Differences we tolerate

Sep 28, 2015 by

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Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and State Street attract people from around the world for pleasure shopping. Stores selling designer shoes, trendy clothes, high-end accessories and more line both sides of each street.

Kennel-Shank

Kennel-Shank

I work a few blocks from these shopping corridors. I won’t say I’m never tempted to stop in a store and buy an item or two, and I don’t begrudge visitors their enjoyment. But if I’m passing through with extra time on my hands and trying to resist a desire to spend, I repeat to myself, “I don’t need anything, I don’t need anything.”

I do this because I think to “consume or use fewer goods” is “very important to be a good person.” Or so I responded when taking a survey about religious values on the Association of Religion Data Archives website. The survey compares respondents to others in their demographic category, so I could see that a mere 11 percent of women 18­ to 35 years old with a college degree who are Protestant Christians agree with my perspective on buying more possessions. Out of all the people who answered the question, 18 percent agreed.

In other words, you might call living simply countercultural.

While it’s just one study, it shows that opposing consumerism is far from prominent in the minds of many U.S. Christians when they talk about standing against the whims of culture. It’s rare to hear a mainstream Christian leader — or even an Anabaptist one — call on people to spend less on themselves in order to have more resources to share with those in need.

Why are financial ethics not the litmus test for Mennonite Church USA licensed ministers eliciting responses from conference and denominational leaders in meetings and statements?

Why are conferences not leaving MC USA over the diversity in practice that exists in our congregations on what constitutes a luxurious lifestyle?

Why is Article 21, Christian Stewardship — which includes the practices of mutual aid and living simply — not claimed as the part of the Confession of Faith that makes it a foundational document?

I don’t ask these as rhetorical questions. And I understand that many of my brothers and sisters would say that what’s at stake in our church conflicts is the authority of Scripture.

But the truth is — if we could only allow ourselves to see it — that many Christians who love the Bible and treasure it as God’s word show a great deal of diversity in putting its wisdom into practice. We worship differently. We evangelize differently. We build and choose our meeting places differently. Yet we find unity through Jesus as our center.

And in all of this, as Anabaptists we seek to follow the movement of the Holy Spirit in our communities to show us how to be faithful in our contexts.

In the congregation where I am a member, our beloved pastor of 10 years recently finished her work with us. We will have a transitional pastor to help us look at our mission, vision and priorities. It’s a healthy practice for any church and every Christian.

We don’t know where this time of discernment will take us. But I feel sure that the result will be unique to us and our context as one small piece of our larger denominational tradition and the global body of Christ, seeking God’s word and God’s will in our lives together.​

Celeste Kennel-Shank is a hospital chaplain, editor and community gardener in Chicago.


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