Where is the line?

Apr 27, 2015 by

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Jokingly I told a Mennonite farmer that we should be discussing glyphosate at our denominational convention. Can a Mennonite farmer spray glyphosate, the herbicide in the common weedkiller Roundup, in light of the World Health Organization’s recent conclusion that it causes cancer? Can a Mennonite play golf on a course where glyphosate has been sprayed? Do we need a resolution on how we will respond to churches and people who use it on their lawns?



The farmer calmly responded to my half-joking rant by explaining he was weighing the positives and the negatives. He was also being careful not to believe all the corporate reports.

I started thinking about lines. We all long for a church that is a shining light in our confusing world. How do boundaries and lines fit into the church’s witness to the world? Some of us point to lines about sexual behavior as valuable to a bright and faithful witness. Others think the world would notice a strong stance against glyphosate, militarism or family-splitting deportations.

Jesus reminds us that the two most important guidelines, or laws, are to love God and love our neighbor. But how does loving God and loving neighbor play out in the life of the church?

If I put some of my dead bees in a glyphosate user’s church mailbox, would I be crossing the love-of-neighbor line or opening avenues for further conversations?

When a rich man asked Jesus about lines that lead to life, he reviewed the well-known ones: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal. After the man claimed to have kept all the regular commandments, Jesus added one more: “Go and sell all you possess and give to the poor” (Mark 10:19-22). The devoted man, and almost all of us, decide to pass on this one.

Lines can appear spontaneously as personal responses to Jesus. Zacchaeus declared he would give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he cheated at a fourfold rate (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus’ stance hasn’t become a rule for all of us, but his storyline serves as a shining light.

Lines keep us from going too far. Jesus is asked to follow the stoning rule established by Moses for those caught in adultery. Peer pressure was on, but Jesus refused join in the stone-throwing.

I started asking people about lines they have drawn. A person who had worked at a sign-making company drew the line at pornography. Sadly, he did not become the company’s moral hero. A physics professor drew the line at not taking military money for research, and it cost him his job. An inspiring teenager remembered refusing to cuss and to join in the preteen dating trend. Stories help us see the twists and turns that lines create.

Lines help us remember who we are. They create freedom. You don’t have to cuss to prove your worth. You don’t have to join in the degradation of women. You don’t have to accept all a company promotes to be a good farmer.

As we live the Jesus story, we don’t want to fall off the page and out of the plot. We don’t want to end up in the wrong story. Let’s keep reviewing the bigger picture of how God is calling us to holiness and love. Let’s remember our line-making is never perfect.

Let’s learn to understand each other’s lines. Let’s be a shining beacon of love in a world trying to divide us. Let’s delight in God’s liberating lines and admit our muddy vision.

I think I’ll put my dead bees on the compost pile.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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