by Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation (Reprinted with permission from The Mennonite) This past week I got the chance to accompany Steve Kriss, Franconia Mennonite Conference executive minister, and Jeff Wright, Franconia Conference Leadership minister, on a trip to San Francisco to visit San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church (SFCMC). This is a Cantonese-speaking congregation … Continue reading Encouragement in the Bay→
In a recent book, Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman noted that the peace rhetoric of the Mennonite church has shifted focus away from nonresistance and toward justice. This significant change in language suggests that urban, suburban, and rural congregations are undergoing an attitude adjustment toward the neighborhood. Unlike nonresistance, the work of justice is naturally outward-oriented, concerned with the common good and the overall health of the local community.
While theologian Stanley Hauerwas warns the church to avoid all government involvement, his mentor John Howard Yoder* did not share his reservation. In For the Nations, Yoder encourages the church to be a witness to our government by advocating the gospel to our country’s leaders. He is quick to warn against what he calls the “Constantinian Temptation,” though, and suggests advocates speak from the outside rather than from the center. Martin Shupack, director of advocacy at Church World Service (Washington, D.C.), has built a career doing just this.
Philadelphia Praise Center is located in the heart of South Philadelphia, a neighborhood that captures all four corners of the world into a 20 block radius. If you know anything about South Philly, it’s that it’s constantly prone to social change. For over a century, the community has been heavily influenced by the Italian culture but recently it has become a cultural hub for the Hispanic and Asian communities. Like the 20th century immigrants who came before them, this new generational wave of immigrants have experienced what it’s like to face the specific challenges that culture and language bring to one’s life. That is why there are people like Maria C. M. Byler.
I’m currently an intern at Just Neighbors, an organization based in Northern Virginia that provides legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees. We have an extraordinary team of lawyers who are devoted to helping a marginalized subset of the American population that often finds itself voiceless when dealing with our country’s legal system. We have had clients from 116 different countries, and demand for our services is so high that we frequently have to turn away individuals simply because we do not have enough staff to take every case comes looking for help.
Compassion rarely surfaces as a topic voiced in the same breath with justice. Justice, after all, is commonly acquainted with the tenets of fairness, that is, what is deserved according to a set of commonly held laws and beliefs. Displaying a form of affectionate compassion, it would seem in most cases, would fly in the face of the outcomes of fairness. Think about helping people that you know, by all accounts, shouldn’t deserve help–isn’t this a breach in the case of enacting justice?
Drew Hart’s journey has pulled him into uncharted territory. His theological work is an encounter at the borderlines between black liberation theology and Anabaptism.
Rarely linked in academic circles, Hart argues that the shared pursuit of justice equips these two traditions to be complimentary conversation partners. Although, Hart emphatically adds, “Anabaptism needs black theology more than black theology needs Anabaptism.”
In a famous essay, Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas considers the possibility that pursuing justice is a bad idea for Christians. Hauerwas is not against justice per se, but against theories of justice born in traditions outside of the church, and thus susceptible to social strategies that might contradict the Christian confession that Jesus is Lord. Hauerwas instead encourages Christians to turn to practices of justice inspired by their own scripture and tradition.
What is Church? This summer, as a ministry inquiry intern with Franconia Conference, I have seen Church live in so many ways. I’ve interacted and reacted to people, thoughts, and spiritual movements around me. I’ve asked questions. I have seen the incredible similarities and vast differences between what people call ‘Church.’
Can a conference be Church? What about a denomination? Can one person start Church? Can Church be one person? What is Church anyway? Am I a part of Church? How do I even start to define it?