Claiborne tells MC USA community is possible

Jul 6, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Writer and activist Shane Claiborne called members of Mennonite Church USA to dust off their romance with Jesus and not be afraid to look a bit odd while doing it in the closing worship session of the MC USA convention July 5.

Author and activist Shane Claiborne speaks at the closing worship service at the Mennonite Church USA convention July 5 in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Author and activist Shane Claiborne speaks at the closing worship service at the Mennonite Church USA convention July 5 in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Speaking before a joint gathering of youth and adults, Claiborne said institutions of all kinds are losing young people at an astronomical rate because people see how little institutions do and how much individuals can.

“There’s some amazing stuff that happens when individuals are on fire, yet I’m still convinced the scriptures call us to community, and that’s a difficult call,” he said. “We often say community would be easy if it weren’t for the people.”

The key to community is an ability to disagree well.

“The roots of the Mennonite church teach us that community is possible, and community is difficult,” he said.

The Philadelphia intentional Christian community Claiborne founded tried unsuccessfully to write a resolution on sexuality. Even when everyone at The Simple Way had their heads together on an issue, their hearts “were still not right.”

“We need to get our heart on straight,” he said. “In the church now we’ve said a lot of things on paper, but at the end of the day, when you ask non-Christians what Christians are like, the things they say aren’t beautiful.”

To work against that mentality, Claiborne suggested frustrating the people Jesus frustrated while being sure to continue praying together.

“We’ve become known for the very things Jesus spoke out against,” he said. “We’ve become known more for who we’ve excluded than who we’ve embraced; more for what we’re against than what we’re for.”

Get maladjusted

The Mennonite church can turn that narrative around by returning to one of the gifts Claiborne said Anabaptists have offered the world. Christians were intended to be peculiar, holy troublemakers. An infatuation with relevancy and an obsession with “seeker sensitivity” have eroded Christians’ holy counterculture.

Members of Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kan., act out Luke 24 at the Mennonite Church USA convention’s closing worship service. The text was the basis for the convention’s theme, “On the way.” — Lowell Brown for MWR

Members of Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kan., act out Luke 24 at the Mennonite Church USA convention’s closing worship service. The text was the basis for the convention’s theme, “On the way.” — Lowell Brown for MWR

“We live in a world that is way too adjusted to injustice,” he said. “ . . . I want to be maladjusted.”

Another gift Claiborne identified that Mennonites have to offer is simple living, which at its core is a freedom to critique the “gospel of prosperity that has hijacked the airwaves.”

The U.S. — home to some of the planet’s richest, loneliest people — has one of the highest rates of suicide in the developed world. The muscles of community have atrophied, but a body can’t just love the idea of community. Its members must actually love one another.

So what is to be done about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people?

“They are already here. So the question is how do we love one another?” Claiborne said to applause.

The way to bring justice into the world and to live in greater community with one another is to fall in love with Jesus afresh, every day.

“Some of us activists, we act without prayer,” he said. “And some of us praying don’t act.”

Make faith more than a theory.

“It’s a love relationship with Jesus and one another,” he said. “So let’s keep dusting off the romance. When you are in love, you want to share about the one you are in love with.”

At the close of the service, MC USA chief operating officer and director of convention planning Glen Guyton announced the next convention, July 4-8, 2017, in Orlando, Fla., will carry the theme, “Love Is a Verb.”


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