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Tools for our time: congregations in a country at war
I feel like I've been in the accelerated program on this particular question ever since I've moved to the DC region. To give you a sense of the divide in the particular congregation I'm pastoring: on July 4 of last year the song leader wanted us to sing the National Anthem as part of the worship service and during sharing time another person strongly recommended everyone go see Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie severely critiquing our current administration. So how can we be brought together instead of going further apart?
I would name 4 things:
My primary commitment as a pastor is too be a pastor to every person in the congregation. In order to do that I had to become aware of how I spoke about political issues. I was surprised at what I learned about myself. I'm a firm believer in the peace position but I discovered my language, attitude and vocal inflections often sounded more self-righteous than peaceful. My respect for the other's position greatly improved when I realized their perspective was vital and intelligent even though it may be different from my own. I need that other perspective to keep me honest and be aware of the breadth of God's action in the world.
Humility is absolutely crucial in our time. Frankly we don't have the peace position all figured out. Our credibility as a people of peace lies in our ability to live in genuine wonder at this amazing way of life we have been entrusted with as Mennonites. Preaching peace and living peacefully has never been easy; even less so in our times. But it is a God-given adventure and if we see it more in that light rather than a terrible responsibility we will certainly be more inviting as a people of God. God may be more honored by an employee of the Pentagon than a curmudgeonly pacifist Mennonite. A gentle humility has done amazing things in the world. Mennonites are known in the diplomatic community for our unique approach to peace-making coming out of our own sense of gentleness and humility.
Connectedness is the bridge that helps us to find our way in these times. We have two retired couples at Northern Virginia Mennonite Church who probably represent the greatest divide politically in our denomination. They sit in Sunday School each Sunday each of them true to their strongly held convictions. Sometimes they share with me the wonder of how the other can believe what they believe and I just smile and listen because they very much need each other to stay close to the truth. But they also bear witness to how be connected. Several summers ago they bicycled across the country from Washington to Virginia Beach and their commitment was to be just as good friends when they finished the trip as when they started. That is the kind of connectedness we need in the church. Maybe we need fewer words and more peaceful actions together.
Finally it important to know why we believe in peace: because God's Spirit is within us. I don't believe we're going to lose our peace position in the church as long as the Spirit of Jesus Christ is alive within us.