A fitful night

Larry Hauder has served on the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board since 2011. He was a former pastor and conference minister for the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference. Currently semi-retired, Larry serves as a part-time consultant with Common Ground Conciliation Services, Inc. and manages several rental properties. Larry and his wife Rebecca live in Boise, Idaho and enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren. He is the author of Called to be a Pastor; Why it Matters to Both Congregations and Clergy.

I was scheduled to travel to a Mennonite Church USA Executive Board meeting the day after the recent presidential election — but five hours prior to departure I cancelled the trip. Here’s what happened:

Upon learning that Donald Trump had won enough electoral votes to become the next president of the United States, I headed to bed shaken, but hoping for rest prior to travel the next day. Instead, I tossed and turned. At one point in my longest night ever, I threw the covers back and jumped out of bed, imagining a window peeper resembling the president-elect. As the nighttime hours ticked away, I pondered the upcoming board meeting where we’d be wrestling with agenda items related to a divided and smaller denomination with dwindling resources.

Our country had just elected a president who made racial divisiveness, suspicion, fear, bullying, sexism and violent language a cornerstone of his political message and election tactics.

In my post-election shock, I could not imagine adding value to board conversations related to racism, or polity discussions about pastors and same sex unions. Likewise, in this late night thought process, my upcoming board participation somehow implicated me with the president-elect. How, I’m not quite sure.

As the restless night wore on, I had other recurring thoughts: “Who are my people?” After all, political pundits were reporting that a majority of Evangelical Christians, most likely many Mennonites, voted for Donald Trump. I felt alone and sad. How could so many of my tribe understand politics so differently from me? I understand Christians having strong opinions about The Affordable Care Act, future Supreme Court appointees, tax reform and loss of jobs. However, I could not imagine that night — and still can’t fathom today — voting for issues over character. Christian values of compassion for all people, generosity of spirit, honesty in language, fair business practices, and respect for creation, to list only a few, seem grossly lacking in the president-elect.

Finally, it became crystal clear, I could not take part in the upcoming board meeting. The internal dissidence I was feeling was too extreme. Any hope I possessed for building bridges between the divisions in our denomination, which so closely mirror our country’s divide, was at low tide. At 4 a.m. I crawled out of bed once again and called United Airlines to cancel the flight. Next, I wrote to Patricia Shelly, board chair, and said I would not be attending the meeting because of a “fitful night.” Patty was gracious and asked no more questions, for which I was grateful, as my feelings were raw.

It’s been three months since the election, and I’ve tried to better understand the abrupt decision to abort the Executive Board meeting — a response highly out of character for me. Trying to center myself, I began reading through the Bible, a discipline I’ve practiced many times. I’m also re-reading favorite authors. I’ve reignited my involvement in local peacemaking efforts. I’m mostly fasting from TV political news, and being selective about what I read on social media. I am practicing what Apostle Paul exhorts his readers: “guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Meanwhile, my role as an Executive Board member goes on for another two years.

At the same time, the presidential election has driven home the reality that Mennonite Church USA is more divided than I imagined, and that fear-driven racism and sexism are as embedded in our denomination as in the nation. Maybe my shock with the results of this election points out my personal denial of this reality.

Given the strength of my feelings about the election, and the chasm in our church, I ponder how I can best assist the Mennonite Church USA. Is there yet hope for living together into our vision — to grow communities of grace joy and peace?

I don’t have the answers, but my confidence, post-election, is slowly taking root once again. I have confidence in prayer and have committed myself to pray more intensely for Mennonite Church USA, global politics and those on the front line of social justice activism. I have confidence that congregations will follow God’s call in extending grace and hospitality to all in their influence. I have confidence in my fellow Executive Board members to lead with integrity. We don’t all agree, but we do care deeply about the church. I have confidence in our Executive Board staff, working tirelessly with fewer resources and with an otherworldly optimism. Most importantly, I have confidence that Christ will build a Kingdom in His likeness, whether or not it is with the church as I know it today.

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19 thoughts on “A fitful night

  1. Larry, I share your dismay with the election outcome and am still trying to understand how one or two issues can override the glaring character deficits that our now president displayed time and again during the primaries and presidential campaign.

  2. Janeen, I appreciate the reflection title A fitful night by our brother Larry. I do not know him but we connect in our faith journey with Kingdom issues.
    I am not a Mennonite but have embraced a lot of Mennonite Theology. AMBS taught me so much grace without taking away my basic belief about certain issues. I remain Obed in Community. Brother Larry share the feelings of many that night. It would interest you to know that many Nigerians did not sleep that night. I kept wondering why many do not worry about our (Nigerian) elections as we did that of your Country. I realize we are not always issues minded as personality and regional politics. In this matter, Christians must pray and trust that the Lord who knows the heart of a king can do what we can not imagine for the good and glory of his name.

    1. Obed, thank you so much for your comments and sharing the common link to AMBS. AMBS was formative for me as well.
      God bless.

  3. Thank you Larry and thank you for being willing to act upon your inner light. I must confess that too often I do not live out the praxis of my convictions and as a result they blend into the acceptable norm. The Chicago theologian called this, “Being grasped by the ultimate”. The reality of today’s political world has its continued sleepless nights. And our “Beloved community” acts only after the critical mass has spoken. Thank you, Larry for seizing the day! “Carpe Diem”

  4. Thank you for expressing what we also feel. As Dorothy says, “That makes me feel so not alone.” This is an unbelievable time and also one in which we can grow. Taking our heads out of the sand will be a good start.

  5. If the Church was fulfilling people’s spiritual needs we would be building churches not closing them down. I don’t know where we have missed the mark but I believe that we need to study the scripture and pray until we find the answer. Trump is a symptom of the disease that is infecting society and the scriptures hold within them the cure.

  6. Larry, you’re a good man. I still appreciate the help you gave the leadership at our congregation when we were in the middle of the muddle. Thanks for speaking your piece.
    My piece is that I don’t think we see the whole picture yet. People with lousy morals do get chosen sometimes but they still have to live life and answer to the Creator as they are doing it. Let’s do what He wants us to do. I strongly sense neither our voting system nor the politicians, no matter which side of the tally they came out on have seen the last word on this little segment of our world history.
    By they way, my wife and I have been visiting family and friends in Malaysia and Indonesia since the day after inauguration. People are expressing a deep sense that something has gone wrong. Well it probably has but I’m thinking it is deeper than this moment, this election.
    It’s not over yet.

    1. Hi Ken. I’ve been following your trip to Malaysia. I can surely see why Malaysians, Mexicans, Syrians, and other nationalities and religious groups would be wondering what is happening in America.
      I agree, we don’t see the whole spiritual or political picture yet. And yes, God does work with the political realities we provide.

  7. Thank you, Larry. I had very different experience upon hearing the election results the following morning: “Now the church can be church :)” arose within me — unbidden, and with a hopeful light. I was surprised, but also thankful.
    Like you, I choose not to watch big swatches of political news on TV. And I am grateful for the many thousands of persons who are literally standing up and finding their voice at such a time as this — with kindness and clarity. There are also those who are angry and act that anger out — I trust that as Mennonites we can be persons of peace, and persons who listen well to what others have to say who did vote for now President Trump.
    Today, another light turned on. I listened to the video message spoken by a young man of oriental origin, as to why he voted for Trump, and other young adults like him: it’s all about jobs, being forgotten and overlooked — when they don’t have work, don’t have the assurance that there is enough money to buy groceries, or go to the doctor and get medicine for a sick child. And what they are hearing is that the Democratic party folks were concentrating on identity (racial, gender, etc) rather than on the struggle to survive. He saw us
    as liberal persons who are out of touch with those who are in need of jobs, an income, enough.
    Quite suddenly I realized that as a democrat I am for the working person, really. But then I realized that the overall message of the campaign was about identity — and not about what the working person faces week after week.
    As a child growing up, my Mom worked full time to raise and support 4 children — there were many “No, we can’t afford that” over those years. We lived from week to week.
    So, as Mennonites, we can shine, can truly be church.
    As we get to know our neighbors, really know our neighbors — and take sacks of food to those who don’t have much. Take part generously in food banks. Help create jobs and safe spaces in otherwise run-down areas of our towns and cities.
    This is the way of Jesus — good new for the poor.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to post your comments Wendy. What I hear you saying is that the election is an opportune time to learn. We can learn about the deep divides in this country and we can learn to listen, truly listen to those of a different opinion.
      I hear you also saying the local church can learn from this historic moment. Mennonites can learn to be neighbors to the “least of these,” and to those who hold a different political opinion. I appreciate you positive attitude, and to look for opportunities to be Christ’s people.

  8. “the presidential election has driven home the reality that Mennonite Church USA is more divided than I imagined, and that fear-driven racism and sexism are as embedded in our denomination as in the nation.”
    Lar, I’m trying to understand what we’re really saying here. Any Mennonite who Trumpeted is categorized as a fear-driven racist and sexist? I wonder if there is more to be learned from the exit polls – knowledge that can be used to build bridges rather than foster divisiveness and judgmental attitudes. (Remember too that exit polls only provide information about those who voted – less than 60% of those eligible according to one calculation.)
    While I admire your honesty in sharing about the irrational fears the election results caused in your psyche, even to the extent of being unable to go to work, I would submit this is evidence of deeper political ills dogging our denomination. “some trust in chariots…”
    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a Trumpeter. But I work with scores of people who are, and I hope they never find out that top level Mennonite leadership is labeling them as sexists and fear-driven racists in a blanket indictment solely because of how they voted.

    1. PS I have to confess that I also did not go to work the day after the election. For the past 15 years, I have taken off the first week of November to participate in a season of wilderness honoring ancient Indian (Native American, Indigenous Peoples, sorry if I’m behind on the pc) customs. It is a glorious time without media or cellphone access. I can’t get the election results unless I seek out a store or cellphone tower. I sleep well and return refreshed! “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

    2. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my “fitful night” drama, James. I did not categorize all those who voted for the president as racist and sexist. Rather, I pointed out that racism and sexism exist in the MC USA. I don’t need an exit poll to make that determination. I simply read letters to the editor of MWR and TM.
      James, I too have plenty of president supporters in my circle of acquaintance, including family. My new goal is to more intentionally engage those viewing the Gospel and the world differently than me in conversation.
      Blessings as you find your way in a very confusing time.

  9. I have a question Larry, and I would like to ask you not to dismiss me because I have chosen to phrase it in a straight forward manner – rather than spinning it into fake positive light.

    Will someone from the MCUSA, please explain to me specifically what it is that you wanted more of, had the election turned out in your favor?

    More abortion, more gender confusion, more globalism, even higher ‘affordable’ (wink, wink) health care costs, more racial animosity, more terrorism, more national debt, more feminism, fewer jobs in the coal industry, car industry and other manufacturing, more illegal immigrants, higher unemployment, more greedy self serving politicians, more jobs leaving the US, more Muslims in government, more gay rights – what exactly was so wonderful about the Obama administration that election night became fitful and unbearable? I truly want to know. I’m not speaking of general unfounded fears promoted by the liberal propaganda machine. I see the MCUSA so closely aligned with the political liberal ideology – that I have become suspicious as to what could be causing this.

    Clearly many members of the MCUSA voted for a woman who calls murdering babies – women’s health care. She reversed her opinion that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman to promoting same sex marriage. The list is long regarding her character and bad choices during her life-long career as a politician, but these two points alone should have been enough to cause one to be unable to vote for her based on scripture.

    For all the academic thoughts I’ve read recently by members of the MCUSA, I am not seeing independent thinking. There is a passive aggressive implication that those who voted for President Trump are every kind of ugly name and full of hate. Where is the love and compassion for our brothers and sisters in Christ?

    How can the ideology of a church be almost identical to a worldly political ideology unless scripture is ignored?

    I hope you will answer me. I doubt I am alone in wondering what is causing this mindset. To those of us on the ‘outside’, it is quite unnerving. If Mennonites have gotten so off track, who will stand for God’s Word?

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