When the ‘grey’ is not holy

From Our Leaders

May 25, 2022 | Opinion | Volume 26 Issue 11
Michael Pahl | Mennonite Church Manitoba
(Photo by Bernard Hermant/Unsplash)

Life is complicated. And this means “issues” are complicated.

The Bible doesn’t give us as “black and white” a picture of life and faith as some of us might wish. In fact, that’s one of the beautiful things about the Bible: It presents human experience in all its messiness. The older I get, the more I realize this truth: Life is complicated.

This means “issues” are complicated. Whether we’re talking human sexuality or climate change, our response to COVID-19 or reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, these things are complicated. These are not merely “issues” debated in the abstract; they impact real people in very direct, personal ways.

It is tempting to claim, then, that the “holy grey” is what we should seek. A middle ground where all voices are equally valid, where compromise can be found, where polarization no longer reigns.

This sounds good. Often, it is good. This middle ground can be just what is needed to bring about wholeness, both individually and communally.

But sometimes the middle “grey” is not holy. Sometimes it is, in fact, harmful.

In her book How to Have an Enemy, Melissa Florer-Bixler writes: “Jesus draws a line and places himself on one side of it. He asks us to stand there with him.” We can determine where that line is by attending to questions of power and vulnerability.

Who is impoverished in power—economic, political, cultural, social power—lacking the ability to change their circumstances for their flourishing? Who is vulnerable to harm—physical, psychological, sexual, spiritual harm—by those with power?

When these questions are not asked within our congregations and communities, we risk searching for a grey that is no longer holy. We risk settling for a middle ground where the relatively powerful find a compromise that keeps the status quo, while continuing to make the truly powerless invisible and inflicting harm on the most vulnerable.

In our thirst for peace, we risk losing justice. In our hunger for unity, we risk losing our way.

LGBTQ+ youth experience homelessness and attempt suicide at alarming rates, especially when they do not have a supportive family and faith community around them.

The elderly, lower-income communities, the immuno-compromised, the unvaccinated—these are much more likely to have severe outcomes if they contract COVID-19.

Indigenous people face proportionally far higher poverty rates, incarceration rates, murder rates and rates of police violence.

And it is the poorest among us who are suffering the worst impacts of a warming climate.

These are the very ones Jesus focused his gaze on, considered “the least” and “the last” of our world. Jesus called his disciples to follow him in walking in solidarity with these most vulnerable to harm, empowering these most impoverished in power—even if that path means a cross.

May we search for holiness, yes, but a holiness grounded in Jesus’ distinctive way of love. We might find this holiness in the grey spaces of our world. But sometimes we’ll only find it on the precarious edge of a polarized divide.

Michael Pahl is executive minister of Mennonite Church Manitoba and attends Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg.

Read more From Our Leaders columns:
Reflection on Ukraine
Listen, debate, decide
‘It is hard to be afraid when you understand’
Life can be real
Joining the Office of Fun 

(Photo by Bernard Hermant/Unsplash)

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