Your responses to Jims Schrag’s letter


Dozens of people have shared with us their personal responses to Mr. Schrag’s letter. We have contacted these people to ask for their permission to share their responses. As we receive their permission, we’ll post those responses here.

Please share with us your own response! You can email us at [email protected] Please mention whether you would like your response to be shared publicly, and if so, if it is okay to use your name.

Jim has responded personally to many of the letters that people have sent.  His responses have been gracious and warm, and we are encouraged by the time he is taking to engage in conversation.  However, his letter to conference leaders remains the only public response from MCUSA leadership about Pink Menno.  We hope that as we engage more in conversation with him and other leaders in the next weeks, they will make a public statement that is more balanced and that corrects the misrepresentation of Pink Menno in the original letter.

Scroll down this page to begin reading responses, or click on the links below to skip to individual ones:

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Dear leaders of MCUSA who have worked so hard,

Thank you for all your efforts to make Columbus 2009 a time to remember. Indeed, that wonderful experience will stay with me for a long time!

I spent most of my time in the MennoNeighbors booth where I had hundreds of conversations, mostly with people who were affirming of MennoNeighbors work on peace and justice issues. I appreciated some very constructive, respectful dialogue with several people who disagreed with us in the area of inclusion of lgbt persons. That was the kind of dialogue that I have been wishing would happen in all the Mennonite Churches. The only unpleasant experiences were with several youth pastors (I think from three different churches) who approached me with Bibles in hand, and confronted me about not believing the Word of God. I was not taken off guard because I know how much fear is behind such words and body language. I felt these people were doing what their churches expected of them, and I listened with respect, but had little opportunity for input.

Jim, my main concern right now is regarding the letter you wrote to all the area conferences for distribution to the churches concerning PinkMennos. I heard of no instances where PinkMennos were disrespectful, although I know some of THEM were treated with disrespect, and called “fags”. The PinkMennos prepared carefully and prayerfully for their/our presence at Columbus , resolving to show love and respect to all. You mentioned the distribution of literature in the exhibit area. I don’t know of any literature that PinkMenno gave out, except for a flyer telling of seminars and a film in the off-site “hospitality room”. When we were told to get rid of such literature in our MN booth, we put it down under the curtained tables out of sight. I’m thinking that some people may have thought the one bright pink booklet on display was a PinkMenno booklet, but it wasn’t. I was alone in the booth when a young man came by, looked at the literature table and shook his head, then walked away. A few minutes later he came back with another guy. They both shook their heads, looked at that pink-covered booklet, and each picking one up, they walked away. They did not look at me or acknowledge my presence.

I can’t imagine what “unwelcomed and unauthorized literature” you say that some of the youth received. The PinkMennos were making a statement by wearing pink, just wanting everyone to be included in the life of the church. They/we surely weren’t trying to indoctrinate anyone, but definitely working toward nondiscrimination. As of this hour there are 905 members in PinkMenno. A number of these members are Mennonite Church leaders, some of whom had major responsibilities at this Convention.

Your letter mentioned the overwhelming vote to pass the resolution acknowledging the teaching of the Confession of Faith…, but I know that many delegates voted in favor because they felt that changing the word “affirmation” to “acknowledge” was a small step in the right direction, even though they didn’t agree with the marriage part.

Understandably, your letter was trying to appease those who are afraid of an inclusive church. But what about those many people who feel the hurtful discrimination by the church? Your letter was sent to all, but you did not acknowledge that there are those who feel that painful exclusion. It is amazing to me that they still want to be a part of such a church! What talent is out there, waiting to be used. I feel richly blessed by having so many of these gifted lgbt persons as my friends. I have learned a lot from them! I will not be silent until they are included. I hope to live long enough to see that day.

Hopefully,
Ruby Lehman
Harrisonburg, Virginia

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Jim,

I have always admired your wise and caring leadership. I read with interest your letter concerning the Pink Menno Campaign. If I may, I’d like to respond breifly based on my own experience, and make a suggestion.

I arrived late at the convention–noon Friday. What I saw was amazing: many, many people, including many youth (including everyone in my youth group and nearly all of the adults from my congregation) wearing pink. I have never seen such an amazing (and successful) grassroots campaign. And the idea was so simple: wear pink if you support the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church. And to show how God-focused and positve the campaign was, they made a point of singing hymns–not arguing or saying anything negative or being disruptive.

I believe this is a movement of God’s Spirit. I hope that at each Convention I attend there are more and more people wearing pink and singing hymns. (And if those who disagree all want to wear orange shirts and sing hymns, that’s ok by me as well.)

22 years ago at Purdue (and later at Saskatoon) the delegates of the precursor of MC USA took a stand on proper sexual behavior; but they also took a stand to be in loving dialogue with those who disagree (and repent of judgmental attitudes, fear, absence of love, and lack of understanding for those who are struggling “to find a place in society and in the church”). The first stand has been honored; the second stand has not been. Pink Menno has, in effect, awakened us to honor the second stand.

I picked up information on the Pink Menno Campaign at the Menno Neighbor booth; but later that day (and for the rest of the convention) they no longer had any information about Pink Menno because the Executive leadership had asked them not to. As far as I witnessed (and I passed that booth many times), they honored that request.

I witnessed only one unfortunate event: on Saturday a large group of youth and youth pastors from a few congregations went to the Menno Neighbor booth and began loudly arguing with the people who sat there. I was shaken by the contorted faces and anger displayed by these youth and youth pastors. They were not interested in loving dialogue; they only wanted to shout and “convince” the others of how wrong they were–cutting off and not listening to any reasoned responses. I observed this for some time. I myself tried to engage in some peaceful dialogue. The most vociferous youth eventually stormed away when they saw they were not making headway; a few stayed behind to have more calm and reasonable dialogue–which I appreciated. This incident made me realize that the group within MC USA that is perhaps the least prepared for dialogue are the youth and their sponsors/youth pastors. Some congregations have been shielding their youth from this subject, feeding them only one viewpoint and condemning any Christians who believe differently. This pattern is contrary to our church stands and needs to end. It is the youth who are the most divided in MC USA, and the least prepared for loving dialogue.

The delegates at Columbus passed a resolution calling on the Executive leadership to provide resources for study and dialogue by conferences and congregations. In order to fulfill this mandate I would like to suggest the following proposals:

-that the Executive leadership design and be in charge of a “loving dialogue center” at the next Convention for those who wish to discuss these sexuality issues and the issue of inclusion/exclusion. The denomination would train various people to facilitate these dialogues. Rules for the dialogue would be posted. One possible model is to have various trained people representing various possible positions (e.g. rejecting homosexuality and membership; accepting homosexual orientation but not behavior, with limited membership; acceptance of homosexuality and responsible homosexual behavior with full inclusion in membership but not leadership; acceptance and full inclusion in leadership/ordination). One then selects the position one wants to have dialogue with. Or one selects whether one wants to engage in biblical interpretation discussion, or understanding bisexuality or being transgendered, or developing a sexual ethic for those with a different orientation, or the meaning of same sex covenant or marriage, etc.

-that the Executive leadership provides training so that individual conferences (and congregations) can set up a “loving dialogue center” at their annual conference meetings.

-that the Executive leadership provides training for youth pastors and sponsors on how to help the youth learn about these issues and discuss them in a loving way.

In other words, instead of providing information resources, I would suggest focusing on providing training and opportunity for dialogue at every level of the church, in as many settings as possible. That’s what the resolution calls for anyway–dialogue, not information. We must teach EVERYONE (those with a traditional viewpoint as well as those with a progressive viewpoint) to do a much better job of respectful and loving dialogue. If we are committed to long-term ongoing loving dialogue (rather than asserting conclusions), then we can’t help but become a healthier and stronger denomination.

Many thanks for doing what is truly an impossible job.

Ryan Ahlgrim

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Dear Executive Leadership of MCUSA,

Hearing that you have received many complaints about the presence of Pink Menno at Columbus, including allegations of aggressiveness and inappropriate relating to the youth, I want to counter those complaints with my own sense that Pink Menno was a positive presence at the Convention.

I am a 27-year-old gay man, and I was very active with the Pink Menno Campaign all week long.

1) In all that I saw, heard and did myself in connection with the Campaign, there was no inappropriate relating to youth–no pressuring, no forced conversations or anything of the like. We worked to be a peaceful, VISIBLE presence. I did not go up to teenagers and try to start conversations about Pink Menno, but I was approached by youth several times who asked me how they could find the Pink Menno room or how they could get Pink Menno shirts, bracelets or bandannas.

2) It is important that youth see that there are differences in the church and that it is safe to be different and to talk about differences. This is why it is important that Pink Menno was present among the youth.

3) I recognize that a statement from leadership may be needed to respond to the concerns of people who were unhappy with the presence of Pink Menno among the youth. But such a statement MUST also acknowledge that many people, including many youth and their parents, were happy with the Pink Menno presence.

Thanks for your gracious leadership in this difficult situation!

Sincerely,
Forrest Moyer

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I am writing after hearing about a number of complaints that have been made about the PinkMenno campaign and its presence at Columbus. I expect that many of the complaints are born out of fear and a lack of understanding of what PinkMenno is about. I expect that many presume that the goal of PinkMenno is to force the church to change its mind about its statements on human sexuality adopted at Purdue and Saskatoon. This could not be further from the truth. The goal as I understand it as a supporter of PinkMenno is to be enable churches to welcome those who are in their midst, be they gay straight black white hispanic, etc. Indeed I see this as going hand in hand with the Open Letter campaign which asked the church to allow pastors to carry out their calling and minister to everyone, including GLBT.

Additionally, there was no action to try and “recruit” youth into PinkMenno “ranks”. The goal of pinkmenno was to be present and ready to talk with anyone who may have questions about issues of GLBT inclusion. PinkMenno realizes and respects that there is a significant number (I personally would say probably a majority), of members in MCUSA who continue to believe strongly in the human sexuality statements. While PinkMenno may disagree, they recognize the right of all to be in MCUSA and even seek to enter into meaningful dialogue with those who disagree with them. Some who disagree with PinkMenno have been willing to open themselves to dialogue. Others merely lash out through threats and power plays. Indeed I was appalled at the not so veiled threat leveled by a brother from Lancaster Conference that if the resolution didn’t pass that most of the conference would just leave. This too must be publically named as in violation of the MCUSA teaching position calling for dialogue on this issue. But the goal of PinkMenno is not to issue threats or cast dispersions, rather to create a safe space where honest dialogue can occur.

I think this situation is laying bare old ways of church polity that have still not been reconciled. Coming from an MC background myself, I would imagine many of the complaints are coming from old MC conferences and congregations who are trying to maintain old authority models. Indeed, I would argue that former GC members have been steamrolled on this issue of church polity and now find themselves in a denomination they do not recognize anymore, one that allows authoritarian power structures to hurtfully cast out those they find different or distasteful.

If Executive Board wants to do something to respond to these complaints, let it lead by example and begin encouraging open dialogues throughout the church rather than snapping to attention at the threats fueled by misunderstanding and fear. May the Spirit move amongst you and all of us as we seek together to learn to love and grow as we follow the example of Christ.

Keith Swartzendruber
Delegate (non-voting)
Hyattsville Mennonite Church

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Hello,

My name is Chris Minter. I am 17 years old and a member of Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. A few months before the Mennonite Convention in Columbus, our youth pastor, Loanne Harms, told our MYF about a letter that had been sent to the leaders of the church from an organization called Pink Menno. We had a very good discussion that Sunday in youth group about our views and feelings on homosexuality.

When I returned home from church, I went online and learned more about the Pink Menno campaign. I was excited that a movement to finally include people in the church the way Jesus taught us was taking place. As a straight supporter of GLBTQs, I am disappointed in my church as a whole for refusing to love and accept them into the church family that we insist is so loving, hospitable and inclusive.

I actively participated in many of the events hosted by Pink Menno at convention this year. Along with wearing pink and attending hymn sings, I went to a showing of the documentary “The Bible Tells Me So”.
I was very impressed with this video along with the other resources that the Pink Menno campaign provided for me to use in order to educate myself on gay and lesbian rights. I was able to discuss my beliefs and feelings with other youth, homosexual and straight, and understand where they were coming from. Never once was I aggressively confronted by a member of Pink Menno. I now consider myself a part of the Pink Menno campaign and never did I approach another individual aggressively about our conflicting views on homosexuality.

The point of the Pink Mennos at convention was to encourage discussion amongst youth and adults alike on the issues of homosexuality that the church has been ignoring for years.

Any parents who complain that their child was approached aggressivly by any Pink Menno advocate is wrong, especially if they claim that an adult from Pink Menno was talking to the youth. The adult leaders of Pink Mennos were simply facilitators at any of the gatherings of youth in the Pink Menno room so graciously provided by the church….over a block away from the convention center.

As a baptized member of the Mennonite church, I will continue to voice my opinions about GLBTQs in the church and the church’s attitude toward them. They are children of God, as are we all, and have as much sin as any other child of God does. All through my life I have been taught to love others as Jesus loves them and to live out my faith instead of just internalizing it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do that in this letter.

Sincerely,
Chris Minter

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My 17-year-old son went to the MCUSA convention with his church youth group and had a great time. He saw the group dressed in pink called Pink Mennos. Though he didn’t talk specifically to members of the group, he did understand they were representing gays in the church. When asked, he responded that he sees nothing wrong with gays being part of the Mennonite Church.

I agree with my son. Gays are spiritual beings as are the rest of us, created in God’s image. They should be and are part of our churches, giving and receiving nurture, helping to bring hope to a broken world.

Thank you,
Beth Oberholtzer

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Dear church leaders,

There are a lot of untrue stories going around about what happened in Columbus in regards to the “gay issue” and the Pink Mennos. I would like to make a few comments about the youth at the convention. I spent a lot of time at the MennoNeighbors display. It seems like the Mennonite youth quickly discovered that this space was a safe place to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings. I had many wonderful discussions with these youth (tomorrow’s church). Most of them were honestly seeking a better understanding of human sexuality and how God would want us to relate to those who are homosexuals. I was shocked to hear some of their comments about their youth groups, sponsors, and youth pastors. I talked to so many, I can not give you their names or where they were from. Here are a few examples:

“Most of the kids in my group and our sponsors seem to hate gays, but I told them they need to talk to some of the pink people and read some stuff, so they can at least talk about this”.

“My youth sponsor told the group we can not talk about homosexuality this week. I told him we should be allowed to talk about anything and ask questions.”

“My friend and I got pink shirts. This morning our sponsors came to our hotel room and said we cannot leave the room until we took them off.”

One young gay man told me how much he appreciated the way his youth group and church support him.
Hallelujah, maybe some day he will be a member of a Mennonite Church instead of being a suicide statistic.

Most of these youth were honestly seeking a better understanding of God’s will. I said very little to them, but listened gently. I wish you could have heard the conversations that I heard all over the convention center. The “pink folks” were listening well and sharing their faith when they could. There was a huge group of people “in the middle” who were willing to talk and listen. There was a small group of folks (a lot of sponsors and youth pastors fit this category) who were at the far end of the spectrum. They came to discussions with Bibles and did not seem to hear one things the other person was saying. With each sentence spoken, the other person just threw a Bible verse at them or made a hurtful comment. The person in another booth close to the MennoNeighbors has studied body language. She commented that the body language of the folks in this last group seemed angry and harsh.

On the other hand, if you were in any of the planning/prayer/worship meetings of the Pink Mennos, you would have heard many faith stories and a deep desire to have the Mennonite Church include all who love God and follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Why is it that so many who are extremely anti-gay seem angry and fearful. What is that teaching our youth? If they learn to know gay people who are overflowing with the Gifts of the Spirit, what is so scary about that?

I only heard a few of the discussions that were very hurtful and painful to the GLBT folks at the convention, but I know there were many more. I hope you have heard reports of some of them. This was NOT Christlike behavior. When someone feels invalidated, hated, told he does not belong at a Mennonite gathering just because of the way he was born, that is very distressing. “They will know we are Christians by our love —“. Will they?!? I think we (straight people who are allowed to be members of the MCUSA) owe our gay brothers and sisters an apology. It took a lot of courage to come to a place where they knew they would be mistreated by some. I am amazed that they love the Mennonite Church so much that they are willing to keep on trying. If they did not love God and our church, why would they be there?

Please, please think and pray about this issue and do not quickly respond to the verbal few. The church of tomorrow IS watching you carefully. If we can not find a way to “agree to disagree in love”, I fear that my beloved Mennonite Church may lose the younger generation.

I don’t expect the members of the Mennonite Church to ever totally agree on the interpretation of the Bible. That is what this is all about. If only we could focus on the teachings of Jesus; we would have no time to fight about this issue!

I know this is an extremely difficult time for you and I pray for you daily.

Sincerely,
Joyce Hostetler

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Dear Jim and other MCUSA leaders,

I just read your letter to Mennonite congregations. (I’m wishing I had not stayed up late last evening to write about my experiences at the convention, especially meaningful conversations with our youth. I’m wondering if you read any other such messages.)

I am very distressed about:
*If you are referring to the MennoNeighbors booth when you mention the “distribution of unauthorized literature in the exhibit area”, I do not understand your comment. I was in that display area every day. When we were asked to remove the pink literature, we did. Your statement that we put it out again later in the week is absolutely not true.

*The “distribution of literature” was a schedule of events in the Open Letter hospitality room. These included prayer/worship time and their daily seminars. (I think all these seminars were rejected by the convention planners, but there was obviously a great interest because the room was packed for each seminar, a much greater attendance than at the official seminars I attended.) What was so bad about these opportunities to pray and “dialogue”?

*In any conversations I heard between Pink Mennos and others, the pink folks were very gentle and listened well. This is not true of many of the “let me preach to you and condemn you” folks who they encountered. I don’t hear any comments about that abuse (SO hurtful and ungodly) in your letter. Do you think perhaps those non pink folks may have “brought offense or confusion” to the Pink Mennos and to others who observed their disrespect and hate?

I was at the press conference and I think the comments made by the Pink Mennos and the Open Letter pastors were totally accurate. You accuse them of denying that the church IS dialoguing about this issue, but your whole letter today says very clearly, NO, WE WILL NOT ALLOW HONEST, OPEN DIALOGUE! This makes me very sad. I know that there is a vocal few in our denomination (and at the convention I realized that this group is getting smaller and louder), but PLEASE listen to those who want our church to be inclusive and give an opportunity for dialogue for the many, many who are honestly seeking God’s will. I have much concern for the future of my beloved Mennonite Church. A group of faithful young Mennonite came to the convention to tell their faith stories and ask to be a part of this church. They have been harshly rejected. They are the future church; why would they want to stay in it?

As I said in my message last night, I know this is a difficult issue for you and for the Mennonite Church. I pray daily for you and for the church. I felt an open, loving, accepting Spirit blow at the convention. Please do not quench this Spirit.

Sincerely,
Joyce Hostetler

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Dear Jim Schrag and leadership of the Mennonite Church USA,

I recently read the letter that was put out to all the Mennonite leaders/pastors by Jim Schrag related to convention. I wanted to comment on my experience at convention with the pink mennos.
I attended convention for one day (Thursday). I am in my 30’s, a former MCCer, and did not grow up Mennonite. It was my first experience at convention and I loved it. I will definitely be back. Thanks for all the work that was done at convention to make it a great experience for everyone!

I did not know of the pink menno group until arriving at convention. I talked with someone at a booth in the exhibit hall and was told that I could get more information at the hospitality room of a local hotel. I went to the room and learned more about the movement. I purchased a shirt and wore it during my day at convention. When I asked the woman in the hospitality room why they were not located in the exhibit hall – she told me that they wanted to be respectful of the larger church and be a witness for change, without causing dissention. I was very impressed by this attitude. So my impression of the pink menno movement was that they were trying to be very respectful of the church and follow the Spirit’s movement, not force change upon the church. I understand from your letter that this was not everyone’s experience with the pink menno’s.

However, I am concerned that the pink mennos were not contacted prior to putting out this letter to the greater church. This would seem to be the first step toward agreeing and disagreeing in love. When problems arise, as is normal and common, I would hope they would be dealt with by finding out the truth through going to the group and engaging in an open discussion. Was this done? I know the pink mennos claim they were not contacted. If this is the case, my questions would be, why not? It seems that there are some things that were said in the letter that were misleading. I do not believe this was due to an intention to mislead on your part. I imagine this was due to a lack of communication before sending it out.

I am aware that I only know a very small part of what went on at convention with the pink mennos. I do not claim to know the whole story. I offer my experience and perspective on the situation so that together, we can learn from each other. Thanks again for your service to the church.

One in Christ,
Keturah Gouldthorpe

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Dear Mennonite Church Executive Leadership,

As the mother of a 17 year old youth and a 23 year old delegate who attended the Columbus convention, I was enormously proud of them as they engaged with the issue of homosexuality issue and are supportive of a church that does not discriminate, but rather believes that Christ’s welcome is for all.

A painful part of our family history is the story they know of their uncle, a Mennonite Goshen College graduate who was gay and unwelcome in the church in which he grew up, and died of AIDS about 15 years ago. This has influenced them to think deeply about faith, the church and who is and who isn’t a part of the church.

Please know that there are many active members of the Mennonite denomination who eagerly await the day when all are welcome and I am deeply grateful to have found a church (Florence Church of the Brethren/Mennonite) where that is already true.

I am joyful that the youth are leading the way in welcoming all to the church.

Thank you,
(Name withheld by request)

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Dear Leaders of the Mennonite Church USA,

I know you are receiving many messages regarding the presence of Pink Menno at Columbus 2009 and I want to share my very positive experiences with you.

During my time as a pastor of Southside Fellowship (Elkhart, IN), I experienced first-hand the judgment and condemnation which is directed toward a congregation allowing homosexuals to become members. I found little support from conference leadership and experienced outright hostility from several pastors in the area conference. The isolation that I felt as a leader of that congregation was a factor in my resignation after only six years in ministry.

Contrast that to the joy and acceptance I felt to be surrounded by so many persons wearing pink at the convention in Columbus. Persons in pink were gathering in groups to meet each other, to share their stories, and to sing. Not everyone wearing pink is LGBT; many persons wore pink simply to indicate their support for inclusive membership policies. I saw a couple that I have known and respected for many years decked out in pink. A friend introduced me to her college classmate from 30 years ago. A single man from my congregation wore a Pink Menno shirt all week. During the final hymn-sing I complimented a young man wearing pink on his beautiful voice and later learned that he is a friend of my aunt. I saw youth and adults, gay and straight, talking, smiling, singing and wearing pink. The color brought us together.

When I arrived on Thursday there were pre-printed pink t-shirts and handkerchiefs provided by Pink Menno to be had for a small donation. By Friday those were all gone and many conference attendees were wearing any pink items they could get their hands on. Someone brought a stack of shirts from a thrift store to give away. My own son borrowed a pink shirt from female friend.

We have to face the fact that some of our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, friends and neighbors are homosexual. They just are. They are also gifted, loving people who want to share their many talents with the Mennonite Church.

I simply cannot believe that Jesus, who spent so much time with the outcasts of his day, would deny membership in his church to homosexuals.

It’s hard not to be joyful when you are wearing pink. I affirm the new energy that Pink Menno is bringing to the discussion of allowing membership of gays and lesbians in the Mennonite Church. No longer do LGBT persons need to feel ashamed and condemned. No longer do those of us who support their membership need to feel judged and isolated. Pink Menno is all about recognizing how many persons related to the Mennonite Church are homosexual and how many of their friends and family members accept them anyway. We are all the children of a loving God.

No more are LGBT persons and their loved ones going to shrink into the shadows and allow the church to ignore them. We are going to be noticed. We are wearing pink! Won’t you join us?

Yours in Christ,

Jeni Hiett Umble
Indianapolis, IN

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Dear Jim and Executive Committee,

We accept our part of the responsibility for some youth receiving unwelcomed and unauthorized literature, or other incidents that may have brought offense or confusion to you or others in your congregation.

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.

I want to tell you a story my son brought home from camp Menno Haven last summer.

He and the other 11-13 year old boys in his cabin were discussing whether or not homosexuality was a choice. Ian and another camper said it was. The other boys said it wasn’t.

Ian asked one of the boys, “What would you do if you realized you were homosexual?”

The boy replied, “I’d commit suicide.”

This is the kind of thinking the Mennonite’s current teaching leads to. When will you take full responsibility for the self-hatered, and suicides that have most certainly happened among Mennonite youth?

How do I know? Because I became suicidal then I finally admitted to myself that I was gay. I became suicidal because of the “Biblical” teaching I had received growing up. I thought I was evil.

This is what the erroneous teaching does. It threatens, it creates self hate, (how can someone love his neighbor as himself if he hates himself?), it forces young people to seek guidance in places that perhaps we would not have them go.

I guess I’m wondering when you will write a letter to those who have received unwelcomed literature, hateful words, a constant diet of rejection in Mennonite Churches and at denominational meetings because of the way God made them. When will you apologize to them?

The youth who received “unwelcomed and unauthorized literature” in Columbus did not have to take it or read it. Perhaps they felt confused because they are finally learning the truth and are wondering why they have been taught what is wrong for so long. In that context confusion is helpful.

When will you begin to actually follow God’s guidance? I understand most of those on the executive committee actually disagree with the denomination’s stand on homosexuality. When will you follow your conscience and the Spirit’s guidance?

When will you stop spreading the lie that God is against homosexuality? When will you stop catering to those who believe that lie?

Our denomination was founded by Martyrs. We revere those who stand up for what is right even if it means death. Are you willing to let your career die for what is right? Are you willing to let your budget die for what is right? Are you willing to continue to let Mennonite young people think they must die if they are gay?

I have become convinced that the integrity of the institution is more important to you than your own integrity, what the Bible actually says, or what Jesus taught.

I came out after the IMC tried to remove Oak Park Mennonite Church from membership. I had suspected I was gay in my 20’s. But, I worked hard to live the way I had been taught – married to one man. I went to therapy, I prayed, I sought pastoral counsel. Even after realizing I was homosexual, I tried to make my marriage work for 6 years.

My coming out led to divorce. I was in a church that already accepted gays. Even so, when I came out, I heard all the old lies coming from the mouths of those who had stood and confronted IMC. The lies were so deeply ingrained even in the minds of those who knew better. A year after my husband and I separated, one of these people, an old and dear friend finally said to me, I don’t believe this is something you choose. It simply is true. It has been painful, but you are still you. You are still the wise woman I have always appreciated.

The denomination is struggling – shrinking, losing young people. Yet, our church is growing and full of young people. We are not perfect. However, the contributions of gays and lesbians in our congregation are part of what is helping us thrive. It is really a non-issue for us. All are welcome. Period.

Many straight and gay who attend our congregation come from churches and denominations where they felt wounded, where they could not find a home for their Christian journey. I long for our denomination to be a home for others on similar journeys.

I continue to hold you in my prayers as you struggle to know God’s will.

Jeanne Clark, LCSW
Chicago Community Mennonite Church

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Dear Mennonite Church Leaders:

I am writing to convey my experience of Pink Menno at the recent convention in Columbus. I am a parent of two young adults (ages 21 and 23) and also was a youth sponsor at the convention. I fully attended convention events, spoke with our church’s adult participants and also attended some Pink Menno events. I found Pink Menno participants to be respectful and caring and in no way attempting to force information on youth or others. There seemed to be a genuine interest by some youth in attending Pink Menno events and expressing support. These were all entirely optional.

I think It is important for youth to know that there are differing opinions about homosexuality among Christians and Mennonites in particular. It is important for the larger church to acknowledge this also, and to seek ways of having conversation in non-threatening ways. I attended the conversation facilitated by Carolyn Shrock – Shenk and Sharon Waltner and thought this was a beginning toward that goal. Fear cannot be the guiding force in this dialogue.

I am praying for the day when the church can move ahead with this conversation, when threat of disciplining (shunning) is no longer operational, and when the church can fully express the radical hospitality and love of Jesus to ALL.

Sincerely,

Kathy Fenton-Miller

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Dear Mennonite Church Executive Leadership,

I, along with another woman were youth sponsors from our church and we had 6 youth along with us. During the week we each chose the seminars that we personally wished to attend. Some of our youth chose to attend a film sponsored by the Pink Mennos and to wear pink in solidarity. Why? Simply because they have been brought up in a church which teaches that Christ welcomes all to the table. It is no more complicated than that.

I felt it was extremely powerful to have the visable presence of this issue among us represented by the pink shirts. The convention was faced with an incredibly gentle reminder, that there is a group of people within the MC who, although despised and rejected, still WANT to be there, who DESIRE to worship and share with the larger body, and who CARE enough about the life of the Mennonite Church to continue with the struggle.

Now, we as a church are faced with a great challenge as our youth watch on: How will the body of Christ respond?

Roxane Ewert

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I write in support of the Pink Mennos, who inspired me during the convention with their courage and their loving spirit. It’s certainly possible that there were encounters between individuals of all persuasions that were less than Christ-like, but what I witnessed in my interactions with the Pink Mennos was a model of non-violent communication and invitation to dialogue. A highlight of the convention for me was participation in the PM hymn singing prior to the worship sessions. Beautiful songs, beautiful voices: “Come let us all unite to sing, God is love.” Indeed.

Marlene Steiner Suter
Columbus Mennonite Chuch

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To Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership:

I am a parent of a youth who attended the Youth Convention, and I was so sorry to learn from my mother that once again fear rather than love is showing its ugly face. I’m referring specifically to misinformation being spread about the Pink Mennos being aggressive with our youth.

Our daughter learned of Pink Mennos’ presence at Convention first from me and then through one of her youth group who kept Salford’s group informed. She was one who chose of her own free will to watch The Bible Tells Me So. I was proud of her to take interest to hear a different perspective than she usually hears so she can make her own decisions. She told me several times how supportive her youth group was of Pink Mennos and has trouble understanding why so many adults are still exclusive. She did not feel or see Pink Mennos pursuing anyone.

The only negative information I heard (a few times) from her was how rude the groups of youth were who were opposed to Pink Mennos and how they told anyone wearing pink that they were wrong. This aggression (which I believe is routed in fear) struck her.

I cannot personally understand why our church leadership does not speak up and find ways to help alleviate this homophobic fear. My understanding is that we are followers of Jesus, not right-wing Republicans.

Sincerely,

Janet Blum
Telford, PA

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Dear Mr. Schrag,

I am writing to express my profound disappointment in the letter you wrote to conference ministers and church pastors about the presence of Pink Menno at the MCUSA conference in Columbus.

I wasn’t able to be at the conference, but I have been a member of the Pink Menno network for several months and followed their planning for the conference very closely. Pink Menno is an incredibly respectful, faithful, deliberate and courageous group of people. At all stages of planning, their overriding concern was to be a nonviolent presence at the conference. From what I understand, you did not even contact them to hear their side of the story before sending out this letter. I cannot understand why you would do them this disrespect, regardless of your personal feelings about LGBT people.

It seems to me that you mischaracterized the content of the resolution that passed at the conference in your letter. The exact wording is, “We acknowledge the statements by Mennonite Church USA on Human Sexuality, which have been previously passed and are currently in place, while we also acknowledge the presence of dissenting voices within our denominations.” It is also my understanding that there was a meaningful change from the original draft of the resolution, changing the word “affirm” to “acknowledge.” Your out-of-context description of the resolution implies a consensus that does not exist.

I realize that you have been under a great deal of pressure to respond to the complaints of those who claim that Pink Menno inappropriately targeted youth. The ugly likelihood is that many of these people think of all LGBT people as predators, and have no other framework with which to interpret their presence. I know there are Mennonites who would love nothing better than for LGBT folk to be silent and invisible and never come anywhere near their children. But when you feel pressure from them, I challenge you to ask yourself: Are these really the people who are speaking with the true prophetic voices in this church?

What would Jesus say to these fearful people? None of us can know for sure. But if I recall correctly, “Fear not” was one of His favorite expressions. “Fear not” is a big part of Pink Menno’s message.

Young Mennonites, by and large, understand that the denomination’s treatment of LGBT people is wrong. Denominational authorities are not going to succeed in silencing this generation on this issue. Many of our youth have grown up seeing that being gay is normal and fine, that homosexuality is not a disease, an affliction, or a quality that makes a person less beloved by God. I also suspect that one reason that young people, gay and straight, respond so supportively to LGBT concerns is that they feel a sense of solidarity as fellow recipients of the paternalistic dismissals that church leaders issue whenever they get nervous about the reality of social change. Your letter is one example.

I am thirty-three, and I hope you understand that your church is hemorrhaging people of my generation. Furthermore, we often leave with a sense that church leaders aren’t even curious about why we left. I have watched my gay, lesbian and transgendered friends and family members deal with terrible mistreatment from Mennonite churches. At this point, I struggle to be part of an institution that, for all its value, still actively perpetuates injustice and harm due to its inability to listen to the prophetic voices in its midst. I have learned volumes about the importance of community from my LGBT friends, who know from experience that the world is too cruel to not take good care of one another. I mourn the unspeakable loss that Mennonites have accepted in not treating them as whole people with wisdom and vitality to contribute to our churches.

Perhaps the most harmful thing about your letter is the way you speak of Pink Mennos as though they are outsiders, as though they are not a part of the very body that you are addressing. This has always been one of the greatest sins that straight Mennonites commit against their LGBT sisters and brothers—to speak of them as though they are the Other. In an mPress article, you are quoted as saying of Pink Menno, “…they are part of us.” I pray for the day that you live your words.

Sincerely,
Stephanie Krehbiel
Lawrence, Kansas

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To Executive Director Schrag, and the MCUSA Executive Board:

Hi! Odds are excellent you don’t know who I am, but we likely met during the 2007 Mennonite Church USA convention in San Jose, which I attended as a Young Adult delegate representing my home congregation, Landisville (PA) Mennonite Church. However, today I’m writing about the recent convention in Columbus and the activities of Pink Menno, a recently-formed movement of Mennonites supporting greater acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in MCUSA.

It has come to my attention that the Director recently sent a letter to MCUSA congregations and pastors, in which he described the activities of Pink Menno as “problematic” and failing to meet the Executive Board’s “expectations and understanding.” In support of this characterization, he cites “unauthorized distribution of literature.” The implication, intended or otherwise, is that Pink Menno’s presence at Columbus was unwelcome and disruptive.

Although I was unable to attend the Columbus convention, this account is surprising to me, as it isn’t consistent with the descriptions of Pink Menno’s activities that I received either from Pink Menno members or from reporting in The Mennonite and Mennonite Weekly Review — my overwhelming impression, based on these accounts, was of positive, respectful engagement on both sides of the “inclusion” issue. Furthermore, Pink Menno leaders have indicated that they were not involved in an “unauthorized distribution of literature” as described in the Director’s letter, and had not been contacted prior to the convention regarding the Board’s “expectations and understanding.”

Regardless of where one stands on LGBT inclusion (full disclosure: I am in favor), this doesn’t seem like a very helpful way to communicate with MCUSA members who want to engage in dialog with the Board and the broader church on a particular point of theology. I hope the Executive Director and the Board will soon be in contact with Pink Menno directly, so that issues and concerns arising from the Columbus convention can be discussed in a loving, respectful manner.

blessings,

Jeremy Yoder

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