Before addressing Jim’s letter specifically, we wish to start by expressing an exciting vision of hope that we carry for our church: that it become a wellspring of life, joy, and goodness for all people, especially for the people who have traditionally been the marginalized of society. Our call is to work to make this true for LGBTQ people, who have stated very clearly that the church has been a source of immense pain, damage, and silencing in their lives. We feel that the Mennonite church is on the threshold of an opportunity to allow the Spirit to transform the situation of silence, unspoken pains, mutual suspicion, and brokenness surrounding our inability to address the presence of LGBTQ people among us into an entirely new reality of honest and open connection, clear communication, Spirit-filled reflection, and new energy and life.
We were overjoyed and astonished at convention to experience the outpouring of love and support of the many who joined Pink Menno, from the numbers who swelled our hymn sings and who packed our hospitality room for every discussion and presentation to the hundreds of adults and youth who donned pink shirts, bandanas, and bracelets to show their personal support for LGBTQ inclusion in the church. We were also encouraged by the many thoughtful, positive conversations that people dressed in pink had with other Mennonites who saw the issue of LGBTQ inclusion differently but who wished to engage in positive exchange and mutual learning. It truly feels that something new is moving in our midst. Many who were at convention sensed this.
Jim’s Schrag’s letter to conference ministers about Pink Menno’s presence is problematic in several ways and, unfortunately – whether intentional or not – misrepresents our presence at convention. We are troubled in particular by the following:
1.) Contrary to the principles of Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love (a Mennonite document cited by Jim in his letter) to “go directly to those with whom we disagree,” Pink Menno was never contacted before this letter was released to discuss its existence or its contents.
2.) The letter is inaccurate regarding communication between MCUSA leadership and Pink Menno. We were never told at convention at any time to stop distributing our “literature” (a brochure with our mission statement and schedule of events.) We believe Jim may be referring to a booth in the exhibition hall which had displayed our pink brochures & t-shirts for a time until asked to stop. We have been in contact with the sponsors of that booth, and, while we can’t speak for them about all the details, they have stated that they removed the items from their table on request and didn’t return them to the table. (If you want to view the brochure that is being talked about, click on this link: Pink Menno Handout.pdf)
3.) The letter states that “our understandings were not honored.” Pink Menno didn’t have contact with the board prior to convention, and although we did have conversation with several MCUSA representatives during convention, they were in the nature of “checking in” with each other and passing along feedback. Pink Menno’s hospitality space was outside of the convention center, and at no point were there any set of guidelines or agreements between MCUSA and Pink Menno about the nature of our witness and presence.
4.) Reference is made to the resolution that passed “overwhelmingly” by the delegates at the convention in a way that implies great unity on the teachings of sexuality in the church, without mentioning the highly significant fact that this resolution was amended by the delegates to change the wording from “we affirm the teachings” to “we acknowledge the teachings.” That the delegates felt the need to do this is witness to the awareness that there does exist significant disagreement in the church over this issue, and that our unity is not because we are of one belief on this matter but because we are of one Spirit.
5.) No mention was made of one very significant element of what occurred in Columbus: namely, the confrontational, directly harmful behavior that occurred at the hands of a few very vocal and aggressive individuals who disagreed with Pink Menno. Youth and adults wearing pink, simply going about their day at the convention, were the recipients of extremely problematic behaviors on many occasions. These behaviors included being aggressively confronted in a hostile manner with a few Bible verses, being called fag, being verbally abused, and in many instances being driven to tears. We do not know whether Jim was aware of these occurrences when he drafted this letter, but if he had talked with us about the letter before sending it, we would have told them about these events. This is a missed opportunity to address some negative aspects of what occurred at the convention and invite healing.
6. ) The overall tone of the letter, in our reading, implicitly defines Pink Menno as a group outside the church, rather than acknowledging the reality that Pink Menno and all those who supported and appreciated its presence come from the very heart of the church – members, pastors, Sunday-school teachers, active youth group participants. How can we begin to truly start the process of agreeing and disagreeing in love until we acknowledge the presence and existence of those who disagree?
We wish to acknowledge the incredible gifts and service that Jim Schrag has contributed to the church over many years. We don’t feel that any of the problematic areas outlined above preclude an opportunity to move forward by better listening and open communication to address and resolve many of these areas. We have sent a letter outlining these concerns to Jim and hope to be in more direct conversation with him soon.
On a final note, we invite everyone, from Pink Mennos to those who wish Pink Mennos didn’t exist, to truly take to heart the powerful, uplifting words that Jim’s writes at the end of the letter: “May God continue to have mercy on us and God’s spirit guide us, which invites us all to extraordinary patience and perseverance with each other in the midst of sincere disagreement and contrasting interpretation of scripture.” Amen.