(I’m writing from Pittsburgh 2011, MCUSA’s biennial convention. I had planned to do more blogging. Alas, with a variety of unforeseen family stuff, it just hasn’t happened. So I begin here with a reflection on Shane Hipps’ message at the opening worship service. This blog is cross-posted at the Pink Menno website.)
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
II Corinthians 5.16-20
It’s late Wednesday evening at the Mennonite convention in Pittsburgh. I’m typing in my hotel lobby, so as not to wake the sleepers in my room. I had intended to do some reflecting Monday… or Tuesday… or even this morning. But sometimes the days don’t quite go as expected at convention.
On Monday evening, we opened the week with a joint worship service of youth and adults. In his message to us that evening, Shane Hipps considered how we often find two impulses at odds within the Church: the desire for holiness and the desire for justice. However, Shane told us that Paul (in his letter to the Corinthian Church) describes a third, more difficult option. This option is a higher calling. It is the way of reconciliation.
Shane also took some time to describe the cells in a healthy organism: how they grow, divide, and specialize to take on the variety of tasks that need to be done. But when cells grow and divide unchecked, the organism faces something sinister: cancer. Shane expressed concern that the Mennonite Church is approaching this point. Therefore, he implored us to take up the way of reconciliation.
He reminded us that throughout its history, the Church has faced growth-related challenges before. If I recall correctly, two problems for the early Church (the slaughter of meat and the debate surrounding circumcision) were cited. These days, we don’t regard these things as problems at all. The two sides were reconciled long ago.
Shane took some time to describe how it is possible for both sides (holiness and justice) to quote scripture and to enter into a “victim” narrative. “The problem is that the emotions of justice and purity (anger, fear, and hurt) are innate to us. They come naturally. Justice and peace are categories of the world. When you have categories, suddenly you have colors, and when you have colors, you have tribal warfare.” (I’m not sure that the quote is quite right, but that’s what mPress has, so I’ll go with it.)
Wow. I came out of the first worship feeling… what? Hurt? Convicted? Guilty? Here I had come to Pittsburgh ready to wear my pink stuff, but maybe what I’m doing is causing division. That requires some serious reflection on my part. So that’s what I started doing, even as the rain was still falling on the roof during the Monday evening worship service.
And after a couple of days, here are my thoughts:
1) The use of the word “color” was unfortunate. In a public way, it singled out (without actually naming names) those who are on the “justice” side. I am, of course, referring to Pink Menno. One might imagine that such a direct reference would result in some degree of shame. The result of this shame would be a tendency to withdraw; to become colorless, if you will. That would be unhealthy.
(The cancer metaphor was also unfortunate, because of its unintended implications for the nature of Pink Menno.)
2) There are issues of power that weren’t addressed. It is difficult to talk about reconciliation when one group wields power over another. The very real situation is that LGBTQ persons are not welcomed at convention or in positions within MCUSA. Pink Menno, MennoNeighbors, and BMC are not allowed space in the exhibition hall. When they wished to hold a welcoming worship service, it had to occur at a nearby UCC congregation. At some point, issues of power and oppression must be addressed as a precursor to reconciliation.
3) We may wish to consider some more recent examples in the tension between holiness and justice. It is true that we don’t think about ritual slaughter and circumcision much any more. But we are still thinking about gender and race inequalities. To the extent that reconciliation has occurred, it has occurred because injustices were addressed. That work continues.
4) Shane described reconciliation as a higher calling than working for holiness or justice. I don’t necessarily disagree. On the other hand, I wonder if Jesus didn’t see reconciliation as being intimately connected to justice. In the Gospels, we see the tension between holiness and justice when we examine the interaction between the Pharisees and Jesus. And Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” Mercy is the inclination to justice, while sacrifice is the inclination to holiness. Jesus transgressed the walls erected in the interest of holiness to reach those who were “unclean”. In the process, he judged that the walls themselves (and not the persons) were that which was unclean.
Note: The Wipf and Stock booth in the exhibition hall has a wonderful book (“Unclean” by Richard Beck) which specifically addresses these issues.
5) Finally, I am reminded that Pink Menno is a group which is fundamentally about reconciliation: reconciling all God’s children into the Church.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I decided to relax about wearing pink. And I was glad to see a different color metaphor reported in the second edition of mPress this week. The president of Mennonite World Conference said:
For me, Mennonite World Conference is like a flowerbed with many beautiful colors. You walk the streets and reds, yellows, and blues. That’s what Mennonite World conference is all about.
I envision a flowerbed that includes some pink, as well.
I write all of this with some amount of trepidation, realizing that I have a natural tendency to get defensive when challenged. So in humility, I welcome loving discussions from anyone. I am not part of the LGBTQ community. On good days, I’m an ally. But I am a white, educated, middle class, North American, heterosexual male. I have just about any privilege one could imagine. I try to hold that lightly.
If you happen to read this before the end of convention and care to chat, look for the guy with the crocheted pink hat. That’s probably me.