I’m not sure I could possibly overstate it: The convention worship space is HUGE. Massive. And absolutely very loud. I don’t mind the loudness so much and enjoy a break from Sing the Story/Journey to indulge some contemporary tunes. I must confess, though, that the opening joint worship session of the Pittsburg Convention left something to be desired and, as someone who works for Justice and Reconciliation, I was saddened at a message that seemed to discount our (Pink Menno’s and my own) Justice work and named us as “angry”.
I can appreciate the heart behind Shane Hipps message. I understand the division in the church and I lament it. I truly believe that we don’t have to fully AGREE about divisive issues like sexuality, gender, immigration and anti-racism in order to be a unified church. Yet, the notion that we can simply “make a bridge” by putting our arms around each other and erasing our difference (“there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, [gay nor straight]”) doesn’t sit well with me. Difference is innate, we ARE different from each other and I fully believe this is the Divine plan.
What I felt Hipps ignored or swept under the rug was the reality of privilege. As a white, heterosexual, married man in a powerful position in a nationally recognized megachurch, I sat in my seat last night saddened that he could say in front of a huge portion of our denomination that those who work for justice do so out of anger and need to focus on reconciliation instead. I believe he said that because he COULD say that: because of his social position and privilege he doesn’t HAVE to work for justice. But we are not all in that position.
At least half of us in the room were women. Many people of color, people with disabilities and people with differing sexual orientations sat there as well. For those of us who fall into any one of those categories: we know injustice, exclusion, violence, hurt and pain in a way that is personal. For some of us our dreams are blocked by walls still guarded in our churches, denominations and places of employment (and this, by all means, includes Mennonite Church USA).
Yes, I want to reconcile with my brothers and sisters in Christ. But that reconciliation would be empty if I wasn’t reconciling as my true self, if a version of me emptied of my difference stepped forward to reconcile. For me I can only truly reconcile as my true self, which also includes the part of me that longs for and is committed to working for justice. I am not angry (and I am sure I can speak for many who attended last nights worship as well: we are not, primarily, angry).
Anger in itself, too, is not an inherently bad emotion–it leads us towards something that ought to change. I am, however, longing for change and desiring to be able to come to the table of reconciliation as my true self including all of my difference and all of my longing and be ACCEPTED there. If that isn’t justice….I don’t know what is. This justice, too, even as it is worked for here at convention and within MCUSA, is primarily a justice of love.If I did not love the church deeply, if I did not love this denomination and hope for it to become its best and true self: I would not be here.
My mother told me often, growing up, that she was challenging me to become my best self (which included not leaving dirty dishes in the sink or socking my brother indiscriminately) because she loved me and wanted me to be whole. I love this church, and I would be unfaithful in that love if I didn’t, too, challenge it to be just and whole. This vision of justice is my reconciliation. I will love you, dialogue with you, know you even if you don’t share this vision. Yet I will hold this vision. I will hold on to a hope for justice.
—“Without Justice, There Can Be No Love”, bell hooks