Conservativism

In our present culture there is a lot of labeling that goes on.  Two of the more popular political labels are “liberal” and “conservative.”  The terms are broad, but give a general idea of the approximate leanings of the person being discussed.  When talking about spiritual things, those terms typically refer to how literally a church group interprets and applies the Bible in its theology and to the lives of its members.

I was raised with a deep respect for the Scriptures and my college training only enforced that view.  (For those who might wonder, becoming Catholic has given me an even deeper reverence for the Scriptures as the written Word of God.)  When I began this journey, my measuring stick was the Bible and my desire was to be as Biblically correct as possible.  In my view, those churches which were most conservative in their interpretation of Scripture were the ones to look to for the truest understanding.  Also, I was grateful to have one friend who was interested and willing to study these things with me.  Her husband took an interest as well and they ended up studying together.  Since both her husband’s background and Nolan’s were Mennonite (and she and I had grown up in the same EMC church as well), it was natural to look to the Mennonites first.

“Conservative Mennonite” is a broad term for a number of church groups who subscribe to Mennonite theology and strive to live it as authentically as they can.  There are, of course, varying opinions on how that is to be lived, but they are in agreement with one another on most points.  You can identify them most easily by their mode of dress.

Typical Mennonite head-covering

Conservative Mennonite women wear dresses and head-coverings.  The style and type depends upon the group, but the dresses are usually long, often with the bodice having two layers (the cape dress is typical).  Sleeves are worn longer rather than shorter.  Colors are usually pastels or dark. They also wear a head covering of some type, based on the teaching of I Corinthians 11.  The most common is the white bonnet-style made of netting with the ties hanging in the back.  Those familiar with the different groups can identify one from another by head-covering style.

Conservative Mennonite women

 

Conservative Mennonite men typically don’t wear denim jeans, but they are seen here and there.  Often the pants are kept up with suspenders rather than belts and shirts are plaid or plain, but not t-shirts (unless underneath).  It’s pretty common that married men have beards, but not always mustaches.

Conservative Mennonite men

 

As far as theology, Mennonites believe in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God which is to be obeyed in every respect.  They emphasize the need for personal holiness, evangelism, obedience to authority, separation from the world and non-resistance in matters of war and violence.  These are only the main points in a nutshell; obviously there are books written on Mennonite theology and the different nuances in the different groups.

As I said, since Nolan’s roots are Mennonite, considering Mennonite churches was a natural consideration.  There are also conservative Mennonite relatives and friends, so it isn’t an unheard of thing in his family.  I, personally, find their way of life, especially their strong sense of community and family, to be very attractive.  In a world of constant change, they’re pretty slow to accept it.  I like that.  They put a lot more thought into accepting the latest gadgets than 99% of the rest of the population.  They put a lot of emphasis on simple and plain living so that they are not distracted so much from seeking God.  And they have a pretty good retention rate among their children.  I can’t say that about a lot of churches today.

However, although  Nolan could have been pretty comfortable with the non-resistance stance, I’m not.  I come from a family that highly values the military.  Pop served in the Army and had an extensive collection of books on the American wars (most of which I now have).  I was always taught that we owe a great debt to our soldiers who have paid the price for our freedom.  Also, I couldn’t find in Scripture where military service was forbidden to Christians.  Soldiers were instructed to be content with their pay, not leave the army.  Feeling I couldn’t be faithful to one of the major tenants of Mennonite belief, I started looking at other Conservative groups that were not Mennonite.

There are many churches  who desire to live as the New Testament church lived.  There’s a lot of talk about getting “back to the basics” of Christianity.  However, as you can imagine, what that means varies widely.

I found some pretty vehement disagreements about things like cutting/not cutting hair, sleeve lengths, head covering types, etc.  Can a Christian divorce?  Can they remarry?  In some groups if a family wishes to join, but the marriage is a second one, the husband and wife must separate.  The children live with one parent while the other parent lives alone.

There are groups who teach that an adult child is to obey his parents his entire life, even after the child marries and has his own children.  Then there is the question of courtship and marriage of children.  Some groups are so limited that there isn’t anyone available for the kids because their theology is so specific on what the potential spouse must believe.  Sometimes the requirements of courtship were such that I wondered how they could even meet a potential spouse.

The more groups I looked into, the more I became frustrated as well by the undercurrent of superiority that led to a lot of church splits.   Once a split would happen, this one wouldn’t fellowship with that one because it allowed radios while this one didn’t.  This one wouldn’t allow something while another one would, but neither provided any real reason from Scripture that stood up to questioning.  I was also surprised by how few of them acknowledged that maybe, just maybe, people outside their church might just go to Heaven as well.

Then there was the issue that, for a lot of them, questioning on the part of women wasn’t allowed.  Or, on the flip side, while preaching the absolute obedience to husbands on the part of wives, church leaders would instruct the women that, even if their husbands didn’t like it, because the Bible taught that women were to wear dresses and head coverings all the time, they were obeying God and could disobey their husbands in that.  (However, there isn’t anywhere in Scripture that defines dresses as women’s clothing.  That is something from Western culture, not scriptural mandate.  Another post, another time…)

Even as I have worked on this post and read it over, I feel again the frustration of that time.  I so badly wanted to know the truth and it seemed that not only were there a lot of folks claiming to know what that was, they were all claiming they knew they were right because of the “leading of the Holy Spirit.”  Wow!  If that’s the case, the Holy Spirit was awfully confused!

Dresses

As I studied the Scriptures and wrestled with the implications of feminine attire only, I realized what most of us already know:  the Bible is not self-interpreting.  I don’t care what theologians say, if the Bible was self-interpreting there would be no need for commentaries.  So, with that understanding now in hand, I started asking around to other people.

The first thing I found is that this subject is totally uninteresting to most people.  Whenever I would bring it up the reactions ranged from thinly-veiled boredom to looks of outright puzzlement and even annoyance, on occasion.  Now, granted, I can be annoying (just ask Blake), but it’s hard to realize that NO ONE was interested in this.  I mean, after all, we’re talking about abominations here.  Everyone’s willing to discuss them in regard to the books of Daniel and Revelation and the End Times, but what about the ones in our daily lives?

There were some reactions of wonderment that I would waste my time on something so frivolous as clothing when there are babies being aborted, a world headed to Hell and souls to save.  However, I recall that God struck down Aaron’s sons for getting creative with the incense recipe for worship.  Apparently, little things do matter to God.  Often the reaction would be something like, “Well, God looks on the heart.”  Yep, and man looks on the outward appearance and that’s what God’s talking about here.  God never condemned us for looking at the outward appearance, that’s all we’ve got.  He was simply pointing out to Samuel not to get over-awed by good looks.  Only He can judge the heart and, apparently, our outward actions (including how we dress) reflect something of our hearts.

I ended up searching online for people’s views, finding out what Elisabeth Elliot thought, and talking to women who wore dresses all the time.  After all, these were women who had thought about it and concluded to live contrary to the current culture as a result.  What I couldn’t find was anyone who had studied this issue and come to a different conclusion.  Anyone I found who had studied it had ended up going to dresses full-time.  So, in April 1997, I went to dresses as well.

It was a hard change in some ways simply because of some of the looks I got.  It’s very hard to swim upstream when everyone else is going the other way.  I also struggled with why most women involved in public ministries didn’t have this conviction or ever mentioned even considering it.  It was also hard because I wanted to be sure I didn’t get a “holier-than-thou” attitude, yet it was hard not to be perceived as having one because I was obviously doing something so different from everyone else and it was due to the desire to be obedient to God.  Therefore, if I believe this to be obedience, then by default, they must be being disobedient.  I didn’t actually feel that way, but continued to struggle with the whole issue for a long time.  At one point I came across a pamphlet from a Mennonite publisher called, “Others May, You Cannot.”  It was very helpful in explaining that there are times when God calls some people to lifestyles and practices to which He doesn’t call everyone.  That gave me a lot of perspective and helped me to accept my own “oddness” and become comfortable with my own convictions even if they weren’t the convictions of others.

One question I think some may wonder is, where was Nolan in all of this.  First, let me clarify that Nolan has never been a heavy-handed husband! 🙂  He’s always had a lot of respect for me and my own walk with God.  Second, at that time Nolan was pastoring full-time as well as driving for a local cement plant full-time for nine months of the year.  He was busy, he was tired and it wasn’t his area of interest.  When I decided to wear dresses only, he was fine with it.  He admired me for sticking by my convictions.  He did say, though, that since this was my conviction and not the family conviction, I wasn’t to require our daughters to wear dresses only.

As I was studying this issues, I was also studying other issues: head-coverings, divorce & remarriage, women in ministry, women in the church, Bible versions, and many others.  I had the sense that there would come a time when we would leave Rudyard and probably the evangelical church.  I figured we were going to end up conservative Mennonites.

Short explanation

As I’m writing this blog story, I’m finding it hard to decide how much detail to go into because I went through a lot of mental gymnastics for a long time.  So, in the interest of not boring everyone to death, I’ll not necessarily give this in the time frames in which it happened.  It’s going to be more from each aspect where I started and what happened with it.  Otherwise, this is going to get really, really loooonnggg!!!!