How now do we speak?

JasonBooneJason Boone is the coordinating minister of the Peace and Justice Support Network, a joint project of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Mission Network.

A friend of mine asked me recently,

“What are you Mennonites saying about school shootings?”

I had a lengthy response. I named individuals and congregations who’ve done extensive work addressing gun violence, from interpersonal to policy levels. I talked about MCC’s work. I mentioned that the Peace and Justice Support Network had given a grant to RAWtools, an organization that does great work in the area of gun violence. I also pointed to a long history of living out our convictions as pacifists as a way of addressing all violence.

But my friend wanted something more, something specific. He wanted to know what our collective proposal was to prevent school shootings like we have tragically seen so often recently.

I couldn’t give him what I think he was looking for — an official statement from Mennonite Church USA addressing the most recent tragedy or a petition we had signed. I think I disappointed him.

It’s interesting to consider what constitutes saying something about contemporary issues.

If actions do speak louder than words, Mennonites say as much about peace as anyone.

But if we decide that public statements carry more weight than actions, we aren’t always as productive.

Mennonite Church USA gets many requests to sign on to various statements and campaigns. Often these requests go to Ervin Stutzman, who consults with the Executive Board and staff in making decisions about whether to participate.

Other times we are urged to say something in response to a headline or significant news story — to issue a statement of some kind.

It’s a tall order: to thoughtfully consider the requests or create our own. Most of these issue that are worth saying something about are complex social or geo-political issues. These are issues that experts study but still disagree on. They are issues that a change so quickly, a statement issued today becomes irrelevant tomorrow.

The situation in Syria is another issue that is rightly receiving much attention in the news. Have you tried to keep track of that? Who are the players? What are the allegiances? What are the goals of the factions? It’s complex, to say the least. What kind of coherent statement can the church make, outside of declaring our own allegiance to Jesus, regarding that situation?

In peacemaking, there is room for doing and saying.

They don’t have to be at odds. It’s wonderful when they intersect and complement each other. But it’s not necessary they always be co-joined. Sometimes we don’t have the right words, but we take the right actions. Sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to act, so we must speak. There’s no formula.

We hew to the path of Jesus the best we can and trust the Scripture that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

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2 thoughts on “How now do we speak?

  1. You are right,, Jason, in saying that “actions” and “statements” do not “have to be at odds.”

    You also are right that “sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to act, so we must speak.” The point is that we have been called to be witnesses and so we are constantly alert to how we might do that.

    Our church’s public statements are a form of witness to our faith in the way of Jesus. This should always be our starting point.

    Thus, MCUSA statements occasionally may speak to government, but much more often they will speak to us in the church and to our friends and neighbors. There are many across the U.S. who appreciate the Anabaptist perspective and keep an eye on what our leaders are saying.

    What’s more, this looking to MCUSA for a word of witness reflects a growing sense in our society at large that we cannot look to the media or to elected leaders to give us an honest account of what’s going on or positive alternatives to the status quo. Chris Hedges spoke recently in my community; he said that all of the institutions we once looked to for humane alternatives (he mentioned the media, academia, labor, mainline churches, the political left, the peace movement) have been acquired by the corporate/imperialist elite or have been eviscerated.

    I’m glad you brought up Syria, Jason. The events there over the past five weeks are shocking. Russia has decided to made a stand in Syria; it is convinced that its survival as an independent society hangs in the balance. The US has revealed its alignment with al-Qaeda and highly ambivalent attitude toward ISIS and determination to see Russia fail.

    This risk in this moment is not unlike the risk during the Cuban missile crisis of the early ’60s. How do followers of Jesus live during such a moment? Do we have anything to offer? Yes, we do.

  2. I am so glad you raised a question about what our denomination should be saying about this or that, and question signing on to various campaigns. I have become so disenchanted with the political activities of (many of) our denominational leaders that I would call for a full halt until we come to some agreement on fundamental issues of mission and integrity. The church should lead the way in identifying and responding to community needs. The church should NOT be controlled by the latest media frenzy.
    One only needs to look through the past several months’ postings on this blog to find numerous examples of our leadership bending the truth in order to join the crowd on the latest and hottest political bandwagon.
    There are many fallacies with putting our faith in the political system. I’d do an entire article on that if I had the skills.
    For now, we need to stop making ‘denominational statements’ on this or that, and get back to the great commission.

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