To Ann Graber Hershberger and J. Ron Byler,
I am writing to express my discontent with Policy #152 that requires sexual celibacy for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) personnel outside of heterosexual marriage. On March 16-17th, your organization affirmed this statute for all those in leadership positions, workers with significant interactions with MCC’s constituency and service workers on international assignments. You went on to state that some exceptions will be made, though it is incredibly vague around what and who those exceptions will be.
I have been following this story, but felt somewhat disconnected to any feelings around it. So much so that my partner commented to me, “You don’t even seem upset about this. Your friends are more upset than you are.” I told her that at this point, I am just used to it. However, this morning I felt something again when I read the letter written to you by Wendi Moore-O’Neal. MCC fired O’Neal, by email, in 2014, after “becoming aware of actions that violate MCC’s requirement of sexual celibacy for personnel outside of heterosexual marriage.”
This caused me to feel something on behalf of Wendi, who identifies as a “Black, butch, dyke.” These are desperately missing identities in all places of work, particularly Mennonite institutions. Because of this, we/you miss out on people who are able to see things that you/I do not see, from our/your positions of privilege and majority. In an organization that does cross cultural outreach, this is just negligent.
My fear is that the revisions to the current policy, allowing exceptions will especially disenfranchise those who have less social capital and access, such as those with less recognizable last names. I do not see how bias will not play a role and those who are more connected, such as myself, will not benefit slightly or significantly more, than those who are not.
But, as I sit here feeling my anger on behalf of Wendi, I also become aware of my own feelings. Indeed the numbness that I initially felt is an ongoing symptom of trauma. I recently said to my therapist, “Sometimes I feel like my symptoms fit those of a sexual abuse survivor.” To my surprise, she said, “Well, your church sexually abused you.” I do not wish to equate my experience with survivors who have been physically violated, but I immediately understood what my therapist meant.
The ongoing messages about the unholiness of my sexuality, from Church institutions took and continues to take a toll on my psyche. These tolls include shame, anxiety and bodily triggers to touch. As a child, I would perform mental rituals to quell the anxiety about my sexuality. In adulthood, this has erupted into full blown OCD during stressful times, requiring medication and therapy.
Despite this, many parts of me are thriving. I have talents for writing, music and spiritual/theological discourse that I love sharing. This summer, I decided to share one of these gifts with your institution, by creating (with many other talented musicians) “The Midnight Hymn Sing.” The proceeds went entirely to MCC aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. I believe this project raised thousands of dollars and I do not regret this one bit. The last thing I want to do is advocate for stopping donations to MCC. Placing my pain over the pain of those fleeing war is absurd, but MCC, you place me in such an odd position.
So, fair is fair; keep the money, but I have a proposition for you and the employees of MCC: A required disclosure of all sexual activity that each individual has engaged in outside of heterosexual marriage. This will be to see if it meets the requirement of celibacy (especially since you didn’t identify what that means). Not to be crass and make you think about my sex life (oh wait, you already are) but if it is sexual intercourse, then I am good to go!
I doubt this will happen though. I mean, can you imagine? Talk about being in an odd position (no pun intended)…describing all your sexual acts that ever occurred outside of marriage, while someone judges if they were holy or unholy; if something crossed a line and puts your employment and livelihood at risk? The whole thing just sounds too traumatizing, right?
Addie Liechty (They/them)