all opinions
Opinions posts

Make room for conservatives at the Mennonite Church USA/Canada table: Who turned the tables?

10.15. 2015 Written By: John Rempel 3,976 Times read

John Rempel is the former director of the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre and a former professor of Historical Theology and Anabaptist Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. 

This piece is a companion to Keith Schrag’s essay, “Welcoming ‘conservatives’ in an inclusive discussion about LGBTQ persons in Mennonite Church USA.” 

Increasingly people in our church are realizing an astonishingly overlooked dimension of an otherwise much-analyzed conflict. This is true in more muted ways in Canada than in the United States but clearly present in both groups.

The overlooked dimension, in my assessment, is that conservative voices have been increasingly shut out from leadership roles in the national institutions (schools, boards, publications) of our denomination. This is not to say that dissenting minorities on the left have not been shut out. Their plight is known, but that of conservatives is seldom taken note of on a national level.

Because this is an informal contribution to the present debate, I use ‘conservative’ (I could also have said evangelical or traditionalist), ‘moderate’ (I could also have said mediating) and ‘liberal’ (I could also have said progressive) as rough categories that can be improved upon as the conversation goes on. No group has a corner on the claim of being more Anabaptist than the other.

The marginalization of conservatives in denomination-wide structures happened at an earlier stage of General Conference (GC) than of (Old) Mennonite (MC) life. From its origins, the GC was more congregationally structured and therefore more pliable. But on the bi-national level, liberals and conservatives vied for the dominant voice in mission, service and education boards. From the 1930’s onward, conservatives were given a majority voice in foreign missions and liberals on the others. This division of roles satisfied some but not others. On a regional level, conservatives felt that their concern for theological orthodoxy, e.g., in the Western District, was not taken into account. One outcome was the formation of Grace Bible Institute to train ministers and missionaries. Grace and part of its constituency gradually left the GC.

People like Erland Waltner in the United States and J.J. Thiessen in Canada were greatly esteemed across the church because they were theologically conservative but willing and able to work together with a broader theological spectrum. Late in his life, Waltner expressed the view that, these mediating efforts not withstanding, the GC had become more Protestant (predominantly liberal, but in some settings conservative) and less Mennonite. One of his motives for fostering rapprochement with MC’s, e.g., in seminary education, was to appropriate a deeper Mennonite identity of the H.S. Bender (Anabaptist Vision) kind.

The movement toward moderate and liberal dominance in the MC happened later and has left its mark more profoundly on Mennonite Church USA. From what I have read and heard, the turning of the tables began in the early 1960’s when the Anabaptist Vision was more and more appropriated by moderates, including diverse figures like JD Graber (mission board) and Richard Detweiler (conference leadership). It provided a set of ethical and theological categories that took the discourse out of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy. This, in turn, provided an opening for two kinds of liberals: those indebted to mainline Protestantism in their contributions to a new discourse on Anabaptism and those favoring an interpretation of Anabaptism based much more on ethical than doctrinal categories. Both of these groupings spoke of the church’s mission as a social and not an evangelistic one.

This shift in who wielded authority has been described by Steve Nolt, professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College, as moving from bishops to intellectuals. In the world of publishing, the movement from conservative to moderate/liberal happened when Dan Hertzler replaced John Drescher as editor of The Gospel Herald magazine in the early 1970’s. In short, the banner of Anabaptism was taken from traditional conservatives like H.S. Bender’s successor, JC Wenger (Wenger’s book, Separated unto God, could be seen as the last full scale defense of outward nonconformity), and evangelical conservatives and taken on by moderates and liberals, as I have mentioned above. Some who insisted on Anabaptism as nonconformity left the MC’s in breakaway Old Order-like groups. Others stayed but were marginalized in leadership roles and were deprived of an audience within the denomination to make the case that they were also faithful interpreters of Anabaptism.

Integration largely furthered the process I have described. But one crucial matter, the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (CoF), won the support of all the parties except extreme liberals and conservatives. This was thanks to a 10 year process led by Marlin Miller and Helmut Harder, voices for a kind of permeable orthodoxy. I cannot understand why this remarkable anomaly in the trend I am sketching has not been held up as a successful model of holding together essentials (Trinitarian faith, a high view of the Bible, a believer’s church, pacifism) while affirming diversity of interpretation. I see the discourse and the spirit through which the CoF came to be as a model that gave a spectrum of voices, including convinced conservatives, a place at the table.

For this dynamic to be replicated, all parties would need to cultivate humility and self-awareness to see how all positions are ideologically shaped. By this I mean that belief and practice questions are shaped by the encounter between the Bible and our cultural and political assumptions. This is almost too obvious to merit mention. But many people across the spectrum seem not to realize or at least admit it. I think of the liberals who equate faithfulness (often invoking a selective portrait of Anabaptism) with tolerance, total inclusion and inter-religious peacemaking. I think of conservatives who equate faithfulness with religious and social hierarchy, a strong military, and opposition to government’s role in taxing the rich to help the poor.

In the CoF, we have a model of accountable diversity within unity in essentials, a spectrum of interpretations within a permeable orthodoxy. It makes room for ongoing interpretation of classical theological and ethical categories but at the same time expects accountability to an agreed-upon core. Article 4 on “Scripture” is a good example of the model I have been outlining. It describes the Bible as, “the authoritative source and standard for preaching and teaching” (p.21), but it does not resort to confining terms like ‘inerrant’ or ‘infallible’. What matters most to conservatives is there: an authoritative Bible. But Article 4 makes room for other understandings of authority than inerrancy and infallibility.

Each type of church brings different gifts to the table. Moderates bring the willingness and capacity for meaningful compromise. Liberals bring the capacity to live with ambiguity and with matters that are presently incapable of solution. Conservatives bring a deep trust in the Bible and the Holy Spirit as sources of clear positions in matters of faith and life.

All of them need one another. All of them can live together in the shared faith that we are saved by God’s grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our belonging to Christ and to the body of Christ is a gift that is prior to our agreement or disagreement on any specific issue.

The Mennonite, Inc., is currently reviewing its Comments Policy. During this review, commenting on new articles is disabled; readers are encouraged to comment on new articles via The Mennonite’s Facebook page. Comments on older articles can continue to be submitted for review. Comments that were previously approved will still appear on older articles. To promote constructive dialogue, the editors of The Mennonite moderate all comments, and comments don’t appear until approved. Read our full Comments Policy before submitting a comment for approval.

14 Responses to “Make room for conservatives at the Mennonite Church USA/Canada table: Who turned the tables?”

  1. Stephanie Krehbiel says:

    John Rempel, this is valuable history and I appreciate the chance to read your interpretation of it. I hope you don’t mind a few comments from someone whose perspective is unavoidably shaped by a life in the most radical corner of the corporate academy, where our battles for survival bear some strong similarities to those happening in churches.

    Like you (if I’m interpreting you correctly), I see the history behind the current denominational structure and leadership model as profoundly shaped by modern liberalism, and when we say “liberal”, I think both of us are referring to something very different, from, say, the politics of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which puts political disruption at the heart of its praxis. I think #BlackLivesMatter is relevant to this discussion because it’s probably the most rapidly-growing liberatory movement of our historical moment, at least in the U.S., and it is fighting against the notion that multiply-marginalized people are an acceptable political sacrifice in the name of “compromise” to appease the moderate middle. If the interests of straight, white, affluent men are at the heart of modern liberalism (and they unquestionably still are), the founders of #BlackLivesMatter are aiming to center the interests of those whose lives are made unlivable by the histories of violence that shape our society, such as people of color who are transgender, disabled, undocumented.

    The language of modern liberalism makes such people into troublesome political issues on which we can have “concern” and must “agree to disagree.” The language of evangelical conservatism makes them either pitiable or despicable or both–there may be a kind of conditional love extended, but it is extended from a place of unquestioned spiritual superiority. The radical movement politics of #BLM are disrupting both of those ideological frameworks with the voices of transgender, disabled, undocumented people of color speaking with authority about their own experiences, and stating what they believe needs changing, what needs to be disrupted, what they believe needs to be abolished.

    It is morally irresponsible to suggest that evangelical conservatives, particularly white, evangelical conservatives, are an oppressed minority. There are people within evangelical communities who are oppressed, yes, but that is not the same thing that as claiming–as many extremely powerful right-wing politicians frequently do–that conservative Christians are being actively persecuted en masse for their beliefs. The unstated reality hanging over your piece is that by and large, conservative evangelicals are not leaving MCUSA because they haven’t been given a voice in decision-making processes, or because BMC and Pink Menno have been too obnoxious or taken up too much space. They’re leaving because it is theologically untenable for them to be in a denomination in which Pink Menno would have the audacity to exist in the first place. And some denominational leaders likely understand that a mass evangelical departure constitutes not only a financial loss for the denomination but also a probable end to the credibility of their own performances of reasoned, above-the-fray neutrality.

    You talk about the kind of “accountable diversity within unity in essentials” that could, if given more of a chance, presumably, hold things together for MCUSA. But there are no teeth to the phrase “accountable diversity within unity in essentials”; in fact, this is the classic language of bureaucratic modern liberalism, a version that appeals mainly to people who are steeped in the culture of church leadership. Both progressive radicals and conservative evangelicals in the pews tend to see right through it. Mennonites don’t agree on what the “essentials” are.

    That fact right there is unacceptable to someone whose ideology dictates that they pursue a theologically pure church. And then there’s this: I, along with many queer folks, argue passionately and often that the Mennonite church has enacted decades of systemic spiritual and sexualized violence on the bodies and spirits of LGBTQ people, and that these burdens have fallen hardest on those LGBTQ people who do not have access to other forms of social privilege such as whiteness, normative masculinity, institutional access, wealth, physical safety, or “ethnic” Mennonite names and families. To those of us who make this claim, it is truth, essential, because we have witnessed it, survived it, grieved those who did not survive it, made our lives amidst the reality that it describes. But it is an outrageous, unnecessarily activist and political claim to someone who sees heterosexual marriage and family as the natural, God-ordained center of Christian faith.

    How does liberalism solve this problem? The best answer I’ve seen comes repeatedly from the mouths of Mennonite leaders attempting to rein it all in: “Well, we all do violence.” Well, yes, we all do violence. It is an argument akin to those who minimize the damage done by sexual predators by saying, well, we all have sin. Right in the essentials, perhaps. But it is in the particulars–and the politics–where we decide who is allowed to have a livable life. Some people are arguing for purity. Some people are arguing for the chance to have a livable life. There is a difference.

    • Linda Rosenblum says:

      So are you arguing that one cannot have a “livable life” without acting upon one’s sexual desires? What about heterosexuals that choose celibacy rather than marriage? As you and I both know, much of this boils down to whether one accepts sexual desires/orientation as their identity or rather just another part of one’s self that one can choose to act upon or not. Those who define homosexual behavior as sin are not saying that the person is unworthy of Christ or the fellowship of His church but rather the behavior of acting upon those desires is sin. There is no common ground here. The traditionalist side doesn’t want sin being taught to their children as acceptable in God’s eyes or even as a good.

  2. Rempel isn’t advancing a grievance here, even though “the most radical corner of the corporate academy” has taught Dr. Krehbiel to perceive such in his essay. Instead, Rempel is reminding us of what any healthy voluntary association needs to do if it wants the strength and resilience of diversity at its core.

    Why does the spirit of liberalism tend to push the spirit of traditionalism aside? Because liberalism makes a point of not drawing lines, of not making a fuss about differences. “Just chill, it will be okay” is its default posture.

    The two styles really do not mix easily. Yet for many years, MCC boards have mixed them successfully by fostering a shared purpose and embracing a daunting funding challenge that calls for all hands on deck.

    A shared purpose and a daunting challenge; that’s what creates the context for liberals and traditionalists to value one another.

    • Luke Miller says:

      Berry (if I may), as someone who exhibits a peculiar fascination with Stephanie Krehbiel and her writing, you are not a careful reader of her work. From your post here, you seem to have understood little of the vision of MC USA constituencies that she laid out in her response to John’s essay.

      John posits three broad categories (while acknowledging the limitations of such a characterization) at play in 20th century MC, GC, and MC USA political life: traditional, moderate, and liberal. He traces the evolution of their claims on institutional power and modes of claiming their visions as faithfully Anabaptist. He posits the 1995 Confession of Faith as an exemplary model of how these various groups can successfully be knit together, by holding to certain essentials of faith while making room for a diversity of interpretations. He quotes Article 4 as an example: through the creative use of language, traditionalists can be comfortable that some standard of orthodoxy on Biblical authority is being maintained, while liberals might use the same language to justify a less restrictive approach to Scripture.

      In her response, Stephanie lays out an alternative vision of three constituency groups within present-day MC USA and offers an acute analysis of these dynamics which, to me, offers a more insightful picture of how the interplay of deeply-held beliefs are playing out in the 21st century, and diagnoses the dysfunctions of current church leadership in addressing these dynamics. You misread her writing as portraying John’s position as one of grievance, possibly because, while offering her analysis, she also offers a picture of where her own alignment falls.

      Stephanie’s analysis also posits three groups, but with different alignments than John’s: in her language, they are conservative evangelicals, modern liberals (used not in the sense of one end of an ideological spectrum, as she explains, but as the product of modern sociopolitical liberalism with all its history and values), and progressive radicals. Rather than a successful exercise in holding diverse groups together around shared essentials, she sees the efforts of the modern liberals in church leadership to use officially-sanctioned language to craft “accountable diversity within unity in essentials” as inherently antithetical to both the true beliefs and intentions of both the conservative evangelicals and the progressive radicals, and therefore doomed to fail.

      I appreciated very much John’s historical perspective, but Stephanie’s understanding seems a much more timely and useful analysis. While institutionally-sanctioned documents and language might once have expressed some genuinely shared spiritual enterprise (a point I’ll concede only for the sake of argument), more recent examples such as the “Membership Guidelines” resolution passed in Kansas City 2015 (and the very membership guidelines themselves) have devolved into exercises in distraction, obfuscation, and weaving shapes in rhetorical mists. As Stephanie explains, these recent documents do little or nothing to convince the conservative evangelicals that MC USA still contains a standard orthodoxy on LGBTQ sexuality (as in fact it does not: see the credentialed leaders’ survey, delegates’ survey.) Seeing through this language, and with no alternative mode of feeling their beliefs are being upheld, conservative evangelicals abandoning the MC USA institutional project (see Evana.) On the other end, progressive radicals have a claim not of “tolerance, inclusion, and inter-religious peacemaking” – these are ideological, liberal values held by people with positions of power who have some leisure to tolerate and include. Progressive radicals experience systems of violence with the institutional structures (see BlackLivesMatter, Pink Menno) and make moral claims toward ending this violence.

      It seems, as Stephanie has persuasively demonstrated, that this is no moment for further exercises in the creative use of flexible language to convince everyone that their position is safe. I believe Stephanie’s analysis and diagnosis is correct.

      To me (moving now entirely outside of Stephanie’s writing), the only possible way forward is to abandon this project of institutional preservation and allow true encounters between the spirits of human beings on a fully human level, for whoever is willing to allow themselves to be part of such an encounter. This would have to involve empowering LGBTQ people to be fully in charge of their own stories, journeys, and spiritual lives, and to recognize them as God’s chosen experts on what it means to be an LGBTQ human. John speaks of humility and self-awareness. Church leadership, fearful of whatever it may fear, has actively worked to prevent LGBTQ people from playing the central role they must play in guiding the church toward greater spiritual understanding of LGBTQ lives – that is the fundamental absence of humility and self-awareness currently at play, and that is what is blocking the Spirit from being able to knit people’s hearts back together.

      • Luke, thank you, I get it. Dr. Krehbiel perceives Rempel’s map (conservatives, moderates, liberals) as utterly conventional and unilluminating. She offers instead something NEW, something radical.

        Schooled as she is in the politics of deconstruction, Krehbiel overlooks the radicality of Rempel’s perspective. He assumes the church is meant to be an alternative social reality shaped by the encounter between the Bible and prevailing cultural and political assumptions. He assumes that because the Bible is the primary authority in this encounter, the church will not fully conform to prevailing assumptions. And he assumes this nonconformity is difficult, both because its shape is contested within the church and because it marginalizes the church vis-à-vis the broader society in which we live.

        This is Rempel’s frame of reference; thus, he practices a politics that seeks to construct a life-giving social reality within the dying husk of the empire. This task prompts him to question an approach that fails to appreciate “conservatives” who grasp the biblical calling to nonconformity and can help the entire church live it out in an authentic way.

        Krehbiel, on the other hand, embraces an entirely different form of radicality, one that is fully compatible with the imperial trajectory. She deconstructs the social and political dynamics of the church, discredits them piece-by-piece, and asks us to stop supporting a social reality that claims the Bible as its primary authority. This form of radicality is fully compatible with the imperial trajectory because it strips us of our only hope of resistance to the empire.

        You speak of “empowering LGBTQ people to be fully in charge of their own stories, journeys, and spiritual lives.” Such a sentiment resonates strongly within the narcissism and consumerism of Western cultures; there is nothing radical about it. Moreover, it is 180 degrees from the biblical vision and blind to the overwhelming power of empire, which claims to instruct us in what is real and what is not, who deserves to live and who must die.

        Are you paying attention to what’s happening in Syria these days?

        • LeVon Smoker says:

          Very well put. It seems to me that the liberal (I won’t use the word “radical” since that means going back to the roots which does not seem to be what Stephanie is suggesting) deconstructions put forth need to be deconstructed as well. The Western form of freedom which undergirds endless worldwide war has the same roots as the form of freedom that undergirds limitless individual license. Also observe how much the perspective of developing-world Mennonites is ignored by apparent globalist-minded North American Mennonites.

  3. Cate Michelle Desjardins says:

    John et. al.,
    I think the most important thing I can say about this article is to point out that, while there may certainly be levels of leadership where conservative Mennonites are excluded, LGBTQ Mennonites are formally excluded from all levels of membership in Mennonite Church USA. You wrote: “Our belonging to Christ and to the body of Christ is a gift that is prior to our agreement or disagreement on any specific issue.”
    Yet, After re-affirming the Membership Guidelines this summer in KC, I am NOT a part of that gift of the body of Christ that is the Mennonite Church because of my being a Queer-identified person, despite the fact that I feel deeply committed to that same Church.

    To put it plainly: the tables have not turned. LGBTQ people do not even have a formally sanctioned place at the conversation table. Yes, we do show up. But remember that Pink Menno is not supported by or given space at Convention. I can understand that the increased visibility of Pink Menno, the shifting voice towards forbearance, and the fear of being called or seen as bigoted are real anxiety-producing shifts for conservatives in the Mennonite Church. I can imagine conservatives are asking: “Will there be a place for my beliefs in the Mennonite Church of the future?” But please do not forget that there is not a sanctioned place, not only for my beliefs, but for me and my family in the Church today. For conservatives this conversation, while very real, is about beliefs and investments and ideas. For Queer people this is a conversation about the very existence of our bodies, persons, identities, and families. My Queer-ness permeates my spirit and body, and is a gift that deeply affects the ways I connect with God, others, and the world. To quote Stephanie Krehbiel, this is indeed about having a livable life, and there have been times when the exclusion of Mennonite institutions and people have made my life feel truly unlivable. That may not be the story of all Queer Mennonites, but it is my story and one I have heard many times. While I never condone bullying, name-calling, or lashing-out, the hurt I feel when my place in this Church and in our wider world is condemned is visceral, deep, and often traumatizing. Having one’s beliefs questioned, finding oneself unexpectedly holding the minority opinion, or even being offended by what someone else believes and insists on claiming, is Not the same as being oppressed or silenced, or excluded in the ways Queer folk experience.

    So while I long for an inclusive Church on all levels, including being able to be in communion with those whose beliefs and investments may be very different from my own, how can I work towards reconciliation and peacemaking if I am not even formally allowed at the table? Perhaps conservative folk are right in that there are fewer and fewer conservatives in leadership positions throughout the Church and its institutions. However, there are no openly-Queer, credentialed people in positions of power or leadership in our denomination, educational, or mission institutions. And as there has been a slow shift towards liberalism in the Church, is it possible that shift is the Holy Spirit nudging us towards a wider communion? If the conservative voice in MCUSA is waning, it is because conservative Churches and people are choosing to leave. I don’t have the luxury of choice. I can and do show up, because I believe God is working in this Church and in its people, Queer, Strait, Conservative, Liberal. But showing up is not the same as being welcomed. We cannot possibly have “accountable diversity within unity in essentials” if we exclude an entire essential body of voices from that diversity.

  4. Stephen J. Yoder says:

    “Integration largely furthered the process I have described. But one crucial matter, the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (CoF), won the support of all the parties except extreme liberals and conservatives. This was thanks to a 10 year process led by Marlin Miller and Helmut Harder, voices for a kind of permeable orthodoxy. I cannot understand why this remarkable anomaly in the trend I am sketching has not been held up as a successful model of holding together essentials (Trinitarian faith, a high view of the Bible, a believer’s church, pacifism) while affirming diversity of interpretation.”

    This paragraph is where my questions arise: If the CoF is a successful model of holding together essentials while affirming diversity of interpretation, how is it that the CoF was not sufficient to bring about “integration?” I think the word at the time became “transformation” – the merger of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference? Was it because of “extreme liberals and extreme conservatives” that the CoF had to be further explicated by the Membership Guidelines? And what sort of “table turning” was going on as the language of the Membership Guidelines document remained (purposefully?) vague and was (knowingly?) being interpreted very differently by different parts of the merging bodies?

  5. The essay by John Rempel includes a valuable review of 20th-century Mennonite history, especially the history of leadership. He writes of conservatives, moderates, and liberals, and has insight. However, it is easy to show that, pragmatically speaking, there are only two groups; a conservative will quite understandably see only her/his own group, and the “others” whose position is not in accord with the conservative position, and who cannot be expected to support it. That makes two groups, operationally speaking: conservatives, and “the other.” Likewise, liberals will see only two groups, themselves, and “the other,” consisting of moderates and conservatives, because neither will join in liberal cause(s).

  6. Carol Wise says:

    I appreciate the historical nature of John’s article and especially value the rigorous response of Stephanie.

    At the risk of appearing naive and unsophisticated, it seems to me that the “problem” that John articulates, that conservatives are now somehow unfairly marginalized, is in part a matter of mere arithmetic.

    A factor that John did not mention in his article is the reality that the conservative ideology has viewed a very particular type of body – male, white, straight – as worthy of leadership; an ideology that continues to hold sway in several conferences and certainly in many congregations. Considerable energy has been spent by these conservative forces carefully patrolling the borders and actively working to restrict access for women, people of color, and lgbtq people. As liberation movements have taken hold and [some] members of these groups have broken through to claim [some] leadership, it does become, in real numerical terms, a genuine loss for that conservative ideology.

    I can understand how this might be painful for those who have been accustomed to unmitigated access. But that is not the same as being shut out. It’s kind of like the kid on the playground who for the longest time was the only one with a baseball and hence got to make all the rules for the game. When other kids finally got their own baseballs, well, it suddenly became a whole other ballgame…

  7. Scott Smith says:

    Reading the responses above leaves me with the impression that opposing viewpoints cannot coexist as equals, that one or the other will predominate. That means that, while loving the best you can, you will believe others to be living in continual, willful sin while they believe the same thing about you. If that is unacceptable, then schism is the solution.

  8. Myron Bontreger says:

    How can we “make room” for people that are intentionally leaving the table?

  9. Jean Martin says:

    It is never “my beliefs,” that matter. Only the Father’s–the Heavenly Father. His thoughts are clear in His book. we just have to bring a teachable mind that does not want to be the one deciding right and wrong–since of course we are created not Creator. Since of course our 7o-80 years don’t compare to eternity from beginning to infinity. Since of course, our understanding only comes from a mere 4o plus years of learning, until we think we know it all. Since of course, God knows all, has thought of all, has created all in the way He knows best. Since we are not perfect but sinful. when we know our place, then we can learn from Him.

  10. M. South says:

    “…belief and practice questions are shaped by the encounter between the Bible and our cultural and political assumptions. I think of the liberals who equate faithfulness with tolerance, total inclusion and inter-religious peacemaking. I think of conservatives who equate faithfulness with religious and social hierarchy, a strong military, and opposition to government’s role in taxing the rich to help the poor.”

    This is another way of saying that instead of having something to teach the world, rather that the institutional church made up those who hold such thinking, are merely mirroring the worldly political battles and methods for domination of humanity outside it.

    “I cannot understand why this remarkable anomaly in the trend I am sketching has not been held up as a successful model of holding together essentials (Trinitarian faith, a high view of the Bible, a believer’s church, pacifism) while affirming diversity of interpretation.)”

    Precisely because those essentials of Christian faith cannot possibly be upheld by diverse and contrary private interpretations gaining primacy that read personal, human preferences into scripture. That this particular crisis of faith is a peculiarly western phenomenon, led from its academies, with no discernible ideological difference whether they are secular or not, is a dead giveaway that it is driven almost entirely by outside cultural and political assumptions. The methods to achieve worldly style domination of the church are precisely the same and are rooted in the same power paradigms, however disguised, that Jesus rejected. That is, temptations to achieve good ends through domination of the kingdoms of the world, as offered by the enemy spirit, through political and military domination by popular acclaim (appeal to societal majority opinion) and finally by clear rejection of the empire paradigm before the empire itself.

    One of the benefits of being in Christ is to begin to be released from being in thrall to a particular historical time and place, subject to all its subjective shortsighted and transitory obsessions, the loyalty to its particularized sins. One is redeemed to have a place of liberty untouched by who or what would enslave us, whether in body or spirit, even particularly by ourselves.