March 6, 2022
We do not like difficult conversations. Difficult conversations frequently reveal disagreements and expose conflicts. Disagreements often make us uncomfortable. We don't like those uncomfortable feelings that well up within us in the midst of our disagreements.
Besides, we are part of a long tradition that values peace-making. Experiencing the anxiety and anger that we often experience in the midst of difficult conversations can leave us with feelings of guilt and shame.
All of this means that we often try to avoid the hard conversations. We find it easier to gather with the people who share our opinions (and prejudices).
Today, we grieve at the conflict in Ukraine as well as in many other places in our troubled world. Much closer to home, we are often divided by our views on politics, on masks and vaccines, on racial justice, on gun control and on issues of human sexuality.
Last Sunday, we received in our mailboxes, information from the elders that spoke of the difficult conversations that are scheduled to occur at this year's Mennonite Church-USA Special Assembly; conversations that include the issues of membership guidelines. If you have not yet read the letter from the Elders, I recommend that you do.
The questions that are being considered at the Special Assembly are questions for the denomination as a whole. They are also questions that impact both conferences and congregations. For many of us, these are difficult questions that may lead to difficult conversations.
How do we as a people of faith respond when faced with the differences that threaten to divide and separate us? Let me offer a few thoughts.
- God is present everywhere, even (especially) in the midst of our disagreements.
- The person on the other side is not the enemy. Satan, the liar comes to sow hatred and discord. Each person is a unique, valued, beloved, child of God.
- We are all different. We have different thoughts, different experiences and different hopes and dreams. My understanding of the scriptures may (and probably will) differ from your understanding.
- We all yearn to experience God's love more fully.
- A decision will (probably) be made at this year's assembly. Some of us will think it is the right decision. Some of us will object.
- Since New Testament times, believers have found ways to disagree with each other. 70 years ago, persons disagreeing over questions like dress and televisions started Neffsville Mennonite Church. In another 70 years, believers will undoubtedly find other reasons to disagree.
Jesus gave this commandment to his followers (John 14:12) "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." The Apostle Peter wrote to the church (I Peter 4:8) "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. The Apostle John would also write (I John 4:12), "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."
Your friend on the journey,