By Brianna R. Lugibihl
Twenty-three convention participants gathered on Wednesday afternoon to share views regarding the proper Christian response to the rise of terrorist organizations.
This session opened the first of seven “conversation rooms” with today’s event titled, “The Challenges of ISIS to Christian Peacemakers.”
Participants discussed topics including types and degrees of military intervention, export control of weapons and the nature of internal conflicts both domestically and abroad. Barry Bartel, an attorney from Denver, Colorado and member of the Dialogue Resource Team of Mountain States Mennonite Conference and Elizabeth Troyer-Miller, a conflict specialist from Central Mediation Center, facilitated the discussions.
“There are other places in the convention where decisions are made; that is the delegate body. There are spaces where people with expertise and training share their expertise; those are the seminars and workshops,” said Bartel.
“But it seems to be important to have a place to share and listen to other people’s perspectives on topics where we know there is disagreement in the church and a space where there is no expectation for a decision to be made.”
Bartel and Troyer-Miller divided participants into groups and sat in circles facing each other before designating a time keeper for each group. They then provided process guidelines: only two minutes of sharing can occur while holding the “talking pamphlet,” also known as a “speaker’s staff,” or “talking stick.” Speakers were required to summarize the previous viewpoint before passing the pamphlet and each individual was asked to respectfully address others’ viewpoints when sharing one’s own. After 40 minutes of discussion, the groups reunited and participants discussed the results of the discussion process. “I felt like a lot of the people in my group felt we weren’t as educated as we wanted to be. It was a bit of a shock,” said Mary Emile-Wagler, a participant from First Mennonite Church of Hutchinson. “But you could see all of the different eras we grew up in. That was my favorite part.”
Event coordinator Andre Gingerich Stoner, director of Interchurch Relations and Holistic Witness for Mennonite Church USA, said that these types of conversations have the potential to have significant impact on Mennonite Church USA.
“People haven’t found ways to have the honest conversations about important topics where there are differences, and there are settings between congregations and pastors who worship five to 10 miles apart who have never had real conversations with each other,” Stoner Gingerich said.
“I suppose it would be ideal if we could work ourselves out of a job. If the church has a capacity to have this conversation as a part of its normal life, maybe the conversation room wouldn’t be needed or important,” Bartel said.
The conversation rooms were first held at the 2011 Mennonite Convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, inspired by the work of Ron Claassen, co-Founder and director emeritus of the Fresno Pacific University Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies, and Roxanne Claassen, co-authors of “Discipline That Restores.” Conversation rooms are intended to facilitate conversation on contentious issues without the need for resolution, Bartel said.
The conversation room is located in room 2215C of the convention center will continue to host events on a variety of topics throughout the week.
Read the full issue of the KC Currents, the daily convention newssheet here.