You can read Response by Ervin Stutzman here, if you missed it.
Several days ago I noticed a flurry of activity – a letter signed by 150 pastors calling for welcome of LGBTQ folks, the Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA in response “earnestly desir[ing] that our church be faithful to scripture and God’s call,” articles about these developments, and comment section dust-ups. It seemed appropriate for me to acknowledge this flurry on behalf of my queer Mennonite self, and to make an initial response to the hopes and Menno-speak voiced within that flurry.
First of all, I receive the letter from the pastors as an example of allies (and I believe, a member or two of the LGBTQ community!) in positions of power and with legitimizing credentials standing in the gap for queer folks like myself whose voices are nearly always marginalized in any discussion about our lives and spirits in the Mennonite Church. I receive Ervin’s response as difficult to decipher Menno-speak backed by his authority as Executive Director, and positioned as (perceived) gatekeeper to the Mennonite Church.
Partly as a result of this (perceived) gatekeeper role, Ervin believes the 150 pastors’ beliefs and experiences are his and the board’s to judge and deem worthy of rightness or wrongness. Stutzman declares that he “lament[s] that the individuals and groups at opposite ends of the spectrum of concerns related to sexual identity and orientation are no longer willing to be in patient forbearance with each other.” He sat at the table with members of the LGBTQ community (or as he calls it, people on the LGBTQ spectrum), and believes that his recounting – from a position of power and authority – of these conversations with folks accurately represents LGBTQ and allied experiences in the Mennonite Church, and he bases his conclusion on that belief. His conclusion is that “even among the closest family members of individuals with LGBTQ identity there is no consensus on the moral and theological implications.” I am assuming he means the moral and theological implications of being a member of the LGBTQ community, but the sentence is unclear.
Secondly, I receive the letter from the pastors as a plea to the church to find a better way of addressing our differences. I receive the letter from Ervin as a plea for members of the LGBTQ community to continue bearing the brunt of hatred, of silent treatment, of being ignored, passed over, and mistreated while members of our community stand by, and to be patient all the while. I also receive it as a plea for those who have a deeply held, unmovable, unchangeable belief that acceptance of members of the LGBTQ community is a sign of the spiritual downfall of the church to sit back down in the pews, and forebear.
I have exchanged an e-mail or two with Ervin, and know him to be the Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA. In that vein, I receive the letter as an edict to the members of the Mennonite Church, imbued with the authority of that position.
Although no specific actions he or the Executive Board will consider are named, the following statements from his letter come to mind:
” I am committed to the Confession of Faith and the Membership Guidelines adopted by the delegates at the Nashville convention in 2001″ – Ervin Stutzman, “Response by Ervin Stutzman”
“We’ve also explored the development of a new covenant arrangement which might better capture the commitments than the Membership Guidelines presently do.” – Ervin Stutzman, “Response by Ervin Stutzman”
Thirdly, I receive the letter from the pastors as growing evidence that many in the Mennonite Church love, welcome, and fellowship with LGBTQ folks. I lament that a person in a position of power and authority is meeting with others in positions of power and authority to decide whether it is ok with them, and therefore ok at all, for congregations identified as Mennonite to love, welcome, and fellowship with LGBTQ folks, in a setting where by the definition of the titles and roles of each participating person, no marginalized voices will be present. Those in positions of power are disregarding our denomination’s beginning as a group of believers in opposition to many practices of those in positions of church authority, believing that their positions call them to idolize a man-made set of Mennonite documents over love for socially-marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, and indeed all humans who are made in God’s image.
In contrast, many of those who are marginalized are organizing and gathering, struggling to contribute voices to a conversation designed to happen without them. People with firmly held, unmovable, unchangeable beliefs are leaving or threatening to leave the church.
I pray that God will help us find a way that demonstrates our integrity under Christ and thoughtful interpretation of the scriptures, and to examine whether permanency was intended for every word or for the spirit of the written covenants that we have made with each other, following the tradition of such documents – which are often found to contain oppression, privilege and other harms when looked at with a historical perspective.
As a person who is queer and a member of the Mennonite Church, I am committed to walking in love and faith with my friends and family in Christ, and to making peace when confronted with the violence of oppression and privilege, even and especially when this means examining my own privilege and power as a white, American citizen, able, lower-middle class, cisgender person. Although I honor and respect our Mennonite history, including the merger, I know that we must examine the ways we do polity for consistency with God’s call, and for instances of violence by oppression or privilege, and for other harm.
For the sake of right relationships in the church and our witness to the world, we must find a way to acknowledge, repent, and work to make restitution for the harms we have done.
In this vein, I have spoken with and listened to pastors, LGBTQ leaders, young folks in the church, family, friends, folks who have left the church, my partner and his son. I have found that even when there are differences in this or that verse of scripture’s interpretation, there is a common thread: love, a commitment to nonviolence and social change, a desire to examine ourselves and our church for oppression, privilege and harm-doing, and a deep connection to the Mennonite Church. Our desire for loving engagement runs right through families, congregations, conferences and denominations.
In the midst of this desire, I call the church to a renewed commitment to Jesus Christ, to ongoing study of the scriptures, to a thoughtful examination of our Confession of Faith, to a love that is filled with a desire for knowledge and insight, to deep listening to fellow Christians in LGBTQ communities, to communities of color, to people who are undocumented, to the differently abled, to women, to folks with different income levels than ours , to compassionate welcoming and discipling for all who are marginalized, to respectful conversation with those who differ with our own stance, and to prayerful, Spirit-led discernment in communities of faith committed to God’s mission in the world.
As part of their regular meeting in mid-February, the Executive Board will consider the letter from the 150 pastors along with two other recent actions—the announcement at Eastern Mennonite University launching a listening process regarding a hiring policy change for folks in same-sex covenants, and the ministerial licensing of Theda Good, a woman in a same-sex covenant, by Mountain States Mennonite Conference. Pray that God may grant them wisdom beyond our human limitations. The board intends to issue a statement shortly after the meeting.
“The moment we choose love, we begin to move toward freedom.” – bell hooks