I just read the news that MCUSA (the denomination of which I am a part) has decided to go ahead with plans to hold it’s biennial convention in Phoenix Arizona in the year 2013. This has been a difficult decision for the denomination to make because of the immigration bill that AZ passed this year.
Much of the controversy around the decision has to do with whether or not the convention will be a hospitable, welcoming place for all people or if some will stay away due to fears around the immigration question and the hospitality of the state of Arizona to people who are here “illegally”.
It’s a timely question, given a growing segment of our church body who have darker skin and might speak with accents. We claim that our church is a safe haven for all people and we’ve adopted at least one resolution to actively work at being anti-racist in our practice of the faith.
So the conversation about whether or not to boycott Phoenix is complex to say the least.
After all, there’s no guarantee that an alternate site wouldn’t pass similar legislation by 2013 and we’d be back in the same boat. At the same time, how do we hear and respond to minority voices in our midst?
What concerns me about the decision isn’t the decision; I trust our leaders and I’m willing to make the best of an imperfect situation regardless of the circumstance.
What concerns me is the rhetoric I’ve seen in response to the decision.
I’m pretty sure that every comment I’ve seen so far in response to the decision to go to Phoenix has been negative. People are disappointed. They’re angry. They’re sad.
This seems to be just one more item on quite the long laundry-list of grievances they have against the Mennonite Church.
And I have no doubts that had the executive board made the decision to pull out of Phoenix and look for another city, we’d only be hearing negative comments from the other side.
People would be disappointed, angry, and sad…only for different reasons. I can almost hear them now, criticizing the board for not showing any staying power, or missing out on the opportunity to prophetically witness to the people of Arizona.
Instead of criticizing our leadership for saving money, people would be criticizing them for losing the money they would have lost.
It does seem like the voices of our hispanic brothers and sisters have not been heard and that concerns me; but I also know from limited experience in leading a group of people that a lot more goes into any decision than we give our leaders credit for.
My point is that we live in a fallen, polarized world that seeks to divide and conquer.
And frankly I’m sick of the demonization and polarization that marks our time on this planet.
I’m part of the church I love; the church that has chosen to go to Phoenix.
So instead of complaining about how I think the decision should have been made, I’ll go to Phoenix (at least if I still have a job by then and they let me!).
Hopefully I’ll take my creativity with me.
Maybe I’ll pick up an illegal hitchhiker or leave my ID at home and try to get a free ride back to Germany since I won’t have my papers.
Maybe I’ll try to meet with some locals who are affected by this legislation and hear their stories.
Maybe I’ll seize the chance to educate myself on the ground; just like I would have taken the chance to speak out by boycotting if that’s what would have been decided.
The truth is, I probably won’t do any of those things because I’m kind of a pansy. I talk a good game but I need to be forced out of my comfort zone if that’s what needs to happen. So that’s how I’ll start to think about Phoenix; as a lesson waiting to happen at the hands of a church I love and trust.
I don’t know exactly what that lesson will entail; but I’m not going to waste my time demonizing the executive board or contributing to the divisive, polarizing climate I’ve grown sick of.
The truth of the matter is our world is fallen and there are no ideal situations anymore.
Crap Happens that we have no control over. We can deal with the new (albeit imperfect) reality and work for the redemption of our times, or we can reject all people and institutions that make imperfect decisions and sequester ourselves in a perfect city on a perfect hill, safe and secure from everyone we disagree with.
I am neither in favor of nor opposed to the Executive Board’s decision to go to Phoenix.
Instead, I accept it while respecting them as people and loving the church I’m in.
The question is, can my voice be heard?