MWC sets example of unity without uniformity

Nov 24, 2014 by

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When asked what issues the Mennonite movement faces, Danisa Ndlo­vu, president of Mennonite World Conference, said: “We have tried to not emphasize our differences but what unites us. What builds us as a global body? We need to walk together, both in joy and in suffering.”

But the interviewer persisted: How does MWC look at issues of women in ministry and same-sex marriage?

Ndlovu responded: “We have left those issues to individual denominations to deal with. We have some who believe in the ordination of women. There are some who do not. But we are saying, ‘Let us walk together.’ Those differences are part of who we are as a body of Christ. We do have differences [regarding same-sex marriage]. Some want to accommodate those who find themselves in those situations; some would say, ‘No, the Bible does not accept that.’ But that has not been an issue that divides us. Rather, we are saying, “Let’s talk about it. Let us find ways of dealing with it.”

And then came the news that 96-year-old Chester Wenger — missionary, pastor and churchman par excellance — had married his son to another gay man in the back yard of his East Lampeter, Pa., home. What are we to make of Wenger’s decision in the context of Ndlovu’s call for unity?

In Uncommon Gratitude, Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister, offers a helpful perspective. Unity, she says, “is more than solidarity and more than uniformity. Unity, ironically, is a commitment to becoming one people who speak in a thousand voices. Rather than one message repeated by a thousand voices, unity is one message shaped by a thousand minds. . . . Unity is not external control; it is internal commitment derived one person at a time until what they hear from one another together touches the heart and drives the soul of all of them.”

In many ways, Ndlovu and Wenger got it right. Like Chittister, they understand the way forward to being a faithful church. We can still be one people with many voices. In that way we are no different than the often-divided early church, which nevertheless clung together in the common belief in Jesus, the Christ. Like them, though we may never reach consensus on some issues, we can reach a deeper understanding born out of mutual respect. This is a unity discovered in community, not imposed through hierarchical control.

Bert C. Lobe
St. Jacobs, Ont.

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