Is it Time to Change Ervin Stutzman’s Job Description?

At the end of January, Ervin Stutzman, the Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA was appointed for a third term as Executive Director. This decision was made by the Executive Board, who has a mixed track record on keeping an ear to the ground floor of the church. And at first, I was a little puzzled; most of the progressive pastors I know have strong and personal negative reactions to Ervin. How could he be reappointed so easily?

I don’t object to Ervin’s reappointment. In fact, it seems necessary and unobjectionable. What I am calling for is a thoughtful reflection on what work we want Ervin to be doing.

I have no personal axe to grind against Ervin (and I call him Ervin only because I was raised by Goshen College, where Anabaptist conviction has led to this notion that we ought to address each other not by hierarchical titles, but by first names). I’ve only met him once–and while he was dismissive of my question and the idea that young adults should be (more?) involved in church leadership, he was also encouraging of the church, in general. Ervin is a guy who loves church. That was clear from the first and only time I heard him speak:

But loving church does not a spiritual leader make.  He is not appointed by the church to be a spiritual guide for all our faith anxieties. In his last term, we–the Church–treated him like a spiritual guide, like the spiritual guide, and onto him we cast our spiritual burdens. He became the go-to spokesman on the church’s tense feelings about sexuality and, from my own distant evaluation, he rose to the role as though he felt it were his obligation. But in doing so, he also made his institutional bias so clear that he’s lost the trust of many who are working for inclusion. And that’s not healthy for our dialogue. Continue reading

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We Never Expected Easy: Reflections from Convention

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. Continue reading

Still Saying Yes: Making the Best of Kansas City

(I wrote this post at the Mennonite Church USA convention. It was originally published on the Mennonite World Review website.)

I was not prepared to be called forward in front of 4,500 people. I was sitting on the far edge of the room where the air conditioning didn’t quite reach, wearing the almost neon yellow jersey of the Colombian national soccer team, and in a fit of pre-convention planning, I had dyed my hair bubblegum pink. Continue reading

Gay Marriage, The Supreme Court, and the Church: The Losing Side of Winning

Sometimes being a winner feels shitty. If we cut down the two binaries, I join the statical majority of the country celebrating today’s Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage (what a funny phrase, legalize gay marriage). Even as I log on to write this post, my WordPress template now includes a rainbow. I am, abstractly, thrilled. But spiritually, and concretely, my joy is hollow. As a pastor, more than ever I am in the thick of addressing gay and lesbian issues from  a theological perspective. I am in the middle of hard, hard conversations that are neither clarified nor helped by today’s ruling. To put it less-than-pastorally, more than ever I am aware that being a pastor means walking through a lot of shit with a lot of different people and the road is long and filled with idiosyncrasies.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon where I shared my own convictions with my congregation. As honestly, as humbly, as I could I shared the theological journey that leads me to do no other than affirm gay Christians. More honestly, more humbly, and much more challenging, I shared the theological journey that leads me to do no other than to learn from and pray with Christians who find gay practice to be a sin. Some people felt profoundly affirmed. Some felt damaged, wounded. Continue reading