State of the Mennonite Union: Pastors Week Recap

Most of us live day-to-day in the microcosm of one local church community. For the last four days, I’ve  tasted of the macro-North American church, trading good and bad news at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s annual Pastors Week. Here are top five moments for me, from longest to shortest (not counting the food, because the AMBS vegan chocolate chip cookie is its own theology and ecclesiology).

1. When it comes to GLBTQ debates, our denominational staff is close to hopeless. If you’ve worked with a conference minister or MC USA staff in the last year, you know this already. But it was striking how much of the week was burdened by fear of this summer’s impending sexuality “conversation” (or, if you prefer, “explosion”) at the Kansas City convention. Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, moderator of MC USA, spoke to us on Wednesday, which was also her birthday. Perhaps this statement is enough to explain why our denominational leaders are so hopeless.

I call her ESA because her name is 7 syllables.

I call her ESA because her name is 7 syllables.

This hour-long lecture was the most direct I’ve seen ESA–she talked race, sexuality, and ecclessiology. About 35 minutes in, she said, “I am married to a conservative man. We have struggled with the LGBT issue and we will never agree. But we will love each other anyway. But I don’t know if we have that love in the church.” During Q&A time, I asked, “You–and all of our denominational leaders–are tired. We, as pastors, aren’t getting any hope from you. If we can’t get hope from you, how do we sustain our optimism? What is your good news for us?” Continue reading

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John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse: Asking the Wrong Question

Even though this week a Goshen College student was slapped by Jennifer Lopez, John Howard Yoder is still the biggest Mennonite celebrity we have. While at Pastors Week, I heard stories about how he would takes notes on a lecture in a foreign language, just for practice. Or how he could listen to a lecture and engage in conversation while writing a sermon. Or from students who said, “I didn’t grow up Mennonite, but I’m studying at AMBS because I read John Howard Yoder.”

As the Mennonite Church dives into its first real attempt to name him as a serial abuser with a distorted sexual politic, one question surfaces over and over: “Can we still honor and use his work even though we now know he harassed and assaulted as many as 100 women?”

I heard this question for the bajillionth time this week, talking to a Mennonite student at AMBS. He was one of those who came to the church by way of John Howard Yoder, finding a belief system he could truly resonate with. He mused, “I wonder how we respond to his work.” After some more thought, he said, “Yoder was brilliant. He’s such an articulate thinker and he lays such an important foundation for Mennonites. I think we can still redeem his work and use it to represent our church.” Continue reading

What the Church Needs: Calling Bullshit and Imagining the Impossible

This week, while I’m at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, I was asked to respond to the question What do you see in Anabaptism that is needed for the church today? It’s one of the themes for the week; there are lots more people saying intelligent things about it, and I’ve tried to collect some of them here. Given the nature of the question, I’ve put on my rose-colored glasses and examining Anabaptism at its best.

Anabaptism today offers two major contributions to Christian conversation. The first is that Anabaptists have a unique framework well-suited for the theological task of calling bullshit. This task is a theological task, and a critical one in our time—I’ll say more about this in a minute. When I was in seminary, one of our assigned readings was a thin book by Harry G. Frankfort called On Bullshit. I want to read an excerpt from the opening chapter:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit…. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and avoid being taken in by it…. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what function it serves.”

Continue reading