Last weekend my wife and I spent a good part of Saturday at the annual conference of the Biblical Mennonite Alliance. If you have known me for very long you know that I am a conference guy, I would rather go to a church conference than go to Disney Land. In the early days of my awakening into Reformed theology I went to any conference within driving distance but I haven't been to any in some time so it was nice to get the chance to go and bring my wife along. One thing I noticed right away was that there were a lot of women there which is a stark contrast to Reformed conferences where the audience is overwhelmingly male. At Together For The Gospel I would say, conservatively, that the audience is 90% men. So having a lot of spouses means couples that are learning together, even though some sessions were specifically directed at men and others for women.
I had initially hoped to meet some online friends there but they were not able to attend although I did get to meet someone I wasn't expecting plus some local friends we have known for a while. The BMA is pretty far down the spectrum of Mennonite practice on the conservative side. As I said, there were lots of women there and I don't think any were wearing pants and I only saw one with her head uncovered. The topic was "Suffering Love: The Way of the Kingdom”, a topic that is pretty timely. The event was held in Shipshewana, Indiana, which is home to a huge population of Amish so adding hundreds of BMA conference attendees means that this might be one of the most densely populated areas of Anabaptists anywhere in the world for those days.
I think that the Anabaptist descendants, especially those who have held more closely to the original tenets of Anabaptism, are uniquely prepared for a time when the church domestically will suffer more than most of us can imagine so I was glad to see this topic come up. I am not sure that the topic was handled as deeply as it could have been with appeals to history as a guide but I also missed a couple of the keynote addresses so I will need to go back and listen to them at a later date.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how much was going on in domestic and international missions from DestiNATIONS International, the mission arm of the BMA. If there is a criticism of "conservative" Anabaptists, I would say it is that they tend to be more concerned with protecting the flock than they are with spreading the Gospel. So seeing all of the places that they are reaching with the Gospel was great.
What sort of surprised me a bit was how unprepared some of the speakers seemed to be when it came to facing the hard questions that invariably come up. I could sort of sum it up by describing many of the speakers as knowing what they believe without really knowing why they believe it. When compared with other conferences I have attended the speakers just seemed like regular guys, which is a lot different than listening to someone like R.C. Sproul or Albert Mohler. In some ways it was a little frustrating for me but in other ways it was actually kind of cool. These aren't professional theologians, they are just everyday Christians sharing on a selected topic. I am pretty sure you can't stump Albert Mohler with a question on theology because the guys reads voraciously and spends a lot of time answering questions for a living. The guys speaking at the BMA conference probably mostly have just regular jobs so there was a noticeable lack of preparedness and polish. Again that has some positives and negatives.
The conference also reinforced and highlighted to me the sense of disconnectedness I feel. Everyone else had the name of their local church on their nametags, we just had "Indiana" on ours. While I am largely in agreement with the brethren in the BMA we just aren't really that connected with any local fellowship and that is really wearing on me. All conservative Anabaptist groups have, in my opinion, the same problem, namely that people who are exactly like them always end up feeling like they are on the outside looking in. You are either 100% in lockstep, specifically on issues like dress and technology, or you are not really part of the fellowship. There is no room for growth, no place for compromise. I understand the reasoning, one only needs to look to the left wing of the Mennonite spectrum to see how haywire things have gone but it still is difficult for people who are cautiously moving in their direction but not there yet. We may find ourselves just fellowshipping somewhere with the understanding that we really don't belong and that is an uncomfortable place to be.
Overall it was a nice time, I got to meet some people, spend the day with my wife without kids around, and hear some good teaching. Hopefully it will be close to home again next year and we can go again because it was definitely worth the time.