Donna Minter originally posted the following reflection as a comment on the earlier post “The Conversation Room” by Stephanie Krehbiel. Since it can obviously stand alone as a PinkMennoPress post, I asked her permission to make it so. I’m sure there are many of who could write and share very insightful reflections on various aspects of the convention in Pittsburgh. Please consider doing so in order to continue our documentation on this site and more importantly to help those who weren’t hear to build a more complete sense of the experience, so that they may share in our hope and energy going forward. Contact me (Philip at [email protected]) if you would like to share your writing, photos, or video with other Pink Mennos.
“A Reflection on the Conversation”
by Donna Minter
This was my first MC-USA convention, my first time being a delegate, and my first time participating in a Pink Menno gathering as a LGBT Ally. Thank you for this opportunity to be a part of this community within OUR complicated and intense church family. I wanted to be a delegate from Faith Mennonite Church, Minneapolis because I wanted to represent my congregation. I also wanted very much to an active listening presence with those in MC-USA who hold traditional Christian views and often have had quite limited, if any, contact with LGBT people. I hoped to have multiple opportunities to share with these same people that, as a long time Scripture loving and reading, prayerful, playful, and active peacebuilding follower of Jesus, I respectfully have a different view. I also hoped to have the opportunity to share with them of the trauma my gay friends and extended family members have experienced in the name of their specific Biblical interpretations and practice.
While I have no doubt there were those who caste me in the Scarlet Letter role and avoided contact because of evidence of pinkness, I decided that with these folks, simply being a pink presence at a viewing/staring distance was witness enough for them. Perhaps for some who have been traumatized sexually and never spoken of it, my pinkness aroused fear and anxiety that they have worked hard to suppress; God alone knows. Conversation would have been too much for some, and that is okay because these folks too are on a spectrum, a spectrum of understanding. Having uncomfortable feelings caused by holding conflicting thoughts simultaneously of pink in their view was all some could manage. And because Pink Menno was loving and caring and playful and prayerful and committed to nonviolence, simply being “the view” for them was and is a good thing. I suspect that for some folks knowing the Conversation Rooms were going to happen for perceived difficult topics took pressure off of them even if they had no intention of participating.
I did not know that the Conversation Rooms were happening until I got to convention. As soon as I learned that the Conversation Rooms were going to happen, I knew that this was one of the primary reasons that the Divine had drawn me to come to MC-USA this year
(I also adored the Pink Menno hymn sings and it was great seeing friends from 17-30 years ago). I attended 3 Conversation Room gatherings: the Church and Human Sexuality, The Church and Decision-making and Discernment (or something like that), and The Church and Sexual Orientation.
In general, I found the Conversation Rooms to be a hopeful sign for MC-USA and great first step toward attempting to provide a safe space for differing views to have respectful confidential air time. Not perfect by any means, but as someone wise once said to me, “if something is worth doing, it worth doing poorly at first.” With time and regular practice, if MC-USA continues to be in these types of respectful equality- seeking conversations, we will get better at it. Dave Brubaker, one of the facilitators began the first gathering by defining Conversation as “against difference.” When we choose to enter into these types of Conversations, I believe we are saying, “together we will listen and speak with the hope of finding the path toward being against the difference between us together.”
During the first Human Sexuality conversation, I was struck by how hard it was for the group to stay on the broader topic rather than speak primarily about sexual orientation. There are probably many reasons for this “orientation focus.” One reason may be because few heterosexual Mennonites have worked out the mysteries of sexuality for themselves, let alone within their congregations. For some they simply don’t want to do it, and for others there has not been the time and/or space provided. I also suspect it is simply easier to make sexual orientation the issue because for centuries it has been so easy to pick out the concrete interpretation of “homosexuality as sin” argument from Scripture and simply go with it as if it had the corner on sexual/spiritual truth. The good news is that during this Conversation Room gathering, it seems as though people with varying views talked and listened respectfully and they wanted to be there. They wanted to learn and they wanted to share. They entered the discourse to act lovingly even when they adamantly disagreed. When summarizing what they heard the other say, they mostly agreed to practice speaking within a structure to the speaker, not about what the speaker had said. This happened with someone in my small group, and because the delineated structure allowed both of us to really listen to each other, we had a productive conversation and authentically thanked each other and hugged each other at the end even though I am quite sure we did not agree. Nonetheless, it was a beginning to speak our truth in love to each other directly and respectfully. This, I believe, is what it means to be reconciled with each other and with the Divine. If only for a few minutes we tasted the glory of God.
During the Conversation Room gathering about Discernment, just hearing the opposing views in a respectful manner provided some of us the opportunity to really hear and speak about the curiosity of why sanctions are solely on clergy for being at variance regarding sexual orientation. I doubt those holding traditional views ever considered why MC-USA has not sanctioned churches for variations of teaching and/or practice with regard to heterosexual sexuality, nonviolence, and militarism. Again, we did not converse perfectly, but to struggle together to speak these differences clearly gets us closer to the reconciliation with God and one another.
I came to the Thursday night Conversation Room on The Church and Sexual Orientation with much anticipation to experience movement of the Holy Spirit and I believe I was not disappointed. As I listened for 2+ hours, I cried and felt pain when some spoke AND I also felt immense joy and triumphant when those who have not previously had any voice at MC-USA, finally had at least several minutes to speak and in some cases share their stories of despair, healing, and hope. The vision of the Mennonite Church is Healing and Hope. We did this Thursday night! Certainly there were those in attendance who thought that if they simply preached with enough fervor, others would come to see what it means to be saved according to their own view of salvation. It made me consider that despite the intention from the other who disagrees, in the end it is up to each of us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (read Philippians 2:12: carefully, thoughtfully, humbly, prayerfully with the Divine and those with whom we give and receive counsel). While one can express concern for the speck in another’s eye, ultimately, the speaker is primarily responsible for the log in their own eye, not the eye speck they perceive in the other.
I hope that these Conversation Room gatherings on these differences and future disagreements among us will become a long, trusted tradition at MC-USA convention. I also hope that we will feel free to practice these strategies of deep compassionate listening and mindful speaking so that in the years to come, the Mennonite Church will be a light to others about how we witness Divine reconciliation among US.