This hurt isn’t new

Posted on March 16th, 2010 by James

I’ve heard the argument multiple times that the Mennonite church is being torn apart by PinkMenno (and the LGBTQ movement in the Mennonite church in general, but I’m most familiar with PinkMenno). It’s causing conflict, creating divisions and hurt. These movements are not welcoming to ethnic Mennonite groups, who are generally even less accepting of homosexuals than the Mennonite Church in general.

I would argue, however, that these movements are not creating a new conflict. Rather, they are  bringing an existing conflict to the surface, and asking the Mennonite church to deal with it. Racism was a conflict long before the Civil Rights Movement. Sexism was a conflict long before the Women’s Rights Movement. Oppression is a conflict. This oppression, a conflict, has deep roots in the Mennonite Church. So these movements are not creating a new conflict.

And they’re not creating divisions and hurt. The division of gay vs straight and the hurt imposed by those with privilege has existed. It seems to me that these divisions that once were quiet and assumed are now more in the open.

And it particularly irks me to hear the idea that Pink Menno should stop what it is doing because it is hurting church unity and may cause people to leave the church. In other words, a decision to include LGBTQs in the Mennonite church would also be a decision to exclude people who disagree from the Mennonite Church.

The church is actively excluding gay and lesbians from full church life. Gays and lesbians did not make this choice. They want to be fully involved, to be able to use their God-given gifts for the good of the church. But the church says no.

This is completely different than if, by some miracle from above, the church decided to be welcoming to LGBTQs, and people left. Sure, they were affected by a decision the church made. But it is their choice to leave. The church did not stand at the church door and send them away.

Do I want people to leave the Mennonite Church? Absolutely not. That is not the point of these movements. The point is to make the church open to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. How people respond is up to them.

Part of the Body, not Outside Agitators

Posted on March 2nd, 2010 by James

I’ve started getting a bit anxious whenever TMail, the weekly ezine from TheMennonite, hits my inbox every Monday. There’s always something that seems to make me sad, and makes me less hopeful for the future of the church. This week, that came in an article called, “Conference Affirms Teachings on Sexuality“.

First of all, it’s a tricky headline- the conference in question is not a upper-case-C Conference. It’s not Lancaster Conference or Franconia Conference or Pacific Southwest Conference.  I read the article 3 or 4 times, trying to figure out what Conference this was, and finally figured out that there wasn’t a Conference involved. It was the “Affirming the Faith: What the Mennonite Church Believes about Homosexuality” conference. In other words, this was not a church body, but a group of pastors who are in the Mennonite Church. Nothing official happened.

I may get into the article/conference more at length later, but one thing that jumped out at me was something I’ve seen come up multiple times in regards to the PinkMenno movement. Read this quote [NOTE: In communicating with Hershberger after I wrote this post, it seems the "outside sources" was referring to seminary professors, and the need for the pastoral role in this situation, not outside agitators as I read it. Apologies for my misunderstanding. I do think that my general point still stands.]

“As this was a conference to encourage and equip members of our Mennonite community, the input was provided primarily by pastors from this community, rather than outside sources,” (Marc) Hershberger (pastor of Grace Mennonite Church in Lansdale, Pa.) said.

Who are this outside sources he speaks of? They obviously don’t need to be specified- you know who he means.

I actually wouldn’t, except I’ve seen this before. Hershberger is mirroring the idea heard from MCUSA leadership that PinkMenno, Open Letter, BMC, and other groups are influenced by some vague outsiders.

Outside agitators were blamed for the Civil Rights Movement, the Flour Riot of 1837, and many more recent riots and social movements in general. The thinking seems to be that “Obviously, this outrageous thinking couldn’t possibly be coming from inside our community- it must be people from the outside.”

This was reflected in the Fact Sheet put out by the Immigrant Church Leaders-

Most Mennonites seem not to be aware of the funds, training and support pro-LGBT Mennonites receive from secular LGBT groups.

Obviously, these gullible youngsters are being influenced by others. Don R. Martin’s Letter to the Editor in TheMennonite calls the PinkMenno press conference that was held at Columbus 2009 “inappropriate” and said it “demonstrated a remarkable ignorance of Anabaptist-Mennonite history”. The PinkMenno campaign, in his view, was asking for the outside world to put pressure on the church.

Those outsiders!

But the people of Pink Menno are not outside agitators, bent on the destruction of the Mennonite Church. In talking with other people involved in these Movements, looking over the lists of people who have signed the Open Letter, and in general,  my feeling is that these are pastors, professors at Mennonite institutions, and people in general who are invested in the Mennonite Church. They are people who see the brokenness in the church, but still see enough value in it that they deem it worth their time and trouble to work towards what they see as a better, more Christ-like church.

Back to the original article, I think it is important to note that there were “outside agitators” at this conference. They invited Harvest USA and Six11 Ministries (note- Six11 Ministries does have Mennonite ties- see Shawn’s comment below) to speak. In looking at their sites, it appears that there is no Mennonite affiliation- if you can find one, let me know. The message, to me, is clear- outsiders who agree with them are welcome, but dissenting opinions from Mennonites are not.

So call me an agitator, for I don’t hesitate to agitate when there is need. Just don’t call me an outsider.

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