Charity suffereth long

Quest for unity in Mennonite Church USA is a test of patience

Mosaic Mennonite Conference assistant moderator Roy Williams, center left, and moderator Angela Moyer Walter, center right, pray during the conference assembly Nov. 5 at Souderton, Pa. — Cindy Angela/Mosaic Mennonite Conference Mosaic Mennonite Conference assistant moderator Roy Williams, center left, and moderator Angela Moyer Walter, center right, pray during the conference assembly Nov. 5 at Souderton, Pa. — Cindy Angela/Mosaic Mennonite Conference

Please be patient with us, leaders of Mosaic Mennonite Conference asked the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board during a Zoom meeting on Jan. 28.

It was a request to do more than simply wait.

What to wait for?

Mosaic’s two-year process of discernment about MC USA membership.

And what to do during that time?

“Our biggest desire is for you to walk alongside us for the next two years,” said Roy Williams, Mosaic’s assistant moderator. “We are trying to hold the pieces together.”

Williams and moderator Angela Moyer Walter were speaking only for Mosaic, but their concerns apply elsewhere, too.

The Mosaic moderators wrote in a December letter to the Executive Board that “diversity and challenge have emerged anew” after MC USA’s special session last May in Kansas City, Mo. At that meeting, delegates approved a “Repentance and Transformation” resolution that established LGBTQ affirmation as policy at the denominational level while leaving conferences and congregations free to follow their own convictions.

In addition to magnifying the longstanding conflict over sexuality, the Kansas City meeting alienated some people of color who felt “excluded and unwanted” due to the way the meeting was run, the Mosaic letter stated. “Some have since urged us to withdraw from the denomination quickly.”

“Our pain and struggles,” as ­Williams put it, are not unique to Mosaic. Exec­u­tive Board members cited Ohio, Virginia and South Central conferences as experiencing similar tensions over sexuality and questions about MC USA affiliation.

“There are many stress points in MC USA,” Williams said. “We can’t keep splitting apart.”

Executive Board members eagerly supported the Mosaic moderators’ call to work together for unity.

Leslie Francisco III, a board member from Virginia, summed up the turmoil and the hope: “I feel like this denomination is whitewater rafting. We don’t know what is around the next bend. We are navigating tumultuous waters. I hope we can all stay in the boat.”

Two weeks later, on Feb. 11, New York Mennonite Conference modeled that hope by approving a “Statement on Unity and Mutual Discernment.” Borrowing language from MC USA’s 2015 forbearance resolution, the document acknowledges a lack of consensus on same-sex marriage and calls for extending grace, love and forbearance toward those who seek to be faithful in different ways.

Going beyond the 2015 resolution, it defines forbearance as “walking together with love and respect, bearing together the burden of our ongoing disagreement.”

A message from conference leaders previewing the meeting said it well: “We will, in the name of Jesus, go on gathering and worshiping and collaborating with people who believe or do things that we do not think are right.”

This is something Christians do all the time on other matters. And it brings us back to the Mosaic moderators’ request for patience.

There’s a word for patience in the King James Version: longsuffering. To suffer, in this context, means to allow (as in the KJV’s phrasing of Matthew 19:14: “Suffer little children to come unto me”).

Members of MC USA are being called to longsuffering — to be patient and forbearing. We might even be called to the more common definition of suffering: to experience pain or hardship. Williams admitted as much when he cited Mosaic’s “pain and struggles.”

The denomination’s pain tolerance is being tested.

Galatians 5:22, in the KJV, lists longsuffering (patience) as a fruit of the Spirit. This might mean we can’t gain the patience MC USA needs by gritting our teeth and summoning our willpower. It will happen only by the Holy Spirit at work within us.

When Christians who disagree about important things stick together, they suffer together — in both senses of “suffer.” They are patient/forbearing/allowing. And they feel pain.

By the power of the Spirit, they may also feel love. Not necessarily love as a fond emotion but love that manifests as patience. As 1 Corinthians 13:4 says in the KJV, “charity [love] suffereth long.” Without it, Paul told the Corinthians, “I am nothing.”

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. He lives in Newton, Kan., attends First Mennonite Church of Newton and is Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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