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Letter to the editor: What is the business of the church?

7.25. 2016 Written By: Jeremy Yoder, with a response from Elwood Yoder 600 Times read

This letter is in response to Elwood Yoder’s blog, “Let’s get on with church.” 

As a pastor, I am tempted by Yoder’s pastoral and pleasant description of a church meeting as the “business of the church.”I also sometimes experience controversy fatigue. But I reject Yoder’s implication that sexual abuse and LGBTQ inclusion are not essential to the church. When we treat people as if they are side issues or problems that we can choose to ignore, we no longer follow the Jesus Christ who ate with prostitutes and healed lepers. When we ignore those whose identities and experiences make us uncomfortable, we no longer follow the Jesus who healed on the Sabbath and outraged the priests and Pharisees. When we choose our comfort zone as the basis of ministry, we no longer follow the Jesus Christ who died on the cross and told us to pick up our own crosses to follow him.

What then is the business of the church? What is our business in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre? What is our business following the police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile? What is our business in light of the violence committed against Lauren Shifflett? When the church’s business does not include violent realities that exist both within and around our congregations, we disembody the lived experiences of individuals and communities. We turn people into issues.

When survivors accuse well-loved church leaders of sexual abuse and cover-up, the church often ignores them or responds with laments and prayers for healing that rarely turn into reform. When LGBTQ Mennonites share their experiences of rejection and dehumanization, the church treats them as a doctrinal issues to discuss, dialogue and discern. I’ve often heard complaints about the “confrontational tactics” of Pink Menno at our national conventions, but I don’t believe what offends conservative Mennonites is really about tactics. What offends them is their presence. The presence of Pink t-shirts makes it impossible to ignore the presence of sexual minorities in the Mennonite Church.

The body of Christ includes those assaulted, raped, ignored, vilified and condemned, often by leaders in positions of trust and authority. We cannot insist that these experiences don’t matter and continue to serve as Christ’s hope and redemption in a broken world. The church’s business also includes painful stories that reveal how the Mennonite Church mistreats people who don’t neatly fit into our definitions of what church is supposed to look like.

You can read a longer version of this letter on Jeremy’s personal blog

Jeremy Yoder
La Junta, Colorado

Response from Elwood Yoder

I agree that the business of the church includes care for those who have been harmed in any way.  The context of the District Council meeting mentioned in my blog was a middle level adjudicatory body of the Virginia Conference. The Council does not make decisions about polity issues or make substantive responses to sensitive issues being dealt with by Conference leadership bodies. The work of dealing with sexual misconduct or variance on Conference polity belongs to the Faith and Life Commission and the Conference Council.

As a lay delegate, I was informed about the two issues at the District Council meeting, but our purpose there, on a quarterly basis, is to care for and learn about ministry needs and opportunities in our churches. To me that is refreshing. As Pastor Jeremy noted, “controversy fatigue” is a reality that I have experienced.

As a lay delegate to Virginia Conference that met for the past three days, I did learn more about the two issues at hand in the Conference Delegate Session. Our Executive Director of Virginia Conference spoke to us, Ervin Stutzman addressed the issues, and Terry Shue, from the denominational office, clearly spoke to the topics of the day. I was invited to give my thoughts at a delegate table at the Conference Assembly. Hopefully it is apparent that I really have very little to do or say to the business of dealing with sexual misconduct or ministerial credentials.

I was surprised at the pastor’s comments about conservatives at the national conventions, and their responses to Pink Mennos. I hope the pastor will receive my assertion that his broad generalization does not apply to me.

I would ask the pastor for charity and forbearance as I learn what it means to blog at themennonite.org. I would rephrase the title to my blog if I could do it over. Learning how to articulate my perspectives and doing so in a way that will be fairly received and understood by all is something I need to work at improving. I fully agree that matters of abuse and human sexuality are the business of the church, but there are appropriate places and settings for that to happen. The District Council meeting, a middle level Conference organizational meeting meant for encouragement and ministry topics, in my judgment, was not such a place.

Elwood Yoder 

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