My denomination continues to swing left

Jul 19, 2017 by

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We delegates at the 2017 Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando met for an initial four-hour session and then a concluding one-hour session. In between those sessions, a number of non-delegates joined us for an intensive Future Church Summit. For 14 hours, 97 tables of six to eight persons sought to imagine our denomination’s future.

Each table used a tablet computer to submit responses on topics such as:

• What draws us to this faith?
• What do we want to affirm and take forward [from our past]?
• What do we need to lament, transform and/or let go?
• What can we take action on in response to the world’s needs?
• What does it mean for us to follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century?
• What do we gain with MC USA?
• How do we relate within a shared denomination?
• What are important things we do together?

A “Theme Team” received all the responses, working to summarize the common themes they heard. Only minutes after the tables stopped submitting responses, the team could present a PowerPoint listing the themes that we gave them.

As one looks at the responses as summarized by the Theme Team, it is evident that progressives were the majority and spoke freely and that conservative viewpoints were largely left unspoken. For instance, the Future Church Summit’s laments over our past were:

white identity; boundaries that exclude; colonialistic approach to mission; patterns of splitting; not all stories being honored; assimilation to dominate culture; passive-aggressive avoidance of issues; abuse of power; marginalization of people of color, women, LGBTQ people; we haven’t totally merged as MC USA; silence about process, systems and structures that cause harm; declining focus on spiritual vitality and formation.

Note how many of the items on that list are distinctively progressive and how few are distinctively conservative. Persons who are theologically conservative can (or at least should!) find much to affirm in virtually all those items — we as a church have much that we can learn from the progressive mindset. But, by and large, the conservative voice was overshadowed by progressive ones. Again this is to the church’s loss — we can also learn much from the conservative mindset!

When the Future Church Summit finished its work, the delegates reconvened to act on a resolution on what MC USA will do with the summary material. Initial drafts of the resolution had us calling the church to implement the FCS Theme Team’s report or to use it as the direction of our national body.

However, there was a strong call to change the wording.

Many delegates expressed a need to discuss the report with their sending body (their congregation or conference) before affirming it as the general direction of our church.

Other delegates were unsure that the report was representative of the church. Sandra Montes Martinez, moderator for Iglesia Menonita Hispana, spoke for many conservatives when she said, “We [IMH] are concerned about the word ‘direction.’ We need to qualify the word ‘diversity’: Ethnic and theological diversity are different.”

The FCS was not a body discerning a direction. Even at our tables we did little discerning together but were instructed to simply register our individual preferences on the various topics. We were essentially a brain-storming group producing raw material to be used by some other discerning body. Surely a collation of individual preferences does not give us a direction.

So the resolution was revised to speak of the FCS report as a “document that is offered to the church to guide further discernment.” That version passed overwhelmingly.

A few concluding reflections:

● In the revision of the resolution at the end, some conservatives found their voice, much to the dismay of persons on Pink Menno social media. Melissa Florer-Bixler, pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church, hoped the FCS report would “be directive” to the MC USA Executive Board: “We needed to give them a mandate and hold them accountable. Once traditionalists heard the results overwhelmingly affirming the voices that were not their voice, they cried foul. … So they needed ‘more time,’ required ‘more conversation.’” Isaac Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, wrote that the revision was “the desperation of white heteronormative power” as such persons fear “the end of their control over their institution.” (Both Raleigh and Chapel Hill are in the process of leaving Virginia Mennonite Conference and becoming members of Central District Conference.)

● Nonetheless, it was clear to all present at the FCS that a stance of fully welcoming LGBTQ persons (i.e., affirming same-sex covenants and affirming persons in such covenants as pastoral leaders) has become a strongly held value in our denomination — so strong that those who do not share that value were not tending to speak out during the summit. In an open mic time during the ending delegate session, a pastor of a large congregation shared that “as a person who holds the traditional view of sexuality, I have not felt safe to express that.”

● The sentiments of the FCS (seen in the comments during open mic times as well as in the Theme Team’s summary report) were much more progressive than the denomination actually is. (Conservatives tend to not attend our churchwide assemblies. And my sense is that the non-delegate participants of the summit tended to be even more progressive than the delegates.) Nonetheless, there is nothing that will stop our denomination from moving in the direction suggested by the FCS report. The revision of the resolution only slowed the movement.

● Recognizing that many of our congregations and some of our conferences are conservative, half of the summary of our responses to the topic “How do we relate within a shared denomination?” are about us moving toward a “federation of conferences.” If conservatives no longer feel at home and safe in their denomination, perhaps they can look to their conference for that. I personally feel good about my conference and its leadership and about the stance we have taken as Virginia Mennonite Conference. However, many in VMC (according to the 2015 survey by Conrad Kanagy) want to be part of a church that fully includes LGBTQ individuals even if losses occur. The struggle we see in the denomination is strongly present in the conference.

● Why can’t we who are conservatives, in humility, rejoice that new voices are being heard? Most of us are able to tolerate diversity on issues like women in leadership; why, when it comes to same-sex marriage (two persons committing to love each other!), do we have a hard time tolerating voices of diversity?

My answer is that, for us, trust in Scripture (seeing its broad themes and trajectories as a primary source of discernment) is an essential — part of our center. We worry that those making inclusivist arguments are mainly echoing our culture. We who are conservatives don’t see them carefully grappling with the strongest biblical arguments that support the church’s historic stance against same-sex relations (for instance, the fact that Jesus and the early church chose not to lessen the Old Testament prohibitions on various forms of what they understood to be sexual immorality but rather to tighten those prohibitions).

We want our church to love and welcome LGBTQ folks with open arms and hearts full of love. But loving people doesn’t mean blessing all their choices. It means gently nudging them toward our Creator’s design for life. For those of us who see the Bible showing male-female covenantal relationships as central to God’s purposes in creation, something huge is at stake. Will we be a church who follows our culture? Or be those our Confession of Faith describes: people who let culture and other sources of discernment “be tested and corrected by the light of Holy Scripture,” ones who delight in the wisdom of God?

Harold N. Miller is pastor of Trissels Mennonite Church, Broadway, Va. He blogs at Interacting With Jesus, where this post first appeared.


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  • John Gingrich

    I no longer have a dog in this fight because I am no longer part of MCUSA but I still follow with interest the articles and debates on the direction of the national denomination. My theory about the lack of conservative voices at Orlando is that in addition to the intimidation factor mentioned, the majority of conservatives have already mentally checked out. The leadership in the executive board and the conference leadership has become increasingly liberal, the colleges and seminaries have already accepted gay faculty, and the forbearance resolution has given conferences free reign to implement any and all practices they wish. The conservatives see the writing on the wall and don’t want to remain in an environment where they are being accused of bigotry, sexism, paternalism, racism, homophobia, patriarchy, etc. They will slip out one by one as individual members, individual churches, and sometimes whole conferences. I say this with sadness. The FCS is a laundry list of progressive causes but do we need MCUSA to become another player in this arena. We have Sojourners, Red Letter Christians and many other organizations already active in these causes. Where in FSC was the Great Commission, or Paul’s statement “I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”?

    • Steven Stubble

      Thank you John for a good summary of the problem. I personally see no alternative for those committed to the truth of God’s Word but to leave such organizational structures like MCUSA and seek the fellowship of believers in autonomous assemblies. Anything else is a waste of precious time and resources.

      • Jim Rohrer

        Steven, you suggested leaving MCUSA and seeking the fellowship of believers in autonomous assemblies. I checked my membership papers and they say I committed to supporting my congregation but there was nothing about supporting the denomination or the conference. My feeling at the moment is that dissenting individuals can ignore the actions of the denomination without being hypocritical. We are to avoid division and for some people it seems the best way to accomplish that is to ignore the denomination and declare its postions as representing only those people who voted for them. This is true; the positions taken only represent the opinions of the people who voted for them.

        • Steven Stubble

          Jim I understand what youre saying; my concern however is that the gender issues are only symptoms of deeper world-view differences. There should be no doubt that the complete defacto acceptance and inclusion of all LGBT groups by MCUSA cant be more than 2 years away. After that, the next issue will arise, then the next…. I fear you may find yourself “ignoring” the actions of your denomination for a long time to come!

          • Lynn Miller

            Steven I agree. This is a spiritual battle. The enemy implanted infiltrators within the MC USA long ago. Has anyone read this article? http://mennoniteusa.org/news/mennonite-women-theology-conference/

            Here is one paragraph. “In opening worship, women called out their “sheroes” by name, inviting the power of ancestors and spiritual foremothers Dolores Williams, Teresa of Avila, Mary Magdalene and more into the space. Worship featured diverse gifts and expressions, with scripture readings in multiple languages and gospel songs, drumming, four-part harmony and Spanish praise songs interwoven. A multitude of God-language was incorporated – Mother God, Lord, Sophia, King Jesus, Christus Sophia, Pachamama, Father God and Womb of Life. Cynthia Lapp wrote new lyrics to the hymn “There is Power in the Blood” – “There is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the womb.”

            The MC USA is imploding due to a liberal ideology that accepts pagan goddess worship advocated for by feminists, lesbians, silly women and weak men who have no discernment. Our Father God and His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are openly mocked and denigrated. How are such things tolerated in a denomination that claims to follow Jesus Christ? Changing the words of that beloved hymn reveals pure contempt for the Blood of Jesus. Where is the outrage for such things? Rather it seems to be celebrated.

            It sounds like these feminists were channeling dead people (they ‘called out’ their dead ‘sheroes’). Google Teresa of Avila. She was a Catholic mystic who was known for levitating while in ecstasy during trances, which my discernment says comes from dark powers. Mother God? NO! Womb of Life – Rebirth without Jesus Christ – New Age and satanic. Sophia worship is pagan. Look up the Milk and Honey ritual and chant. This is from the occult world, deceptive and unholy. Feminism has ancient satanic roots. It aims to destroy the family and the church. God is fully able to reveal through His Word, His model for the church and family. Qualified MALE church leaders, heterosexual male husbands and fathers leading the family. But the MC USA has lost the plot and given in to societal demands making it weak and ineffectual at best. At worst it is leading people astray. It’s too late to recover from the madness. Just rename the denomination Pink MC USA and get out.

          • Steven Stubble

            Thanks for the link, Lynn, the article is an excellent example of what Im talking about. Though I was frankly surprised to find paganism so overtly celebrated at an official MCUSA function, I guess I shouldnt have been — this stuff has been part and parcel of radical feminist theology for a long time.

  • Pat Anschuetz

    Good article. Thank you.

  • Caren Swanson

    With all due respect, the statement that “conservatives don’t see them (“inclusionists”) carefully grappling with the strongest biblical arguments that support the church’s historic stance against same-sex relations” strikes me as disingenuous at best. There have now been decades of biblical scholarship underpinning an inclusive stance, all the inclusive pastors I know have seminary degrees that included rigorous biblical training, and there are reams of articles and sermons engaging this topic with scriptural interpretation at their very heart. None of the progressive churches that I have been a part of have done anything other than trust Scripture, “seeing its broad themes and trajectories as a primary source of discernment,” and held it as “essential — part of our center.” It is fine to honestly say, “we come to different conclusions after grappling with scripture,” and to find those differences outside the bounds of what you feel able to forebare. But don’t pretend that there is somehow a dearth of scriptural engagement on the progressive end of the church.

    • Berry Friesen

      Caren, I don’t have the breadth of experience to say whether or not Harold’s statement is overbroad, but it rings true and honest for me.

      In my congregation, we committed two evenings to Bible study on the issue of same-gender sexuality. We did not discuss Genesis 1-2, Jesus’ words in Matthew and Mark describing his understanding of Genesis 1-2, or Romans 1. Did we “carefully grapple with the strongest biblical arguments that support the church’s historic stance?”

      Loren Johns, professor at AMBS, has written a paper on the Bible and sexuality; it was one of the resources our congregation relied on. No surprise, it ignores Genesis 1-2, Jesus’ reflections on that text, and Romans 1.

      Central District Conference, the vanguard of the progressive wing of MCUSA, encourages its congregations to study a 10-page document outlining the biblical perspective on human sexuality. It doesn’t discuss Jesus’ words about Genesis 1-2 either, nor Paul’s in Romans 1. It does include a long discussion of Genesis 1-2, but largely ignores its account of God creating us as gendered beings. The command to “be fruitful and multiply” isn’t discussed at all except as a way for the text to convey the importance of “mutuality and interdependence.” And it ends with a warning against the “sin of heterosexism.” Would you say the CDC statement “carefully grapples” with the strongest biblical texts?

      William Stacy Johnson’s “A Time to Embrace” has been passed around my congregation. It addresses each of the texts I’ve noted. Johnson praises Genesis 1-2 as pointing to our glorious redemption in Christ, but dismisses the thought that it may be a paradigm for life-giving shalom. Though a clear commandment of God, bearing children doesn’t register in his study. Instead Johnson tells us that marriage is about personal transformation; it is “a means of grace,” the “blessing of companionship,” and an opportunity to bear witness to “God’s covenant love.” Does this use of the grandiose to obscure the obvious constitute a serious grappling with the text?

    • Matthew Froese

      Thanks for this, Caren. It seems to me that if we have to love and respect each other within our differences in understanding if we want to remain together as a church. Anyone who holds that their understanding of scripture is the only faithful understanding of scripture is heading to a split from other believers over some question of interpretation eventually.

    • Harold Miller

      Thanks for the response, Caren. I too have witnessed great love of Scripture among inclusive pastors and much “scriptural engagement.”

      I have eagerly read their biblical arguments for full LGBTQ inclusion in the church, genuinely open to beginning to sympathize with those holding our culture’s rather than our church’s stance. For instance, I have read persons in MC USA: Ted Grimsrud [2014 blog-part 1] [blog-part 2], Vern Rempel [2014 blog re: Theda Good licensing], Megan Ramer [2012 statement for CDC], Karl Shelly [2014 statement for IMMC], Loren Johns [2015 study document for Central District (which Berry just mentioned)]. And I’ve read others outside MC USA who hold a high view of Scripture: David Gushee [online copy of book Changing Our Mind], Matthew Vines, Ken Wilson, James Brownson, and others.

      But as I read them, I don’t see them interacting with the “strongest biblical arguments that support the church’s historic stance” (the blog has a link leading to some of those arguments).

      Instead I see them satisfied when they can point out some ambiguity in Rom 1 and 1 Cor 6 (passages which the church has historically interpreted as showing that same-sex sex as sin). But that settles nothing, for almost all written passages lack total certainty of meaning. They need to argue that the historic understanding of those passages has only weak certainty. Can you point me to one who has done that?

      Or I see them satisfied after they present some exegetical arguments that support their stance (e.g., the Bible’s trajectory toward valuing the marginalized and the vulnerable). But that also is insufficient. As Ted Grimsrud said: “Jesus’ message of welcome is not based on ignoring the call to faithful living” [from 2009 article on his website]. Those who argue for full inclusion must interact with the strongest exegetical arguments that say passages like Rom 1 and 1 Cor 6 support the church’s historic stance. You assume that this happens. It makes sense to expect that from those who trust Scripture. I’m just saying I haven’t seen them do it.

      • Ted Grimsrud

        As has so often been the case, Harold, with other comments you have made over the years, I experience your comments here as disrespectful.

        I would find your perspective to be much easier to take seriously if you would say something like this: “I have witnessed great love of Scripture among inclusive advocates in MC USA. I just don’t agree with their interpretations.”

        I think it is disingenuous for you to put the responsibility on those you disagree with because they “don’t interact with the strongest biblical arguments.” It would be so much more accurate for you to say: “Just as I try to struggle with the best of the biblical and theological scholarship as I see it, so do they. The differences are because of honest disagreements, not a willful failure to engage the arguments.”

        You have never indicated whether you read my critique of Robert Gagnon. I think it would count “interacting with the strongest arguments” (at least the strongest arguments as you see them): https://peacetheology.net/2009/02/10/robert-gagnon-the-bible-and-homosexual-practice/

        • Harold Miller

          Thanks for wanting to keep the tone of this respectful, Ted. Part of respect is letting me be honest. And, before God, I have intently, even hungrily, read your writings (including the Gagnon review), wanting to see if you send me back to the drawing board, if you show me some weakness in the biblical arguments I view as strong. Instead, when I mentioned some of those arguments on your blog in Mar 2014, in Jan 2015, and July 2016, you didn’t respond to them. Last year after an April thru Nov conversation by 8 pastors (including your pastor) I put on my website a succinct and simple summary of the arguments on 1 Cor 6 and Rom 1.

          I wish that I didn’t feel the need to see you engage these arguments, that I could just quickly say “The differences are because of honest disagreements, not a willful failure to engage the arguments.” But, I’m not there yet. As I said on your blog in June 2015, “surely it’s okay to move slowly and to ask for extra thorough convincing when one is considering overturning a couple millennia of tradition. We are called ‘conservatives’ after all!”

          • Ted Grimsrud

            Thanks for the response, Harold. I will grant that I have not always responded to your comments on my blog (probably with the back and forth we have had online as it is, we could publish a book longer than Reasoning Together!). But I do feel like I have written a ton that explains why I don’t agree with your interpretation of those passages—and that reflects interaction with “the strongest biblical arguments.”

            I think there is a difference between writing something that would send you “back to the drawing board” due to persuading you of some “weakness in the biblical arguments [you] view as strong” (which I can accept that I have not done) and writing something that does not “interact with the strongest biblical arguments” (which I do think I have done over and over again going back to some of our extended conversations on the old MennoLink in the 1990s).

            However, I think it would be worth my time to try to write something more that does directly address what you have written along with others who make the “strongest” arguments. It might take a little while, but look for it at ThinkingPacifism.net.

            I’d be happy to have a sit down conversation about what I write after you have time to read it carefully.

  • Glen Guyton

    Pastor Jon Carlson seems to understand what the FCS was about. He wrote an excellent post: https://themennonite.org/opinion/theworkstarts/
    People who are confused about what happened are forcing old paradigms to a new model. The FCS had specific goals. Discernment in the traditional sense was not listed. These are the outlined outcomes:
    • A deeper capacity to listen to each other across our diversity.
    • A pathway toward greater trust and meaningful relationships.
    • An emergent understanding of what it means to be a church together.
    • Relevance and application at all levels of the church — that the summit will not be “yet another process,” and that the outcomes set priorities that guide denominational, conference and congregational leaders.
    • Deep engagement in what it means to be Anabaptist-Mennonite in the 21st century.
    The anticipated outcome will be a document that brings together the convergent ideas and priorities that have emerged through deliberation in the process, with all participants expressing their PERSONAL PREFERENCE through interactive polling technology.

    Nothing that happened at Orlando will prevent an individual congregation from living out their Anabaptist witness in a way that is meaningful to them and their context. The process what not about controlling anyone whether they consider themselves liberal, inclusive, moderate, white, black, or Hispanic. Your congregation and not the Executive Board is ultimately responsible for what happens in the local context, and technically membership is via the conference to the denomination.

    I am baffled that people on both ends talk about feeling “unsafe” in a denomination that was founded by martyrs and people who were murdered because of their religious values. Maybe all of us in North America are too comfortable when other Mennonites are still being killed in other countries. Now we talk about living into Scripture and the Great Commission, but we are afraid that people may call us names or give us uncomfortable labels if we express our views. What would Paul say about that?

  • Charlie Kraybill

    It seems to me that the lines of argument on this issue always proceed in the wrong direction. Everyone wants to start with the Bible and navigate its hazy terrain to determine what’s right in our modern world. As esteemed theologian Robert A. Heinlein once said: “The Bible is such a gargantuan collection of mixed values that anyone can prove anything from it.” Of course he was correct. It makes much more sense for us, as modern persons, with access to a wealth of information never before available, to come to common-sense conclusions about the inclusion issue — based on science, psychology, sociology, etc. And the right thing to do is to open wide the doors for inclusion of everyone in every area of life. After agreeing on that, we can go back and check in with the Bible to realize how deficient it can be in helping us arrive at sensible conclusions. In case you think this is a non-serious proposal, I would like to assert that this is exactly the way the vanguard of progressive religious movements have worked in the past. The Quakers who founded and led the abolitionist movement knew that the Bible was on the side of the slaveholders, and they willfully chose to ignore the Bible so they could do what was right according to the Light they were given. Similarly, when Martin Luther King, Jr., was challenged by Christian segregationists who wanted to throw Romans 13 in his face, King dismissed Paul’s exhortations about submitting to authority by saying there would be no civil rights movement if he listened to Paul. We should do the same today. Take the Bible with a big grain of salt, put Paul on the shelf, and do what’s obviously right by our gay sisters and brothers. Treating the Bible as the ultimate authority on everything has been messing up the Christian experience for centuries. The “Future Church” will only fulfill its true potential when the Bible is taken off its pedestal, and regarded for what it is — a human book with occasional flashes of wisdom and inspiration, and a lot of misdirection. This is not a “low view” of scripture, it is an accurate view.

    • Harold Miller

      Charlie, you write off the Bible because it’s “such a gargantuan collection of mixed values,” for instance, passages that accommodate the practice of slavery which the Quakers, and indeed all of us today, ignore.

      Typically when we evaluate something that seems to be giving mixed messages, we consider the direction it is moving—toward or away from the ideal. The movement is what matters. And clearly the Bible was moving away from slavery. We see Paul urging Philemon to treat the slave Onesimus as a brother (Philem. 1:15-17). And Paul viewing slave and free as having equal worth: all are one in Christ (1 Cor. 12:13, Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11), masters are not higher in God’s eyes (Eph. 6:9). Thus the early church was more progressive than the Greco-Roman world on slavery (as well as on women, children, violence, etc.). Those of us who want to have the same confidence that Jesus had in Scripture can do so with integrity.

      (If the Spirit of God slowly moved the church to a new stance on slavery, might the same happen on sexuality? As Willard Swartley pointed out in his book Homosexuality, God’s new way regarding slavery “emerges from God’s redemptive action, grace, and kingdom justice. … In contrast, homosexual practice is not related to grace-energized behavior in even a single-text” [p.18]. Further, as I said in the above blog, we see no movement to loosen the prohibitions on various forms of what Israel and the church understood to be sexual immorality. Rather we see Jesus and the early church tightening those prohibitions.)

      • Charlie Kraybill

        Well, as you say, Harold, Paul told Philemon to be nice to his slave. That’s an endorsement of slavery. And it’s all I need to know about Paul. If Paul was really operating under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he would have told Philemon to release his slave. Further, if Paul was really connected to the Holy Spirit he would have made abolition a centerpiece of his program. Your argument that Paul was incrementally more “progressive” than the Greco-Roman world does not impress me. Nor is it a persuasive argument that the Bible is inspired or trustworthy for counsel in all areas of life. You say “the Bible was moving away from slavery.” Really, is that the best you got? The Bible’s failure to condemn slavery is one of its biggest weaknesses. God gave us rational minds and the ability to reason. She expects us to put our reasoning powers to use. That includes making critical evaluations of any and all religious texts, regardless of how many millennia they’ve been revered by tradition.

        • John Gingrich

          Charlie, we don’t know it to be fact for sure but there was a bishop Onesimus in Ephesus following the time of Timothy. Tradition says that this was the slave Paul sent back and he was freed as Paul had requested. Tradition also says he died a martyr in Rome. Maybe Paul had better “inspiration” than you know.

          • Charlie Kraybill

            So the anti-slavery message is hidden in an obscure tradition that may or may not be factual? Again, this is not a ringing endorsement for biblical inspiration.

        • Harold Miller

          Does this ashtray analogy help, Charlie? Suppose your good friend moved into a rough neighborhood to befriend the people there. When you stop in to visit, you see ashtrays in the house. Would you quickly write off your friend as one who encourages and affirms smoking? Or would you be open to the possibility that the ashtrays are part of a commitment to relate to neighbors who would have stayed away if they couldn’t smoke? Examples always break down, but I’m guessing you get what I’m trying to say. If so, is this a possibility: Paul could not advocate slavery’s elimination without becoming so far ahead of people that he would lose having them still hear him? Just like the friend was willing to sully his reputation with the ashtrays, maybe God was willing to sully herself (your pronoun) to stoop to relating to humanity in each age where they were at, in hopes of moving them further.

          • Charlie Kraybill

            No idea what you’re talking about with the ashtray analogy. Anyone who came to my place would find no ashtrays but it wouldn’t indicate my smoking habits since I only smoke outside.
            Paul wasn’t afraid to express outlandish and far-out ideas, because he was repeatedly jailed and persecuted for the things he preached. So your suggestion that Paul knew slavery was wrong but didn’t say so because it was “too far ahead of people” doesn’t work for me.

          • Harold Miller

            Oh, Charlie! Yes, Paul wasn’t afraid to stir up a riot. But wise teachers and mentors know that it’s not wise to try to change everything that needs changing all at once. That would overwhelm and estrange those one is working with. You might respond, well, if Paul couldn’t address everything at once, he surely should have had slavery as one of the first things he tried to change. And I would respect you for saying that. Can you also respect me for thinking that I may see some reasons why Paul would not have had slavery as one of the first things to tackle?

          • Charlie Kraybill

            No, Harold, I can’t respect you for that, because I think it is despicable. What I hear you saying is that Paul knew treating other human beings as property was wrong, but he didn’t think it important enough to do or say a single thing on the subject. You want me to be OK with that view? I’m sickened by it. I would challenge you to run your ideas by the people of color in your congregation (do you have any?) and see how they react. I think you’d be better off sticking with the mainstream view that Paul was pro-slavery.

          • Harold Miller

            I’ll try again! From what I understand of history, Paul faced 2 choices:
            – Insist on Philemon measuring up to the highest ideal (“free all your slaves immediately”), straining the relationship beyond what it could bear, losing opportunity for any further influence.
            – Aim for the highest response he could realistically expect from Philemon (“treat this runaway slave as a brother”), so he can continue to relate to Philemon and shape how he relates to his slaves, eg. not threaten them; not see yourself as higher than your slaves in God’s eyes (Eph 6:9). Picture a master-slave relationship where the master does not threaten, and views them as sisters and brothers—”the institution of slavery could only wilt and die.”

            Highly regarded historians like Kyle Harper (Slavery in the Late Roman World [Cambridge]) would see the scenario with those 2 choices as valid. Perhaps you want to argue the history. But if the scenario happens to be true, it would have been wrong (“sickening”) for Paul to choose to be the idealist who insists on all or nothing, ending up with nothing (including possibly no church and no epistles collected).

  • Evan Knappenberger

    Wow, I guess anyone who doesn’t immediately accept the agenda as printed is part of the “white heteronormative power structure” desperately grasping for control. I wonder if Isaac Villegas responds so thoughtfully to questions about his sermons?

    Evan Knappenberger

  • Dayna Olson-Getty

    Dear Lynn,

    I am so sorry that the presence of feminists in the church feels threatening and intimidating. That is not our intention. We, like you, are people who seek to know the love of God in Jesus, and to live in joyful communion with God’s people, and to welcome God’s gospel in our lives and world. We want to bring our whole selves – our gifts, intelligence, leadership ability, bodies and hearts – into our lives of worship and discipleship. That’s very difficult to do when the vast majority of those in positions of leadership have very different bodily lives than we do. We need spaces where we can talk, pray. worship and study scripture together in ways that allow our experiences as women to be at the center of the conversation, not the periphery.

    I think you may have gotten some misconceptions at the MCUAS Women in Leadership project’s most recent Women Doing Theology gathering. The theme was “I’ve Got the Power!” – the intention of the event was to recognize and move more fully into using the power that each of us already have for good and not for evil – the power to speak, to act, to love, to lead, to influence those close to us.

    One of the beautiful things about God’s kingdom people is that there is no shortage of power – it’s not like a pie, where one person having more necessarily requires another to have less. Instead, the power of the Spirit has been lavishly poured out on all flesh – both male and female. The more we are able to recognize the power the Spirit has given us and use it for good, the more opportunities we create for others to use their power for God’s kingdom purposes as well.

    Your impression that the worship at the Women Doing Theology gathering involved pagan goddess worship is incorrect – instead, we worshiped in ways that reflect some of the feminine aspects of God and that resonate with our experiences as women (for instance, none of us have ever been a king, but many of us know in a deeply embodied way the power of the blood of our wombs to create new life in partnership with God the creator.) Many of the images we used, including Sophia (sometimes translated as Lady Wisdom) – who is described in Proverbs as a beautiful and holy woman preparing a lavish feast and inviting a young man to come to a joyful and intimate feast in her home – are directly from Scripture.

    Lynn, there is no need to be afraid. We love God, scripture, and this church. We want to be faithful and love-filled women who bring all of who we are to life with God’s people. We invite our brothers to do the same.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Dayna Olson-Getty