Lament for the institutionalized church: Trauma, rage, and hope from Kansas City

[Reposted from Our Stories Untold. Read Rae Halder’s original post here.]

Rae wrote a version of this piece, originally posted on Facebook, late on Friday, July 3, after attending the Mennonite Church USA’s “Service of Lament and Hope” for survivors of sexual abuse. The service came a day after MCUSA delegates passed two seemingly contradictory resolutions related to LGBTQ bodies. One, the “Resolution on Forbearance in the Midst of Difference,” submitted by a politically diverse coalition of pastors, asked Mennonite congregations to “forbear” with one another amidst their conflicts over “same-sex covenanted unions.”

The other, the “Resolution on the Status of the Membership Guidelines,” was submitted by the MCUSA Executive Board, and put forth its own interpretation of “forbearance,” stating, “In order to exercise forbearance on matters that divide us and to focus attention on the missional vision that unites us, the delegate assembly will not entertain changes to the Membership Guidelines for the next four years.” The Membership Guidelines of MCUSA condemn “homosexuality” and require MCUSA area conferences to “review” the ministerial credentials of any pastor performs a covenant or marriage ceremony for two people of the same gender.

On Thursday afternoon, after the Membership Guidelines resolution was passed, dozens of Pink Menno supporters stood silently in the hallway of the convention hall for nearly an hour, facing the outgoing foot traffic from the delegate hall. In order to past through the hallway, delegates had to navigate a maze of pink-clad bodies. Many stood in tears; some, including Rae, wore pink duct tape over their mouths to symbolize the ongoing silencing of queer voices.

On Friday morning, the delegate body passed another resolution, a “Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse.”

— Stephanie Krehbiel

The evening of July 3rd I walked into MCUSA’s “Service of Lament and Hope” hoping to find a space for healing that I could come to with my wounds. I left that space with deep pain and extreme rage—a rage I rarely, if ever, feel. I was pissed off. No, that’s an understatement: I was furious.

On July 2nd our church passed “A Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse.” Elizabeth Soto Albrect, moderator of Mennonite Church USA, asked the delegates to be mindful when speaking about the subject matter with fellow delegates, as many among them could be sexual abuse survivors. “Certain things may trigger painful memories,” she stated.

A few Pink Menno’s performed a gorilla theater piece during the Forbearance Resolution voting delegate session.

Well, that service more than triggered painful memories—it triggered my rage. I was triggered by having that above statement spat right back out at my face. I was triggered by Mennonite Church USA’s lack of mindfulness when speaking to their constituents. My pain from Thursday, of being told through the passage of the Forbearance and Membership Guidelines Resolutions that I am not a legitimate member of the church, and that this fact won’t be debated again for four years, was triggered. The memory that not a single LGBTQ person was invited to speak in the delegate hall, and that when they “forcefully” exerted themselves through guerrilla theater because they are done with not being invited they were met with extreme anger and a demand to have the doors locked to keep the queer folk out, was triggered. The memory of being declared not worthy of respect was triggered. The violence of not having my body and personhood recognized was triggered. The painful memories of standing in silent protest while delegates walked by making condescending statements such as “Don’t worry, things will get better!” or not even looking me in the eye was triggered. Being reminded of the sin I continue to see and experience against me was triggering.

Mennonite Church USA, your words spoken the night of the 3rd are empty. They mean nothing to me, a survivor of sexualized violence, and a survivor of continued sexualized violence systematically orchestrated by you. The longer I sat in that service and listened to those words, while stealing glances at my fellow Pink Menno friends sitting in the pews with pain clearly written on their faces, the more my blood began to boil. Every word you uttered in that service could be, should be, directed towards them—yet we weren’t even acknowledged as a possible component of the equation. Every word you uttered in that service was directed towards me, yet it was completely inauthentic as you only acknowledged a tiny slice of the sexualized violence I have and continue to experience by the hands of the church. How can you not acknowledge the continued sexualized violence you perpetrate against me with absolutely zero acknowledgment of the pain and trauma you are not only causing me, but hundreds of other Mennonites, thousands if we count the countless persons who have been hurt over the years and have left the church because of this continuing spiritual, emotional, and abusive violence.

Rachel Halder stands with pink duct tape over her mouth in silent protest with other Pink Menno’s on Thursday afternoon, after the Membership Guidelines resolution was passed.

Mennonite Church USA—you are violent. You are inflicting pain and destruction on persons’ souls. The Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse resolves “to tell the truth about sexual abuse; hold abusers accountable; acknowledge the seriousness of their sin; listen with care to those who have been wounded; protect vulnerable persons from injury; work restoratively for justice; and hold out hope that wounds will be healed, forgiveness offered, and relationships established or reestablished in healthy ways.”

Mennonite Church USA, I ask you to honor the document you passed on the 2nd with only three opposing votes and four abstentions. Mennonite Church USA, can you PLEASE learn to tell the truth about sexual abuse, something you committed in a volatile way by passing both the Forbearance resolution and the Membership Guidelines resolution? I, and many others, are trying to hold you accountable. We are trying to explain to you the abuse you commit. We are trying to help you become aware of the intricacies of power structures that you clearly do not understand. Please acknowledge the seriousness of your sin. Please learn to listen to those who have been wounded—invite us to tell our stories. I challenge you, how are you going to protect us—your LGTBQ community—from your injury? How are you going to work restoratively for justice with us? Are you seriously telling me that you’re holding out hope that our wounds will be healed? When will the apologies be offered? How do you propose to establish relationships with us? In 20 years will you be holding a service of “Lament and Hope” for the sexual violations you continue to commit today? Do you think that will be enough, just as you may think what you did last night is enough? Mennonite Church USA, are you ever going to wake up and recognize that the above statement is about YOU—an institution who continues to perpetuate sexualized violence against its constituents?

Let me tell you something—it’s not enough. It is not enough at all. Your acknowledgment is only a tiny fraction of what could be done, and the fact that you can only acknowledge a small slice of my pain publicly creates an even deeper wound.

Do these words make you flinch? Does this anger make you uncomfortable? I really hope it does, because the slight flinch you experience at these harsh words are only microscopic versions of the flinches my fellow LGBT and queer friends experience repeatedly, over and over and over again, when we are unwelcomed by you, our church.

Thank you, Mennonite Church USA, for getting me in touch with this inner rage, with this wise soul inside that knows when to say, “Enough is enough”; this beautiful soul inside who says, “Girl, you are a rae of sunshine, a beam of love and beauty, and you have all the permission in the universe to throw your fiery molten lava around.”

Pink Meno hymn sing on Saturday, July 4, 2015 outside the delegate assembly at the Mennonite Convention in Kansas City. It was the largest ever hymn sing with well over 300 people joining in. Panorama photo by Luke Yoder

Thank you MCUSA for helping me find my people–you all, this amazing Pink Menno crew. In my little bubble of pink convention love I experienced Christ like never before. Christ is alive and well within me and my fellow pink wearing comrades. Christ exists in the many ways I have been counseled, comforted, loved, and received. Christ was in those circles as I laughed, cried, yelled, cursed, and laughed again. Christ pours out of the soul-filled songs I share with others in spaces we are not welcomed into, but that we take up anyway, and Christ is breathed in to my body through the soul-filled air when I momentarily lack the strength to share my voice. I, too, have watched over and over again the beauty of the resurrection through the bodies, faces, experiences, and strength of my fellow pink friends. I watch as we are cast out—occupy our places of pain—and then get up the next day and do it again. We are so strong. We are so fierce. WE ARE SO SACRED!! Walking in solidarity with my people, I see the presence of the Divine Spirit is alive and well, and this is why I went to convention—to experience Christ’s love beyond this level of reality through a community of outcasts, of perceived sinners, of dehumanized persons rejected by the status quo.

Mennonite Church USA. I reject your service of lament just as you reject me. Maybe we can get it right next time?

I’ve been asked by some who believe that LGBTQ identities are sinful if they, too, are perpetrators of sexualized violence. And to that my reply is, Yes. First, I want to say that I don’t think those who abuse are innately bad. With that said, many abusers have no cognitive realization that they’re violating other persons. That seems pretty absurd, right? But it’s the truth. They do not understand the harm they’re inflicting on the victim and the trauma the victim lives through until they get the kind of help and support needed to understand the intricacies and psychological patterns of sexual abuse.

Saturday July 4, the day after the healing service, I had to live through a blur of PTSD. I knew that service triggered me, but the next day when I woke up I had no idea the severe impact it would place on me. I attempted to go to an 11:15 AM OSU seminar where Barbra, Hilary, and I were to present our stories of sexualized violence. When I began moving towards and through the convention center I couldn’t handle it. I started crying and could not stop. I couldn’t breathe. I felt overwhelmed and incapable of making any sort of decisions. I did not make the 11:15 scheduled time, and when I finally got to the door I sat outside and just cried, not even fully acknowledging the many people swirling around me. Multiple people stopped to try to help or see what was wrong, and it finally took someone picking me off the floor and saying, “Go back to your hotel room, right now” in order for me to make any sort of movement. I skipped the seminar and curled up in a fetal position on my bed where I remained shaking until 4:00 PM when I felt like I was able to leave my room to attend the inclusive pink menno service supported by inclusive pastors.

That is classic PTSD. I was re-traumatized by attending the service that MCUSA planned as a lament of sexualized violence. I’m not being dramatic—this is my lived experience. To believe that you are not committing sexualized violence simply because you do not realize what you are doing, the trauma you are committing, through your exclusive beliefs about love and humanity just simply isn’t so. I can’t change your heart and I can’t force you to see something differently, but the pure fact is that the actions of institutionalized exclusivity helped aid me in a full blown episode of PTSD.

These past two weeks since convention have been a blur of emotional turmoil. The rage that coursed through my veins the following week was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Thank God my beloved Lama Foundation community are compassionate human beings who were able to hold me in my anger, silence, and emotional confusion. Through these two weeks I questioned so much: Do I really want to be a part of this violent church? Why am I trying to fight for justice in an unjust system? What is the point of exerting so much energy into something that just brings me pain and sadness? Why the hell am I going to seminary in the fall?! Am I really ready to take on the work I feel called and commissioned to do? Am I able and ready to stand in my wholeness, my centeredness, and enter into these spaces without getting triggered into a state of PTSD? Can I believe and trust in myself, my calling, and my longing to be whole even when confronted by thousands who tell me I don’t deserve it?

Free spirited worship at “Bound Together, Together Free” service held by Pink Menno, Inclusive Pastors, and BMC on Tuesday before the week of convention began.

I’m finally seeing the light through the emotional daze I’ve been floating around in for what I’ve deemed as too long. I’m finally coming back to remembrance: that I am so much more than all of that which stops me in my tracks. Underneath all that consumes me I am that which is pure, unstoppable, all knowing, and so very powerful. I also recognize that this power within me has nothing to do with what I say or know, where I am, what I look like, who I like to have intimate relations with—this is the power of my God-given, God-ordained, God-rejoiced PRESENCE. It is the heat and light from my internal burning fire that flames from my heart and longs to reach out to everyone who comes in contact with me. This is the power of all those giving their lives to love and justice, standing together in circles, building power side by side. This is the True Church: the church to which I belong and love and give myself fully to. And this is all that matters.

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