Dear Ann and Ron,
MCC has a history of drawing people from diverse Christian backgrounds together to do good work in the world. There are three requirements for MCC workers: commitment to Christian faith, active participation in a Christian church, and commitment to peace & nonviolence. Sensitivity to the local context of service work is an additional factor that MCC wraps into discussions of moral life. The firing of Wendi Moore-O’Neal, the petition for inclusion of LGBTQ people, and the updated policy guidelines document have highlighted the challenge of trying to work as one body amid strongly differing understandings of LGBTQ people. I believe MCC could serve as a model of wisdom if it acted out of its fundamental identity and the strength of its tradition by building on its three core faith requirements.
Let’s speak of alcohol as an example of how these faith criteria can be applied. Workers come to MCC with personal faith commitments from home church communities with different beliefs and teachings about alcohol. Abuse of alcohol (addiction, overuse) is violent toward one’s body and can lead to violence against others. In some cultures where MCC workers serve, alcohol use would hurt the witness of MCC, whereas in other cultures, activities such as sharing a glass of wine with dinner are an important part of hospitality and social connection. I see in MCC’s documents and policies space for wisdom that contains all of these complexities, and allows for a living morality that takes into account a worker’s personal faith, accountability to home church communities, nonviolence, and sensitivity to witness in different cultural contexts. This wisdom guides MCC in a way that a policy that imposes an absolute binary ruling on the morality of alcohol would fail to capture.
Sexuality, which encompasses sexual relationships, actions, and expressions, is a core area of life for all people, and is interwoven with the faith and morality of individuals and communities. The diversity of faith traditions that come together through MCC have a variety of teachings and beliefs about sexual morality. Some workers come from churches where the only acceptable place for sex is in a heterosexual marriage, whereas others come from churches where same-sex relationships are blessed and welcomed. Sexuality of single people is understood differently in various traditions. There are many nuanced understandings and practices of dating, relationship, gender expression, and gender roles. The local contexts of service in different cultures carry a vast variety of implications for expressions of sexuality, relationships, and gender (such as acceptable codes of dress, position of people of different genders in society, social norms for interactions among genders.) MCC’s current policy on sexuality does not reflect any of this complexity, and has resulted in erratically policing the sexuality of its workers and volunteers, primarily when an outside party complains about the existence of a visible LGBTQ person. For MCC to stay true to its core commitments, it will need to take the courageous step of writing a new policy on sexuality that embraces the best of its tradition.
What might it look like to work from the wisdom of this tradition? The policy guidelines should reflect a commitment to the three central faith requirements. Rather than being the arbiter of faithful sexuality, MCC can require all workers to live a sexuality that is consistent with their personal faith commitment and accountable to their home church communities. Sexual violence (harassment, coercion) would be recognized and called to account. For service in a different culture, workers’ sexuality, relationships, and genders would be considered in the same way that all aspects of a worker’s life would be considered in determining if a particular position is a good fit, and local partners would be sought that match the gifts of talented individuals looking for a field of service. Accountability to faithful sexuality would include the worker’s home church community; for example, if someone believes that a lesbian worker is not living a faithful Christian sexuality, that person might be invited into a discussion with the worker’s pastor and church community, rather than putting MCC in the position of adjudicating differences of belief among all of its constituents. The fruit of such an approach would likely include a more fully committed cadre of workers and volunteers, a greater sensitivity to the needs of populations being served (which certainly contain many LGBTQ people), and an inspiring model of how Christians from diverse faith backgrounds can work together to do God’s work in the world, which has always been a legacy of MCC. Women have been leaders in MCC for decades despite this being in tension with the teachings of constituent denominations and partner organizations; if such a policy as I’m suggesting is implemented, the same could be true for LGBTQ people.
To do so, MCC would need to correct the path that it has currently taken, which is to treat LGBTQ people as agents of a contamination that must be contained. If it continues on its current path, it will increasingly alienate Anabaptists who consider acceptance and justice for LGBTQ people as a key component of nonviolence. Discipline and firing of workers for violations of sexual policies will continue to be applied haphazardly and hypocritically, with the LGBTQ people who are most visible and vulnerable bearing almost the entire burden. If married heterosexuality continues to be the standard for sexual morality, sexual coercion and violence will continue to be easily hidden behind a veneer of “acceptable” sexuality. An absolute binary law of externally-judged sexual acceptability is neither wise nor Christian; it is too brittle to serve a living institution, and I fear that the more MCC lashes itself to such a law, the greater the chance that it might break.
A leader of Pink Menno
Board member of Brethren/Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests