What is Lancaster Doing Right?

We have a phrase around here: Chicago over Everything.

Chicago over everything

No, you can’t make your own hoodie.

It means we have mad love for the city when they do something right: when Chance the Rapper is on SNL, when people start blowing up about Vic Mensa, when the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2016… and when the city messes up, we keep our pride and stay loyal.

I’m starting to believe Lancaster Mennonite Conference has a similar phrase, because these days the shout rising up seems to be Lancaster over Everything. How odd that when Iglesia Menonita Hispana, the body of Spanish-speaking Mennonite congregations in the U.S., met together in November, the question appeared to be “Can we, as a body, stay affiliated with Mennonite Church USA, given their (ambiguous) stance on homosexuality?” Instead, it became clear that those answering “no” were almost all in Lancaster Conference and already planning to leave the denomination. (Mennonite World Review has an excellent print article about this that I haven’t been able to find online.)

So IMH remains part of the denomination, albeit with 25% of congregations moving on. Most Spanish-speaking churches want to stay in MC USA. But those who are connected to Lancaster conference, when given the choice, have chosen Lancaster over everything. So once again, our church split is confoundingly geographic. Something about Lancaster Conference is the greatest thing since sliced bread, at least for those who are part of it. Continue reading

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

Saying We Are Who We Are: Part 180 of Innumerable on GLBT Inclusion and the Mennonite Church

Okay, it’s not a total 180. Nor is the headline from Mennonite World Review, “MC USA Council Endorses Unity Statement,” exactly accurate. “Unity” is hardly the statement. For those who saw the article and want the TLDR: This is CLC’s decision. They don’t have any decision-making power, but they’re the wise ones of the church who make recommendations to Executive Board. They spent the last weekend in Kansas–joke’s on them–picking bones over three proposed resolutions around same-sex sexuality in an elimination round to see which one would advance to the Delegate Assembly in Kansas City this summer. There were other resolutions up for debate, too, but they were all noncontroversial ones, like “don’t kill people.”

Remember this?

Remember this? The final word will come from Executive Board, but they probably won’t stray far from CLC.

Since I’ve never claimed to be an unbiased voice in this process, let me restate which basket my eggs are in: the Chicago Resolution is my baby. Okay, not technically. There’s a lot more people who put a lot more gametes into this resolution than I did. But I’ve been midwifing this resolution since November, talking with leadership at both sponsoring congregations, examining drafts of the resolution, and I (and my co-pastors) are among the 12 individual pastors endorsing the resolution, listed at the bottom of the document. Continue reading

Are Mennonites the Conservative Ones?: A Pastor’s Response to The Atlantic

Buy a coffin and prepare the funeral. If the Mennonite church was waiting for a death knell, it’s today’s article in The fucking Atlantic. That was my first thought when I finished Emma Green’s article. Do we have to start a #NotAllMennos? You know we’re on dire straits when we start #NotAllMenno-ing.

The article is filled will all the passion you can wring out of a regional conference meeting (even one fraught with the tension of impending self-destruction). She even included audio clips of the music sung at the gathering. (I pulled out my hymnal to hum along to “Calm Me, Lord” while I read.)

Continue reading

Sex, Sanctions, and Overstepping Orthodoxy: Part 800 of Infinity on GLBTQ Conversations in the Mennonite Church

I can’t go on vacation for six days without missing a firestorm in the ongoing GLBTQ debates. In Part 800 of this series, it’s time to look at the survey MC USA distributed to convention delegates last week. Apparently, the pastor survey was so much fun they wanted to do it again, with more questions.

I’m only interested in one question today. The survey is already under fire for many things: re-asking the same questions to a broader audience; increasing polarization; asking people who have little knowledge of church polity to make decisions about polity. I’ve talked with two people who are separately annotating the survey–yes, you read that right. They’re creating a guide to the questions to explain what the questions are asking. Continue reading

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

On Captions

An article on the Mennonite Church USA website from Oct. 10 summarizes the recent Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) meeting, the following photo with caption appears:

Screen shot 2014-11-04 at 3.49.37 PMThe main conversation in the CLC meeting was about–surprise–homosexuality and inclusion of gays. Also, Monarchs are an endangered species. Also, as a theologian and poet, I’m invested in accurate metaphors. So I’ve re-captioned the photo: Continue reading