A House Divided Against Itself

Just before the American Civil War Abraham Lincoln declared that the United States could not continue as a divided country–either it would outlaw slavery altogether or slavery would become legal in all the states. Lincoln did not believe the United States could continue as a divided society. Lincoln borrowed his “house divided” phrase from the gospels of Jesus, revealing that Christ’s teachings from two millennia ago are as timely today as they were in the ancient era.

Our houses today cannot remain divided and hope to stand. Our country is as divided as ever, and we must find ways to unite, to speak in civil ways to each other, to build coalitions and bridges among those of very different points of view. Ours is a national crisis of a house divided–let us find leaders who can reach across our aisles that divide and help unite us.

In the church, we need to find ways to seek unity and not division. In the small town of northeast Ohio where I grew up and where I write this blog, we have a Mennonite history of churches dividing when there have been differences, finding that an easier solution than doing the hard work of creating a united house. A denomination, be it conservative or progressive, will need bridge builders to help liberals speak to conservatives, and vice versa, or otherwise the house will divide and collapse. In our congregations there are always differences of belief, opinion, or persuasion. We bring different upbringings, different assumptions, and different theological streams that we drink from. Let us learn to work together.

When I attended college years ago, we students occasionally tried to change things on our campus by speaking to the administration. But my memory is that most of our student energies went outward, challenging the powers beyond our campus. We marched against the production of nuclear weapons, protested the military-industrial complex, and tried to alleviate social injustices. Recently I attended a theological speech at the college I graduated from, where students and faculty greeted me outside the chapel doors with signs of protest for a lecture from a world-renowned theologian. It seemed to me the students were inward-focused, in contrast to my own college days where we mostly directed our energies outward toward the powers. The students who met me with protest signs and sidewalk chalk drawings were speaking into the community, revealing our inside-the-house differences, and trying to make me and others, it seemed to me, to feel concerned about an issue that I believe was an internal debate about ethics. How can a church institution stand when we attack one another from within?

Let us learn from Lincoln’s assessment, first articulated in the dusty towns of Palestine years ago. A house divided against itself cannot stand, be it a country, a denomination, a church school, a congregation, or even our own homes. It took determination for Lincoln to declare his vision in 1858, now eight score years ago. May those who are able to help bridge our current divides be found, enabled, encouraged, voted for, and empowered to cross the chasms that keep us apart. Otherwise we cannot stand.

Upper Room Revival

Elwood Yoder recently joined The Mennonite online’s blogging team. He teaches history in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He has taught high school history and social studies courses for 34 years, since 1988 at Eastern Mennonite High School. Elwood has written seven books, including congregational histories and historical novels. Elwood is Editor of Shenandoah Mennonite Historian, and he is also …

via Upper Room Revival.

Pleasant Grove Mennonite Church, Pendleton County, WV

Pleasant Grove Mennonite Church had its beginning in 1885, started as a missions outreach of the Northern District churches of the Virginia Mennonite Conference.  Today the building is still usable, but no congregation meets there, except for the occasional special service.  At the time of this photo, 2015, the pews were still in place inside, with hymnbooks, and a pulpit up front.  One hundred and thirty years after it started, the church is closed, begging for research and study on the factors that led to its decline.
Pleasant Grove Mennonite Church, Sweedlin Valley Rd Pendleton County, WV September 19 2015

Mennonite World Conference 2015

Pennsylvania 2015 brought together over 7000 Anabaptists from around the world, representing some 80 countries.  Worship was inspiring and the speakers spoke of their lives in the global south. The Brethren Choral Sounds Choir from Zimbabwe (pictured) thrilled the audience with their lively and energetic music.  Nearly five centuries later, from their early 16h century origins in Switzerland, Mennonites are now a global people speaking many different languages, but testifying to a common faith in God.

Brethren Choral Sounds Choir from Zimbabwe sang at MWC July 23, 2015

Northern District Meeting

A middle level adjudicatory body met at the Big Spring Mennonite Church, March 9, 2015.  The Northern District Council, consisting of around 25 representatives from about a dozen churches in the Virginia Mennonite Conference, welcomed a new congregation, heard overseers reports, and listened to a mission worker present new ideas for church growth.

Mutton Hollow Road

The Historian found a Mennonite meetinghouse on Mutton Hollow Road, Greene County, Virginia, on a recent forray off the Skyline Drive.  Established as a mission station by the Middle District of the Virginia Mennonite Conference in the early 20th century, the church today, Mt. Hermon Mennonite, is a part of the Southeastern Mennonite Conference.

Visit to Hesston College

During a family walk through the historic campus of Hesston College, established in 1909 on the plains of Kansas, a former high school history student was sitting on the lawn making a call home to Virginia.  Hesston College continues to serve the Mennonite Church as an institution of higher learning in an outstanding manner.  The historian was pleased to make another visit to the two-year college.

P1020269

German-English Bible

An Eastern Mennonite High School exchange student from Paraguay read Psalm 23 in German from Simon L. Yoder’s German-English Bible, March, 2014.  Beachy Amish Minister Simon L. Yoder, the Historian’s grandfather, lived 1902-1993, and the German Bible was given to Simon’s grandson.  The student was enrolled in the Historian’s Global Christianity class.

P1010129

Crest Hill Mennonite, Wardensville, West Virginia, 1993

Crest Hill Mennonite, Wardensville, West Virginia, 1993 (1900)

In 2001, the good folks at Crest Hill Mennonite Church, Wardensville, West Virginia, invited a group of gospel bluegrass musicians to their church for an outdoor summer performance. The church invited Daphna Creek band in 2002 and 2003, the last performance during Sunday morning worship. Daphna Creek went on to play in over 200 venues, but the first show was at this church in West Virginia.

Historians Collaborate in Phoenix, Arizona

P1010848

Historians met at Mennonite Church USA Convention in Phoenix Arizona.  It’s clear there’s a new era of regional collaboration among Mennonite historians rather than the former centralization of historical resources in one place.  The Historian sat next to Jake Buhler, President of the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan, Canada.  He shared stories about Russian Mennonites and in turn he heard stories of Swiss-South German Mennonites in Virginia.  Buhler and others publish the Saskatchewan Mennonite Historian periodical, similar in name and format to the Shenandoah Mennonite Historian of Virginia.