So we want forbearance. And we want things not to change. All the reports I’ve seen from last week’s Mennonite Church USA read like howling at the moon. They are fresh wounds and many of them deeper for having spent a week together. I have a jumble of thoughts that I’ll try to piece together coherently in the coming weeks, but here is where I begin.
We walked away from Kansas City certain of one thing: we done fucked up good this time.
Most of the sorrow is from our failure to make a clear statement about the role of LGBTQ folks in our churches; some of it from our insufficient response to sexual abuse in the church; some from the wishy-washy tone of the Israel-Palestine resolution; some from the white church’s condescending commitment to anti-racism.
But a fucked up the institution is not the worst that can happen. Loosing your faith in a hierarchy is not a bad thing. Being fed up with a decision-making body who sits and talks like they don’t have two good hands and 800 voices… that’s a sane and important kind of anger.
In the last two years, I’ve watched our church leaders–conference ministers, Executive Board, our moderator and our executive director–become more and more tired. They have a harder time talking about hope every time I see them. It’s more politics, more mourning together, more helplessness and frustration. I think that’s how many of the delegates and attendees are returning home.
On the other hand, there are several thousand teenagers flooding back to church singing simple songs with catchy tunes, who think Ellie Goulding was rewriting “This Little Light of Mine” when she sang “Burn.” There was a cognitive dissonance in the week as I flipped from youth worship to delegate sessions to youth servant projects to adult seminars. The adults are burdened and sad. The youth are unrelentingly optimistic. They take it as a given that the church is going to change–and thank God they do, because our churches need to change if they are to stay relevent. There may as well have been two separate conventions for the difference in tone that I experienced. The youth think this week is the greatest thing since buttered zwieback. The adults think it’s the most painful thing since the merger.
I come to two conclusions, then, for those who weren’t at convention:
1. Take care of your delegates. Hopelessness is contagious and the delegates came down with a bad case of bureaucracy while they were in Kansas City. Be kind to your delegates. Take care of them. Hug them. Hold their pain. Love them hard. Tell them we never expected the easy way, that the God of justice has an impossibly high standard for humanity and how lovely is it that God expects better of us, expects us to grasp some transcendence and holiness.
2. Listen to the youth. I think they still believe something we’ve forgotten: the institution doesn’t define the church. We are more than our ability to bore each other to death. We are more than our ability to piss each other off. Your teenagers might come home with some crazy ideas, like feeding the homeless in Philadelphia or getting arrested for breaking unjust laws or going to a Mennonite college or inviting a gay seminarian to be your next pastor. Teenagers are crazy. But they’re not dumb. Hear them out. Trust their instincts. Believe things will get better. Isn’t that, after all, what God promised?