Ten insights from CM’s latest online event

March 23, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 6
Aaron Epp | Senior Writer
Clockwise from bottom left, Ryan Dueck, Peter Haresnape and Cynthia Wallace joined CM staffer Aaron Epp for an online event earlier this month.

“Are we too progressive for our own good?” That was the title of an online panel discussion Canadian Mennonite hosted on March 8.

More than 70 people tuned in to hear from the panel, which included Ryan Dueck, pastor of Lethbridge (Alta.) Mennonite Church; Cynthia Wallace, an English professor and member of the Backyard Church in Saskatoon; and Peter Haresnape, pastor of Toronto United Mennonite Church.

Dueck (RD), Wallace (CW) and Haresnape (PH) explored what sets faith-based justice and advocacy apart from secular causes, and whether or not Canadian Mennonites are missing spiritual depth.

Here are 10 insights from the discussion:

“For me to be part of a Mennonite Anabaptist congregation which affirms my full humanity and which blesses my marriage, which has space for queer and genderqueer individuals, is amazing. It is ‘a hard-work miracle,’ to borrow a phrase I heard recently, and most of the time it’s dull. We have meetings, and we have potlucks, and we pray together, and we have disagreements, and it’s all small, and yet somehow it participates in this greater beautiful conversation—that conversation and disagreement that God is spurring in the world in God’s attempts to call us into a deeper relationship, into a truer understanding of who we are.”—PH

“If faith is just a job to do for Jesus, and not a mercy that comes crashing upon us in the darkest, hardest, most painful moments of our lives, then I was just increasingly thinking that I don’t want it then.”—RD

“Sometimes our imaginations get so narrow of what salvation is and what grace looks like.”—CW

“I’ve increasingly been convinced that one of the deepest things that we can do is keep coming to the table. . . . Some of my best moments as a pastor are when I can invite people to the Lord’s table and proclaim in wine and bread that God has done for us what we can’t do for ourselves.”—RD

“The thing that most brings people to awe is moral beauty—when people see other people doing good for each other. There’s a beautiful way in which I feel like our churches have the opportunity to be these creative hubs of moral beauty.”—CW

“We need to tell the truth more. I think that we need to be people who tell the truth, and that means telling the truth about how imperfect we are as people. . . . I wish our churches were hubs for truth-telling together to cultivate that kind of really robust way of being together in the fullness of our humanity, seeking God.”—CW

“When things are going well for us, and when our bank accounts are full, and when the country we live in is largely aligned with our ethical values and norms, God becomes . . . ornamental and then superfluous. I think that’s a very well-travelled road. What to do about it is a different question, a harder one.”—RD

“What does it look like for us to become disciples in a way that prepares our hearts for the time when we will meet suffering, and prepares us to walk with others through suffering? And not just be cocooned in every comfort and distraction we can find? . . . There’s so much more pain in the world than we want to acknowledge and, when we tell the truth of that, I think we face our need for God and for each other.”—CW

“There’s a great pull quote from one of the letters to Peter . . . [that] talks about always being ready to give a reason for the hope that you have, and I think that’s been very important for me in my life. I’ve made some commitments to a particular faith community and particular faith tradition, and I think you don’t have to go to the [street] corner and get out your bullhorn and yell at passers by about [Christianity], but you’ve got to be willing to talk about—to be truthful and honest about—your own life, and where you have experienced God.”—PH

“A wise person once told me they want on their epitaph, ‘Lived openly before God and others,’ and I think that you could do worse for a way of living in the world than to be open with each other, to not sanitize it, to not try and dress it up in kind of religious jargon. But to say, ‘Hey, we’re in this together. We believe God is real, and God is calling us, and God meets us in our pain. Let’s do this together.’”—RD

Watch a recording of the discussion below or at vimeo.com/806808574.

Clockwise from bottom left, Ryan Dueck, Peter Haresnape and Cynthia Wallace joined CM staffer Aaron Epp for an online event earlier this month.

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My immediate reaction to "Are we too progressive for our own good?" was, "What does this even mean?"

"Progressive" is a very loosely-defined political term that's used to group people who favour a classical Liberal approach to governance: similar outcomes for all citizens facilitated by income redistribution and heavily subsidized health and welfare support programs, etc. How the term fits a primarily Christian community could use some clarity, but for now let's say it means that we're so immersed in a "social action" agenda that it's displaced something we need and may be losing. That could be true.

Secondly, the "for our own good" cries out for more clarity. Good for the growth and preservation of the institution? Good for the well-being of individuals in the pews? Could this "goodness" be measured by membership numbers? by questionnaires on "satisfaction with life"?

And if I've assumed correctly that what's being questioned here is whether social action issues have crowded out the charismatic joy of salvation that ought to illuminate our worship, invigorate our sense of God's presence in our personal lives, then we might have a handle on contemplating what we as a Mennonite Church might do to bring back a more balanced worship style and focus. That latter is being forced upon us in any case as loyalty to the church and what it represents wanes in a steady, downward trajectory.

I see no reason why Pentecostalist joy at salvation and vigorous social action can't exist together, even complement and enhance each other. To make of the two an either/or polarity invites decidedly "un-good" thinking and behaviour, ending up, God forbid, in tossing two beautiful babies out with their bath water.

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