In the purest form, when dealing with a dispute among their own people, Mennonites are encouraged to confront the person with whom the conflict arises. There should be no peripheral parties involved if possible, but rather a civil discussion about the issues at hand. If the concerns are still not worked-out, the next step would be to secure the counsel of the Pastor of the Church, and possibly the Elders in an effort to gain a broader perspective and clarification. The final stage, if necessary, might include the opinion of the entire congregation. Ideally, few circumstances would call for legal action to be taken against another.

In the Bible (Matthew 18:15-17), the following passage addresses the sentiment from which the Mennonites draw inspiration. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan.”

The scriptural reference to “a pagan” brings to light the situation that might occur when Mennonites are forced to resolve issues of conflict with those “outside” the church. Typically, similar guidelines are implemented but with far less satisfying results. Since Mennonites are uniformly reluctant to use the legal system, they are at the mercy of the perpetrator, a circumstance in which “evil rules supreme.” In much the same way, I can recall parallel incidents in middle school where Mennonite boys were easy targets for getting beat-up by fellow students because of their reputation for not fighting back.

Even within the confines of the church structure, conflict resolution is not perfect. When my father deserted the family to contemplate living with another woman, despite repeated failed attempts to encourage reconciliation, the congregation voted to excommunicate him from the Mennonite Church. Legal action followed for the divorce.

Culturally, the one thread that weaves through all Mennonite doctrine is an unwillingness to exhibit violent behavior in any form when dealing with conflict or life in general.

by Herb Weaver
TAGGED: * Articles, Religion

Herb Weaver is an artist focusing predominately in ceramics and sculpture. He is a professor at Georgia Gwinnett College in Atlanta, Georgia, and serves as Chief Reader for Advanced Placement Studio Art. His award-winning artwork has been featured in nearly 200 exhibitions throughout the United States. “In general, people tend to lose sight of what is really important, so it’s my objective to create artwork that attempts to momentarily slow down the pace … enough to pause and reflect on the little things.”