The Scarlet Letter

Pink Menno Singing

I felt it immediately. The ‘scarlet letter’, Chris Parks called it. When I first traded my yellow v-neck on Tuesday for a pink ‘How Will You Be a Bridge’ shirt, it was as if I had traded in my privilege as a heterosexual-enough-looking male for my new assumed identity as ‘one of them’.

As a bisexual, biracial individual, I’ve had a lifetime of experience trying to find intersections between two camps and negotiating my identity in that space. Some perceive my ability to identify with multiple contexts a privilege; to myself though, it has always felt like a curse that affected my capacity to feel as if I truly belonged anywhere.

Wearing pink, then, was just another experiment in ‘switching camps’.

“I’m praying for you,” said a middle-aged gentleman, in a ‘I’m praying for your soul’ kind of way, not an ‘I’m sending good energy towards you’ kind of way. Only the day before, he had smiled at me in a we’re-so-happy-to-have-different-skin-colored-people-that-can-speak-English-and-act-white way.

More hurtful than the occasional glares or careless remarks directed towards the pink, though, is the silence. The averted eyes, the deliberate ignoring of my lovely smiles, and the loud and impromptu conversations that are struck up on the spot to avoid having to say ‘hi’ seem minuscule at first. With time, the passive-aggression began to wear me out emotionally.

Is it too much to ask to acknowledge I’m human? To smile?

“You need to change shirts,” said Scott Hartman on Wednesday, enforcing a sudden decision that volunteers were not allowed to wear the color pink on their torso, “Volunteers’ shirts can’t be political in nature.”

‘Politics’ was a copout, I think. The diligence of the powers that be in preserving the hetero-normative face of convention staff reinforces misinformation about Pink Menno that implies its members only try to ‘haunt’ others instead of helping out in meaningful ways.

When I’m not volunteering, I continue to wear pink. And it’s not always a life-force drain — the smiles from unexpected places, the hastily whispered ‘I like your shirt’ comments from one careful not to be overheard by her companions, and the moment of connection when seeing another also wearing pink are little reservoirs of hope that make it all worthwhile.

And, by way of response to one gentleman’s insensitive diatribe in last night’s conversation room on sexual orientation, there are indeed people of color at convention wearing pink.

I am one, and will continue to do so.

12 comments on “The Scarlet Letter
  1. John says:

    You have alienated yourselves by wearing a distinctive color and creating “tribal warfare” as stated by Shane Hipps on Monday eve. I found your pink presence at the convention to be arrogant, threatening and overt. You have separated yourselves even further by your flamboyant displays. Instead of accepting the middle-age gentleman’s offer of prayer, you immediately judged his intentions. It would have been nice to be able to share my views on the issue but with your defiant attitude I would have immediately been labeled homophobic and hateful. I really, truly harbor no hatred toward your group but I have come to despise the color pink.

  2. John says:

    I don’t expect my previous comment will be allowed to be publicly viewed but I feel there is more to say. My feeling is your interpretation of reconciling to each other is accepting nothing less than gaining inclusion and acceptance. There seems to be no backing off on your part. We who truly believe you have been blinded and deceived by a lie must either give in to your demands or be labeled homophobic and be forced to walk away from this beloved denomination you are threatening to split. Did you ever consider coming to convention, participating in worship and seminars and as you developed relationships, tell your story as an alternative to a demanding, colorful, though peaceful, presence. I WILL pray for you and yes, it will be for God to open your eyes and see the walls your building.

  3. E Hochstedler says:

    John, there are many persons who are part of MCUSA who also believe the Bible speaks against divorce and remarriage……but persons who are divorced and remarried are accepted in our churches and allowed to serve and take leadership. That does not mean that everyone in MCUSA agrees with whether divorce and remarriage are sinful nor that the Articles of Faith address whether one can live a faithful Christian life if divorced and remarried. I am likening what appears to be your belief that homosexuality is sinful to the belief that divorce and remarriage are sins of damnation.
    The Pink Menno group is not asking you to change your belief if you feel you cannot, they are asking for the grace to allow them to be involved in the work of the church as they are living honest, open, Spirit filled lives.
    I too will be continuing to pray for God to continue filling us with grace with in our church…which we in turn can pass on. Can you and MCUSA extend that grace? God does. You need not feel forced to walk away from our church; we are all needed to work together.

  4. Crissie says:

    I was surprised to read the following in the Mennonite: “When you create sides,” he said, “you soon choose colors and devolve into tribal warfare” quoting Shane Hipps. And now you mention, John, that we are alienating ourselves by wearing a distinctive color. May you know that we have been worshipping, we have been developing relationships (and not); we have been attending seminars.
    Unfortunately, we were not heard. We have been made to be invisible in the past. We are hoping for visibility – colors is one way to go (I have never particularly liked the color pink myself). This “we” includes people who are LGBT, who are not LGBT, people who have family members and friends who are LGBT; people who have known personally or through friends and family members the pain of being made to disappear from Mennonite congregations, church organizations and institutions. A sibling of mine was asked some time ago why he had disappeared from the Mennonite Church. His response was: “The Mennonite Church disappeared me.” I, for one, do not want to be part of the disappearance of people. I am still living the repercussions of this one disappearance. What do your LGBT friends and family members have to say about their experience in the Mennonite church?
    I include myself in the “We” of Pink Mennos: can you guess my race? my gender? my sexuality? my involvement in the Mennonite church? my family’s history? my age? Does it even make a difference?
    With prayers for love and open hearts and spirits,

  5. John says:

    Yes, grace is extended to all who acknowledge they are sinful, confess those sins and strive to live a Godly life. I am no exception and struggle with my own issues on a daily basis. However, although divorce and remarriage were, and still are, in some places, touchy subjects I do not recognize them as a fair comparison. Yes, although divorce is a sad, unfortunate option, it remains an biblical alternative in certain situations. Divorced couples reconcile, seek forgiveness and healing and move on. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals are a direct contradiction to God’s plan for human sexuality. There is no where in God’s Word that says same sex unions are blessed by God. The idea of a covenanted bisexual relationship is beyond my comprehension, yet they are seeking inclusion. Our bodies are not created to be joined sexually with the same gender. Human procreation can only be achieved by sexual relations between and man and a woman, by a sperm and an egg. Never in the history of the human race have two people of the same gender been able to produce a child through the act of sex with each other, not even with help from science. If I was to die while committing adultery with no chance of seeking forgiveness I would not go to heaven! Yes, grace is available to those who confess their sins and forsake their ungodly lifestyles. Yes, I will walk away from a church who allows those who live in a constant state of sin, such as openly practiced homosexuality, to sit in leadership positions. But until that time, if it ever comes, I will continue to be a voice of loving, but unwavering resistance.

    • philipkendall says:

      Dear John,

      I am quite aware that this sort of internet/blog discourse is rather fruitless, but having remained silent in these types of discussions for many years out of fear, I simply cannot pass up this opportunity to stand up for myself and other GLBTQ people inside and outside of our church.

      As a gay person, I have been both implicitly and explicitly, formally and casually alienated by the church and its members since a very young age. Two quick examples: 1) I vaguely remember my childhood church family discussing the disciplining of a church in our conference. I don’t remember it being explained to me but I heard enough to know that it had something to do with the unacceptability of homosexuality. 2) Before I came out, I remember a youth group leader off-handedly remarking that “gay people should be drug out into the street and shot.”

      And so I hope you can understand why it’s frustrating to me when you suggest that WE pink mennos are alienating ourselves. We are simply making the alienation that we have been and are still enduring visible. Rather than remaining silent and invisible, wearing the pink forces you to “deal” with our presence rather than pretend we aren’t in your midst. We (GLBTQ people and straight allies) have always been in Mennonite churches; we didn’t just decide to join recently to stir up trouble.

      As for the our alleged acts of “tribal warfare”: We wear pink for the same reasons that youth groups come to convention proudly displaying bright, distinctive, and descriptive T-Shirts unique to their local churches AND for the same reasons that conference participants can choose to wear an official t-shirt that sets them apart from the rest of Pittsburgh or whatever city we choose to inhabit for a week every other year. Our reasons are the same: 1) we want to be able to look across a convention hall lobby, across Penn Ave, or across the giant hymn sing and KNOW we are not alone, that someone present near us understands and comes from the same place that we do. And 2) we want those outside of our sub-group to know who we are and that we are proud of who we are, rather than ashamed.

      Our pink is not primarily intended to make you feel anything. From my perspective, I can only imagine that those for whom pink causes discomfort would rather continue to believe naively that GLBTQ members and straight Allies do not exist in MCUSA. I imagine they are frustrated by the sudden crumbling of a false sense unity now that they can’t go to convention and assume that everyone there believes exactly the same, experiences God the same way, and is straight. Making this GLBTQ/Ally “other-ness” outwardly visible makes people uncomfortable for the same reasons that people’s skin color used to and sadly still makes some people uncomfortable–Lack of understanding and unwillingness to cultivate authentic relationships with the “other.”

      Having grown up in a conservative, rural congregation, I know the discomfort that “other-ness” used to cause for me. As humans, we are naturally afraid of things and people we don’t understand, until we become absolutely secure in who we are as fully acceptable children of God. For many years, I was terrified of engaging “conservative” people who I feared would judge me because of my sexuality. I feared judgment because I misplaced the source of love and acceptance in other humans. Once I finally realized that perfect love and unconditional acceptance only comes from God, then I could release that irrational fear of people.

      One example of this transformation: I found peace enough in Pittsburgh to sit down a member of my childhood church who has known me since childhood. I was able to share my story, share my perspective, and be honest about who I am without fear of rejection or judgment. I in no way need him to change him beliefs about what is or isn’t accepted by God in terms of his personal sexual expression of who he is. But in order to resume attendance at that church and to truly engage in that church’s mission, yes, I would have to first see a commitment to inclusion and acceptance of who I am.

      It’s my understanding that the fantastic nature of God’s grace for us as imperfect humans is that is offered freely and unconditionally, regardless of whether we deserve it or even ask for it. The God I seek to know more deeply doesn’t require me to be a certain way, believe a certain way, or say a specific prayer in order to be graced with God’s love. The fact that God’s grace is there for us despite our current state is what allows us to overcome our fear and uncertainty in order to risk opening ourselves to God’s love and acceptance. To believe that God’s grace is somehow conditional and that one would not go to heaven if denied the chance to ask forgiveness for a selfish act would seem to lead one to a life of fear, distrust, and isolation from the God who so freely offers love and peace.

      In an earlier comment, you mention that we Pink Menno’s don’t back off and that we require that you “must either give in to [our] demands or be labeled homophobic and be forced to walk away from this beloved denomination.” I see how you might perceive our presence as a demand that you change your beliefs. It is indeed our hope that the church would one day find the grace to accept GLBTQ people into membership without judgment, grant them the opportunity to minister in leadership positions, and offer the same blessing of covenanted relationships that straight couples receive. But I fail to see how those changes would infringe on YOUR personal beliefs. If you believe that God would not accept you if you entered into a same-sex relationship, then please, don’t do so. But I do not understand why my salvation or risk of condemnation unsettles you so.

      You accuse us of unfairly labeling you as homophobic (fear of homosexuality). By definition, your comments expose you as such. You say that a covenanted bisexual (I assume you mean same-sex) relationship is beyond your comprehension–I point out that we as humans naturally fear that which we do not understand. Your linking of the ability to procreate with the validity of a loving relationship doesn’t make sense to me. There are many straight couples who either cannot procreate or choose not to. Are they a contradiction to God’s plan as well? You claim that I am a direct contradiction to God’s plan for human sexuality. I read that as you saying that I am invalid, evil, broken, etc. Do you realize what you are claiming? Are willing to condemn an entire segment of God’s creation in humanity as invalid based on their sexuality, which you clearly do not understand.

      Your discomfort with sexual expression different from your own is great enough (and again, is the definition of homophobia) that you are willing to leave the church you claim to love if I were to be fully accepted by the church, as God already accepts me. For years, people have hidden their fear of the “other” in the Bible and in God. White Mennonites used to fear (and still do in many cases) non-white people and avoided responsibility for their hatred and racism by pointing to Bible verses and to a God somehow withholds acceptance in certain cases. Male Mennonites used to fear (and still do in many cases) females who sought leadership roles in our churches and avoided responsibility for their hatred and misogyny by pointing to Bible verses and to a God who somehow withholds acceptance in certain cases. And now some straight Mennonites fear GLBTQ and Allied Mennonites who seek to be unconditionally accepted into the church and avoid responsibility for their hatred and homophobia by pointing to Bible verses and to a God who somehow withholds acceptance in certain cases. The pattern is clear.

      If my presence in our church disgusts you so much that you choose to leave, please at least acknowledge that it is your choice to do so. Pink Menno does not seek to drive you away or to split the church. I have found the peace and willingness to reconcile with you my differences in understanding of God and God’s plan for me. To me, reconciliation means leaving a broken relationship and coming to coexist in harmony, finding middle ground and yet being fully who we are. I can be fully who I am in your presence because my salvation and love comes from God and from no human or human church. If being fully who you are somehow depends on who I am, then I don’t have an answer for you. If your concept of your personal salvation and God’s love for you somehow hinges on whether or not God accepts me, then I can see how this situation must be quite frightening for you. Perhaps you will never have peace as long as you fear that God may not also accept you.

      I too will be a voice of loving, but unwavering resistance to hatred and fear. I openly commit to not leaving the church. Ever. I offer no threat or ultimatum. I can live with God and my community for my entire life in MCUSA just as it is. No problem. But I will not change myself or be dishonest about who I am to raise your level of personal comfort. And I will not standby as young GLBTQ Mennonites are shut out in the dark or painfully silenced as I was.

      May God grant us peace, patience, and an openness to the perfection of God’s Love.

  6. StephanieKrehbiel says:

    So well said, Philip. Thank you for responding to John so thoroughly and graciously. John, yesterday when I read your comments I felt nauseous and furious and my pulse went through the roof, and then I had to remind myself that this feeling, uncomfortable as it is, is a mere fraction of what Philip and other LGBTQ Mennonites risk experiencing when they come in pink to an MCUSA convention. I think you perceive them as aggressive for no other reason than that they have the audacity not to be invisible to you any more. Speaking as a straight ally, I stand with Philip and Arthur in refusing to stand idly by while another generation of LGBTQ Mennonites suffers the way he and many other LGBTQ people dear to me have suffered. I know that we will not change your mind, but you do need to understand that the pink, as offensive as you may find it, is not about you. It’s there primarily for LGBTQ people, perhaps some in your congregation, who need to see that they are not alone.

  7. John says:

    It was not my intention to offend anyone. Forgive me if I have. I have spoken what I believe and no response to my comments has convinced me otherwise. The Mennonite Church’s response to homosexuality through history, I will admit, has been harsh. However there is a reason they have and continue to resist inclusion of gays in the church and that reason will never go away, regardless of what MCUSA does, now or with future generations,concerning LGTB’s as members or in leadership positions. The responses to my comments, though gracious, say this to me. We, the Pink Mennos and allies, are right and you, John are wrong so you have no choice but to accept us as we are because that’s the way God made us. Whatever you, John, have been taught by your parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers and all those you have looked up to and respected down through the years has been a lie. I say, rest easy, brothers and sisters. In 20 or 30 years my generation will be gone and with it, most likely, our resistance to your cause. But the reason will still remain.

  8. Carol Wise says:

    Loved your blog, Arthur. Thanks for being “a little reservoir of hope.”

  9. annabeth_roeschley says:

    yeah, arthur, right on.

  10. John says:

    I want to leave one more comment and then I will back off. I have emailed Philip personally thinking this thread had been taken off. Stephanie, I know how you feel. It’s the emotion I feel when I’m pressured to accept something I believe contradicts the way God created us and is deliberately flaunted in my face. That is the way it feels to me. So do what I’m expected to do, and forgive my bluntness, but get over it and move on. To Philip I say, your argument concerning gays adopting is not valid. Many heterosexual couples chose to adopt because of a cruel twist of fate that have left them childless or infertile. It was never intended that gay couples raise children because they are NOT made to procreate. No matter how ‘normal’ a child of gay parents may seem there is something significant missing in not being raised by hetero parents. Secondly, when I said “covenanted bisexual relationships” that is exactly what I meant. Your cause includes bisexuals so am I to assume you approve of a three way intimate relationship?
    If your goal was to become visible, you have succeeded but in becoming more visible you have separated yourselves and created more resistance. Sadly, to my self and others, I fear MCUSA is gravitating toward an all inclusive church. Victory for Pink Mennos is a defeat for those who oppose this move. There will never be an all inclusive MCUSA. It will be made up of LBQT’s, their allies and those who are indifferent. If that time comes and I chose to stay and continue to voice my opposition, what do you think the response would be? We can agree on one thing. There will come a time when the Truth will be known and Justice will be served!

  11. Frank Trnka says:

    A significant impasse is reached when people think “there is nothing new under the sun” – all divine revelation happened in the past and our only task is to understand what that meant back then. But there are those of us who resonate with the United Church of Christ slogan: “God Is Still Speaking!” While I am well aware of the amount of grey and silver hair among the GLBT and allied community, I find it sad to think any elderly person looking at the progressive movement in the church, which seems to be keeping young people involved and empowered in MCUSA, would posit that change will inevitably come “over my dead body.” How much more vibrant those elder years could be with an openness to perhaps genuinely hearing some new things and taking in new insights about our life together in this church on this earth.