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Anabaptist Ghosts, part 2: Dialogue and Conciliation

5.23. 2011 Posted By: Tim Nafziger 115 Times read

I’ve been reading the thread of comments in response to Anabaptist Ghosts, Part 1: Social Advocacy and Confrontation. I’m writing a blog post in response because I think the concerns shared in the comments by Aaron Kauffman and Harold Miller are shared by others as well and need to be addressed.

As I understand them, one of the key arguments that Kauffman and Miller are making is that my focus on social advocacy and confrontation is “cutting [me] off from any word of wisdom that other parts of the Body of Christ might have to offer.” In other words, their claim is that the haunting social advocacy and confrontation, as I am describing it, does not leave room for dialogue.

Let’s start by taking a look at what we mean by dialogue. One of the important passages used by Mennonite mediators is Matthew 18:15-17. But there’s a bit more to these instructions for handling conflict than meets the eye. In chapter one of the Mennonite Conciliation Service (MCS) mediation and facilitation training manual (fourth edition), restorative justice practitioner Elaine Enns points out that the broader context of Matthew 18 speaks clearly to the way power imbalances affect relationships:

In verses 6-10 Jesus further dramatizes the issues of power and vulnerability with a series of exhortations warning the disciples not to “scandalize” (take advantage of) the “little one”(literally the “tiniest”). Whether our exercise of power is redemptive or abusive will be determined by our treatment of and relationship to the weak and marginalized. (p.23)

Jesus was making it clear that dialogue takes place in a context of equity and justice. Equity and balance between parties in conflict is a prerequisite for conciliation and resolution of conflict. In Enns’ 9 principles of Restoration, the first principle is: “We need to do a power analysis. We have to look at how social power is distributed in our communities and society”

In the Mennonite church, power has been systematically taken away from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. With the case of Randy Spaulding, we see this pattern continuing at both the conference and national level.

As long as one party in a conflict is systematically marginalized, disempowered and dismissed, dialogue leading to meaningful conciliation cannot take place.

Confrontation and mediation: there’s a framework for that

In chapter two of the MCS manual, John Paul Lederach says:

“…nonviolent advocacy and mediator roles overlap, complement and, more importantly, are mutually dependent. Negotiation becomes possible when the needs and interests are articulated and legitimated. This most often happens through confrontation and advocacy, which translate into a recognition of mutual dependence [emphasis added] (p. 87)

Lederach uses a model from Adam Curle to look at the role that confrontation plays in moving conflicts from balanced to unbalanced:

Adam Curle diagramfrom

Martin Luther King understood very well the way direct action was critical to bringing about real negotiation dialogue:

The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.Letter from a Birmingham Jail

In the context of the Mennonite church, there has been a long-running monologue about inclusion of gay, lesbian. As long as LGBTQ Mennonites, like Spaulding, are kicked out, we can be sure that “the discernment of the church” will continue to support the exclusion.

Despite all this, I am continually amazed how graceful and loving LGBTQ Mennonites can be in response to hostility and malice . For example, in his comment on an article on Pink Menno after the Colombus convention in 2009, John Troyer accused Pink Menno of “arrogance,” untruthfulness and subterfuge. And then he evoked the stereotype of gay men as predators that has been used so destructively over the decades: “I mourn the way Pink Menno preys on children and youth to accomplish its goals.”

Even as a straight man, I find Troyer’s words infurating. And this is just one digital example of the bullying and personal attacks that also took place in person during the Colombus convention. Yet, again and again, I saw Pink Mennos engaging respectfully in ways that de-escalated and invited conversation. Troyer’s comments were no exception. I will leave you with the thoughts that Luke Miller, Pink Menno leader, offered Troyer in response. For me this excerpt speaks to the heart of the questions that Kauffman and Miller raised:

The goals of Pink Menno are clearly laid out and include gay membership, marriage, and ordination in the Mennonite church. But we also call for greater openness in the church to reach true dialogue so we can acknowledge and work with/live with our differences. I understand why you might be confused about the tension between these two ideas, but I can assure you there is no “dishonesty” present. The first are “ultimate” goals–that is, our vison of where we believe the Spirit is leading the church in an ultimate sense–but a place that can only be reached by everyone working together in the Spirit, not by any one side “forcing” its view on the other (as if we could ever possibly have the power to do that.) We know that it will take the church a long time to reach this place, and there will be many intermediate steps, and that along the way there will continue to be a great amount of diversity and disagreement. It’s the tension between being prophetic on one hand, and pastoral on the other.

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One Response to “Anabaptist Ghosts, part 2: Dialogue and Conciliation”

  1. Tim Nafziger says:

    Comments from the original post:

    • Posted by hnmiller at Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 03:27 PM

      Tim, thanks for extending the conversation. Though it’s a bit like we’re speaking different languages — I didn’t recognize myself in your description of my initial response. So this extension is good.

      Here’s my summary of our conversation so far:
      1) You suggest that it’s a matter of justice (injustice) when our church leaders try to reduce the level of visibility and advocacy that Pink Mennos will have this summer.
      2) I suggest that it may instead be a matter of leaders listening to and giving weight to the discernment of the church; I try to show positive aspects in MCUSA having and honoring a teaching position.
      3) You respond in a blog entry that again focuses on justice; there’s no interaction with what I said other than to decry the wrongness of any church discernment done in a context where LGBTQ Mennos are excluded.

      Once I realized that there is a point dear to me that I want you to acknowledge and interact with, I (or maybe the Spirit) asked if there is something you are saying that I need to acknowledge. Perhaps it’s this: If gay and lesbian committed partnerships are indeed good and holy in the eyes of God, then to deny them full access and participation in the Assembly and other times of church discernment is starkly unjust and wrong. Since you are sure those relationships can indeed be good and holy, I empathize with why you are exercised and passionate about this topic. (My acknowledgement here is only a paltry beginning, I’m sure. I’m open to help!)

      Thanks for giving us the quote from Luke Miller describing the church’s discernment process as it moves toward where “the Spirit is leading the church” — “a place that can only be reached by everyone working together in the Spirit, not by any one side ‘forcing’ its view on the other (as if we could ever possibly have the power to do that.)” That’s a good reminder to those holding the majority view: we don’t want unity through enforced conformity but unity as the result of truth acting, which means there must be times and places where the church clearly can hear the possibly-prophetic minority voice.

      Though you and Luke would prefer it to be otherwise, you do understand, don’t you, that the group who decides about the Spirit’s leading has to be the current members of MCUSA? And I’m hoping that you also understand that it’s healthy both to 1) open ourselves to the Spirit speaking to us through the voice of the minority and to 2) honor the past counsel of the gathered denomination (two things the Membership Guidelines say.) I join you in calling for dialogue between those who hold differing views (in my Feb TMail article). Can you join me in saying it’s okay for the current discernment of the gathered church (expressed in 1986-86 and 1995 and 2001) to impact and shape our Assembly?

      Harold Miller

    • Posted by timjn at Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 12:35 PM



      Thanks for your continued engagement in this conversation. I’m intrigued by your suggestion that we seem to be speaking different languages. I too notice that we are operating from different (though I hope not incompatible) Christian frameworks. I think you name this difference well in your summary in the way I am more influenced by a focus on justice and you are more focused on the existing teaching position of the MCUSA and the process and tradition that has led up to today.


      I particularly appreciate your acknowledgement of one of the key parts of my framework: “If gay and lesbian committed partnerships are indeed good and holy in the eyes of God, then to deny them full access and participation in the Assembly and other times of church discernment is starkly unjust and wrong.” Thanks for the work you did to look at things from my perspective. I’ll try to reciprocate in the spirit of trying to create a space “where the church clearly can hear the possibly-prophetic minority voice.”


      Here’s what I need to acknowledge: the spirit of God has worked through the tradition and history of the Mennonite community over the past 400 years. Through this time we have constantly struggled to live as the body of Christ, set apart from the powers and principalities of the domination system (aka “The world”). But at the same time, we’ve never fully shaken ourselves free of that domination and sin, both personal and systemic. Since I am a member of Mennonite Church USA, I cannot claim to be some how above or outside of the body that made those decisions in ’86, ’95 and ’01. Indeed, I must acknowledge that those decisions will continue to shape the conversation in Mennonite Church USA.


      There is more I could say, but I want to check first: does this take a step in the direction of the dialogue you are hoping for?

    • Posted by aaron.kauffman at Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 12:05 AM

      Thanks for following up with this post, Tim. I also feel like we might be talking past each other in these virtual exchanges, but I appreciate the irenic tone these responses have begun to assume. Mostly I am simply content to listen and learn as you and Harold flesh out your overlapping concerns and differences. But I might add very briefly that part of my discomfort with your original post and in this follow-up piece is that in approaching this as a social justice campaign, rather than a discernment process, you seem to lump all people who experience same-sex attraction into the same group, and then presume to speak for their collective rights. I am concerned about who this might leave out of the conversation. But perhaps talking face-to-face is the best way for us to continue this discussion…

    • Posted by Lin Garber at Friday, May 27, 2011 at 02:06 AM

      “Can you join me in saying it’s okay for the current discernment of the gathered church (expressed in 1986-86 and 1995 and 2001) to impact and shape our Assembly?”

      Harold, you probably remember some of the extended exchanges you and I (with some others) had on MennoLink back in the last century. Now, as someone who was baptized 12 years before you were born, who finally became fully aware of and grateful for the sexual orientation with which God gifted him when you were two years old and met his life partner when you were seven years old, I will gladly welcome you into my church as soon as you stop minding that I am in it.

      Further, as someone who was present at two of those gatherings you cite as if they had the weight of Nicene Councils (1995 and 2001), my perspective on how that “discernment” has actually played out is quite different from yours. In brief, the leadership has not honored key understandings contained in those statements.

      For now I offer just one example to support that contention. Within the 2001 document (a/k/a “Membership Guidelines for the formation of Mennonite Church USA”) is a section that was submitted, with the rest of the document, to congregations for discernment prior to the assemblies that would be considering it. My recollection is that most then-General Conference congregations voted that it be deleted, but a majority of those in the much larger Mennonite Church favored it, so the document was presented to the Nashville assembly for a vote with section 3 included.

      Some of us who were against its inclusion were told by denominational leaders that we should nevertheless vote for the whole document, because otherwise the “transformation” of the two denominations into, uh, what turned out to be two other denominations divided along a national boundary, could not take place. In any event, we were assured, that section to which we objected would not be included in the bylaws of the new denomination (the one on the U.S. side of the border; the one on the other side of the border had already pretty much decided to ignore the whole thing). It was further pointed out the objectionable section internally stipulated that the whole document was to be reviewed in 2007, some 6 years after its adoption.

      What happened in 2007? Again, prior to the gathering in San Jose some of us called attention to this approaching deadline and asked that we be allowed to provide input into the process of review. We were first told that the matter would not be raised until after the convention was over. Then we were told that it would be dealt with at a joint session of the Executive Board and the Constituency Leaders Council. That date came and went, and all that came out of denominational headquarters was the sound of crickets chirping.

      On later probing, I was told that the gathered hierarchy had approached the whole issue with fear and trembling and had decided that no changes needed to be made. I have no knowledge that this decision was ever so much as communicated to the delegate body two years later, let alone presented for ratification. Since then, I have had further assurances that the matter would be brought up at subsequent meetings, and again nothing has been reported about it. I do hope this gives you some insight into why my trust in how MC USA does discernment is not all that robust.

      There may be one tiny sign of hope: among the topics to be given an hour and a half of time in the “conversation room” at Pittsburgh is this: “The Church, the Role of Teaching Positions, Dialogue and
      Discernment.” I expect that to be a lively exchange, albeit within the envisioned tightly controlled parameters of the venue.

    • Posted by Lin Garber at Friday, May 27, 2011 at 02:11 AM

      Sorry — been too long since I last posted here, and I forgot the non-intuitive instructions for inserting blank lines between paragraphs. And there is apparently no way of editing published posts. Can the resident IT folks do something about this problem?

    • Posted by hnmiller at Friday, May 27, 2011 at 03:19 PM

      Two quick responses. (One of my kids gets married tomorrow. The first one!)

      timjn, you almost bring tears to my eyes and definitely build hope within me. Thanks for the definite step in the direction of dialogue.

      And Lin, I agree that the line breaks not coming through are very frustrating — it’s hard enough work to understand each other, and then no paragraph breaks makes it even harder! The way to insert a line break is to enclose the letters br with a less-than symbol and a greater-than symbol: <br>
      In case that was gibberish, here’s a page that describes the html br tag.
      Two of them together will make a blank line, ie. paragraph.

      Harold Miller

    • Posted by keithswartzendruber at Friday, May 27, 2011 at 07:12 PM

      Like Debra in you previous blog post, I am looking for the coercion that Stutzman claims PinkMenno used during Columbus. 99% of convention goers saw people in pink t-shirts singing hymns. That’s it. It is at best disingenuous and at worst outright demonization to suggest that these are coercive tactics. Maybe people felt uncomfortable, but hey conflict isn’t a comfortable thing to deal with. It’s not like they were sitting in and blocking entrance to the delegate hall or disrupting sessions. This is PinkMenno, not CodePink. My understanding of what PinkMenno is try to do is to begin an honest and open dialogue on LGBTQ inclusion. How is that coercive?

    • Posted by hnmiller at Monday, May 30, 2011 at 10:31 PM

      Lin, you do good as a historian — thorough digging for facts that are significant and then recounting them with vivid turns of phrase (“the sound of crickets chirping” etc). I finally learned from you what happened (didn’t happen) re: the 6-year review of the 2001 Membership Guidelines, especially Part III (“Clarification on some issues related to homosexuality and membership”).

      What do we do with church decision-making processes that are far from tidy and not ones to be proud of? We tend to accept an untidy process if the outcome is to our liking. We probably should do the same when the outcome is not to our liking (as well as try to help next time go better, be more just and open to the Spirit and the Word).

      I am with you in not liking the outcome. You talk about the “gathered hierarchy” approaching “the whole issue with fear.” You’re right — our leaders avoid any churchwide processing of this issue out of fear that it could bust things wide open. But that is just delaying the inevitable. We have to face it sometime; let’s be proactive. When we do start, things will get worse before they get better. But the longer we wait the worse it will be when we finally try.

      Both you and I say it’s wrong to avoid processing this issue. You say it because it means the church lets stand statements that you view as unjust, that put barriers around your lifestyle. I say it because it means the church is silent (other than restating old statements) while our younger generation hears the politically-correct viewpoints of our society around us; and so the longer we wait the more we might be skewered by our culture.

      Here’s something I said to the “gathered hierarchy” several years back: Our primary focus as Mennonite Church USA must be on our Center, on following Jesus. [But] some attention must be given to what divides the church. … Imagine a person saying to their doctor: “Yes, I know there is something in my body that might threaten my future health; but I’m not going to take time away from my life work to look at it.”

      Harold Miller

    • Posted by one9 at Thursday, June 02, 2011 at 12:11 PM

      i agree with you Tim that these issueS have at their foundation the role of power. however, during discussions I hope all parties are able to acknowledge the truth I see in the statement of Jacques Ellul, “In consequence of the desire to make the message (kerygma) valid for all, to see all men as in the presence of God, to increase the universality of the lordship of Jesus Christ, to insist on the value of mankind generally (to the detriment of the Christian), to insist on the value of the world (to the detriment of the Church), one comes to the point of denying whatever can only be specifically Christian.”

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