This blog is part of our Special Session of the Delegate Assembly Open Call for Blogs series, which will run throughout May. This blog is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board or the resolution writers. Readers are encouraged to consult other resources related to the Special Delegate Assembly, engage the writers of the resolutions and discern within their own context.
James Rissler lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Christina, and two sons. Until recently, he served as pastor of Atlanta Mennonite Church, and currently serves as president — moderator in all the rest of our MC USA conferences — of Central District Conference. He tries to live a life of love, joy and presence.
I am a hopeful person. I’m hopeful, in that I believe that beneath all of our human frailties and failings, God created us good. I’m hopeful, in that I believe that God’s Spirit is present with us whenever we gather in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m hopeful, in that I have had the joy of working in the church with so many gifted, faithful people.
I’m hopeful, because we, who make up the body of Christ, many of my closest friends, don’t all agree with one another about any number of theological questions, but we still love God and one another, as we pray and worship and work together.
As I talk with people across Mennonite Church USA (MC USA), it is clear that there is anxiety about the Special Session of the Delegate Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, and in particular, about how we will respond to the invitation from the Executive Board to retire the Membership Guidelines, and the invitation from Inclusive Mennonite Pastors to repent of and be transformed concerning the harm those guidelines and our past actions have done to LGBTQIA persons. In the interest of good Mennonite sincerity and transparency (see Matthew 5:37), I am a member of Inclusive Mennonite Pastors and affirm both resolutions.
Can we reframe our anxiety as an opportunity for faith? Can we trust God’s Spirit and one another to gather with hearts prepared to listen to one another and the Holy Spirit? No one expects that we’ll find consensus on these resolutions. But can we gather committed to trying to understand better how our siblings in Christ feel and believe? Can we bathe our gathering in prayer and love? Can we return to our homes bearing affection for one another, as well as a shared commitment to continue to journey together and share our witness as MC USA, even as we also continue to discern God’s will differently? Is our faith that God works through us and guides us sufficient to do this?
I have had so many wonderful conversations at conventions and church gatherings, and the ones I value most are the ones that begin with the recognition that we don’t understand some elements of our faith in the same way, which, then, leads us to learn more about why that is. The conversations in which we not only recognize our different understandings, but recognize, too, our deep faithfulness to God expressed through them. The table conversations among delegates that end with sharing contact information and later personal visits.
There are a lot of questions in this world that I don’t have sufficient imagination to even try to answer. How will there ever be peace in Israel-Palestine? How can we fix the broken systems that lead to racism and such rampant income inequality in our country and world? How can we overcome the divisions in our country? What will the church look like in 20 years? But I have faith that God’s imagination far outstrips our own and that God continues to work within and among us to bring about that vision (Ephesians 3:20).
I believe God’s vision is one of healing and hope.
I hope that God can bring healing to our divisions. I hope that we can claim the unity we are given in Christ, by Christ, simply in virtue of all of us doing our best to follow Jesus Christ. Will you come to Kansas City sharing that hope with me? I look forward to seeing you there.
View resources for the Delegate Assembly, including the resolutions, webinars, a prayer guide, and registration link, here.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.