MCC, be guided by your core: an open letter from Luke Miller

Man stands on the river banks from Dirk Willems image from Martyr's mirror

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. Read more ›

Open Letter to Ann Graber Hershberger and J. Ron Byler on Policy 152 of MCC

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. Read more ›

A love letter to the scattered pink siblings, from Orlando

Pink hymn sing on Wednesday night, July 5 before Youth Worship at the Mennonite convention in Orlando.

by Luke L Miller

My beloved pink siblings everywhere, so many of you weren’t with us in Orlando at the 2017 Mennonite Church USA convention. Orlando was an experience of an aching, haunting absence, an absence experienced most acutely through the beautiful joyous faces and hope-filled eyes of the queer youth who thrived under the sheltering wing of what all of us have built.

Last night, Saturday, after all the convention was packed and done, I was still riding that surge of creative, soul-shining, beloved-community-soaked (and giddy extreme-exhaustion-addled) energy that that I’ve experienced at every Pink Menno, the inhibitions were gone (that was so awesome hanging out last night Kate and Annabeth!) and my brain was connected pretty directly to my mouth, and the phrase that came out was something like “we’ve ripped a hole in the heart of the church with space for queer kids to thrive.” I wish you all could have seen how their eyes shone and their faces beamed safe, relaxed joy as they stood at the center of our hymn sings outside the delegate/summit hall. You weren’t there to see it, but I saw you in there, in those eyes, saw you shining through them. That’s how I knew you were absent, because I looked for you – I wanted to see you so badly – and the only place I could find you was in those eyes. Read more ›

Notes from Pink Youth Summit, July 6, 2017

Notes from the Pink Youth Summit

July 7, 2017

At the Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando in 2017, 40 youth and young adults met for three hours together and in break out groups to discuss on their visions of the future church related to healthy LGBTQ involvement. These are the main themes.

~Youth articulated their visions, and we’ve tried to make that accessible to Future Church Summit participants~

What Makes it Difficult to Communicate with Older Generations

  • people under ~24 have a different, more innate way of understanding complex sexual identity and gender
  • There are also cultural differences b/t sex-positive younger generation & sex-negative older generations
  • We want adults to be patient and try to learn these concepts:
    • Gender vs. Sex. Sex is the biological difference b/t males and females; Gender refers to one’s perceived role in society and/or individuals. These often align in people but not always
    • Bisexuality. a person who is attracted to more than one gender
    • Gender Fluidity. Understanding gender is a spectrum & how we perceive it evolves
    • Gender Identity vs. Gender Expression. GI = innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend, or neither. GE = external appearance of one’s gender identity which may or may not conform to social norms
    • Queer. a formerly-derogatory term now used as general term for LGBTQ people
    • Intersectionality. The interconnected nature of social categories like race, class, gender, etc.
  • Tips for Older People: Ask Questions. Listen to their experiences. Being willing to share your experiences. Find ways to recognize genders other than male/female (third gender, gender queer, etc).

How do queer Mennonites interact with the Bible?

  • The traditional interpretations of some passages can be harmful, and we would like to see conscious reinterpretation of passages that have a negative connotation to us:
    • Not just clobber passages
    • Genesis 1 (creation of 1 man, 1 woman)
    • Words like repent, submit, Rapture
    • Paul and epistles
    • Leviticus
    • Sodom and Gomorrah
    • We want to see what these passages can speak into LGBTQ spirituality:
      • Eunuchs
      • Mary (Luke 1)
      • Ruth & Naomi
      • David & Jonathan
  • We understand that different translations have different biases
  • We value translations including: inclusive (gender neutral pronouns for God), The Message, Common English Bible, and Young’s Literal

Creating Non-gender Bathrooms

  • it is a valuable goal to build multi-stall bathrooms open to people in uncomfortable in single-gender bathrooms
  • Some young Mennonites have already worked in successful campaigns for gender neutral bathrooms in their high schools and (Mennonite) colleges
  • Reasons for gendered bathrooms include: modesty, false gender binary, concern that men are dangerous to women, adults dangerous to children
    • All of these concerns can be addressed & are outweighed by the benefits of gender neutral bathrooms
  • Some youth see male/female bathrooms as a civil rights issue similar to segregated bathrooms

How Homophobia is Manifest in the Church

  • Tension in relationships due to your discomfort
  • Queer bodies struggling from poor self-esteem
  • Queer people being ashamed of being honest about themselves
  • Physical abuse
  • Tokenization/pressure to represent all queer people
  • Being perceived as only queer (not as a complex person)
  • High suicide rates among queer people
  • Heightened negative mental health concerns due to unsupportive family and church
  • Assumption that everyone is straight
  • Fear, anxiety, stress around coming out

Ways to Support a Youth (adult) Coming Out

  • In our experience, these practices support a person coming out:
    • Having out members and people who have been through this before
    • Not just a “sense of welcome,” but explicit statements of welcome
    • In some environments, come out to small groups first
    • Having other LGBTQ family/friends/mentors to walk alongside
    • Once someone’s out, showing consistent support and normalizing
    • It’s often easier to come out to non-religious people than in church
  • …and beyond coming out
    • Standing up for queer people to friends, peers, etc.
    • Having allies in the front lines
    • Listening again and again and again
    • Churches use education materials (i.e., from BMC) to increase understanding

Ways to Create (More) Queer Friendly Worship

  • Use inclusive language for God (multiple or no pronouns)
  • When singing, use language of separating by parts, not gender
  • Incorporating queer Bible commentary and theology into worship life
  • Use LGBTQ person in all aspects of worship & ministry (invite them to volunteer)
  • Recognize significant LGBTQ events in prayer time
  • Providing space—for queer weddings, meetings, etc.
  • Make space physically accessible for ppl with disabilities
  • Be aware of what images of God/Jesus are in your church and what message they send
  • Designate gender neutral bathrooms
  • Teach about sexuality& LGBTQ spirituality in Sunday School or sermon series

What We Want to See From the Church

  • Clarifying welcoming statements in individual congregations & denominationally
  • Less discrimination
  • Physical demonstrations of acceptance in church
  • Full participation in church life
  • Recognizing that Mennonite men defy gender roles through conscientious objection
  • New understandings of masculinity (as not tough, unemotional, etc.)
  • Recognition of the violence that has been/is being done
  • More conversations about sex in general—get comfortable with it!

Help Support our organizing work for Orlando!

Hymn Sing at Kansas City 2016

Dear Pink Menno supporter,

It’s been 8 years since we first came together to wear pink as a sign of our commitment to welcome and inclusivity for the LGBTQ community in the summer of 2009 at the Mennonite convention in Columbus, Ohio. A lot has changed since then. A lot has stayed the same.

This year’s convention in Orlando will bring with it some new opportunities for us as well as challenges. One of our leaders, Annabeth Roeschley, has been involved in developing a process known as the Future Church Summit, and Pink Menno is helping choose some participants in that summit. At the same time, we continue to see high levels anxiety among church leaders about fully including Pink Menno and LGBTQ people in workshops, in providing space for us to meet, and in acknowledging their own complicity in the harm that they have caused LGBTQ people. This will be particularly poignant at a convention occuring near the massacre of many LGBTQ people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

You donation can make a big difference as we continue our work to transform the church. Next weekend, April 5-7, a group of our leaders will be joining other organizations working for LGBTQ inclusion in the church at a training and strategy seminar, and we need your support to cover their travel costs. Your donation will also contribute to covering the cost of room rental for the Pink Menno space in Orlando. Please give here:

As an all volunteer organization, we depend on your support. Together, we are changing the church. Thanks for being part of this movement!

Pink Menno leadership group,
March 31, 2017

Loving the tradition from the margins: What Malcolm Gladwell is missing about power in his Mennonites podcast

Illustration of Malcolm Gladwell by Surian Soosay

Contributed by Luke L Miller

Chester Wenger’s “An open letter to my beloved church” in 2014 was a beautiful, poignant reflection by a man who dedicated his life to the Mennonite Church on why he had chosen to perform the marriage ceremony for his gay son Phil. He documented the way he had come to believe the church must bless LGBTQ people’s marriages, made a powerful argument for his position, and explained that now at age 96 he was finally ready to “let this light shine.” He demonstrated humility, grace, and peace in his words: peace with his decision and peace with the consequences that it caused when his ordination was taken away by Lancaster Mennonite Conference.

I haven’t read any of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, but I’ve now listened to every released episode of his podcast “Revisionist History,” and his methodology is clear. He uses a concept in social psychology (often a recently published one) to provide a lens for reflecting on the way something about the world works. The conceit of the podcast is that he will use these concepts (ideas like “moral licensing” and “strong link/weak link”) to re-examine incidents from the past and draw surprising or compelling conclusions. Read more ›

Compassion, Justice, and Kim Davis: Some Queer Reflections

Contributed by Justin Yoder

“Yes, Kim Davis is a bigot, and yes, her four marriages are relevant. But we need to be able to . . . discuss her hypocrisy without engaging in bigotry ourselves. [. . .] Should we call people out for bigoted beliefs? Absolutely. Should we make fun of the way they talk or mock them for where they’re from? No.” – from “We Need to Be Able to Call Out Kim Davis’ Bigotry Without Slut-Shaming or Hillbilly-Shaming”

(Ty Wright/Getty Images)

(Ty Wright/Getty Images)

I found contributor Libby Anne’s blog post helpful in parsing out some of the issues that are at play in the aftermath of Rowan County (KY) clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Kim Davis is a beloved child of God, as is each one of us. That simple fact should be enough to keep us from responding to her actions with hateful classist insults and sexist personal attacks; sadly, this has not been the case. The author does a great job identifying some of the inappropriate and unhelpful tactics that have been employed in responding to Kim Davis. I want to hold myself accountable to her call to refrain from sexism or classism in critiquing Davis.

I must admit that I’ve bristled to some of the calls from progressive and moderate voices for “compassion,” “respect,” and “empathy” towards Davis — not because I don’t believe in compassion, respect, or empathy, but because some of those calls have promoted a false equivalence between the systemic and sustained oppression, violence, humiliation, and injustice that LGBTQ people have historically experienced (and continue to experience even in post-Obergefell America) and Kim Davis’ experience in the wake of her actions. The Myth of Christian Persecution in the United States is alive and well, and some of the responses I’ve read have come very close to propagating it.

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Lament for the institutionalized church: Trauma, rage, and hope from Kansas City

[Reposted from Our Stories Untold. Read Rae Halder’s original post here.]

Rae wrote a version of this piece, originally posted on Facebook, late on Friday, July 3, after attending the Mennonite Church USA’s “Service of Lament and Hope” for survivors of sexual abuse. The service came a day after MCUSA delegates passed two seemingly contradictory resolutions related to LGBTQ bodies. One, the “Resolution on Forbearance in the Midst of Difference,” submitted by a politically diverse coalition of pastors, asked Mennonite congregations to “forbear” with one another amidst their conflicts over “same-sex covenanted unions.”

The other, the “Resolution on the Status of the Membership Guidelines,” was submitted by the MCUSA Executive Board, and put forth its own interpretation of “forbearance,” stating, “In order to exercise forbearance on matters that divide us and to focus attention on the missional vision that unites us, the delegate assembly will not entertain changes to the Membership Guidelines for the next four years.” The Membership Guidelines of MCUSA condemn “homosexuality” and require MCUSA area conferences to “review” the ministerial credentials of any pastor performs a covenant or marriage ceremony for two people of the same gender.

On Thursday afternoon, after the Membership Guidelines resolution was passed, dozens of Pink Menno supporters stood silently in the hallway of the convention hall for nearly an hour, facing the outgoing foot traffic from the delegate hall. In order to past through the hallway, delegates had to navigate a maze of pink-clad bodies. Many stood in tears; some, including Rae, wore pink duct tape over their mouths to symbolize the ongoing silencing of queer voices.

On Friday morning, the delegate body passed another resolution, a “Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse.”

— Stephanie Krehbiel

The evening of July 3rd I walked into MCUSA’s “Service of Lament and Hope” hoping to find a space for healing that I could come to with my wounds. I left that space with deep pain and extreme rage—a rage I rarely, if ever, feel. I was pissed off. No, that’s an understatement: I was furious.

On July 2nd our church passed “A Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse.” Elizabeth Soto Albrect, moderator of Mennonite Church USA, asked the delegates to be mindful when speaking about the subject matter with fellow delegates, as many among them could be sexual abuse survivors. “Certain things may trigger painful memories,” she stated.

A few Pink Menno’s performed a gorilla theater piece during the Forbearance Resolution voting delegate session.

Well, that service more than triggered painful memories—it triggered my rage. I was triggered by having that above statement spat right back out at my face. I was triggered by Mennonite Church USA’s lack of mindfulness when speaking to their constituents. My pain from Thursday, of being told through the passage of the Forbearance and Membership Guidelines Resolutions that I am not a legitimate member of the church, and that this fact won’t be debated again for four years, was triggered. The memory that not a single LGBTQ person was invited to speak in the delegate hall, and that when they “forcefully” exerted themselves through guerrilla theater because they are done with not being invited they were met with extreme anger and a demand to have the doors locked to keep the queer folk out, was triggered. The memory of being declared not worthy of respect was triggered. The violence of not having my body and personhood recognized was triggered. The painful memories of standing in silent protest while delegates walked by making condescending statements such as “Don’t worry, things will get better!” or not even looking me in the eye was triggered. Being reminded of the sin I continue to see and experience against me was triggering.

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Pink Menno Press release on July 2, 2015 Action at Mennonite Church USA convention



Mennonite Church USA Convention staff member Sue Conrad tries unsuccessfully to take microphone from Pink Menno actors performing theater piece.

Mennonite Church USA Convention staff member Sue Conrad tries unsuccessfully to take microphone from Pink Menno actors performing satirical theater piece.

Members affiliated with Pink Menno held two actions on Thursday morning, July 2, 2015 at the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) delegate session in Kansas City, MO. These actions highlighted the lack of representation in Mennonite church processes by those most impacted by today’s resolutions: lesbians, gay folks, bisexuals, trans folks, and queer folks (LGBTQ people).

Both actions pointed to the injustice of church processes that for decades have excluded and marginalized the LGBTQ community and our allies. While each resolution will be discussed by delegates today on its own merits, our message is that the entire process is flawed and does not represent LGBTQ Mennonites because it has not included LGBTQ Mennonites from the beginning. We will not be complicit in our own oppression. The advocacy work of the movement for inclusion of LGBTQ people will continue whether these resolutions pass or fail.

Invitation to De-pink

At the conclusion of the Pink Menno hymn sing, Pink Menno asked our supporters who were wearing Pink in the delegate assembly to wear garbage bags as a way of de-pinking the delegate assembly, a visual representation of the silencing LGBTQ folks. Below is the statement supporters received along with garbage bag.

“The very documents upon which MCUSA was founded mandated the exclusion and diminishment of LGBTQ lives. Shoring up, or making minor adjustments, will not fix the cracks that are inherent in a foundation built upon unjust structures. The unity the church seeks will not be realized by continuing to scapegoat LGBTQ lives. As Pink Menno, we cannot give consent to what is at heart an illegitimate undertaking.

Today we de-pink the delegate session to symbolize our rejection of a flawed and violent process.”

Members of the Mennonite USA wear garbage bags during the hymn sing outside the delegate assembly, symbolizing the de-pinking of the delegate assembly, a visual representation of the silencing LGBTQ community.

Members of the Mennonite USA and Pink Menno supporters wear garbage bags during the hymn sing outside the delegate assembly, symbolizing the de-pinking of the delegate assembly, a visual representation of the silencing LGBTQ community.

Satirical Theater Piece

Individuals affiliated with Pink Menno took the stage on Thursday to hold a theatrical mock vote satirizing MC USA’s historic pattern of voting, to block LGBTQ people from participation in the church. Indicating their unanimous “No” vote with a dance of the Hokey Pokey, they voted down a resolution barring individuals “struggling with opposite-sex attraction at variance with the Mennonite Confession of Faith,” stating “we trust our beloved community members to make ethical and faithful sexual choices.” During their three minute performance, there were shouts from the delegate floor, and an MC USA staff member attempted to wrest the mic from a performer’s hand.

“For the past 30 years, MC USA has been kicking the can down the road – the can being queer people. As we prepared for today’s resolution, we knew we had to point to the absurdity of our Mennonite community, gathered in the liberating love of Christ and committed to peacemaking, continuously insisting on voting on the worth of our bodies,” said Jennifer Yoder, who performed the role of convener.

“This may have been the first time a resolution explicitly addressing straight sexual behavior was brought to the delegate floor,” added Yoder.

Full text of the mock “resolution”:

“Because we as Mennonites believe in clear boundaries and tall fences to keep out any abominations in the eyes of God:

We heretofore resolve that those struggling with opposite-sex attractions at variance with the mennonite confession of faith will not be recognized for their membership or ministry in the life of the church.

All those in favor will be asked to say “Aye”!

Those opposed, please do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself about. “

How can I keep from singing? (Part III)

This series of posts shares interviews conducted by Bobby Switzer for a thesis project at Goshen College, curated for this series by Pax Ressler. The questions below are Bobby’s, with responses from Wilma Harder, Stephanie Krehbiel, Pax Ressler and Carol Wise. For more information about the Mennonite LGBTQ+ justice movement, see the appendix at the bottom of the page:
“A History Lesson with Dr. Krehbiel”.

Bobby Switzer: What songs have sustained you? Sustained the movement?

Wilma Harder: The “new” hymnal was published in 1992, amid a lot of all of this. This brought new songs into the works as well, and a new excitement of others who spoke of inclusion of all believers. Much of the songs that came back over and over at the above mentioned events were new songs filled with hope. “Here in this place” was one such song. “Will you let me be your servant” was sung so much that it became almost irrelevant. The same with “Come to the Water”.

Songs like “Unity” had been in the public domain during the 70s and brought poignantly out at opportune times over and over and over. The same with “We Shall Overcome”, of course, used so much in the 60s during the civil rights movement, and we sang it as well. I remember trying to sing that song at a BMC convention in Philadelphia, stopping part way through and thinking “you know what? I really don’t see a time when we shall overcome”. I don’t think I’ve been able to sing it through since. I think that was in 1990.

The same with “How can I keep from singing”, another song of hope and strength. In 1995 I was no longer able to sing those words, as I felt so beaten down and utterly discouraged. I could no longer sing hymns at all. I had quit attending church and had revoked my membership at Assembly.  At the time I was actively performing locally with my partner and we were asked to perform at Mennofolk, and if we did so, we were to perform our version of that particular song. Well, I said, I have not been able to sing that song for a few years, and if I do so I’ll need to write some additional verses. I framed my two verses with two other verses I found in Rise Up Singing, not the hymnal.

Here are my verses:

My life goes on in endless song
my peers and loved ones question
They argue whether I belong
within the church , their bastion.
The storms that shake my inmost calm
have quenched my hope, I’m clinging
to those who love without regret.
I rarely feel like singing

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear that music ringing.
But when I try to join right in
I feel the tears, a-stinging.
The well of sorrow deep inside
grows ever, ever deeper.
When my church to me was denied
it nearly stopped my singing.

Not the best writing, but it said then what I needed to say. I somehow got through it, and there was not a dry eye in the room.

“I somehow got through it, and there was not a dry eye in the room.” – WH

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