“Believe the best about each other.” When delegates met for the Mennonite Church Canada assembly this past fall, there were swirls of questions, confusion, caution and qualms. From the dense detail and multiple pages on denominational restructuring that we waded through, it was this phrase of hope and encouragement that jumped out at me, and others as well.
Mennonites—individually, in congregations, and provincial and national bodies—were enjoined to “believe the best about each other.” This was one promise we made to each other in the new covenant. It is no small commitment.
We experience many differences that can be divisive. We disagree on what music to sing in worship and how to interpret the Bible. Some of us live in well-resourced centres of power, some of us in sparsely populated or isolated places. Some of us are firmly ensconced with generations of Mennonite lineage pulsing in our blood; others are new Anabaptists, firmly committed to Jesus’ way of nonviolence and reconciliation, yet deprived of full equality in the ethnic-centred church. How might we be mindful and respectful of those differences while covenanting to believe the best about each other?
One example comes from a church leader who waded into the heated waters of Christian perspectives on same-sex relationships. He said (and I paraphrase): “I refuse to believe that those who seek a traditional understanding of marriage [between one woman and one man] do not care about justice, compassion and hospitality. At the same time, I refuse to believe that those who support individuals in same-sex relationships do not care about faithfulness, biblical integrity and wholesome morality.”
When we encounter our differences, we can easily slide from respectful engagement towards dualism and its resulting “I am right and you are wrong” mentality.
“Attribution” is a psychological term that applies in consideration of differences. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, when we are getting along with someone—a spouse, a child, a sibling—we attribute positive motives and qualities to them. Yes, my spouse forgot to call me to let me know she/he would be late for dinner, but it’s just because she/he got tied up somewhere for a good reason. Or my sister’s teasing comment did have a sharp edge to it, but she didn’t mean any harm by it.
When we are in conflict with someone, or where tension is high, we tend to attribute negative qualities and motivations to them. At such times, we are more likely to skew the interaction negatively. Yes, my spouse forgot to call me to let me know he/she would be late for dinner; that’s because he/she is thoughtless and self-centred. Or my sister’s teasing comment had a sharp edge to it; that’s because she is unkind and mean-spirited, and she’s been that way her whole life.
For whatever reason, the writers drafting a new covenant for the Mennonite churches of Canada called us to believe the best about each other. A tall order.
Paul, writing to the Ephesians (4:1-2), begged them to “lead lives of humility, gentleness and patience . . . bearing with one another in love [and] making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
As members of Mennonite churches in Canada, as members of families, we can cultivate humility, gentleness and patience to nourish our capacity to believe the best about each other.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.
Read more about the new Mennonite Church Canada covenant at “Delegates affirm Covenant and Operating Agreement.”