Pink Reflections on a Town Hall Meeting

Contributed by Justin Yoder

A few months ago I attended one of two “town hall” meetings with MCUSA Executive Director Ervin Stutzman which were hosted at churches in my home Franconia Conference. The meetings were billed as a chance for churchgoers to hear a report from Ervin on the current denominational “turmoil” over LGBTQ inclusion and to engage him with questions about the church-wide processing of Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s decision to license Theda Good for pastoral ministry. The town hall meeting was well attended, with a wide spectrum of theology and practice represented in the audience. While Ervin’s introductory review of the current situation and its history took up a good portion of the allotted two hours, the subsequent question and answer session drew numerous contributions from those in attendance. The full two hours was used, and some of us who attended continued to speak with Ervin after the formal session was over.

This week there are three similar town hall sessions scheduled to take place in Ohio Mennonite Conference, and I imagine there will be other such gatherings to follow across our area conferences in the weeks and months to come. I would urge any Pink Mennos who feel so inclined to attend, and for those who are comfortable giving input at these gatherings, I encourage you to raise some pointed questions about the denominational process and how our leaders are choosing to engage “the issue.” While Ervin did offer a lot of historical context and a detailed analysis of the current dynamics within the denomination, everything was framed and articulated from the viewpoint of a white, straight, cisgender man who holds a lot of power within MCUSA. Two things struck me as especially problematic in what Ervin presented:

1) Although denominational leadership has been hearing repeated calls for the inclusion of LGBTQ voices and “votes” in any formal decision-making process that affects the lives of LGBTQ Mennonites, there was nothing in what Ervin said that acknowledged these calls or indicated any plans for answering them. The exclusion of LGBTQ Mennonites from the decision-making table has, of course, been going on for years, and it was recently highlighted with painful irony at the March Constituency Leaders Council meeting, where the one group of people most affected by the questions at hand (LGBTQ people) remained unrepresented on the council. LGBTQ Mennonites are already a part of MCUSA; we are members, song leaders, Sunday School teachers, committee chairs, and pastors. It is vital that LGBTQ Mennonites be included in denominational decision-making processes about LGBTQ Mennonites. Read more ›

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Carry Each Other’s Burdens

by Esther Baruja

Tonight I would like to share a text with you from the book of Galatians , chapter 6, verse 2. And it says:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

My graduation here at Chicago Theological Seminary is in less than two weeks. I am very excited for this milestone in my life journey.  How unlikely is it that a lesbian from Paraguay without financial resources, without contacts and without family in the United States can have gotten to this place?  Let me tell you… very unlikely.

I came out of the closet in 2006 after being a campus pastor for 6 years in a evangelical campus ministry in my home country of Paraguay. All the friends that I had, almost all the people that I thought were as close as my family, rejected me overnight because of my coming out. From being a beloved sister I became a wicked, lost sinner in their eyes. Kati, my partner, came from the states to live with me in my country while I was finishing my thesis for grad school. Because of the fear and anxiety I had about running into any of my old christian “friends,” I almost didn’t go out of the house for 6 months and I avoided all the most risky places. Read more ›

Dios en los Márgenes

de Esther Baruja

For English, click here.

Marcos 1:40-42

Vino a él un leproso que, de rodillas, le dijo:

—Si quieres, puedes limpiarme.
Jesús, teniendo misericordia de él, extendió la mano, lo tocó y le dijo:

—Quiero, sé limpio.

Tan pronto terminó de hablar, la lepra desapareció del hombre, y quedó limpio.

————-

Vivir en Impureza

La lepra es conocida actualmente como Mal de Hansen y según los síntomas que presenta la enfermedad no es, en muchos casos, exactamente lo mismo de lo que se habla en la Biblia Hebrea. Según las leyes de pureza cualquier mancha, furúnculo o inflamación en la piel podía ser considerada motivo para declarar “impura” a una persona y marginarla del resto de la sociedad judía (Levítico 13-14).

Esta declaración de cual persona era digna de permanecer en la comunidad y quien no la era se dictaminaba de forma a veces arbitraria. Incluso la cicatriz de una quemadura podría ser señal de impureza.

En algunos casos la “lepra” desaparecía y el Sacerdote declaraba a la persona “pura” de nuevo, según el Código de Santidad ser puro tiene que ver con condiciones requeridas para seguir participando de la vida comunitaria (en todos sus roles) y acceder al templo para adorar al Dios de Israel. Ser puro implicaba ser aceptado/a en la sociedad. Read more ›

God in the Margins

by Esther Baruja

Para español: haga clic aquí.

Mark 1:40-42

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. RVSV

————-

Living in Impurity

Leprosy is now known as Hansen’s disease, and depending on the symptoms presented, not many cases are exactly the same as that we read of in the Hebrew Bible. According to the laws of purity, any stains, boils or skin inflammations could be considered a reason to declare a person “unclean” and marginalize him/her from the rest of Jewish society (Leviticus 13-14).

This statement about which person was worthy of staying in the community and which was not was sometimes an arbitrary decision. Even the scar of a burn could be considered a sign of impurity.

In some cases the “leprosy” disappeared and the priest declared the person “pure” again. In the Holiness Code, being pure has to do with the conditions required to continue participating in community life (in all possible roles) and to have access to the temple to worship the God of Israel. To be considered pure implied being accepted in that society. Read more ›

If an elephant has its foot

Crossposted from Coming Out Strong

by Katie Hochstedler

As the current Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC) Board President, a founding member of Pink Menno, and a young queer Mennonite involved in the movement for a more inclusive and welcoming Mennonite Church for the LGBTQ community for 10 years, I received Ervin’s most recent letter as a more savvy and carefully crafted message than some we have seen in his previous messages. While I appreciate a thaw in tone and a shift towards more respectful language for the LGBTQ community (from “non-celibate gays” to “LGBTQ” for example), this abrupt shift indicates to me a continued need among church leadership for more education led by those in the LGBTQ community who have been immersed in this work for years, some for almost 40 years, such as BMC. As self identified members of the LGBTQ community, we know our own experience intimately and are familiar with the dynamics of privilege and marginalization in church structures, policies and practices. Yet we are rarely called upon to provide training, information and a voice in decisions being made about us.

I continue to see a strong tendency from Ervin and others in leadership to portray this as a struggle between equal and opposing groups with strongly differing theological beliefs.  This leaves our church leaders caught in a morally neutral middle ground trying desperately to hold on to church unity and searching for a magical third way. I would suggest that the search begins by recognizing that privilege and power lie with the status quo, the leaders who continue to uphold it, and those made most comfortable by that status quo. This struggle is not about equals with strong opinions arguing about whose theological beliefs are correct. It is about how we treat each other in the church, and in this case, it is about how some are mistreated by the church. LGBTQ brothers and sisters and our families and supporters have been kicked out, pushed out, shamed, silenced, fired, not hired, refused education, credentials and ordination, told that our love was sin, and generally been treated in a shamefully unChristian way. Meanwhile, our church leadership has portrayed themselves as neutral in this struggle; as if they have not been actively participating in the marginalization of the lgbtq community and our families and friends. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us, “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Read more ›

The Violence of Mennonite Process: Finding the Address of the Present (part 1 of 2)

Contributed by Stephanie Krehbiel

In 2009, I started a doctoral program in American Studies at the University of Kansas, with a plan to study what, on a good day, I call “the conflicts around sexual diversity in the Mennonite church,” and what, on a bad day, I call, “Mennonites and their f*#ked-up sex problems.” I have also resorted to the fast and efficient descriptor “LGBTQ issues in the Mennonite church,” because the phrase “sexual diversity,” outside of LGBTQ and academic circles, often leads to a “come again?” But increasingly I feel allergic to the word “issues.” Mennonites use that word like a armored shield against people whose actual bodies they’re afraid of. The further I get into this, the more “f*#ked-up sex problems” seems like the way to go.

Is that too glib? Possibly. It’s hard to study anything related to gender and sexuality without hitting a mass of tangles, and realizing how throughly ensnared all sexuality-related…issues…are with each other, and with a whole bunch of other things. Start pulling at the string labeled “contraception,” for instance, and you’ll end up with a big fibrous knot of deep-set cultural anxiety over all non-reproductive sex. Pull harder and the tangles get deeper: whom do we actually believe should be reproducing? How much money do they have? What color are they? Pull at the historical construct that is the term “homosexual” and you’ll pull up that same wad of anxiety about non-reproductive sex, and then just when you think you can contain that wad in the sanctuary of a church, you hit the stuff on nationalism and masculinity, and it all goes bananas. Pull on the thread that is LGBTQ justice in the U.S., and you’ll get knotted right up with the foundational ambivalences in the separation of church and state, with changing scientific discourses, and with the complex, evolving meanings of that precious thing that we call civil rights. Read more ›

The Violence of Mennonite Process: Finding the Address of the Present (part 2 of 2)

Contributed by Stephanie Krehbiel

(con’t from part 1)

Let’s look at some more recent history. In 2011, in advance of the Mennonite Church USA convention in Pittsburgh, Everett Thomas, editor of The Mennonite at the time, wrote an editorial for the magazine suggesting that the MCUSA may need to reconsider its biennial convention structure in light of the “difficult experience” that Pink Menno activists brought to the Columbus convention. He quotes MCUSA director Ervin Stutzman as saying, “The experience of Pink Mennos at Columbus in 2009 introduced a new level of engagement in controversial matters. … The techniques of social advocacy and confrontation that we have taught young adults in our schools has come to haunt our church’s most visible gathering, to the end that convention-goers feel immense pressure to take up sides against one another on [homosexuality].” (http://www.themennonite.org/issues/14-5/articles/Unconventional_conventions) Read more ›

150 Mennonite Leaders Call for Change in Policies Toward Queer Christians

150 Mennonite pastors and others credentialed for ministry signed a letter calling for changes in Mennonite Church USA policies related to inclusion of sexual minorities in the church.  The letter urges denominational leaders to “make space for congregations and pastors who welcome and bless LGBTQ Jesus-followers.”  The letter was sent on January 24 to executive board members, conference ministers, and other leaders.

The letter comes as denominational leaders consider the future of church policies related to people who are gay and lesbian, churches who welcome them, and pastors who officiate at same-sex weddings.  Current policies have largely prevented people in same-sex relationships from having their call to ministry or their marriage blessed by Mennonite pastors.

However, the pastoral letter makes clear that many pastors “feel called by Christ to welcome and bless LGBTQ people who are seeking to follow Jesus” even though that sometimes puts them at variance with denominational guidelines.  Other signers to the letter said that while they are not prepared to act at variance to these guidelines, they “respect the discernment of [their] colleagues and seek a denomination where we can engage in the ministry to which God calls us without the threat of having credentials denied or removed or congregations sanctioned.” Read more ›

Bluffton Safe Space: Reflections on Love Across the Spectrum conference part 3

I am so glad I went to the Love Across the Spectrum conference. I found it to be an incredibly valuable experience for so many reasons, but there’s one in particular that I think would be good to share. My hometown is in southern California, and it’s so much easier for me to identify as gay rather than Christian. In any case I find it difficult to call myself Christian because I always feel like I’m missing something. Sitting in church, it seems like everyone else is there because something has touched them, something clicks for them that I don’t understand. I feel like identifying myself with the Christian faith would put me in a position where I’m lying about that feeling that I’ve never experienced before.

It seems whenever I tell this to anyone, they are very encouraging in my struggles, they tell me that I should keep questioning. I suppose it’s nice to know I’m not doing something wrong, but I’d like to get it right at least some of the time. At least one or two answers would be nice. What questions should I even be asking? Suffice it to say I question my faith a lot. I’ll admit to not being entirely comfortable going to the conference because of that fact. However, at the very end of the conference, during closing worship, I think that may have changed a little.

Listening to Amy DeLong preach was an experience all in its own. Her story gives me so much hope, and somewhere halfway through the sermon, I realized that this must be what people were talking about when they called themselves Christian, this feeling in me, brought out by Amy’s words, must have been what it meant to have a connection with God. It was odd. There wasn’t any fanfare of excitement that followed, just a very calm comforting realization. This must be it. It was beautiful, and I feel I understand what it means to be Christian at least a little better now. Read more ›

Bluffton Safe Space: Reflections on Love Across the Spectrum conference part 2

During this experience I learned a lot about judgments I have not faced even though I am part of the LGBTQ community, judgments people go through that not only because they identify as something other than straight but because they identify as this and are part of a religious affiliation.

Something I found extremely powerful or interesting was when the first keynote speaker was talking about what Christian churchgoers and non-churchgoers think about Christians in one word. This one word was anti-gay. 80% of churchgoers and 91% of non-churchgoers stated that when they think of Christians they think of anti-gays. It shocked me that out of all the things these people could say to describe Christians 85.5% of people, both churchgoers and non-churchgoers, the one thing they agreed on was that Christians were anti-gay.

I found a lot of information helpful and interesting for me to take away from the conference but this fact was something that will continue to stick with me every day, always in the back of my mind. It makes you think what do people think of me and my views in just one word? Do I portray something so negative that it could hurt someone else? Read more ›

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