Ok, ok, these are radically different, but…

First things first, click on the following link here to see one of Peyton Manning’s skits from hosting SNL: hilarious at times, over the line others, but all in all it’ll get a chuckle out of you. Here’s the link.

Second, I’m going to post a great article in two parts (with the first part here) written by the President of Eastern Mennonite University where I’m going to seminary. It’s a tremendous article, perceptive as well as in-your-face. Among other things, a college president having the brass ones to say that he doesn’t care if the institution of EMU exists 20 years from now should grab a little of your attention (maybe the industry of cancer research that often seeks to treat symptoms rather than angle in on the cure for the sake of the perpetuation of the industry could take a lesson here).

President Loren Swartzendruber asks: “Liberal or Conservative?”

“‘Are you a conservative or a liberal?’ This appears to be a simple, straightforward question, yet my answer is never simple. It is: ‘I don’t know. I am both, and I am neither. It depends on the issue. It depends on the person or group to which I’m being compared.

I’m a pacifist because that’s how I understand the meaning of following Jesus, but that is a very liberal position to some of my friends. I support certain lifestyles and am disheartened by other lifestyles- ones which I believe EMU should actively discourage- so some call me and EMU conservative. If you really want to know what I believe, you’d be safe to read the “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” (link here). Not that I agree with every last detail, but I do trust the discernment process of my church body. When I was baptized I committed myself to this: to follow Jesus and to ‘give and receive counsel.’

I was surprised when EMU was lauded in a 2006 college guide book, All-American Colleges: Top Schools for Conservatives, Old-Fashioned Liberals, and People of Faith. Many, though not all, of the other 49 colleges in the guide book are ‘conservative’ in that they have a direct connection to orthodox conservative causes, such as educating and preparing students to serve in the U.S. military. Yet the profile on EMU is largely accurate.

The title of the guide underscores the dilemma that an institution like EMU faces in explaining itself to prospective student, donors, church people, and community members. How do we define ourselves within a cultural context that wants to reduce complex realities to simplistic cliches? Sometimes I receive calls from community folks who seem to know exactly how a Mennonite institution should conduct itself. These calls bemuse me since those of us committed to this expression of the church rarely possess such certainty, despite our heartfelt prayers for guidance.

Since my ordination in 1975, I have preached in more than 230 congregations, most Mennonite, but some other traditions. Frequently I have engaged folks in Christian education conversations and interacted with members and leaders over a meal. Though I am optimistic by nature, I have detected a trend that concerns me: I am troubled by the loss of identity among many who call themselves Anabaptist.

I am not referring to such simplistic identity labels as conservative and liberal. Do these really matter? I meet church members who eagerly embrace one in opposition to the other, as though it is really possible to be consistent across the spectrum, whether theologically or politically. As one of my Anabaptist mentors used to say rather frequently, ‘On some issues I am rather liberal…because I take the Bible very seriously. Which is a conservative position.’

I have a deep concern that Anabaptist Mennonites have been derailed theologically by the influence of so-called Christian radio and TV. I grieve that we are increasingly unable to stand up for the Jesus of the New Testament who called us to another way. We are also subject to liberal theology that downplays the significance of Jesus’ invitation to salvation.

The problem with drinking from other theological wells is that we are subtly lulled into thinking that all Christians share similar perspectives. Yet all do not read the Bible the same way. Many believers have a ‘flat book’ view of the Scriptures. The logical result is that Old Testament perspectives are put on the same level as the New Testament. Jesus himself demonstrated a different approach: ‘You have heard it has been said…but I say…’

My Anabaptist theological ancestors interpreted the Old Testament through the eyes of Jesus and through the lens of unfolding revelation in the New Testament. Unfortunately, that’s a perspective not heard from most speakers in the popular Christian media. Either my Anabaptist forebears were deluded, or they were right. I’m throwing my lot with them. They believed the example and words of Jesus must be our guide, and so do I.

What practical differences does this make? Some years ago I was guest preacher for several days just prior to a U.S. presidential election. One individual told me, in all seriousness, that she would not vote for a particular candidate because he ‘ would take away all our Bibles.’ The same person appeared surprised when I responded that Jimmy Carter may well have been the most ‘Christian’ president of my lifetime. At least he attended church regularly, openly confessed his faith, and has been a life-long Sunday school teacher.

I wish I could report that her concerns were unusual. I’ve heard the wild-claims of what might happen ‘if so-and-so were elected’ all too often. Never mind that I doubt any U.S. political leader would denigrate the Bible, I have to ask the obvious question from a New Testament perspective: ‘What difference would that make?’ I’ve always understood that the strength of the church, and the faith-based stances of its believers, are not subject to the ‘state.’

What kind of faith is demonstrated if we insist on being legitimized by government? Our friends in Ethiopia saw people flock to the church during a time of prolonged persecution. They didn’t need governmental support for the church to flourish, even as they would certainly appreciate, as we do, the freedom to worship in peace.”

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