Breaking the rules

Mennonite Church USA has gotten itself into an untenable situation because of guidelines interpreted as rules (“Board proposes guidelines’ repeal, announces special delegate session,” May 7). This is just one example of problems created by top-down authority that decides what is sin and imposes that interpretation on all members. This is not unique to Mennonites. Just ask American Catholics if they follow the Vatican’s edicts on birth control.

In the early 1960s Virginia and I began attending a congregation in Franconia (now Mosaic) Mennonite Conference and considered joining. The bishop gave us a copy of the rulebook. As I recall, among other things, TV was forbidden, and women were to wear black stockings and head coverings. We chose not to pursue membership because we not only disagreed with the obsolete rules but also observed members were ignoring them. A few years later the conference attempted to update the rulebook to reflect actual practice but found this was not possible. There were too many disagreements. There has not been a rulebook since.

If, instead of imposing rules, MC USA had actual guidelines and allowed more congregational autonomy, perhaps some of the heartbreaking disagreements and defections of the past few years could have been avoided.

Abner Schlabach, South Royalton, Vt.

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