Living with paradoxes

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March 9, 2016 | Editorial | Volume 20 Issue 6
Dick Benner, Editor/Publisher

In a blog post a year ago, The Mennonite’s Tim Nafziger references John Paul Lederach’s book The Moral Imagination, in which the author describes what he calls “paradoxical curiosity.”

It’s an attitude toward conflict, writes Lederach, “that has an abiding respect for complexity, a refusal to fall prey to the pressures of forced dualistic categories of truth and an inquisitiveness about what may hold together seemingly contradictory social energies into a greater whole.

“By suspending judgment and embracing an imaginative curiosity while still holding on to core values, Mennonites might discover deeper shared truths about conflict and church identity that engage seemingly contradictory truths.”

Never has this counsel from a respected peacemaker been more applicable. The Mennonite churches of Canada are at a crucial juncture in our history. The Future Directions Task Force states that national structures attempting to hold us together over decades are now unaffordable and should be disbanded in favour of the formation of regional structures.

A strong challenge from Witness workers regarding our international witness and a group of young adults from across Canada calling itself the Emerging Voices Initiative have questioned the Task Force’s recommendations, calling for a deeper look into the nature of the witness and the health of congregations to assume major roles of faith formation, credentialling pastors and a global witness.

We are divided on the sexuality issue, triggering the departure of three congregations already and the coming across the border of a new organization calling itself the Evangelical Anabaptist Network (Evana), founded in New Paris, Ind., as a result of the acceptance of a gay female pastor in the Mountain States Conference. Evana, of course, denies this as its purpose for coming into existence, but it is instructive that it is led by a youth pastor, John Troyer from a Goshen congregation, Clinton Frame, that in July, 2014, left Mennonite Church U.S.A. over the gay ordination issue.

Some 70 to 80 church members and leaders attended the Jan. 22 Evana workshop hosted by Maple View Mennonite Church in Wellesley, Ont. In a report by Eastern Canada correspondent Dave Rogalsky, Pastor Brent Kipfer noted that Maple View’s leaders do not accept Recommendation No. 3 of Being a Faithful Church 7, that “we create space/leave room within our body to test alternative understandings from that of the larger body to see if they are prophetic nudging of the Spirit of God.”

Decoded, it means they do not agree that same-sex marriages have any place in MC Canada churches.

We have strong feelings about how sexual misconduct is handled in our area churches, highlighted most recently in how the alleged misconduct of a deceased MC Eastern Canada pastor was announced to the entire national church.

These are all explosive issues with deep passions issuing from all of them. It goes without saying that these can tear the church apart, or, if handled with more grace and less judgment, could strengthen the fibres that bind us as one body whose founder and sustainer is Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

This seems to be going down the path that we, as passive-aggressive Mennonites, have historically taken. If you don’t agree, leave or form a new organization that draws together like-minded believers, leaving a trail of schisms that have marred our witness as peacemakers in a troubled world.

Could we try another way?

Could we, with Lederach, instead use our imagination to develop a “paradoxical curiosity,” or work harder on what he calls an “abiding respect for complexity,” a refusal to fall prey to the pressures of forced dualistic categories of truth?

In simpler terms, can’t we recognize, without antipathy and without surrendering our own deeply held beliefs, the viewpoint of the other, making room for a variety of views within the same system? If this could be accomplished, what a stronger body we would be.

We live in a complex world. Threats to our way of living abound at every turn. While we in Canada live in relative peace, many parts of our globe are embroiled in ongoing cruel violence, something that should preoccupy us more than our sexuality. Peacemaking in every form, including creation care and resettling the world’s millions of refugees, should be consuming us, not divisions over gender issues.

Can we put our imaginations to better use?

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