I have been a part of the Mennonite church for almost 25 years. Many things attracted me to it: the emphasis on Scripture and following Jesus in every area of life, the potluck meals, the peace position (though I was a police officer at the time). And the humility of church leaders.
A lot has changed in our culture and church in 25 years. One change for the worse is that we have become more polarized. I see this in the media, which always seems to present the news from one side or another.
I also see it in the church. And I’ll share the blame: I like to experience commonality with those I agree with and dismiss those I disagree with. Each of us thinks we know what is right.
What has happened to our humility?
Recently I felt the need to apologize to my 4-year-old granddaughter and to some fellow church leaders. I am not sure which was more humbling. But here’s what is interesting: Both responded a similar way: “You don’t have to be sorry. You don’t have to apologize.”
But I wanted to apologize. I needed to.
When we minimize someone’s apology, what does that say about us?
Perhaps it is a result of our need to be right. We don’t intend to apologize to anyone; why would we expect anyone to apologize to us?
When was the last time you heard a sincere apology from a politician?
When was the last time you heard a sincere apology from someone in church?
When was the last time you apologized to someone without making excuses or deflecting blame?
The Most common Bible verse I hear quoted lately, especially from those who emphasize the peace-and-justice response to the gospel, is Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [“mercy,” in some translations], and to walk humbly with your God?”
“To do justice” is the part that seems to get most of the attention. What about to love kindness or mercy and to walk humbly with God?
While God can say, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:15), we don’t have that choice. We are called to have mercy and compassion on all, including those we disagree with and even our enemies.
“Walk humbly with God” means we need to accept that our knowledge is limited. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “now we see in a mirror, dimly” and “now I know only in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Mennonites have a reputation as the “quiet in the land.” But quietness is not evidence of humility.
True humility is acknowledging that we might be wrong about almost anything. True humility means accepting that it is not our knowledge that saves us but our faith in Jesus Christ — the all-knowing, just, merciful One who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).
Humble Christians understand the need to apologize. We accept apologies when offered and know the next one that’s needed might be ours.
Dick Barrett is conference minister of Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA.