Category Archives: Consensus


Like most people I am glad the latest election cycle is over. I live in Colorado; we happen to be a swing state. From what I can tell, the primary benefit of this honor is to be inundated with political ads. I mean one right after the other. First candidate A says you shouldn’t vote for candidate B, followed by an ad from candidate B saying you shouldn’t vote for candidate A  Every ad had the same basic message – the other person was always evil, wrong, or sinful.

Truth be told, these political candidates were simply reflecting an emerging way of being together as humans. It goes something like this, “you either agree with me or you are wrong.” And the political world isn’t unique in holding this perspective. People of faith tend to only connect, gather, and worship with others who affirm their particular assumptions and prejudices. This way of living, thinking, and being is dangerous, corrosive, and boring. We need to find new ways to be together. Does it really make us better people if we focus our interactions on those with whom we agree?

It is our differences that make us unique. It is imperative that we find the courage to embrace and even accept those whose world view is unusual. Leaning to celebrate how we are different will make us better people, Christians, and politicians.

I do not know how to fix or change the political world. But I do have hope for the church. Can you imagine attending a church where political, social, and theological differences are embraced? Where a person’s stand on any of the “controversial” issues isn’t a litmus test, but rather a reason to have a voice?

Faith and risk taking are ideas that go hand-in-hand. When people of faith only gather with others who look, believe, and think the same, the gathering becomes something less than church. When Christians divide from each other over theological or social differences it becomes less Christian. As people of faith we are called to become highly comfortable with being highly uncomfortable. This is what it means to be salt and light!


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Looking for Grace

Later this week Mountain States Mennonite Conference, the conference I am part of, will be hosting its annual assembly. This year’s assembly will be closely watched by Mennonites from across the USA and around the world. Depending on who you ask we are either prophetically leading the church to a new reality or we have come as close as a conference can get to committing the ultimate sin. In February 2014 we licensed an openly gay pastor. In the Mennonite world licensing is the first step on the path to ordination.

This decision has pushed our conference to the very center of the Mennonite world. Whether you are a Mennonite of not, the discussion itself is familiar.

On the conservative side it goes something like this:

“Scripture is clear on this subject.”

“God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

“Marriage is between a man and a woman”

And on the more liberal side we hear:

“Scripture is clear on this subject.” (I know, both sides claim this one.)

“God created us with particular orientations and desires; let’s celebrate and support these differences.”

“Love is the only biblical orientation.”

So there is a sense in which everyone is claiming to have the moral high ground. Like everyone else I have a bias in this discussion. That is not what I want to talk about.

Is there a way for everyone to back off a bit? I was part of one discussion where someone was so worked up that they began to tap me on the chest with their fingers. Quite frankly once we achieve that level of anger, it is safe to say that the conversation is no longer about the Christian faith.

I have heard people say that more often than not conversations about orientation and Christian faith quickly descend into irrationality. An irrational conversation is frustrating for everyone.

One possible solution to this dilemma is to choose grace over the need to be right. Back when I was in college the popular book Evidence Demands a Verdict was making the rounds. The idea behind this book was to prove to everyone who didn’t hold a certain set of convictions and beliefs about the bible that they were wrong. It took years for me to learn that arguing people to my convictions and beliefs rarely works.

What I have discovered in the last 20 years is that choosing grace is a much better approach. One, it leaves space for me to be wrong and two, it allows the other to be wrong! When we choose grace then it becomes possible to live and worship with those who are different.

There are many people predicting that the Mennonite Church USA is going to split over the sexual orientation controversy. I hope our leaders and the rest of us find the courage to be graceful with each other. It will not always be comfortable or easy, but it might be the most Christian decision we can make.

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Decision making in groups can be pretty stressful, especially if you are the leader.   How do you get everybody to decide on a direction?  Then how do you comfort and encourage those who do not agree?  I realize that 51% rules in politics, but I would hardly call 51% a mandate. 

For the rest of us, especially those of us in church leadership, 51% also tell us that 49% of the people are unhappy.  Asking 49% of the people to just “suck it up and get on with life” is not very pastoral and does not lead to unity.

My goal in every decision making process is to arrive at Acts 15:28, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”

In my experience getting to a place of unity is not accomplished through majority rule decision making.  Unity becomes possible when all voices can be heard and everyone is empowered to stop the process and ask questions.  I will be the first to admit that this is not efficient and making a decision will require compromise from everyone.

In the last couple of months I have seen this process create unity in unexpected places.  Last November I was part of a team that gathered urban leaders from across the country for a consultation in Kansas City.  The leaders at this meeting represented all the political, theological and ethnic diversity that makes up the church.  Just deciding where to eat was going to be difficult.   Our team’s goal was to leave the meeting with a document that everyone could sign.

Last week I was part of a team interviewing candidates for a DOOR City Director.  After completing the interviews, we took a quick vote to see where people were at.  I was hoping that everyone was on the same page and the decision of who to hire would be quick and easy.  This was not the case.  The board was evenly divided.  This meant I could cast the deciding vote and the losers would just have to “suck it up.”  In a rare moment of clarity I did not choose this option.  Instead we moved into a consensus process, allowing everyone to express their opinions and ask questions.   This was not an easy process.

In both cases we were ultimately able to enjoy an Acts 15:28 moment.  There is a signed document and a new city director.  This did not happen because everyone got their way (consensus requires compromise), but because we created a space where everyone had an equal voice.  In doing this we arrived at a place where everyone could be comfortable with what was written and decided.

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