Over 35 years of work for five private nonprofits, I became convinced of the importance of mission to organizational effectiveness. When effective leadership is at the helm, "mission" is always front and center.
Given that experience, I find it easy to embrace the missional emphasis of Mennonite Church USA. Although a network of congregations and local conferences may be distinguishable in many ways from a nonprofit, I see little difference in the critical role that mission should play in shaping identity and forms of engagement.
Let's carry that analogy a step further to the way nonprofits make plans and set objectives. In my experience, a SWOT analysis is frequently the tool of choice. That is:
- What internal Strengths give us particular advantages in the current context?
- What internal Weaknesses particularly disadvantage us?
- What external Opportunities are within our reach, given our mission and our identity?
- What external Threats put our mission at special risk?
I find it useful to use this same analysis to develop promising options by which Mennonite Church USA (and its member conferences and their member congregations) can be missional. Let's give it a try.
Our Mission: communicate the way of Jesus as a good-news alternative in our time and place.
Our Urgent Question: How will we carry out this mission in 2012, which is an election year?
Our Internal Strengths:
(a) We are diverse politically.
(b) Whether Republican or Democrat, we have been humbled by our disappointments in the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Thus, in contrast to most election years when many of us were eager to tout the benefits of one party or the other, now our hearts are especially open to confession and seeking another way.
(c) We value social engagement and the prophetic tradition.
Our Internal Weaknesses:
(a) Voting, lobbying government, and protesting government actions all are acceptable practices among MC USA-related organizations. But we have virtually no history of speaking a prophetic word into what is the preeminent ritual of our nation's political life: the election of a President.
(b) Many of us can not imagine what we could say about national leadership that would be a positive witness to Jesus Christ.
(c) We are preoccupied by declining budgets and sexuality squabbles.
(a) The bipartisan commitment of Republican and Democratic politicians to dominate the world, protect Wall Street financial interests, and ignore the rule of law has been revealed.
(b) The larger Christian communions are not speaking into this crisis; there is a vacuum of leadership. (c) Among Christians, there is growing interest in Anabaptism and what socially-engaged Anabaptists are saying.
(a) The list of Muslim nations where the U.S. government has engaged in killing people has now grown to seven: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. Syria will soon be the eighth. This continuous, expanding war against Muslim peoples is the new normal; few Americans are upset by it.
(b) Torture, off-shore prisons, indefinite detention, assassination squads, presidential kill lists, and drone attacks on civilians have also become part of the new reality. Pride in such practices has become a sign of presidential leadership; few Americans are upset by it.
(c) Most American people - and many of us within MC USA congregations - now believe the best way to minimize violence and move toward peace in the world is for the U.S. military to achieve and maintain total spectrum dominance.
Our Options: Ask organizations related to MC USA (congregations and conferences) to
(a) provide guidance to us as individuals with regard to our participation in this election; this is necessary to stop the erosion of our moral scruples while living in a war-like culture.
(b) call for a church-wide boycott of this election because it does not offer us a choice that will reduce U.S. violence against Muslims; this will serve as a teachable moment for us within MC USA while also bearing witness to others who become aware of this action.
(c) call for a national boycott of this election because it does not offer us a choice that will reduce U.S. violence against Muslims; this will give substance to our claim that Jesus is Lord while eroding the moral legitimacy of the current political system in the USA.
Obviously, the exercise could play out differently and other options could be generated. But if you start where I did - with the same statement of mission and same urgent question - I expect it will lead you to options that call for some form of public engagement by MC USA-related organizations.
In other words, our congregations, conferences, and national leaders will not simply sit this election out. They will see it as an opportunity for mission.