We are living in difficult and challenging times in the life of Mennonite Church USA.
I have heard it said many times that theological divisions are breaking us apart.
In the past few months, I have experienced many sleepless nights, praying and crying for the future of God’s church that I so love. They have been tears of sadness and despair as the church breaks apart because of conversations where God’s love and compassion have not been present in the way we talk and treat each other. They have been tears of sadness by an ill spirit that hides behind politically correct language.
As a leader of color, I have shed tears after hearing hurtful words based on deep-seated racism—where my integrity, professionalism and identity are challenged and harshly treated because of my cultural background. I am reminded that after more than 35 years as part of this community of believers, for some I am still an outsider.
I have heard often the call for leaders to lead. Leadership should include transparency with our emotions. Early in my ministry, after moving to Indiana from Puerto Rico, I was criticized for “being too open [in sharing] my feelings” with others. I was told to be more reserved. In today’s challenging world, I believe being able to open up to others—allowing Christian sisters and brothers a glimpse of my soul—is not a sign of weakness or lack of leadership but a sign of strength.
At a recent event, a speaker shared his belief that the Mennonite church, both in the United States and globally, is at “a historic moment in the transformation of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition.” I believe this is true. The culture we are part of is extremely polarized; that characteristic has also found its way into our church community. I suggest that it is not theological divisions that are tearing us apart but our inability to relate to one another. We need to communicate in ways that allow those around us to see the love of Christ in our lives.
Recently, I attended the gathering of ABCMMA (African, Belizean and Caribbean Mennonite Mission Association) in a little corner of Los Angeles. There I was again reminded of the power of God and our need to be followers open to God’s call. As I sang with my brothers and sisters, I found myself with tears rolling down my face. But they were not tears of despair; they were tears of hope.
With many hands raised and singing from the heart, I heard the words of the chorus, “I am going to treat everybody right until I die.”
Those words quickly became my prayer. We continued singing other familiar choruses: “I Will Sing of Your Love Forever” and “My God Is an Awesome God.” These became profound words of hope as I thought about how Mennonite Church USA can move forward. It was a wonderful day of worship with joyful singing, dancing, adoration, prayers and, yes, tears.
As we move forward, we need to allow our words, actions and behaviors to speak louder and clearer about our love for God and our desire to allow God to live within us. Doing so will let the incredible love and grace we have been given shine through us to the world. Faithfulness helps to build God’s kingdom, not destroy it. The truth we can share in love and compassion can only be adequately heard if our daily lives and interactions reflect that same love and compassion.
Ultimately, understanding God’s gospel must include accepting our limitations. We must accept that we can be wrong because we are fallible human beings and not God. Our clarity of beliefs should not be confused with the need to always be right. In our passion to embrace and share our understandings with others, we should not neglect the need for compassion for all God’s creation. If we lose perspective and behave in ways that show God’s love is not evident in our lives, it will lead to brokenness.
It is my prayer and hope that if we find ourselves in that brokenness it will lead us to accept our limitations, grow in our dependence on God and express thankfulness for the grace that has allowed us to reach this point.
I must have hope for our church, and I need to continue to learn to trust God. In the midst of challenges and situations that do not seem to have solutions, we need to trust God to help us let go of our need to control, to always be right and to always win our arguments. Leadership is about being faithful, and leaders cry. I do.
Carlos Romero is executive director of Mennonite Education Agency.