Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, gave a TED talk in which she "tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice -- and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding." This single story idea, is powerful because it misses no one. It is the very beginning of the scapegoating process, a process that flattens and loses the nuances of those who disagree with us. This metaphor is an excellent example of what I saw in my growing up years. I learned a particular view, not because it was in some curriculum, but because all the stories together shaped a perspective.
Activists, both within and outside the church, use this method. We wait for one person to push out ahead and name a direction we don't like, then like the game of Whack-a-Mole, we use the story hammer to polarize, freeze and isolate that person. We cast aspersions, cluck or tongues, and fully engage in the slanderous act of misrepresenting their perspective and kindness. Ron Sider recently wrote a blog post for Mennonite World Review in which he stakes out a perspective that will "uphold biblical teaching about homosexuality — and be places to love and listen rather than shame or exclude." Almost immediately, the responses came in which activists conveyed their disbelief that their single story about a conservative perspective on marriage might be untrue. As a result, a man who has devoted his life to justice and peace with advocacy for the poor and marginalized has these young activists immediately suspicious of his motives and the reality of his love. They cling tightly to their single story.
When a couple is going through marital difficulty, many times they feel the marriage has ended long before anyone either party takes any formal steps to say it is over. What I have already seen is that this can turn into a waiting game, waiting for the other person to make a public misstep so they can rally the opinion of their family and friends onto their side. It is the fight to come out of the divorce with a single story and to end up with the most assets and receive child custody. It is about blame and retribution.
In Mennonite Church USA, we are experiencing the same thing. We are not one church, and we weren't even when two denominations merged together fifteen years ago. What we are seeing now is an attempt to shape a single story, that staying one denomination is the one most holy good that we can agree must be pursued, and that leaving this denomination (or being divisive or causing a split) is the one unpardonable sin that must be condemned. All this is given in the name of diversity. (The irony in taking this position is quite palpable.) I have even had people name our institutional connection as a denomination as a commitment that is on par with a couples commitment to stay together until death would part them from each other. Frankly, that is not what an institutional commitment means, and it's disingenuous to try to make it that. There is no shame in choosing to separate as a denomination, and our testimony is helped when we help each other do that well rather than pretending we need to continue clinging to each other to the bitter end. Our merger has resulted in a fifteen year War of the Roses and a truce should be declared in that war. It's time to let it end.
As a result, leaders are paralyzed in taking action that really is for the good of the whole. The whole denomination needs leaders who are willing to come together (maybe that will help mitigate the effects of whack-a-mole) and say that we are two bodies and we need to do our best to help each body move forward in as healthy a way as possible. Let's make our testimony about ending well, not about making an idolatrous creed around institutional unity at all costs.
-John M Troyer
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