At the heart of our struggle as Americans and Mennonites is that we think we're better than others. We have no need for that. And I do it all the time. Snobbery is toxic. When an opponent becomes snobbish, it's almost impossible to avoid imitating it. We become rivals, trying to win points and gaining ground over the other.
Last summer at Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference sessions, I was often asked why my church was leaving the conference. My best answer was an analogy. Suppose I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous group and I was experiencing recovery through the support of the group and God's grace in my life. After some time, someone joined and began to use the sessions to extol the virtues of Amway. Week after week we would gather, and we would hear about how it could change our lives, how to find economic freedom, etc. Finally, I asked the leaders of the group, "When will you do something about the Amway guy? When can we go back to being an AA group?" The leaders responded, "Well, we believe diversity is important. You need to stop being so judgmental." The Amway leader started advertising the group as an Amway group. I asked the leaders, "Can you make a public statement to let people know what kind of group we actually are? That's not the purpose for which we were formed, it's not what we agreed upon." So the leaders asked everyone to stop making public statements. And they told me I was too prescriptive about what we believed instead of seeing it as descriptive. After awhile, I decided to go look for another AA group. No matter what you think about AA or Amway or denominations, our visions and purposes for gathering can become so opposed to each other, our gatherings become destructive, and we need to stop gathering.
I think remaining together as a denomination is a bad idea because of our fallenness. In our current environment, I have to fight daily to see the imprint of God in each person, to not think ill of those who disagree, to discern without being judgmental. And I've received this ill-will from others who disagree with me as I made my voice more public. It doesn't matter any more who started it, we both do it. We compete on who is the most Jesus-y, who likes the Bible better, and who most faithfully carries the mantle of Mennonite or Anabaptist. And I have to fight daily to have the compassion of Christ restored within me.
When friends become rivals, it may be time to make new friends. Not to make the old friends enemies. Not leave, burn the bridge and never return. Not determine and name your perspective on the eternal destinies of those you leave behind. Just leave. Find new friends. Occasionally hang out and swap stories with the old friends. But get some space and leave the toxic environment behind. Because the problem I have is that who I become in the middle of the toxicity is not who I want to be. I need to walk away because I am too broken, not because I am better. And I desperately need a place, any place, where God's healing grace is evident and received.
So does anybody want to be part of something new, where we are confessing our sins of snobbery? Where we are not better than what we leave, but more in need of grace and redemption? Where truth and compassion joins hands first in the brokenness of our own hearts? Where we do not celebrate who we are, but who God is? I am a Snob, I was born that way. But it is not who I am called to be. I continue in my repentance.
-John M Troyer