Ruth Haley Barton Trains Mennonites to Discern in the Silence

Last month, hundreds of people at Eastern Mennonite Seminary explored the discernment process of difficult church issues. The topic was fuelled by EMU’s announcement of a listening process for hiring homosexuals and the Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s decision to license a gay pastor.

To help this new process was an “elephant in the room” service where participants were told to imagine themselves in the presence of Jesus with people they disagreed with.

One of the speakers teaching these leaders in the discernment training process was Ruth Haley Barton, founder of the Transforming Center in Wheaton, Ill., who told them that it starts with “spiritually formed leaders who are intentionally attuned to the Holy Spirit” and spend time in prayer and solitude. Barton’s process outline for discernment in meetings included group sharing, listening to God, prayer and time spent in silence.

Often, according to Barton, the time spent in silence is key to the decision-making process.
“After 30 minutes of silence when each member of the group spends time seeking God, often a way forward emerges,” Barton said.
“If the group is ready to respond, each member is asked to voice their level of agreement — either completely agree, agree with some reservations, don’t agree but will defer to the process of the group, or don’t agree at all. If people don’t agree, then the process begins again. Unity is the marker that God’s will is being done.”
Source: Seminary program confronts discernment issues

Biblical truth is not mentioned in this experience based discernment process. Maybe this is because it didn’t work for Ruth Haley Barton, as she admitted…

“A few years ago, I began to recognize an inner chaos in my soul . . . No matter how much I prayed, read the Bible, and listened to good teaching, I could not calm the internal roar created by questions with no answers.”

Barton then sought spiritual direction at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, where she learned the ancient disciplines and practices of contemplative spirituality.

Instead of being trained to seek God’s written Word for discernment on issues He has already spoken so clearly about, these Mennonite leaders at EMU are being trained to use their imaginations and find direction based on group experience and what they hear in the silence of contemplative prayer.


The Spiritual Journey of Ruth Haley Barton

Do Christian Leaders Understand The Contemplative Prayer Movement


MC USA Executive Board releases statement on LBGTQ inclusion

UPDATE: July 2015

One result of the above “listening process”:

Two Mennonite Colleges Announce Hiring Policy Change to Employ ‘Married’ Homosexuals


2 thoughts on “Ruth Haley Barton Trains Mennonites to Discern in the Silence

  1. Pingback: Hegel, Foster and the Mennonites | Menno-lite

  2. Pingback: Mennonites Walk Barton’s Bridge | Menno-lite

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