The tension in the room was palpable. High winds and blizzard conditions outside kept some from attending the Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship meeting in Winnipeg (see “Let him speak,” page 18), but the stormy weather on Jan. 12 was not confined to the outdoors. Inside the winds of confrontation were brewing, too.
What was causing the “weather” disturbance? Severe winter weather is certainly not new to those living in southern Manitoba. What is new is a disturbance by some congregations across Canada—Manitoba and British Columbia, in particular—regarding the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) 7 resolution passed last summer in Saskatoon that “creates space” for those having a different interpretation of Article 19 in our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective regarding marriage being “between one man and one woman.”
Mennonite Church Manitoba was trying its best that night to find a way through this gathering storm by bringing together differing viewpoints on the issue. To do that, moderator Peter Rempel posed a number of questions, including: “How can we support mutual accountability between levels of leadership and congregations at variance on the issues throughout the process?”
Certainly a fair question to what has become a contentious issue. But instead of it bringing a calm and reasoned response, it triggered deeply held passions on both sides that resulted in what one side considered insulting and condemning remarks about LGBTQ people, in contrast to the other side suggesting rhetorically that “Satan was using the gay community as his puppet in an attempt to totally tear apart Mennonite Church Canada.” A confrontation ensued and the person making the “condemning gays” remarks left the meeting.
Is this the kind of “reasoning together” we are to expect across MC Canada: When the conversation becomes intense, we just walk away from each other?
In MC B.C., some 11 pastors are calling on the area church to leave MC Canada as a protest to BFC 7. At this writing, it is unknown how a meeting at Peace Mennonite Church turned out. In a way, is the call to leave the national body just a different form of “walking away”?
Divisions are not new to our community of faith. We have been here before—over issues of divorce and women in leadership. These were the big issues. We lived through them. There were plenty of smaller ones, some as petty as splitting over whether the clock should be at the back or front of the church.
This is hardly the peace that we profess to our neighbours as one of our core values.
We were struck by some of the follow-up thoughts of a young pastor, Moses Falco of Sterling Mennonite Fellowship in Winnipeg, who attended the Fort Garry meeting. Basing his blog post on Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity,” he has a different take on “sin.”
“In essence, we have decided that unity in the midst of disagreement is vitally important to us,” he writes. “We already disagree on so many things, and to elevate this issue to the point of making it foundational to give us licence to break fellowship with one another, would be a sin.”
Falco, who didn’t grow up “Mennonite,” is actually happy for meetings like this. He has laid out three points that inspire him to be a part of our fellowship:
- The priesthood of believers where “everyone is invited into the space and collectively we hear the voice of God”;
- Disagreement is okay, i.e., “choosing to love and respect each other, even when we disagree on the topic of same-sex marriage, is a powerful testament to our common faith in Jesus Christ”; and
- “We need each other so that we can learn from one another. Dividing from people who are different from you also means you can no longer learn from them, or vice versa.”
Falco admits this won’t be easy. “Being the church is messy work,” he concludes. “Just look back into our history and see how many times we split, not only churches but also each other. Literally. We killed people who disagreed with us. I am happy to be a part of a church body that puts on meetings that make me uncomfortable.”
How refreshing! Why don’t we inculcate Falco’s attitude as we find our way through this storm? His different take on the “sin” of our disunity just might be the redeeming strategy we are seeking.
For a follow-up to the January 12, 2017, meeting see “Making space for disagreement.”