Monday, January 20, 2020

Would Virginia Counties Seceding (To Join West Virginia) Be Like Local Congregations Seceding To Join Some Other Communion?

No, this is not fake news, but actual legislation being considered in West Virginia.
The following resolution was introduced January 14, 2020, at the West Virginia state legislature:

"That the question of admission, or, the rejection of such admission, of any county or independent city of the Commonwealth of Virginia desiring admission to the State of West Virginia, and a majority of whose qualified voters, voting on the question, have approved such measure, prior to August 1, 2020, shall be submitted to the voters of the State of West Virginia at the next general election to be held in the year 2020.

"Such proposal shall be placed upon the general election ballot in the following form: “Shall the following county (or independent city) _____________________(name), currently a constituent part of the Commonwealth of Virginia, be admitted to the State of West Virginia as a constituent county of the State of West Virginia.”

Most of us will see this as most likely never happening and as being constitutionally unthinkable. In other words, it's a ludicrous idea that should never even be considered.

Yet we think nothing of it when churches withdraw from their Conference bodies or from their denomination to join another group of their choice.

Maybe that doesn't represent a fair analogy, but are some examples of local Virginia Mennonite Conference congregations that were once a part of Virginia Conference and in many cases have affiliated with some outside group:

1835 Virginia Mennonite Conference (formed from Lancaster [PA] Conference)

    1900 Old Order Mennonite Conference (left Virginia Conference and affiliated with Groffdale Old Order Conference in Pennsylvania)

    1953 Wenger Old Order Mennonite group (unaffiliated)

    1957 Mt. Pleasant Old Order Mennonite congregation (affiliated with Weaverland District Conference in Pennsylvania)

    1972 Southeastern Mennonite Conference (organized as a separate conference)

    1985 Timberville Mennonite Church (unaffiliated)

    1990 Calvary Mennonite Church (affiliated with Ohio-based Biblical Mennonite Alliance)

    2001 Cornerstone Churches (originally Mennonite, formed their own coalition of congregations)

    2002 Mountain Valley District churches (first unaffiliated, then the largest of these congregations, Dayton Mennonite, later joined the Conservative Mennonite Conference [now simply "CMC"] headquartered in Irwin, Ohio)
    2003 Broad Street Mennonite Church (unaffiliated)

    2005 Shalom Mennonite (joined Central District Mennonite Conference headquartered in Goshen, Indiana)

    2007 Lloyd Wenger Old Order Mennonite group (unaffiliated)

    2016 New Beginnings Church (became non-denominational and has remained unaffiliated)

Friday, January 17, 2020

A Heart Wrenching Time For United Methodists

If there were easy answers to the church's current
dilemmas, we would have probably arrived at 

them a long time ago.
As someone who decries same-faith church divorces, I can't help but feel grieved over the second largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., the spiritual descendants of John and Charles Wesley, possibly splitting into two separate bodies in May.

I certainly have lots of empathy for churches everywhere faced with the increasingly divisive issue of how to deal with gay and lesbian members who want to be in some kind of marriage union. And I totally understand the case to be made for traditional marriage, defined as being between a man and a woman for life. For the record, this is the position I've supported for pretty much all of my life.

So far be it from me to have an easy answer for United Methodists. But one of the problems all churches face in dealing with this and many other disputable issues is that there are no simple binary positions into which their members, or their member congregations, fit.

On the issue of same sex relationships. there is a whole range of responses supported by members of most of their congregations, as follows:

1.  Condemn and ostracize all lesbians and gays, keep them “in the closet.”

2.  Advocate acceptance of gays and lesbians but expect them to undergo a change of orientation (“healing”), enter into a heterosexual marriage or live a life of celibacy and secrecy.

3. Openly welcome and accept all believers into membership without making sexual orientation a barrier, but continue to support sexual relationships for only one man and one woman in marriage.

4.  Support the above approach as the church’s official position, but make pastoral exceptions for faithful same-sex relationships where no other option seems viable, similar to Paul’s “better to marry than to burn with passion” counsel (much like the approach many churches have taken with divorced persons seeking to remarry).

5.  Celebrate and affirm all monogamous and faithful relationship equally--heterosexual or homosexual.

6.  Encourage monogamous relationships, but make questions of exclusivity and fidelity matters of personal conscience.

7.  Leave all questions about sexual behaviors up to the individual.

So in order to actually accommodate everyone, should UMC divide into seven groups? And how are they to accommodate all of the other differences of conviction held by members of their churches?

In my opinion, our ultimate responsibility is to prayerfully seek to have our membership rolls correspond with the names of those we believe are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

But since that may seem hard to discern, do we risk erring on the welcoming side or on the excluding side of the above spectrum?

That is the question that's tearing my soul apart, and the soul of churches everywhere.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Oh The Accolades From My Online Friends!

This is a sample of some of the more interesting responses I've gotten recently to some of my facebook posts and op ed pieces in our local newspaper:

"Mr. Yoder is one of the most radical left wing neo-liberals ever, Period. He is completely lost in his socialist agenda and cares nothing about America, traditional values or anything related to the Valley. Reading his opinions is a complete waste of time!"

"Though I love Harvey Yoder as a brother in Christ please do not waste a second in debating with him. Bless him and move on. His worldview has nothing in common with reality and the true fall of man. I only pray he keeps himself insulated and protected in his ideological cocoon and safely stays immune to the world around him. His arguments sound great in a sociology class but wouldn’t play well on the streets of Baltimore. Cut bait and don’t waste your time, breath or frustration attempting to use facts and common sense to change his “perspective”. He is harmless and a genuinely sweet gentleman that I unfortunately would not want as a partner in a life or death situation."

"Mr. Yoder, if you want to be taken seriously on any issue, then you really do need to educate yourself regarding that issue, starting with your description of the gun that your parents owned when you were growing up. They owned a 22 caliber rifle, not a 22 gauge rifle. Rifles are classified by caliber, shotguns are classified by gauges. Secondly, I've read your blog, and more specifically, some of the hot links to the blogs of others that you apparently endorse, as they appear embedded within the articles in the blog itself. Many of those who comment on these articles demonstrate complete ignorance of the Shenandoah Valley, coupled with an arrogance that is a complete turnoff. I saw references to folks in this valley "re-fighting the civil war", "backwards thinking", "people only wanting to own guns because of an irrational fear of the government", "bullying" (specifically in reference to the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors meeting at Spotswood High School the other night), and the list goes on and on. There was even one person who liberal who suggested that their friends move up to Canada to escape the backwards thinking people of the Shenandoah Valley. 
Mr. Yoder, you and your liberal friends live in a bubble of your own making. What happened at Spotswood High School the other night was not "bullying". It wasn't even anything close to bullying. What you witnessed, Mr. Yoder, is people who disagree with you about the fundamental principles this great country was founded on. If you can't handle the robust exchange of ideas, then I would suggest that you take your liberal friend's advice and move to Canada where everyone agrees with you. Otherwise, I would suggest that you stop talking and writing down to the good people of this valley and the values that we hold dear. It really doesn't paint you in a good light."

"Mr. Yoder, if you do not wish to be judged by the ignorant and arrogant words of these folks, then perhaps you should think twice before including their articles as hot links in your blog. Furthermore, I find it very hypocritical that you advocate for the confiscation of guns as it relates to peaceful, law abiding citizens, and yet you constantly lobby for the release of violent criminals from prison into our society. I too long for a day when there will be no more death, no more pain, no more evil, and no need for guns, but until Jesus returns, there will be sin and violence in the world, and the second amendment is the citizens' last line of defense against tyranny. I'll be keeping my guns."

"Harvey, I have nothing against you personally, and I wish you well, but I see absolutely no need for us to get together and have "meaningful dialogue". I have lived around, and known people like you my entire life. With all due respect, you have lived your entire life in a bubble. You've never worked in the private sector, run a business, or had to live with the consequences of the governmental policies that you promote. I remember reading a post from you a few years ago, where you admitted to not knowing the difference between the national deficit, and the national debt. You very clearly (as you have acknowledged) know nothing about guns, and yet advocate for stricter gun laws for law abiding citizens. At the same time, you openly lobby for the early release of convicted criminals, and even think it "unfair" that prisoners in the Rockingham County Jail should pay a $1 per day keep fee for their room and board. You lobby for "restorative justice" options within our criminal justice system, which likely works very well when a kid accidentally throws a baseball through his neighbor's window, and then mows his neighbor's lawn for the summer to pay off the debt, but is absolutely useless and dangerous when applied to hardened criminals. In short, Mr. Yoder, I'm sure that you are a very nice fellow, and I have very little doubt that you mean well, but frankly, I don't want people of your mindset to be in charge of anything. You truly live in an alternate reality. As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, though, I do wish you well, and specifically today I wish you and your family a very blessed and Merry Christmas."

Saturday, January 11, 2020

What The Nickel Mines Response Could Teach Us About Revenge

The radical and non-violent response by the Amish to their
terrorist attack proved to be their most powerful witness ever.

You have heard it said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," but I say to you, do not resist an evildoer,... Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
- Jesus

Do not repay evil for evil... Do not take revenge, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord"... If your enemy hunger, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
- Paul

What we are seeing in the Middle East is the result of a vicious cycle of revenge, each side justifying their violent responses as completely legitimate ways of evening the score, of executing justice. 

But how well is that working?

Among the tragic and unintended consequences of this most recent vengeance cycle has been the accidental shooting of a Ukranian passenger plane in Tehran, resulting in 176 precious lives lost. While Iranian authorities are now taking appropriate responsibility, it is highly likely that the victims of that terrible attack would still be alive if we had not responded to an alleged "imminent threat" in the way we did, thus putting the Iranian defense forces on hyper-alert status. 

I am in no way excusing the Iranian action, or reaction, but even in the case of responding to the worst possible kinds of bad actors, like Kim Jong Un, for example, we don't see it as being in the nation's best interests (and against international law) to kill him. The possibilities of untended and terrible consequences are simply too great, including the likelihood, in the case of Iran, of bringing about greater sympathy and support for the Iranian government and for its policy of seeking revenge against the U.S. in whatever ways possible, thus making us all less safe. 

Imagine our response if a foreign attack by some super power would have made a martyr of Colin Powell while he/we were plotting an invasion of Iraq in 2003? Would that kind of preemptive strike have been in an attacking country's best interest or would it have galvanized American resolve to get ever more revenge by whatever means possible? Which in fact is what drove the US to attack on Afghanistan and Iraq, which even the president who initiated those attacks to later acknowledge them as a mistake, particularly the invasion of Iraq.

I know most of my readers will dismiss Jesus's and Paul's teaching against exacting revenge as applying only to our personal relationships and not being applicable to nation states. But even a legitimate national right to defend is not the same as an unlimited right to attack.

These same readers may also see any comparison between how a nation should act and how the Amish responded to the attack on their children at the Nickel Mines School as ridiculous. But is it?

What would have happened if after the 911 tragedy, when we experienced an outpouring of sympathy and support from virtually all nations everywhere around the world, including Muslim ones, we would have responded in a manner more like that of the Amish?

At the very least the U.S. could have called for a high level meeting at the UN to probe every possible means of ever having a tragedy like the 911 attacks to happen again anywhere in the world. 

But the Amish went much further, actually returning good for evil, raising money to help their attacker's family, attending his funeral service, and stating their unconditional forgiveness for his horrendous deed. This didn't take away from their sorrow or anguish, but it was their radical and Christ-like response to it.

(Parenthetically, I prefer to see forgiveness as being an appropriate response to either repentance or ignorance on the part of an offender. In other words, to forgive as God forgives, based on a change of heart and mind (repentance), or as Christ asked for God's forgiveness on the basis of "they know not what they do" (ignorance). In this case, the attacker was neither ignorant nor able to repent (as far as we know). But what the Amish offered was a supreme expression of unconditional agape love, even toward ones worst enemy.)

In the case of the Amish, it could be argued that their response--that of returning good for evil instead of exacting revenge--has actually made them safer rather than more vulnerable to attack. They have garnered the universal respect and support of people all over world in their witness against evil and for their faith in their Lord as the non-violent Prince of Peace.

But could that approach ever actually work as a national strategy?

We may never know, since it's hard to imagine any nation ever trying it. But we can say with near certainty that an "eye for an eye" approach (originally meant to limit rather than add to a cycle of vengeance) will never achieve lasting world peace, and only cause eventual blindness for all who engage in it.

Note: Years ago I read something on the theme above, someone raising the question of what might have happened if our nation had responded to 911 as the Amish did to the Nickel Mines tragedy, but I haven't been able to find the source. If anyone can find that, I would like to give appropriate credit. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

How Might Mennonites Have Inadvertently Contributed To Our Current Middle East Crisis?

Retirement mecca and home to 3-5000 Amish and Mennonites
Some years ago I raised the question of what might have happened if Mennonites in Florida would have simply stayed home on election day in November, 2000. Like most other Mennos, known to prefer presidential candidates they feel are less likely to support abortion, their votes alone were almost surely enough to decide the race.

The disputed margin in Florida, as you may remember, was just over 500, and resulted in a candidate being chosen who was instrumental in ordering the invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq following 911. By that very narrow margin, and in a case decided by the Supreme Court, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore and won the presidency.

Personally, I think George Bush was, and is, a decent and admirable person, and have no illusions about his opponent being the ideal candidate or as becoming the model president. But looking back, most of us, including George Bush himself, see the above invasions as having had serious unintended consequences, and as having directly contributed to the rise of ISIS and to the level of crisis we are currently experiencing in the Middle East.

You may of course dismiss all this as pure speculation on my part, and to even argue that had the presidential race been decided differently, the outcomes would likely have been the same, or even worse, both as to how the U.S. would have used its military power and how it would have addressed other important issues like climate change, for example.

Yet I find it an intriguing "what if" question, as I outline in my previous blog:

Meanwhile, what affect, if any, did the 2000 election have on abortion rates in this country? As you can see from the graph below, the rate of recorded, legal abortions, while still far too high, has thankfully shown a steady decline over the past decades, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

And for reasons that have little or nothing to do with who occupies the White House.

"I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people; for rulers and all others who are in authority, that we may live quiet and peaceful lives with all reverence toward God and with proper conduct."
I Timothy 2:1-2

Sunday, January 5, 2020

On The Twelfth Day Of Christmas--A Final Post of Christmas Past

This wonderful piece by St, John of the Cross is taken from “If You Want” in Daniel Ladinsky Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (New York: Penguin Group, 2002), 306-307.

If you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
and say,

“I need shelter for the night,
please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”

Then, under the roof of your soul
you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth
as she grasps your hand for help,
for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.

Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally,
through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help;
for each of us is
His beloved servant
never far.

If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing …
(first posted December 14, 2015)

Saturday, January 4, 2020

On The Eleventh Day Of Christmas--An Unforgettable Post Of Christmas Past

It could have happened much like that.
Adam Shank wrote and shared this when he was worship leader at Shalom Mennonite a couple of  years ago. Adam was born in Harrisonburg and he and his wife spent 3 years serving with Mennonite Central committee in Nicaragua. As Home-School Liaison at Smithland Elementary School, he has worked with many families from diverse backgrounds.

Christ was born today in Harrisonburg

His light can be seen shining from the 
mansions of Harmony Heights,
To the apartments on Norwood.

Jose and Maria were picking apples one county over,
But Maria was too pregnant for the trip home,
When harvest ended in October.

Now doubled up with Maria’s cousin Elizabeth,
She delivers unto us,
The world’s greatest gift.

A wail and a cry comes out of the dark
Of lot 103, 
Spotswood trailer park.

The cry is a herald, calling for unity,
And organically it happens,
As people bring gifts for the new family.

From Holly Court the Eritreans offer loads of injera bread
While the Iraqis bring pita
In case they prefer that instead.

Baklava from Kurdish neighbors on Mosby had everyone gawkin’
Which paired perfectly with the cafecito
Brought by SalvadoreƱos living on Hawkins.

Mennonites from Park View plugged in their crock pots
And with the little coordination
Kept Mexican sopa de res piping hot.

Then there was the group of African Americans living over by Simms,
Who lifted up their glad voices 
And sang gospels and spiritual hymns.

The Puerto Ricans from Harris Gardens not to be outdone,
Brought heaps of arroz con gandules,
Enough for everyone.

Chinese, Russian, Somali, people from the Valley,
The crowd grew so large,
We couldn’t keep our tally.

As the gifts were given the good news we began to tell
Of the Savior born to La Maria
Living behind the Taco Bell.

With God dwelling among us we all began to see
That light of Christ, that image of God
In every person, in our own humanity.

In that moment you could feel change was just around the bend,
For this new babe would truly help us 
Make America Great Again.