This is Part 2 of a series. Here's Part 1, if you're just joining us.
So Rosemary, our confused protagonist, is desperately looking for answers. Is there a true church someplace that both follows the Bible by wearing the right clothes, and also obeys the Bible by not fighting and bickering?
She doesn't believe that's possible.
Fortunately, help is on the way, in the form of Menno Kropf and his wife Marie. Rosemary works for them, and their home is a happy one, unlike her own.
Meals in the Kropf home were spiced with lively conversation. "I saw Dan in town this morning, Marie," Menno began, spooning mashed potatoes into little Larry's mouth.
"Dan? Dan Smith?"
"Yes, Oscar's son. Marie, you'd hardly know the boy. He had a hippie hairdo and was puffing away on a cigarette. I smelled liquor on him, too." Menno's lean face was drawn with concern.
This is like a checklist of BAD.
OK, the story doesn't list all of them, but they would have if the author could have figured out how mention them.
I love how the "spicy, lively conversation" in the home is discussing the failings of others. (Of course, since his face is lined with concern, it's all cool. It just goes to show how spiritual he truly is.
"Oh, poor Dan. And poor Oscars-- how must they feel?
Menno shook his head. "If only they had seen it earlier. Marie, do you remember what happened soon after we were married?"
"You mean the time you were helping Oscar build his broiler house?"
"Yes. Dan was sixteen at the time. One day, I heard him singing a strange song," Menno went on, turning to Rosemary. "I recognized it as the same nonsense I had heard at a filling station. Now where was our minister's son picking up such a song?"
I dunno. I'm gonna guess maybe he heard it at a filling station?
Menno took a bite of bread and went on. "A day or two later when Oscar and I were alone I asked him kindly where his boy was under the influence of a radio. I explained why I wondered about it. You see, there was another man working with us who was not a Christian and he would surely recognize such songs. It was a poor testimony, to say the least."
Am I the only person who finds the "poor testimony" line of reasoning incredibly tiresome?
It's like "the world" is a monolithic entity, and "they all know" what we're supposed to be doing and not doing. And if "we disappoint them," they will die and go to hell, and it will be our fault.
But the logic is only used sporadically, and promptly forgotten when it is convenient.
Rosemary listened with interest, her fork poised in midair above her plate.
This illustrates one of the sad side effects of taking a stand against Netflix.
Menno's story is mildly interesting, yet Rosemary is transfixed by the unfolding plot.
I firmly believe that 90% of the problems in these churches is because they are so bored that they have to create their own drama,so that even someone whistling a "radio song" is enough to stop people from eating from pure fascination.
Yet they mock "worldly women" who get caught up in soap operas that "have no basis in reality."
If conservative churches would allow Netflix, church drama would dramatically decline for a month or so, because people would have something else to worry about.
The tension would then increase dramatically for a few months, as members realized that their ministers were basically living out a religious version of House of Cards.
After the smoke cleared from dealing with that issue, things would even out considerably. And people would be amazed at how awesome it feels to just be chill about stuff that doesn't matter.
(We can dream, can't we?)
"Oscar didn't know where Dan was hearing the radio," Menno continued. "He said they had a radio in the car, but it was supposed to be disconnected. Then he said, "Dan is young yet. He thinks he's smart, but he'll grow up one of these times and behave himself."
"I was shocked at his reasoning, so I dropped the subject. Later I learned that Dan's grandfather, too, had the idea that all boys must go over fool's hill. It wasn't long till everyone knew that Dan was smoking. We could see that he had no peace and was fast slipping away. Now.... we see where he is, out in the world and deep in sin."
"I guess we will never know what might have been," Marie remarked quietly, "if Dan's father and the church had disciplined him in true love."
---(I'm skipping some of the discourse, because it's more of the same- the church needs to excommunicate bad people so that it isn't corrupted, etc)---
"Of course, if Dan's parents had faithfully done their part early enough, probably no church discipline would have been necessary," Menno stated. "If only they had realized that no one will ever "grow out of sin." Being born again, becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus, is the only answer. We must pray for Dan that the Lord will yet lead him to repentance."
Now pay close attention to this paragraph, because there is a lot going on here, and the inconsistency is going to become manifest later.
Of course, excommunication applies to smoking, drinking, radio-listening, and hippie hairdos, but not so much to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
So here we see parents criticized for not taking appropriate action with their children. If they do, the church won't have to. I agree with this idea. Parents should definitely take the primary responsibility for what their children are doing.
One of the primary issues in conservatism is the desire of parents to outsource parenting to the church. Almost anybody who has been part of a ConMen church can tell you a story about how parents tried to get the church to pass a rule so that they could use it to control their children.
I would commend the author for taking this stand, if it wasn't for what comes later in the same chapter.
But before we talk about that, let's talk about Dan. Why is this guy part of the church? Menno says that he needs the New Birth? But doesn't that indicate that Dan wasn't a Christian when he joined the church? Or maybe he was and backslid or something.
This is a common problem in these churches. They pressure 10 and 12 year-olds to "make a commitment," and then baptize them, and get them to promise, along with baptism, to keep the church rules forever and ever, and then, when the kids hit adolescence and their teen years, the church uses those childhood promises as a handle to control them, and try to keep them in line. It's perverse.
So Rosemary walks around thinking and troubled, and gets into a conversation with Menno's wife, Marie.
"There are so many things I don't understand, Marie."
"I don't understand it all, either." Marie's eyes were warm. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well, there are so many things wrong with our congregation. We might as well be in a real liberal church," Rosemary said frankly. "We have so much more trouble and disunity than we had when we were in a liberal church, don't we? Of course, I was only ten when we made the change. That was ten years ago; I might have forgotten what the church was really like."
Now this is one of the things that makes me spitting-nails angry about this book, and it will come up again and again throughout this series.
The author pretends to be really facing the tough questions head-on. Asking the hard stuff, really digging in deep. The characters again and again seem to be really hitting hard questions and objections to the Mennonite way of life and worldview head-on. But it's a deception.
Again and again, right at the crucial moments, there are sly side-steps, away from the obvious conclusions, and the truly devastating follow-up questions are never asked.
It gives the appearance of logic and reason. And if you were to read this book as a young person, seeking answers, you might even have the illusion that they had been addressed. But it's all smoke and mirrors.
As we move forward, I will identify smoke and mirrors moments, so that you can get a good look at the deception up close. In the process, you can learn to spot it in other interactions you have with these kinds of people, who use what Ephesians refers to as the "sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."
In this example, Rosemary makes a bold statement, phrased as a question: A liberal church would be better, in terms of more peaceful, than their current conservative church.
Now this appears to be a willingness to actually address the dysfunction that exists in so many ConMen churches. But, as soon as the question is out of her mouth, Rosemary walks it back. Well, she doesn't ACTUALLY know that, because she was young, and maybe it was actually pretty bad there, too.
The author continues this subterfuge in Marie's response.
"I think you are partially right," Marie spoke thoughtfully. "Pinecliff has so much bickering and discord. It is hard to see how such things can be in a body of born-again believers."
So now Marie appears to be considering Rosemary's question honestly, and agreeing that bitter, snarky, angry conservatism is no better than worldly liberalism. And then, she immediately walks it back with some bold assertions, and redefinitions of words.
"But there was no true unity in the other church, either, Rosemary. Worldliness and carnality divided the church. The difference is that in the other church, most people were content to overlook sin and just let things drift along. That didn't make much trouble as far as getting along with each other was concerned, but it was not true unity, either."
This is 1984/Animal Farm/George Orwellian level stuff.
Rosemary is specifically talking about the bickering and fighting at Pinecliff.
She tells Rosemary that she is actually wrong, because it only looked as though the other church had Unity. It wasn't truly real actual Unity.
She even concedes that the members didn't have much trouble, "as far as getting along was concerned," but proceeds to insist that that does not mean True Unity.
This is a classic side-step that appears to answer the question, but actually avoids it by redefining terms, and pretending that there was no question to begin with.
After all, even if the other church does not have True Unity, they are still in the same position as Pinecliff, which also lacks True Unity, or unity of any kind. Yet, somehow, Pinecliff is seen as better to the "worldly church," because in this twisted world-view bickering and fighting and name-calling is actually closer to True Unity than getting along.
No wonder there exists such perversion in these churches. Words don't even mean what they mean.
Rosemary guided the iron smoothly over a green dress.
"I remember hearing Brother Alvin say that the fellowship churches left conference so they could keep purity and truth," she put in. "But then, why are we in the shape that we're in?"
"Menno says it's because we are failing to keep purity and truth," Marie replied. "Just like Dan Smith-- he was allowed to bring known sin into the church, and it was not taken care of. You know the other problems we have right now that are not being dealt with-- Roy Keller, for one. Brother Oscar's bitter attitude for another. When there are people in the church who have not truly repented of sin, there are always problems."
Wait, wait, hold it!
Let's look at this a piece at a time, because there is a serious shell game going on here.
1) The fellowship churches left the conferences so that they could do Thing A (Keep purity and truth)
2) By Menno's own admission, the fellowship church they are part of is NOT doing Thing A. HE SAYS SO HIMSELF!
3) Yet, everyone persists in concluding that somehow this fellowship church is superior to a liberal church, EVEN THOUGH, by their own admission, there isn't bickering at the other church.
4) The stated reason for the lack of bickering at the liberal church is because they let sin go.
5) But in her next breath, Marie admits that the fellowship church is letting sin go.
"Then how are we any better off than if we'd still be in the church we left?" Rosemary pressed her point home. "Or in any worldly church?"
Great question, Rosemary! I'm sure that Marie will finally explain the answer for us. There must be one, because, after all, the superiority of the conservative churches is axiomatic.
"If sin is not dealt with, there is not much difference. But in any church setup, Rosemary, each member is influenced by whatever the whole ministerial body decides to overlook," Marie explained slowly. "As long as everyone is spiritual, fine. But when sin is let go in one congregation, the members in a more spiritual congregation can't do much about it as long as they continue to have fellowship with them. Yet they are still influenced by the carnality in the other church, and still have fellowship with the members who are living in sin. It is an unequal yoke, Marie."
So... we just admitted there wasn't much difference, but then we did a quick pivot to an explanation of why fellowship churches are good, and conference churches are bad.
Because if other churches in the conference let sin go, your church will be forced to ignore it, and it is an unequal yoke.
Meanwhile, Marie completely ignores the fact that she is in just such an "unequal yoke" because sin is going unaddressed in her own church.
She has yet to explain how her sin-tolerating, unequally-yoked fellowship church is better than the unequally-yoked, sin-tolerating conference churches, despite the fact that the fellowships are fighting and bickering and the conference churches aren't.
(A reviewer pointed out to me that this dysfunctional behavior is triangulation, as described in this thoughtful article on dysfunctional relationships. Understanding the concept of triangulation explains so much about conservatism.)
Instead, she tells this scintillating story, as proof of the manifest evil of the conference churches.
"I remember when I was in my teens, the girls in our particular congregation all wore cape dresses. That was the conference standard for all the churches. But the girls our age in all the other congregations wore capeless dresses, and the trend soon came into our church, too. My mother protested when my sister and I left off our capes, but we could combat her protests very well. All we had to say was, 'But, Mother, none of the girls in the other churches wear them; not even the bishop's girls do,' and what more could she say?"
I know a fun game. Let's make a list of five things more that Mother could have said. Ready?
Mother could have said:
I am sure that my astute readers can think of many other things Mother could have said. My mother would have said, "I don't care if every woman in the conference is wearing a capeless dress, even if it's the bishop's wife, or his Aunt Tilly! You're not the bishop's daughter. You're mine! And if you live in our home, you're going to follow our rules."
And that would have been that.
But instead, Mother (and presumably Father) abdicate their parental roles and authority to the church, and wring their hands about how nothing can be done about The Drift.
What's seeing-red infuriating about this passage is that Oscar was just criticized for his lack of leadership in the home. We heard just a few paragraphs ago how parents doing their job keep problems from becoming church issues.
And now, suddenly, dumb-founded parents, who are unable to act when the church won't, is shown to be an expected thing.
This is double-tongued serpent speech!
"And you got by without wearing cape dresses then?"
"I'm sorry to say we did. But my conscience wasn't as easily silenced as Mother was, and the Lord soon brought me back to a better standard of modesty," Marie concluded humbly.
Wait! Hold on a second! Hold your horses! Stop the presses! Wait a minute! WHOA!!
According to Marie's OWN testimony, despite the fact that A) everyone, including the bishop's daughters was doing something, B) the church was doing nothing to enforce it, and C) Mother was powerless to prevent it, SOMEHOW Marie went back to wearing cape dresses, because (her words, not mine) The Lord... brought her back to a better standard of modesty."
So somehow, without the help of coercion, or pressure, or even peer pressure, or rules, GOD WAS ABLE TO LEAD MARIE THROUGH HER CONSCIENCE. What a shocking thought!
Which leaves us with the obvious unanswered question- If God is able to guide people through their conscience to do what is right, in spite of what everyone else is doing, why not just let Him do His job, and cut out the middle-man?
This is a concept which will never come up in this book, I assure you.
Instead, Marie's job is to go find a church to make her do what God was having her do anyhow, because somehow that pleases God more. Because, of course, reasons!
"Menno says no church should be yoked together with any person or group whose influence cannot be controlled, or cut off, if necessary, by the discipline or counsel of that church."
So it's basically like individualism, except when a church is doing it together, that makes it fine. I guess. This is, of course, a plug for the "fellowship" model of churches, which had no hierarchical structure of any kind. It was pure coincidence that the same three guys made all the decisions, I assure you.
The chapter ends with an invitation to go visit the little congregation in Hope Valley, which might just have the answers for Rosemary.
"Maybe--just maybe, Hope Valley can supply some answers to my questions," Rosemary mumured to herself. "Maybe, after all, that would be better than turning to a liberal church. You wouldn't really want to turn back to worldliness--you know that, Rosemary Witmer."
And so, we reiterate again, conflict and strife is bad, and if you can find a church that doesn't have it, that's cool a blessing. But a fighting conservative church is still better than a peaceful liberal church, even though even Marie admits that in a liberal church you can follow your own conscience anyway.
Next time, we'll talk about the "Promised Land" of Hope Valley, and the evils of youth socials! Talk soon!