If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Goshen College Caves In To Public Opinion: Educating the Public in How to Compromise Your Faith

Recently Goshen College, a Mennonite school, changed its historical Anabaptist/Mennonite stance on not playing the national anthem at its sporting events. It caved into to public opinion criticizing its Anabaptist/Mennonite "pacifist" practice of not playing the national anthem, which is rooted in militarism and nationalism. I see this as just another sign of the slowly eroding peace witness within the Mennonite Church, which I questioned in my award winning article for Mennonite Weekly Review entitled "When is a Peace Church No Longer a Peace Church": http://www.mennoweekly.org/2008/7/21/when-peace-church-no-longer-peace-church/?print=1

News story: http://www.wsbt.com/news/local/34294434.html

Goshen info: http://www.goshen.edu/president/anthem/

A good article responding to Goshen's action can be found at JesusRadicals: http://www.jesusradicals.com/goshen-college-hurts-the-church/

Here is a letter I wrote to the president of Goshen College, Jim Brenneman, whom I know.


I am writing to express my displeasure with Goshen College's decision to cave in to public opinion concerning playing the national anthem at Goshen College sporting events. The national anthem is undeniably a song that grows out of a militaristic and nationalistic tradition. As you have expressed in Goshen pubic communications, "Our practice of not playing the national anthem at our sporting events has been a practice of the college since its inception 114 years ago rooted in the nearly 500-year-old confessions of faith of the Mennonite heritage and in the simple New Testament expressions, “Jesus is Lord” and “God so loved the world.”

To change this practice seems to me to be just another evidence of the slow erosion of the Mennonite peace stance, which I questioned as Minister of Peace and Justice for MC USA: http://www.mennoweekly.org/2008/7/21/when-peace-church-no-longer-peace-church/?print=1. I wrote this because of what I was seeing across the denomination in congregations, conferences, and church institutions.

It is my conviction that holding to our peace witness, amid public pressure to conform, can provide better venues for dialogue and witness than letting go of those convictions by incremental compromises. Even if Goshen continues to "make peacemaking" a part of its education, this action speaks volumes as to what that really means when the "going gets tough."


Rev. Dr. Leo Hartshorn

Here is the response Jim Brenneman sent back to me on 2/26/10:

Dear Leo,

I wanted to both acknowledge my appreciation for your feedback and also offer a word or two of response.

First, never before has Goshen College in so public a way proclaimed our commitment to peace in all its forms, than in the last two years. For the first time in GC history, we have done television ads (on regional Super Bowl/Olympics/etc.) and radio spots, proclaiming that GC is about “Healing the World: Peace by Peace.” Our website, our publications, viewbooks, speeches, have all be designed around “Making Peace”. You can read more about the GC promise of “Making Peace” in the upcoming Bulletin. These resources provide an overview of our commitment to describing ourselves in vivid, positive, affirming, contagious ways as a college that promotes peace! Literally, we are shouting it from the rooftops in new and unprecedented ways. We have not abandoned that understanding, though my hope is that we are helping to expand people's understandings of peace. It isn't just about being anti-war (though it includes that), it is about the Biblical understanding of shalom.

Second, our five core values (which positively state who we are and are a wonderful encapsulation of the Anabaptist convictions), explicitly named 8 years ago, are being used to redesign from top to bottom our curriculum; learning outcomes; board, faculty, staff orientation/education through a Core Values Institute; tenure processes; etc., so as to ensure that we “realize our intentions” in keeping GC closely tied to our Anabaptist/Mennonite roots, even while we open our doors wider to those who do not know an Anabaptist from an Antibaptist. In this way, we hope our “Anabaptist story” will truly be an intentional missional adventure (even if one never chooses to become a Christian, Anabaptist or otherwise) creating “choice” for both cradle Mennonites and others to hear the Anabaptist story and make it their own. We are self-consciously structuring our teaching and learning here at GC around the core values, trusting those values to carry the day (like a magnet to shavings), rather than bounding our set of beliefs by impermeable lines of demarcation that, while necessary at outer limits, are not the best approach in wooing new adherents or conversation partners to the table.

Third, Goshen College continues to be a leader in Peacemaking, Environmental Transformation, Intercultural Teaching and Learning, Interreligious Dialog (new SST in Egypt geared around Muslim/Christian engagement), all the things that have made it and will continue to make this such a wonderful place to learn. We also want to spread this influence in the world to include professions of diplomacy, governmental/nongovernmental leadership, civic engagement, business, and other professions not always considered part of the “peacemaking” enterprise. So when we say on our banners flying from every pole on campus: “Making peace with business, the arts, environment, sports, Christ, etc. its more than a slogan, it’s a vocational invitation.

And finally, I have devoted my entire adult ministry to bringing into the Mennonite Church hundreds of new members and have helped mentor pastoral and other leaders new to the Mennonite Church. For not a few of them, their discovery of the peacemaking way of Christ came by a welcoming spirit that did not challenge their perspectives at the door, but invited them to consider new perspectives over time and in community. That continues to be part of our missional commitment at Goshen College.

This letter might not fully address all your concerns, but I trust it helps convey that we are passionately committed to our theological heritage even as we attempt to negotiate the challenges of contemporary issues.


Jim B.

James E. Brenneman, Ph.D.
Goshen College
1700 S. Main St.
Goshen, IN 46526
(574) 535-7501

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