Young people got a chance to stand before the main microphone every day at the Mennonite World Conference assembly, and they made the most of it.
Marc Pasqués of Spain and Australia spoke of the effort a few years ago to develop MWC’s Young Anabaptists organization and the Global Youth Summit.
“We didn’t want to be part of the future of the church anymore,” he said. “We wanted to be part of the present. We deserve it, and we’re worth it.”
He and others spoke powerfully and prophetically, often choosing to challenge the church more boldly than their older peers. Consistently, young adults from around the world warned that a theology of division is not something they want to be a part of.
Depending on one’s perspective, that is either good or bad for the future of the church. Pasqués’ words came two days after a letter was circulated to Lancaster Mennonite Conference pastors announcing the unanimous decision by conference leadership to recommend LMC withdraw from Mennonite Church USA.
Pasqués said: “Our roots as Anabaptists and disciples of Jesus will not allow us to promote, justify or sanction situations that create discrimination, exclusion, violence or even death of any man or woman on the basis of his or her origin, ethnic group, socioeconomic condition, sex, divorce and remarriage, sexual identity or any other form of exclusion.”
His counterpart, Rodrigo Pedroza of Mexico, said Jesus did not come for the healthy but the sick and dispossessed on the periphery of society.
“So we need to . . . be the first to love those no one else wants to love,” Pedroza said.
Young people’s voices were especially profound in light of the fact that many of the hundreds of potential attendees who were denied visas were young people.
Young adults, it seems, are more willing to address exclusionary practices and divisions. Kevin Ressler of the U.S. said many Mennonites are well versed in the Bible’s words but not its meaning. He said we make those with difficult questions wait too long and ignore those sent by God to help with new and better understandings.
The acts of love young people suggest are more daunting than any institutional challenge requiring years of deliberations and fundraising. That’s because these actions are so simple: Treat other people how you want to be treated. The excuses don’t come as easy when the only thing standing in the way is ourselves.
Does this scare the elders? Perhaps. But the future can be bright if we are able to learn from the past. Remilyn Mondez of the Philippines reminded her listeners that the children are watching. And learning.