A modern-day wannabe prophet calling himself a “marginal Mennonite” audaciously predicts that this year’s Mennonite World Conference gathering will see a “mass exodus” from that body and maybe the end of the assembly, depending on the outcome of the polarizing sexuality debate at the Mennonite Church USA assembly this month in Kansas City.
Say what? This is a good case of hubris over humility, indicating not only a lack of evidence, but indulging in a provincialism that is fast fading. The very idea that issues preoccupying the Global North could sabotage this gathering indicates that we have not yet faced the reality that our world communion is more and more predominantly non-white from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
When will we in the Global North (North America and Europe) learn that despite our larger wealth and influence, we are no longer the dominant and driving force in shaping the themes, agenda and content of this historic body? It’s a little like turning over the family business to the next generation, where the elder(s) takes his place as the advisor/enabler rather than the manager/developer. Some of us have not yet caught on to this endemic change and think our issues are everyone’s.
As indicated in an earlier editorial, MWC planners turned that corner decades ago, when at the 1972 gathering in Brazil, the realization dawned that it was focused too much on its white ethnicity and its struggles and needed to pay attention beyond western Mennonites. That bridge of inward-looking parochialism has long been crossed. We are in a new age.
While the sexuality issue may be absorbing much of our spiritual energy in the Global North, it is not a priority issue in the far-flung areas of our Mennonite/Anabaptist world. If we were, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to get bogged down with every regional and national issue confronting our sisters and brothers in their local contexts, five days would never be enough. And we would come away burdened, not inspired.
Who is to say that our issues are greater in substance than those in northern Nigeria, for instance, where the possibility of “genocide” of Christians is an ongoing concern—where eight pastors and 3,038 Church of the Brethren members have been killed, 80 kidnapped and 96,000 displaced by Boko Haram?
Or of the disappearance and suspected murder of peace builders in the Philippines such as John Calaba, who is believed to have been killed because of his opposition to corporate logging on ancestral land? Apparently tricked into meeting over a meal with a corporate-sponsored militia, he is believed to have been shot and killed. Calaba advocated with PeaceBuilders Community Inc., supported by Mennonite Church Canada.
Or one of the issues facing the growing church in Ethiopia being that of how many wives to have after becoming part of the faith community? Or, the persecution, and sometimes disappearance of Mennonite Christians living under repressive regimes in Asia and Latin America? Why would we think our Global North issues are somehow more important and consequential than these life-threatening issues?
The point of coming together as the Mennonite World Conference is not to wring our hands together over persecution and polarization. It is to be inspired and strengthened despite these dire circumstances. Its vision is one articulated by our senior writer, Will Braun, in talking with César Garcia, the general secretary from Colombia—“interdependency among churches: church planting, social development and peacemaking.” It’s to do all of these with the encouragement of fellow Christians from all over the globe, as we all strive to follow Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith.”
The inspirational fellowship and singing together is at the heart of this once-in-six years event. I can still vividly remember the chills going up and down my back in the large auditorium Centro Familiar de Adoración in Asunción, Paraguay in 2009, when joining those 6,000 voices in song in many different languages under the direction of Paul Dueck. What a uniting force!
That’s what Mennonite World Conference is all about. There is more—much more—that unites us than divides us. Can we do away with our hubris and replace it with humility? That is our hope as we together “Walk with God,” the theme for this year’s gathering.