The ‘sin’ of disunity

January 25, 2017 | Editorial | Volume 21 Issue 3

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.”

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You make disunity sin but you make sin okay. Our forefathers would be ashamed at how the Mennonite church is going downhill. We as Christians are to be peculiar people and not running after and appeasing the lusts and evils of this world. "Come out from among them and be ye separate." "Be not conformed to this world." Do these passages among others mean nothing to your church? Read Romans chapter 1, see what it says. Sadly prophecy is coming to pass right here in our midst. They will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears, not being able to bear sound doctrine. Read 2 Timothy 4, verse 3.

I agree respectful and prayerful dialogue should be the norm. Disrespectful and condemning comments are not helpful and unacceptable as passionate as we might be. However, implying that some congregations in Manitoba and B.C. are the cause of a storm toward disunity isn't helpful in promoting unity. As important as it is, unity has become the highest good. Jesus put a priority on truth: "sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth" (Jn.17:17). Unity is unity around the truth. When core moral truths are compromised unity is threatened. This is the situation we are in. When the national body compromises the truth of scripture, where should the "sin" of disunity be lodged? Who left whom?

With all due respect, Dick... the Bible is amply clear that in response to believers practicing/promoting sexual immorality (including homosexuality) the correct response is disunity: "Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord." Eph 5.7-8

There simply cannot be unity in the Holy Spirit with those who are willfully practicing immorality, and teaching others to do likewise. I realize this runs counter to pop culture sentiment, but given the choice between sentimentality and God's word it should be a no-brainer for us as Christians.

Is it not time for this publication to begin pointing out simple biblical truths like this, instead of giving voice and credibility to sin?

It strikes me that anyone who promotes a dismantling of the Church (the bride of Christ) either by withdrawing from fellowship or by expelling from fellowship, is setting himself or herself in the place of God. Arguments regarding "immorality" may or may not have substance -- but if there is disagreement about such issues within the Church, then God's people must remain in constant dialogue and prayer -- as an unified people, and not as separate or independent little factions. Otherwise we deny that those who argue against us are people of faith as much as we ourselves are. And I respectfully suggest that only God can make that call.

I find it interesting that Erwin uses the phrase "anyone who promotes the dismantling of the church ( the bride of Christ )." From the context of his comment I am assuming he is referring to those of us who oppose the Being a Faithful Church recommendation. First of all, my understanding is no one will be able to destroy the bride of Christ. No one can expel anyone from being part of the bride of Christ. No one can compel anyone to leave the bride of Christ. However anyone can, of their own accord choose to walk away from the bride of Christ. The bride of Christ consists of blood-washed saints of every kindred, tribe or tongue across the world. The bride of Christ does not depend on us as human beings to be "unified" in our disagreements. As far as morality or immorality, I respectfully suggest God will have the last word.

Thank you for the reporting and commentary on the recent MC Manitoba special meetings on implementing the BFC resolution. As several statements about the sin of disunity and the "sinful incident" are attributed to me, allow me to clarify and expand on these. I do not completely or exactly recall what I said at the meeting, but here is what I wanted to say.
I did say - and would repeat - that in my opinion we would be sinning if we would divide over the issue of "creating space" for congregations which want to accept same-sex marriage. All of us would be participants in this sin - whether we would be separating from our denomination or remaining within it - because we would have failed to live in the unity given to us by God.
From the same perspective, all of us involved in the incident labelled as "sinful" - myself as moderator included - failed to live up to the best norms for conducting conversations about controversial issues within our church. Describing the incident as "sinful" should not imply that only one or another participant sinned.
Subsequent to making the statement about dividing being a sin, it occurred to me that as grievous as that sin is, in Anabaptist-Mennonite theology and practice coercion of conscience is an even more grievous sin. This conviction about respect for conscience prompted the first Anabaptists to separate from the Roman Catholic Church and to reject the other churches emerging from the Protestant Reformation. Alas, we have too often divided rather than maintained unity when we had differences in matters of conscience. But let us agree that we will not coerce consciences in the matter before us, even as we strive and call for unity. I would rather accept division and work toward an amicable one than require unity and disregard the conscience of any of my sisters and brothers in Christ. And I live and work with the hope and belief that God will eventually lead us back into unity and that we will again accept God's gift of unity in the church.

Maybe Grebel, Sattler and Simons had the wrong approach?

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