In the second decade of the 21st century, something unforeseen arose among the Offspring of Gertrude and Menno. Congregations here and there began to call for a re-examination of the historic Mennonite peace position. Proponents of this view pressed their case in denominational periodicals and on the floor of conferences. Many of the faithful were disturbed by this “heretical” teaching and began to call for the expulsion of all such people and congregations. Denominational leaders were alarmed and responded by calling for more discussion, listening sessions and, most of all, acceptance and tolerance, perhaps hoping that somehow the dispute would be swallowed up in a burst of loving compromise.
Instead, the dissidents pushed harder, arguing they were only advocating the teachings of the overwhelming bulk of Christianity for 1,700 years. How, they asked, can it be wrong to protect those you love, your neighbors and others around the world, against very real threats? We have gone through the prescribed process, these congregations said. We have met over a long period of time to discern. We believe God would have us be open to those who would serve, and who have proudly served, their nation in military service.
Eventually these congregations began to encourage their young people to consider enlisting in the military and to aggressively promote such among the young people. This caused great concern throughout the denomination, but the leadership stood fast, pleading with everyone to hold together, to dialogue, listen and discern. Many younger members were particularly attracted to tolerance and even acceptance, perhaps because many were climbing the social ladder, their standard of living was rising, and companies selling to the military offered excellent career opportunities.
Finally, one of the congregations called to its pastorate a man (or was it a woman?) who was an officer in the Army Reserve. This was too much, even for those most optimistic that the way of the cross would ultimately win out “if we all stick together.” Across the denomination, demands arose that the issue be brought to a vote at the next national conference.
How would you vote? To sustain the church’s historic position, which you’ve always been taught is biblical? Or to allow virtually unlimited “freedom” and “tolerance” and thus maintain “fellowship”?