For Pacifists who Find Themselves Justifying War

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is existentially shattering, for so many reasons. For the Christian pacifist, one of the shattered pieces of existence is pacifism itself. For pacifist Christians with Ukrainian heritage—like many Mennonites—the existential disintegration carries an additional layer of heritage, legacy, migration, and identity. My own great-grandparents (Orthodox and Jewish) immigrated from Ukraine to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, and I write these words with the acknowledgement that I am only writing them—cozy in my peaceful home—because of some blood-stranger’s urge for survival.

So how does a pacifist cope? Is pacifism a valid moral stance in this war? What should we advocate for right now? What do we do about the complex emotion that surges through us when we cheer for the Ukrainian people’s resistance? How much of our existential disruption is rooted in our own unacknowledged racist notions of European exceptionalism and white nations’ post-World War II transcendence of violence?

This is existential disintegration with a side of moral crisis. A moral crisis is when something happens which is so profoundly earth-shaking that you question your most deeply held beliefs about what is right, even as you struggle just to survive day-to-day in this new crisis reality.

The pacifist in search of easy answers might gravitate to the claim that interpersonal pacifism is different from geopolitical pacifism. Perhaps we can simply say that pacifism is a policy of individual relationship navigation—“I do not initiate or support violence”—that doesn’t scale up. Geopolitical systems are too complex, the result of actions too unpredictable, the number of actors too high, to create any coherent global pacifist stance. I find this a deeply unsatisfying moral resolution. I do believe, however, that in any war there is a point of no turning back, before which there were multiple opportunities for redirection and prevention of violence, after which is acute moral crisis, survival, collateral damage, and entangled endings. From this lens, there is important work to do in acknowledging the points at which we could’ve prevented violence and didn’t. Political scientists and historians are doing this right now.

Secondly, pacifism, like any moral stance done correctly, is a check on the stories we tell ourselves. Our moral stances are designed to help us navigate moral gray areas, but often, we take shelter in them as if they will protect us from moral ambiguity. There is no protection from moral ambiguity. It is important to name Putin as the aggressor, but the West must also acknowledge their complicity in creating the conditions of violence.

A deeply held belief—like pacifism—should be a filter for decision-making, and what Russia’s aggression exposed is that preventing violence was not the deeply-held belief that guided Western actions. Instead, the West operated within a framework that allowed them to believe violence was impossible, given post-World War II reality and the narrative of post-Soviet Russia as a weakened state. The West followed the deeply held beliefs that protecting fossil fuel supplies is of upmost importance and the largest threat to global peace is China and our economic and military strength is an insurmountable deterrent. These beliefs were so deeply held that we did not question them, not in the decades-long dance between NATO and Ukraine, not when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, not even as the U.S. announced Russia’s military plans to invade Ukraine to the world. If we are guided by an ethic of peace, we should recalibrate in the face of evidence that threatens it. Yes, global politics are complicated and consequences aren’t always evident. Yet we, especially in the United States in its waning-but-still-present status of superpower, should have recalculated our foreign policy (even pre-Trump) with an eye toward what will preserve global peace. Instead, we focused on what will preserve our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels.

Now, the suffering is immediate and daily. In the midst of this suffering, there is another critical reality: violence and creative nonviolence share a fluid border. Pacifists are tempted to frame their belief as an all-or-nothing proposition, but during periods of war, there is no hard line between violent action and creative nonviolent action. Creative nonviolence remains a tool, especially for civilians caught in violence. As the Russian invasion began, Ukrainians removed road signs to complicate the Russian military’s ability to navigate. This is a nonviolent tactic that bought time for civilians to find more secure situations and disrupted the narrative that military might equates to power. Pacifism is an extreme stance, but one that continues to lives in the nuance. It is a mistake to think that “the presence of some violence means the absence of all nonviolent action.”  

Black and white image of a quilt propped up on a stage with its pattern facing the camera, surrounded by an auctioneer, two men in distinctly early 1980s attire, and a young Mennonite woman in a modest dress.
Mennonite Quilt Auction at the Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale in 1981. Don’t you regret all the times you ever thought, “I’m so glad I wasn’t alive in 1981?” …maybe that’s just me.

At the end of the day, however, war is a threat to pacifist conviction. Pacifism might dissolve. That is sometimes the result of moral crisis. Pacifism functions best as a guiding ethical framework and, if it is a pedestal on which self-righteousness preens—as it has at times been for Mennonites—then some dissolution probably needs to happen. The great temptation of Mennonites has always been to use pacifism as a ticket out of hard conversations. Theologian Walter Brueggeman describes the Bible as a cycle of orientation (a state of homeostasis), disorientation (a state of crisis), and reorientation (a state of resilient response to crisis experience).

We are now in a state of disorientation. As Brueggeman reminds us, God is present in disorientation. Our task now is not to rush to reconcile our belief system or deny the deep, base level of dread that accompanies every day, but to calibrate to God in disorientation. To stay focused on who God calls us to be, to hold the honest chaos of our emotional state, to do what we can in the ways that we can and to remember that even curling up in a ball and collapsing is a way of doing that. Disorientation is a valid state of being.

I went to church on Sunday hoping that my church would help me make sense of what it means to be a pacifist Anabaptist during a twenty-first century land war in Europe. It didn’t, not because of the failure of pacifism, but because of the failure of sense.

Pacifists don’t need to be people with answers. Nobody has answers right now. We can acknowledge in these times that pacifism is an inadequate worldview, because at this point, all our worldviews are inadequate. Pacifism, like so many moral views, was never meant to be pinned down and displayed on a wall. It was meant to be a tool, taken out and used and repaired or set aside when broken. Right now, we are broken, and we can be God’s broken people, together.

Mennonite Church USA logo. MC USA does not endorse this blog in anyway, I just find the logo comforting.
Mennonite Church USA logo. MC USA does not endorse this blog in anyway, I just find the peace dove comforting.

Are Sermons are a Tool of White Supremacy Culture?

During the years I pastored, I loved writing sermons. But I was also haunted by a feeling that that sermons undermined the goals of the church. A sermon was just a chance for one person, typically someone who was paid to read and research Scripture, to monopolize as much as 30% of the worship with an extended and often scripted monologue, lecturing members with a single voice and few visual aids (except, perhaps, a slideshow), for the purpose of bestowing their knowledge on a captive audience.

It seemed to me that sermons were a coin flip on whether or not the presence of God would come down on any given Sunday. I’ve experienced many good sermons, but I’ve also heard—and written—many sermons driven by the expectation that worship requires monologues.

Too often, the sermon is a practice that privileges the voices of those already in power and exerts influence over those with less power. It is an overused habit that does not advance the church’s goals of building relationships and creating Christ-centered lives. It’s even an expression of white supremacy culture.

Tema Okun defines white supremacy culture as a set of principles that, when accelerated and overemphasized, reinforce hierarchies that privilege whiteness, incentivize homogeny, consolidate power, and subjugate those with identities outside the white, able-bodied, masculine norm. Among the characteristics of white supremacy culture, she identifies worship of the written word; objectivity; power hoarding; only one right way; quantity over quality; and individualism.

The sermon reflects many of these characteristics. It elevates the authority of written scripture and glorifies polished (often formal or academic) language. The speaker’s view is, by nature of the amount of space the sermon takes, authoritative and objective. The length of the sermon and the tendency to place the preacher in other significant parts worship, such as the prayer, benediction, or serving communion, hoards power in the preacher’s body. The centrality and normalization of the sermon implies that it is the only way worship can occur. Our frequent use of sermons also suggests that maintaining its structure should be prioritized over the quality of the worship time together. The single presenter’s centrality and the audience’s silence makes worship an experience of individualism.

Sermons are more than a chance for this guy to make you feel guilty. St. Augustine, by Philippe de Champiagne.

The sermon is an ancient practice that existed long before modern construction of racialized power. Preaching is central to the biblical story. Jesus and the evangelizing disciples of the early church were eloquent and sometimes long-winded preachers. These sermons were not inherently reinforcing hierarchy, and they were often accompanied by concrete actions (ie., the feeding of the 5000 or the healing of individuals) that nurtured community connectedness. However, the sermon grew up in the consolidation and expansion of the Western church, and the sermon as we practice it today is steeped with a legacy of patriarchy, racism, power, and control.

As the early church discouraged female evangelists, the sermon became an exclusively male  space. Through centuries of low literacy, sermons consolidated the power of interpretation in the bodies of leadership. In the Middle Ages, the sermon exerted control, entertained, enforced norms, and motivated behavior. Celebrated church fathers such as Bernard of Clairvaux preached extensively about the crusades and actively used the pulpit to build military momentum for anti-Islamic crusades in the 12th century. Still today, Bernard’s anti-Islamic teachings are treated as a dismissible quirk of a great spiritual thinker.

I am not calling for an end to all sermons, but rather a thoughtful examination in local congregations about whether the sermon is advancing the goal of spiritual growth. The pulpit we inherited systematically disenfranchise huge swaths of the church. Too often, because our legacy of male preachers, our implicit bias leads us to call on men to preach first. Because preaching is viewed a highly skilled task, it is neither designed for nor influenced by adolescents and children. Many people who are not auditory listeners find it incredibly difficult to absorb sermons, but feel a sense of shame or fear around saying so.

Congregations can and should explore alternatives to sermons that dismantle power structures and center marginalized voices. Worship Committees can support this through annual inventories of preachers—how many women preached last year? How many people of color? How many queer preachers? How many people under 18? If worship planners are struggling to find a preacher, just remove the sermon from worship.

Churches explore different models of sermons, such as inviting people to ask questions after hearing the scripture; following the sermon with a response from a designated “listener;” creating sermons that invite or require listeners to move; or incorporating congregational volunteers in embodying key concepts. The Anabaptist practice of sharing time, where congregants reflect on the morning’s worship, is another way of dispersing the power of the sermon. There are also many alternatives to sermons, such messy church, wild church, and Quaker meeting. For congregations that continue to meet via Zoom, why not replace sermon time with break out rooms that nurture community connections?

Lastly, congregations can redistribute the power of the sermon by actively teaching the skills of preaching. Few people even have a clear grasp on what makes the genre of sermon distinct, even if they’ve preached before. Nurture a culture of biblical interpretation and empower everyone to see where Bible stories can be interwoven with our own lives.

Let’s stop assuming the sermon is somehow inherently unquestionable or essential for experiencing God.

In order to dismantle white supremacy, it’s healthy to question our use of the sermon: Does the sermon feel obligatory or rote? Does the sermon obstruct a spirit of worship? Does it consistently engage and center the voices that already have significant power? Are groups of people tuning out or disengaged during the sermon? Does the sermon control the service, creating an undue burden for those involve in worship preparation or pressure to uphold the practice for the sake of upholding the practice?

If so, change it. There are many ways to worship.

Where Do Pastors Come From?: Solving the Worker Shortage in Ministry

Where do pastors come from?

Churches tend to behave as if pastors are a special kind of cyborg incubated for years in dusty seminary libraries and delivered, fully formed, to congregations as needed. It’s as if the shortage of pastors has something to do with the air quality of the seminary library or not enough dust on the shelves.

But generally, the pastoral path begins with one of three experiences: internal call, external call, or sense of obligation (legacy). Internal call does not necessarily come from inside of a person, but refers to any internal emotional experience in which a person encounters the divine and, as a result, feels compelled to enter ministry. That internal call can be supplemented by an external call, that is, trusted adults who affirm and invite an individual to participate and vision themselves in church leadership. (I have heard it said that women and LGBTQ people are more likely to experience an internal call first and heterosexual men are more likely to experience an external call first, because sexism, but I don’t know have the data to back this up.) Lastly, some people begin to pastor out of a sense of obligation, typically because they come from a family of pastors and the community expects them to do this work. This can be a set up for disaster, but many times, obligation blends organically with external and internal calls.

Most pastors experience both internal and external calls before they begin formal ministry, which means that it is us—collective adult churchgoers—who bear significant responsibility for identifying new pastors. Seminaries educate pastors, but these pastors come from the daily work of churches.

Which means that a decline in the number of pastors reflects something about churches rather than people. Churches no longer know how or they no longer believe their role is to call new pastors. Consider: how many new pastors has your church produced in the last decade? Two decades?

There’s limited utility in blaming churches for their struggle to pay people to serve them—blame doesn’t solve problems, and certainly denominational leadership and pastors themselves have demonstrated a short-sightedness in failing to nurture upcoming talent. The church has no coherent leadership development pipeline, and it shows.

Sometimes a leadership pipeline is just a clearly marked path.

The solution, then, lies in asking these questions: What can the church do to make ministry a more viable career? What does it look like when churches are intentionally calling their members—both young people and adults—into leadership? How do we affirm the gifts we notice in other people?

From the time I was about 15, my home congregation invested heavily in my leadership development, identifying retreats and theological summer camps and conferences, as well as inviting me to preach, serve on committees, complete a paid summer internship, and volunteer in other roles. The church invested significantly in my education at a denominationally-affiliated college, and their contributions covered roughly one full year of classes and saved me about $30,000 in college loans (before interest). They also provided financial support my first year of seminary, before they decided I had too much scholarship money from the school and discouraged me from asking for additional support if I was going to use the money for such ridiculous things as gas, rent, and living expenses (it was for books and tuition only, I was told).

Small moments of committee-driven discouragement aside, my home church made it easy for me to say yes to ministry. They invested in me with the church’s time, talent, and treasure. They made me feel that it was totally natural and reasonable for young women to become congregational leaders and affirmed my internal call.

Here are a few additional ways we can make it easier for people to say yes to pastoral roles:

  • Hire internally for the short term. In this bottleneck of pastoral supply, it makes a lot of sense to bring current attendees into 1-2 year paid roles both as a benefit for the church and to allow these members stepping stones to make other career transitions, whether post-college or into retirement. These laypeople may not have the passion or skills to stay in the role long-term, but relying on the old school Anabaptist practice of distributed, short-term leadership could be beneficial for both congregations and individual leaders.
  • Churches—supported by denominational leadership—should collect data to identify barriers to entry into ministry. Is the biggest barrier the high cost of graduate education, the low pay rate for most positions, the lack of boundaries and limited vacation time, the challenge of being given a stipend to “find your own healthcare” on the exchanges? Survey current pastors and seminary students and comb through existing data about what workers desire to identify 1-2 priority areas where church practices can be updated to better support the individuals in leadership roles.  
  • Search committees can review and revise their job descriptions in light of feedback from potential candidates and denominational leaders supporting the search process. This could include best equity practices like displaying the salary on the job description, describing benefits, or reviewing which job requirements are requirements and which are preferences. It could also include adding a section such as “People who tend to thrive in this role have the following characteristics…” or “This is a good fit for people with background in [insert non-church career areas, ie., social work, music, education, customer service, etc.].”
  • Speaking of boundaries and benefits, can you imagine a pastoral job description that pays a pastor for 12 months with one full month off every year? I can. It sounds like heaven. Rewriting rest into the job description—and committing to it and creating structures to support it—will make a position more attractive.
  • Search committees can also take the dramatic step of removing some of the job responsibilities. Because job descriptions are typically written by committees that have never worked in pastoral roles, they tend to write in too many job responsibilities. Recently, I was sent a job description that included four distinct competency areas and tasks that fell on all seven days of the week, within a 75% time role. I had a visceral gag reaction reading the job description. If you want to make a position more attractive, reduce the amount of things you’re asking one person to do. There’s nothing more beautiful than a job description that fits on two pages. 
  • Rely on cross-denominational hires. As denominations shrink and workers seek to live in areas that best fit their needs, it makes more sense to find someone who has the skills who can learn the traditions. This often feels risky, and it is, but if you believe that pastoral skills are essential, then you have to trust that the traditions can be learned. Or you can add a couple of years to your search timeline.
  • Churches who are looking for pastors—and those who are settled with a pastor who makes them very happy and will stay forever and ever amen—must ask themselves, “What are we doing to call forward the gifts in our own congregation?” How are we creating a culture of call and invitation? Are people given the chance to practice the pastoral role—through invitations to leadership, financial support for education and training, and affirmation of passions and competencies? At this point, churches must play the long game in order to play the short game. Calling forward new leaders (whether they choose paid congregational positions or other roles in church leadership) clarifies and strengthens the search for a new pastor.

The church is in a labor shortage largely of its own making. It will take years to rebuild a leadership pipeline and it will require intentional change in culture and practice. Which is all the more reason to start now.

It’s 2022 – Can I Keep my Pastor from Quitting?

It seems like everyone is quitting their job right now, including a healthy portion of pastors. Including myself. It’s been a long two pandemic years; churchgoers and pastors are exhausted; there are likely many, many more pastoral resignations coming in 2022. I know a number of pastors who are passionate about their work, have strong support systems, and are unlikely to leave. But I know a far larger number of pastors who are completely exhausted, stretched thin, and losing track of what called them into ministry. Is there any way to stop it?

You Can’t Make Anyone Do Anything

The bad news is no. You can’t make anyone do anything, and even if you could, your church wouldn’t be better off if you found a way to blackmail or otherwise guilt your pastor into staying. If you can somehow retain an exhausted pastor, they won’t be able to work at the level you’ve come to expect from them. Sure, they can make worship happen every week, but exhaustion disconnects us from creativity. Your pastor can keep things hobbling along, but they will struggle to keep things healthy.

I quit my pastoral role in June 2021, after the church had done some work to identify its priorities for the next three years. Those priorities included managing its new rental relationship; updating the child safety covenant; and evaluating and most likely overhauling the governance structure. All of these were things that I could do, and all were things that would suck the energy out of me at a point when I already felt isolated and overloaded. I knew I wouldn’t be able to lead the way I hoped, or lead the way I had for the first three years of my contract. I didn’t want to be a leader who functioned at half-capacity. I recognized that I could make a bigger difference in the world, with less strain on my own health, doing something else.

This is the second problem with trying to make a pastor stay: Just as God calls individuals to ministry, God may call them out of ministry. When God calls ministers, God does not specify how or for how long. This is frustrating for congregations, and it’s downright infuriating for pastors. My call into ministry was clear and undeniable and came from outside myself; a word from someone I trusted completely rewrote my future. My exit from ministry was the same—a dear friend made a comment which forced me to recognize that I was more attached to my perception God’s future than God was. I had narrowed my identity and perception to an all-work-and-no-play pastoral role that was not where God believed that I was at my best. And so God called me out of ministry.

Attending to Burnout Before Someone Gets Burned

While leaving ministry is often a calling, it’s often, also, a result of burnout, and there are some things churches can do to make it easier for pastors to stay in their roles.

Pastors often find that loving the people who inside the church does not equate to loving the work environment. The structure of pastoral work is practically designed for burnout: flexible, often inconsistent work hours; undefined goals and vague performance review processes; limited or difficult to take paid time off; infrequent validation or recognition; high expectations to complete products that are minimally used (bulletins, sermon manuscripts, etc.); minimal support structures with excessive supervisory bodies; and often low wages.

Churches that wish to reduce burnout should attend to structure first. Clarify committee roles and responsibilities. Create consistent and affirming review processes. Set an expectation that at the beginning of the year, the pastor schedules at least four full weeks off (at least four). Encourage and enable your pastor to plan for sabbatical. We have significant data that indicates working overtime does not increase productivity; pastors who invest significant additional hours might have closer connections in the congregation and be perceived as “more present,” but that likely won’t create higher quality sermons, better leadership in complex decision-making processes, or creative new ministries. Those will be best achieved by having significant time off for the brain to rest, repair, and be creative.

A burned out prairie with a seed head ready to release new seeds to the ground.

The leadership, pastoral support, or evaluation committee should also work with the pastor to set annual priorities; this allows the committee to have a comparison point during review processes. Be clear about what expectations the pastor can drop–and be consistent.

In one congregation I worked in, I consistently received feedback that I didn’t spend time with a population of the church (seniors) that was not in my job description (which focused on youth and young adult ministry). The review committee encouraged to attend more events with the seniors, without identifying other job responsibilities I could release—a disconnect that fed into the expectation of longer work hours and never-enough-ness.

Churches who are proactive about creating healthy work structures will find their staff able to remain in those work structures for longer.

No Person is Final

A pastor’s exit ought to be sad. If you’re happy to see your pastor go, it’s way past time for them to leave. That sadness, however, ought to be rooted in a relationship, not an existential crisis of church identity.

When I was in seminary, a professor told our large class, “Never think that you are irreplaceable. The church does not need you, in particular, at all times, in order to function. If they do, you don’t have a church, you have a cult of personality. Work at all times to make sure you can be replaced, and your church will be healthier for it.” All pastors leave eventually, and while they leave holes in congregational hearts, it is the work of the congregation to remember that it needs more than one leader. The work of the church is to be perpetually calling out new leaders.

Every church has a responsibility for raising up new pastors. This requires not just mentoring young people, but supporting mid- and late-career adults searching for new, more values-aligned work.

Ministry requires a core skill set, but the idea that it is a professional career with specialized training is overstated. It’s less rocket science than improvisational jazz. Pastoring is work that varies daily from building a miniature barn inside the sanctuary; digging a labyrinth in the church yard; performing music in worship; navigating Social Security Disability paperwork with a congregant; preparing a meal; managing technology for virtual worship; and more. Churches need pastors with an understanding of scripture, theology, and emerging trends, but churches also benefit from pastors with non-traditional education paths. We need pastors who bring their skill sets from entrepreneurship, social work, teaching, writing, organizing, computer programming, music, and other backgrounds.

Any thriving church, by nature of its thriving, is creating leaders with the core competences of ministry. That is, any church that pursues God’s kingdom-building work, nurtures healthy community, and studies scripture and ethics together, is naturally creating a pool of leaders who can do pastoral work.

No person is final. Very few of us ever experience a pastor who stays with us for a lifetime, or even a half-lifetime. Pastors are designed to be replaced. You will feel closer to some pastors than others and that is okay—a pastor is not your personal on-call emotional support (although they can sometimes serve that role in a crisis); a pastor is a community leader who nurtures collective growth. It is okay to have a favorite or most formative pastor. No one else may be able to replicate that relationship for you. But they can replicate it for someone else in the community who is in a moment of need.

Honor the past, and recognize the ways a pastoral change allows God to set you up for the future.

Disrupt Your Election Day Fear

So you and everyone else who lives in the United States is experiencing some kind of terrible paralyzing fear-infused parallel universe version of Christmas Eve. There’s an irony that the presidential election—the most divisive one of our lifetimes—is the one experience capable of unifying the country, if only in the feeling of anticipatory outrage. But it’s an irrelevant irony, because our primal brains are already ensconced in their anxiety responses. Here we are with a whole Election Day to get through when our anxious brains skittering us toward dread and fear in a cycle of escalating tension.

This afternoon, I walked my dog with lunging distance of one of those giant purple floppy balloon things used to advertise car dealerships (apparently they’re called air dancers, but we all know they’re actually floppy balloon things), Only as she prepared for a straight vertical jump did I notice her hackles up, and realize I’d mistaken her anger for curiosity. I turned her quickly around, throwing treats to bring down her stress.

Election Day has driven most of us into the human equivalent fear level of encountering a giant floppy balloon thing for the first time. Our bodies’ hackles are up, our monkey brain/lizard brain/what-you-will in a mode of existential threat response.

But the lizard brain is tucked in the cozy gray mass of so much evolving brain. We can’t change the fact that a giant purple (orange?) flapping creature on the street will send us into an fearful anxiety. But we can hold that soft primal fear of our brains, tuck it in, turn it gently away and feed it treats so that we can hold fear alongside our hopes, our love, our kindness.

Be clear with yourself what tomorrow is about. It is not about productivity or powering through the day—it is a kind of national anniversary of some great grief we have been carrying. Whatever else you do, your body will most likely be carrying a layer of grief.

I will spend Election Day working the polls. Back in August, when political divisions only ran as deep as kiddie pools, I’d volunteered to work the polls and it seemed like a satisfying, even noble, decision. But each day since I committed, my enthusiasm has ebbed a little more into dread. I know my temptation will be to sit behind my sneezeguard and worry, worry, worry.

I wish to go to the polls as faithfully as I can. And my faith—rooted in Anabaptist understanding of the nonviolent life and salvation of Jesus Christ—is one that disrupts anger and hate and violence through surprising, playful, invitation. What would invite, surprise, play? A few last-minute stops in Halloween stores and I was prepared to work the polls as a spandex-and-glitter tutued, winged Voting Fairy.

What, never seen a voting fairy before?

My goal as a poll worker is to provide a positive Voting Day experience to everyone who walks into the room. My goal as a Christian is to witness to God’s love everywhere I go. And my goal as a human is to hush the lizard brain with the gentle and persistent witness to the humanity of each human. All of these goals lead to the same answer: Voting Fairy.

Whatever your self-care strategies on Election Day—yoga, meditation, spending time with family, spending time alone, stress baking (eating), disconnecting from social media—all those care strategies are designed to disrupt your overactivated fear drive.

Tomorrow, be the voting fairy your lizard brain needs to see in the world.

Maybe that means taking cookies to a friend’s house, wearing your favorite outfit, wearing your Halloween outfit, cooking something elaborate, ordering in, bringing flowers to the polls, making extra time for your Trump-supporting neighbor, avoiding your Trump-supporting neighbor. It may even mean recognizing that you are too anxious to work the polls and need to stay home under the covers all day. Be the voting fairy your lizard brain needs.

Like the old instructions for airplanes, disrupt your own fear first, then disrupt the fear of the person next to you.

Twelve Notes on Worry

In the last weeks of this election cycle, I’ve stopped trying to control my worry, and am instead noticing how I react to it. These are twelve notes I’ve written myself to be more intentional–and, hopefully, saner and kinder–as the election season exacerbates so many worries.

1. Validate your emotions.

All of your feelings are the right feelings.

Uncharted levels of stress call for uncharted levels of self-compassion. It is comforting to think I am a reasoned, rational creature who follows her best impulses and nurtures noble thoughts. But I am a creature who feels many things. Take the bumpers off all your expectations of what you should feel and let yourself feel what’s there. It is true, what the psalmist says:

The violent arrogantly pursue the weak
and catch them in craftily designed schemes…
They think in their hearts, “We will not be moved;
throughout all generations, we’ll be happy and untroubled.”
Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.

When injustice is rampant, all of your feelings are the right feelings.

2. Redirect your emotions, when necessary.

All your feelings are right ones, but that doesn’t mean that all of them serve you. Greet your emotions, name them, and ask what road they are walking down. If your fear says, “I am walking toward paralysis,” or your anxiety says, “I am walking toward numbing,” or your worry says, “I am walking down to read every article I can find about Trump’s illness,” shake their hand and wish them well, and keep naming the other emotions. If your exhaustion says, “I am walking toward physical recovery,” or your laughter says, “I am walking toward resilience,” or your loneliness says, “I am walking toward company,” or your compassion says, “I am walking toward justice,” join the emotions that take you on the road toward life abundant.

We are creatures who feel many things at once. Take the time and space to sort your emotions. Organize them into neat stacks, or at least into messy piles, of constructive emotion and paralyzing emotion. Limit the time you spend with paralyzing emotion, as much as you can, and hone in on constructive emotion.

3. Listen to your body.

If you are finding it hard to identify emotions, begin with your body. Resmaa Menakem argues that the strongest emotions—love, fear, anger, dread, grief, sorrow, disgust, hope—are not located in the brain, they are located in the body.

When your emotions are confused or stalled out, pay attention to your body. If your body tingles with nervous energy, go on a run or a bike ride. If your shoulders are tense, spend 5 minutes stretching. If your legs ache, take a hot bath. If your tummy hurts, make a fresh pot of tea or warm milk. If you are hungry, eat. If your heart is heavy, get on your knees and pray—really, bring yourself before God, drag God into the room, and say what you need to say.

Activism begins in the body.

4. Respect your emotional explosions.

Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, your emotions do explode. Respect the stress you’re under, and the intensity of your feeling. It is not bad to feel deeply. Let the explosions ground you, remind you to respect the intensity of being human.

5. Plan for Election Day.

It seems you have not yet learned how to control the minds of everyone in this country. Given that this will probably still be true on November 3, take care of the one mind that’s yours. Your body is currently activating a stress response which you have tied to November 3, and November 4, and November 5. Position yourself for a supported stress response on these days.

Treat Election Day like Thanksgiving in reverse—gather because gratitude seems to be fading. Do not watch election results alone. Make sure your loved ones do not have to watch results alone.

Even if people decline, err on the side of many invitations.  

Decide now what time you will go to bed on Election Day. Find an accountability buddy who will call you at midnight and make you go to bed. Do not, do not stay up until 4am watching TV the way you did in 2016.

Prepare for the days after the election. Adjust your expectations for the week’s work and productivity. Take some time off, as soon as you can after Election Day. Recover. The world will move on, and it will need you.

6. Acknowledge the possibility of a Trump coup; don’t obsess over it.

You are very lucky to have friends who have the emotional bandwidth to plan for a coup. Read what they say and share, as much as you can, but don’t worry about it.

A coup sounds terrifying, but resisting a coup is the same process as resisting a democracy. All the tools you need, you already have. It’s the same muscles you’ve been training for the last four years. It does not require more fear—just more certainty of what you carry in your center.

7. Connect with other humans.

Now, on Election Day, after Election Day. Maybe there’s a reason the same Stevie Wonder song keeps coming on, “I just called to say I love you.”

Call everyone, just to say “I love you.” Anybody you are reaching out to wants to be reached. We all wish for connection. Especially now.

8. Do a hard thing.

It is hard to do things when you are pushing a wheelbarrow full of worry. But you can do hard things. In the coming weeks, you will need to do things you are not ready for or too emotionally spent to do. It will be tempting to opt-out with the cultural rhetoric of self-care. Stick with it. Do the hard things. Not all the hard things. But some hard things.

9. Focus on good trouble.

What you pay attention to grows. Pay attention to good trouble and the people getting into it. Disregard the evil whispering that it has overtaken goodness. If you are centered in goodness, the doings of evil are irrelevant. Keep moving toward good trouble.

10. Limit your news intake.  

There are not 5 articles about Trump’s COVID diagnosis on the front page because it’s important; they’re there so that you stay on that webpage. Do not seek a play-by-play of every catastrophe. Do not track every state’s votes as they are reported. Block sites, disable your internet, trigger dark screen after 10pm—whatever you need to do to get yourself to unplug.

11. Remember that Jesus said “Do Not Worry” to a crowd with much less stable lives and governance.

Your government and your faith in it may be collapsing. But Jesus said don’t worry to people who had far more to worry about. Yours is not the first government to oppress its people, it’s just your first experience being at odds with your government to such an extreme degree.

Do not worry still applies.

Jesus probably knew he would die when he said do not worry. He wanted the disciples to know, I can’t guarantee you stability, but I can guarantee you purpose and good company. He knew disciples seeking justice needed to release their worry in order to do anything at all.

Paraphrase Jesus’ words. Tell yourself, Look at the birds in the sky. They do not vote or call their legislators, they sign up for no email alerts, yet our God in heaven ensures they are fed. Aren’t you more important than they? Which of you by worrying can add a moment to your lifespan?

Stop worrying, then, over questions such as ‘Who will rule us?’ or ‘Will my vote count?’ or ‘How will I know it was a fair and free election?’ Those without faith are always running after these things. God knows everything you need. Seek first God’s reign, and God’s justice, and these things will pale beside your sense of purpose. Enough of worrying about tomorrow! Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own.

12. Read your notes.

Return to these words when you forget how to say them for yourself.


This post is adapted from a sermon given October 4.

Tithing in the Time of COVID: Churches, Wealth Gaps, and Giving Gaps

Most charities are struggling financially right now. But churches are not most charities. Churches run on a unique revenue model, funded by voluntary contributions from a group of individuals who tend to be socially and economically homogeneous. Which means that the economic state of the church looks much like the country: the haves are having more and more, while the have-nots discover new ways to not have.

The way COVID hit American households is the way COVID hit American churches. We know people with college degrees have been more likely to keep their jobs, and that white workers—who are able to work from home in greater numbers—are more likely than Black, Indigenous, and employees of color are more likely to keep their jobs.

This means churches comprised of educated and white members are likely continuing to meet their revenue projections or, if they fall short, are suffering more from the inconvenience of virtual worship (that is, Zoom’s not-yet-developed in-app “Pay Now” feature) than a lack of member funds. Churches comprised of hospitality, mobility, and service workers (where people of color are overrepresented) are likely struggling significantly to meet budget, and disproportionately relying on denominational emergency support funds or external donor relationships. These are the same churches where pastors are already more likely to be bivocational, and pastors as well as congregants may be struggling with unemployment.

COVID is exacerbating the same wealth disparities we’ve collectively exacerbated for the last several decades. It is critical–faithful–that churches that have remained financially stable over the last six months change their patterns of giving. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Partner with a local church that has greater financial need. Offer ongoing support for the duration of the pandemic by subsidizing a local pastor’s salary—particular of a predominately BIPOC-church. The best thing you can give is unrestricted cash, because churches, like individuals, tend to know what they need most, and adding restrictions to money adds stress to both the relationship and the finances.
  2. Create mutual aid funds for inside and outside the community. Many congregations have off-budget support funds for congregants in need. If you don’t, start such a fund now. If you do, start an additional Community Aid Fund. These are dollars that go to anyone who shows up at the church doors and ask for money, without vetting or paperwork or prayer requirements. People who show up at church doors—who have both the humility and the desperation to ask for money—tend to be people who have exhausted every other possibility, from failing to qualify for disability to reaching the Salvation Army after all rent relief subsidies have been disbursed. While scammers do show up, and tend to show up repeatedly, take it on faith that a one-time cash gift fund, at the pastor’s or the administrator’s discretion, is a faithful gift and an essential part of the social safety net. If you’re concerned about abuse, set an annual cap or agree to “no more than $100 per person” or go read your Bible because Jesus did not vet the worthiness of the people he healed.
  3. Develop ways of communicating this aid if your building is still closed, because a community aid fund is only as accessible as the staff and volunteers who manage it. Put a flyer on the door with a phone number or office hours. Keep masks and PPE on hand for folks in need who come in without safe accessories. Collaborate with other local congregations and direct people where to go and who still has Community Aid Funds available, so that no single congregation gets overwhelmed. If you do get overwhelmed, take it as an affirmation that you are offering the gospel where it is needed. If you run out of money, count it as a success, take a breather, and find a new way to support your neighbors.
  4. Tithe off the top. Contribute 10% of total monthly giving to a charity. Or put it into your external mutual aid fund. If your church is meeting budget goals, or close to meeting budget and expenses have dropped with COVID, commit to giving every month a percentage of tithes receives. Quick distribution maximizes impact, allowing your gifts to get to agencies sooner and minimizing congregational debate and approval of the perennial “What to do with the surplus?” question that will be resolved next March, a year after COVID began. (If you want to be extractive and transactional about it, ask the church’s administrator or facilities manager to calculate the savings the church has gained from sitting empty—in water, electricity, and other bills—and donate that amount every month to an agency directly serving people in need.)
  5. Start a little free food pantry. Don’t start a food pantry—something that requires volunteers, committees, organization, and is likely duplicative of other understaffed and under-accessible food security initiatives that other local churches are operating. Just build a box—a very large little free library of nonperishable goods and encourage a small group to look after it, while encouraging everyone to drop by and contribute goods to it.
  6. Adopt a social service agency. Channel your volunteer time and relationships into one significant partnership that gives you a bird’s eye view of COVID-through-the-lens-of-“X”-agency. As mentioned at the top, most all charities are struggling, and sometimes, viewing COVID through the lens of homeless children, domestic violence survivors, or folks with mental disabilities, in a sustained, collectively committed way yields a bigger understanding of the impact one church can make.  
  7. Support denominational camps and retreat centers. Not the established, endowment-funded ones but the barely-meeting-budget-on-a-good-year camps that pay their staff in kitchen-made retreat meals. These camps are often regional centers for diversity, bringing together congregations from rural, urban, and suburban demographics with different socioeconomic backgrounds. Supporting and maintaining camps through the pandemic maintains pathways of communication and witness across socioeconomic barriers.
  8. Lower the barriers for financial support to Millennials and Gen Z attendees, especially college students. Instead of care packages, send students cash. Give a scholarship, even a nominal one, to every college student. Support early-career Millennials. They are now in the second recession of their decade-long careers (give or take), and many were already at an economic disadvantage from graduating into a recession.

Churches that are financially stable cannot continue “giving as usual.” There is a louder, more plaintive, desperate cry for help, and giving can no longer be usual, it must be abundant.

Consider this: What would you have done differently at the peak of the Great Recession, knowing what you know now, and if the Great Recession was 5 times as bad?

Do that.

Bottom line: Give as much as you can, whenever you can.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church More Welcoming for Single People

Single people are not a monolith, and it’s a bit ridiculous to think there’s a foolproof method for attracting them. However, when roughly half of adults in the U.S. are single, and in churches it’s closer to 10%, churches do need to examine the cultural barriers that turn “family-friendly” into “families only.”

The following list is not definitive (I mean, how much time do you have?), but offers a few ways to explore how to make that culture shift.

10. Think about your start time.
Single people can be morning people. However, in a culture that doesn’t exactly celebrate waking up to see the sunrise, most single people with traditional work schedules rely on weekends to reconnect with the people they loved, up to and including Saturday night. Single people with nontraditional work schedules (including pastors) will go out of their way to spend Saturday nights with friends. This is especially true for younger adults, but can be true across the age spectrum. A church that begins at 9:30am has already sent a clear message. Consider starting at 10am or 11am or even (gasp) an evening time like 5pm or 6pm.

9. Recognize when events are exclusive.
Rather than assuming singles like the annual contra dance, ask them about their experience of different events. Earlier this year, when I attended my first all-church Winter Retreat, I discovered the fabled and eagerly anticipated event was actually a little bit lonely for a single person. I shared my experience with a few people and discovered that others in non-traditional family structures felt similarly. Some of them had been avoiding it for years. The odds of a retreat in January 2021 are low (thanks, COVID), but the extra time may help us rethink how to structure the event to be more inclusive.

8. Host events with odd-numbered groups.
If I had a dime for every time a family said, “we’d love to have you over,” and meant “when we can find another single person to join us,” I could’ve just bought myself dinner. Over the years, I’ve been baffled at how uncomfortable couples can be inviting a single person to any activity. Odd numbers discomfit people in traditional families. If you recognize yourself in this description, ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable. Let go of symmetrical table seatings and practice (as it is safe to do so and most likely post-COVID) hosting or joining events in odd numbered groups.

7. Don’t rely on single people for childcare.
Is the number of single people leading Sunday School proportional to their overall representation in the church? If so, is it possible they’re being asked first because, you know, clearly the reason they’re single is because they want to be caring for other people’s children? Some single people will enthusiastically lead children’s events. And some single people are savoring every second they are not responsible for fragile and malleable developing brains. Avoid pressuring single people in subtle or direct ways.

6. Do not assume it’s okay to set someone up or benchmark their relationships.
Bringing a partner to church—even an enthusiastic, deeply Christian partner—is a fraught experience, between the church’s family-centered functioning and its historical inability to deal with sexuality in a healthy way. When someone brings a member of the sex they are attracted to to church (and, if you are unsure which sex they’re attracted to, now is not the time to ask), avoid subtle or direct questions about their relationships. Let a person bring a person to church and welcome the new person as an individual. Singleness is not a tragic state of being, nor is a break up (most break ups are a thing to celebrate for at least one member of the relationship). There are many ways that the church treats singleness as a temporary state, or sends subtle reminders that “you’re just a married person in training.” Get in touch with a person’s hopes and dreams, without assuming marriage is a goal—what do they love? What do they aspire to? Do not ask if it’s okay to set someone up, unless you know them well. (A helpful, but not always accurate, litmus test is that if you’ve heard them talk about being single in more than a passing comment, you know them well enough. If they don’t talk to you about being single, that’s a signal that they don’t want to answer questions about it.) If you know someone is in a relationship, avoid asking how “serious” it is. Instead, try asking literally any other question. As a long-time single pastor, I can assure you that 9 times out of 10, a person would rather hear “So, do you have 5-digit student loan debt?” than “So, is it pretty serious between you two?”

5. Use diverse sermon illustrations.
As a single person, I still find myself relying primarily on nuclear family sermon illustrations, referring to parents, kids, and couples, because that’s what predominates in churches. Sermons are perhaps the most important space where norms are communicated. Sermon examples that never reference dating or single-household experience ssuggest singleness is non-normative or, worse, not welcome. Pastors, lay speakers, and guest speakers who assume a multiplicity of fmaily structures communicate that, “hey, wow, you’re not an abomination of God’s will because you’re single!”

4. Ensure representation in leadership.
Sermon illustrations are valuable, but actions speak louder than words. Representation of all kinds matters. But if everyone comes to leadership meetings with a nuclear family mindset, you tend to get a church that only works for nuclear families (yes, I know you can namedrop the 3 single people who are deeply engaged, but don’t). When I shared that my Winter Retreat experience felt a little awkward, it was only because we had multiple people from non-traditional families that we realized this event—which has many vocal fans year-round—was geared for nuclear families.

3. Mark non-relational life events with rituals.
Nothing says “obligatory party” like wedding and baby showers. These events, meant to celebrate a life transition, often send a more subtle message that these are the only correct life transitions. Create rituals for a range of life events—retirement; grad school; moving or buying a home; baptism as adults; promotions or even quitting a job. Even the clunky and chaotic Blessing of the Pets creates a non-nuclear-family ritual of sorts. There’s no checklist of “right” rituals. Be attentive to what the diversity of members, single or coupled, are going through. Create space for a range of rituals. Likewise, don’t assume that every couple wants to play awkward games and eat sugary food just because they’re spending their lives together or creating a new person. Not every couple wants a wedding or baby shower. Normalize a range of responses to life events.

2. Pay attention to how you use your welcome statements.
Call me a cynic, but when I experience three or more “all are welcome” comments on Sunday morning, I cringe. “All are welcome” is too often church code for “here are the ways we want to be diverse and are not.” If your welcoming statement goes out of its way to include populations that are not visibly present on Sunday morning, use the statement judiciously. Call congregants to that vision, but don’t use it to reassure new people or as a chant that, if repeated enough times, will come true. Say “all are welcome” once, and then go about listening and validating all of the people who come through the (virtual) door, if it’s with a lisp or in a wheelchair or in a manic state. They chose to join a group of strangers for an hour—when was the last time you did that? Affirm their presence, listen to their story, and approach them as a human, not a potential annual giving unit.

1. Stand for something.
Single people don’t come to church, primarily, because they want more dinner parties. They come to be deeply and profoundly stirred by an encounter with a Holiness much bigger than themselves. Single people—like all people—long for connection, human and divine. A church that serves the community, mobilizes to meet local needs or defend affordable housing or convert their green space into an affordable produce stand, attracts strangers. A church that intends to serve the community, but never gets past making meals for its own congregants, will always be an insider’s club. Let your witness lead. Be relevant as more than just a place for families to share baby and grandbaby photos and have a monthly potluck. As Jesus once said, “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” A social club by any other name will still be recognized by its insiders—and its outsiders.

Making the Infinity of Coronavirus Less Infinite

It’s been said that time passes slower when you don’t know how long a task lasts. Uncertainty makes the future feels farther away, and the present more infinite. One of the most excruciating parts of the pandemic is the infinity of it. The Psalmist’s words, How long, O LORD?, took on a new meaning when two-week stay-at-home orders turned into months-to-years-to-undetermined-and-basically-forever of never seeing friends.

For progressives, the infinity of pandemic is overlaid on the infinity of the Trump administration. One way to make a task last longer is to create uncertainty, yes, but another way is to fill up the space with so much disgust and sensational cruelty that the time before and the time after cease to exist. Progressive Christians—and even some of those who at first had hope for a Trump presidency—have been in such a heightened state of reactionary stress for years that the present often numbs out all space for a past or a future. We know intellectually there is the presidency is time-bound, but Trump has a unique skill for making himself seem infinite (and undermining all the traditional rules of democracy).

We are infinitely stuck. Our churches, and our world, seem to exist on an emotional spectrum that runs from exasperation to fatigue to paralysis. The past is an alternate reality. The future is an unimaginable one.

The Christian faith is about finding a way to move through life centered on hope. The task of churches, now, is to cultivate hope, which means to imagine alternatives. Churches must attune us to the possible, the not yet, the alternative vision. For an hour every Sunday—perhaps a little more—we can gather our community, most of us virtually, into imagination. That’s all hope is, after all, the ability to imagine something good in the future.

This is not about self-medicating with eternal salvation. It’s about building the frame that allows people to fill in the center. Something that breaks the paralysis of infinity into manageable seasons where we can take action. Perhaps your church foresees a need for rent relief, or additional hours at the food bank, repairs in the building or in one of your social service or summer camp or mission partners. Orient toward the vision, what your favorite organizations look like in the time after coronavirus. Perhaps an empty building can collect school supplies or homemade quilts or canned goods, a tangible sign week-to-week of how our hope grows and cascades. Perhaps photos of the room are taken and shared weekly; perhaps every thousand cans the room is emptied and the goods delivered to the food bank and a new vision begins. This kind of tangible good matters. It distinguishes the days, the passing of time, shifts Coronatimes from an infinite fog to a rainbow, long and bending toward justice. It increases our sense of goodness day-to-day.

Of course, all this presumes a majority of staff and congregants are not in survival mode. And many, especially the caregivers, are barely treading water.

Ironically, it is the pandemic that has shifted me from survival mode to capacious dreamer—turns out, being bivocational is much easier when you stop trying to have a social life. When I was in the thick of survival mode, several months ago, everything felt doable, in theory. I did not feel that I was carrying more than I could lift. A congregant finally pointed out to me that survival mode doesn’t always feel like survival mode. For those who are overwhelmed, normalize fatigue and listening to your body and releasing the nonessentials. Normalize adjusting expectations. Name spaces that are capacious and where support exists, whether or not it is tapped. Affirm exhaustion.

And at the same time, inventory assets. Celebrate the strengths of parents, caregivers, teachers who are in survival mode, parenting, caregiving, teaching in ways unknown for generations. Notice their resilience, acknowledge them in small ways, imagine alongside of them and invite them into the brief moments they can steal of hopeful dreaming. To the degree that you can, invite the care-receivers into the work of imagination. Listen to children’s views of the future. Ask seniors what legacies they leave, and their hopes for those who arise to carry on the legacy.

In my church, realizing the challenges of Children’s Time in virtual space, we transitioned from adults telling the children stories to children telling the adults stories. Right now, each Sunday a different child is sharing their hopes for the future, from dreaming of eighth birthdays to fully trained puppies to someday becoming a teacher. I often think the adults seem to benefit from this dreaming space more than the children.

No matter how you look, it’s not an easy time. But it’s not an infinite time, either. And the more we can vision the future, the more we can oritent toward the horizon, the more gracefully and rapidly this time will seem to pass.

Find abundance where you can, even if it means eating cucumbers three meals a day.

“Defund the Police” is Deeply Anabaptist

From its origins, Anabaptism was a movement that questioned the belief that the state was worthy of wielding violence. So it surprised me, at first, that Anabaptist churches were even debating about defunding the police. This is a religious tradition that champions war tax resistance. We literally believe that religious freedom entitles us not to pay for our country’s military. It’s a hop, skip, and less than a jump to move from withholding military dollars to reducing police funding.

Anabaptist theology has no room for police, any more than it has room for soldiers, kings, or governments who claim to have God’s blessing. In 1527 in the Schleitheim Confession, Anabaptists made the bold statement that Christians should not carry weapons, but instead be “armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and with the Word of God.”  

But over time, this ability to critique violence morphed into a desire to avoid violence at all costs. The logic went like this: Jesus calls us to peace; therefore, we cannot exhibit signs of violence; therefore, violence simply does not exist in Christian community. There’s no need to create a vocabulary for something that does not exist. The Anabaptist legacy is one that silences violence because there are no words for it.

And so, most of our churches simply function as though police don’t exist. People like us would never be police officers. People like us would never call the police on a fellow church member. And, it must be said, people like us are rarely policed because, until three or four generations ago, Anabaptists were almost exclusively white. The message in most Anabaptist churches today is that Anabaptists should not be police officers—but police officers are also permissible when necessary to quash any violence we witness since, of course, violence is immoral. Police are unnecessary to our daily lives because we are Christian pacifists; but we understand police are needed respond to the harm committed by other, more violent people in the world. Ah, the sweet, sweet moral high ground.

Anabaptists cannot be police officers, it’s often said, because they would have to carry a gun. This is the most obvious observation we make policing, and one that fails to mention that tear gas, pepper spray, riot gear, and rubber bullets are also tools of violence.

Our historically flat critique of violence—a critique that washes over race, power, socioeconomic disparity, and gender—no longer serves us. Most likely, it never served us.

“We believe that peace is the will of God. God created the world in peace, and God’s peace is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, who is our peace and the peace of the whole world,” begins Article 22 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.

There is no way to get from “God created the world in peace” to “I’m okay with paying taxes to the government so that police have access to riot gear.” To be pacifist is to maintain that for every social problem, there are better places to put our money than police departments. Any government representative who is required to carry a gun is less effective at creating peace than a government employee who does not have “exercising violence when necessary” as part of their job description. Because, in the Anabaptist tradition, violence is never necessary.

The phrase “Defund the Police” is the most Anabaptist term to enter popular American social discourse in decades. As pacifists, we ought to be rushing full speed to join the movement. And if we are not, we ought to pull out our Confession of Faith and ask ourselves, “Why does this phrase make me uncomfortable?”

It is, most likely, because of our commitments to our own privilege, and not our commitments to God.