I’ve been involved with Pink Menno since before Columbus in 2009 and before that, I worked for Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests and I’m now on the organization’s board. BMC has been doing this work for nearly 40 years. Once in awhile a friend will ask me, “why are you still doing this work?” I often have to ask myself the same question. I guess it is that I still care about my broken church and I want to do what I can, while I can still have some hope and faith left that it can be better. I still have that hope and faith despite the setbacks, the ignorant statements, and the hand-wringing leadership, because I can also see that positive change is happening, ploddingly slow at times, but happening. Allies continue to come out and speak out and congregations are standing up for welcome. We know “that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” (MLK Jr), but we will not wait for the inevitability of change, we do our work to try to shorten the arc so less young people are harmed in the process. I’d like the Mennonite Church to “get it right” before it’s too late and has completely lost its integrity and credibility.
I bring up integrity and credibility because, more and more, that is what younger generations say they are missing from The Church. We learned Mennonite values growing up in our Mennonite churches. We learned that Mennonites and Anabaptists are exceptional because we stand for nonviolence, peace, justice and hope for the downtrodden. We were taught that the Sermon on the Mount was central to our faith and what set us apart from the “World.” We are then dismayed to find that the Mennonite Church itself and it’s agencies taking part in the violence, discrimination, and marginalization of lgbtq people and our friends and families. We watch as openly queer people are pushed from their families and congregations, as welcoming congregations and pastors are disciplined, as Pink Mennos are publicly shamed by church leaders, and we are troubled. What is more troubling is the deafening silence, ignorance, and lack of interest from those who believe they can be “neutral” while the queer community is stepped on. We feel the pain of that violence in the queer community but we know there is also dire harm to the very soul of the church. For every queer person and our friends and family who are pushed out of the church, there is a wound. We speak out not just for ourselves and queer and questioning youth but to offer an opportunity to the church to heal itself and to regain its moral authority.
We hear our proclaimed church leaders struggling to hold the “Unity” of the church together as they are afraid to be torch bearers for welcome, even when some may agree with our purposes. The LGBTQ community is excluded completely from that supposed “Unity” while others hold it hostage with threats to withdraw their presence or their support. As these church leaders hold onto this Unity tighter and tighter, it seems to slip through their fingers because it is a false unity. True Unity can hold itself together with the bonds of our common faith, care and love for eachother. When we can extend the table to make room for the diverse rainbow of the Mennonite church, we can share in a communion that respects and values our differences and we will find that we hold more in common than we know. Openness and welcome is the beginning of that journey towards Unity, not the end. If church leaders cannot carry the torch because they lead in fear, the least they can do is make room for those of us who will carry the torch.
As Pink Menno, we go to Mennonite conferences to be visible. It is to let lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth and their friends see that you can be Mennonite and queer or allied. We go to be seen by the larger Mennonite community so they know we will not go away and can not be silenced. We are the church, even when the church tries to tell us otherwise. Many of us grew up in the Mennonite Church and it made us who we are. The church taught us to pray and act for justice and peace in the world and is quick to support and laud those involved in this work. But when we call for peace and justice within the church, we are scornfully branded as “activists,” “outsiders,” or “advocacy groups” in order to dismiss and discredit us.”
In spite of the challenges, we will continue to call on the church to look to the margins because that is where the church will find Jesus working. The margins where oppressions of classism, racism, sexism, ableism, violence, heterosexism are found, and where the church can find its faith and the credibility it is losing. For the unity and sake of the whole church, including the possibility of a vital future, we invite leaders to join us there.