stated in MC USA: do they really have any commitment to MC USA if they are doing something actively moving toward a vision that is at variance with the denomination but claiming to still be a part of it? Would we want them to be voting members? Why don’t we just dissolve MC USA and become Evana Network and RainClusion Coalition?
These are all hypotheticals, of course. I want to give Evana the benefit of the doubt. I want MC USA to divorce well. We don’t gain anything from hating on Evana. But we can ask questions, gently, that will help them clarify their vision and understand what leaving means. We (who are committed to MC USA) can do better at making this divorce gracious and good for both of us.