RE: Elephants, a Call to Allies and Humans in the Mennonite Church

Good afternoon, allies and humans of the Mennonite Church. I (a human who is queer) have a quick note, a “call to action,” if you will.

First, some facts:

  1. I am a human with a human life partner and a human (step/bonus/partner’s) son. In addition, members of my family such as my mother, brother, sisters, and father are humans.
  2. I am not an elephant.
  3. I am not an issue.
  4. I am not a crucible time.
  5. I am not a dilemma, a burden, a conflict, a problem, a discussion, a question, a challenge, a threat, or any other non-living, non-breathing thing, noun, verb, adverb, what-have-you.
  6. I am not even “homosexuality.”

With that out of the way, I’m going to ask you all to do something for me. Please, when you are discussing [insert euphemism for me here, such as “LGBT issues,” “the elephant in the room,” or “the current dilemma in the church,”] remember that you are discussing me. You are discussing whether or not you would like me to be a full member in the Mennonite Church, whether you would mind if a Mennonite pastor joined my partner and I together for a lifetime, whether you would mind if God called me and the Mennonite Church licensed me to minister to the Mennonite Church.

You are talking about the way my chest tightens when I walk into a Mennonite Church, the way tears are never far from my eyes. You are talking about the way I nearly panicked last Sunday when I was inducted as a new member into my local Mennonite Church, because I’m not sure the good people in the pews around me understand my membership means we could all be kicked out of our conference. You’re talking about me planning a really happy day in my life for my partner and I, and thinking about the broader implications for my congregation. You’re talking about the deep shame and confusion I felt when I was younger, the fear of violence, of rejection.

You are talking about humans who experience suicide, depression, violence, homelessness, HIV, lack of health insurance, and joblessness at higher rates (read all about it). These experiences are linked to oppression and discrimination, to access issues, to legal issues, to communities like our Mennonite communities. There was even a recent study that showed living in a community with a high level of stigma and prejudice for LGB folks is linked to dying, on average, 12 years earlier. No, really.

This is part of what we queer folks and our allies mean when we say the structure of the Mennonite Church is enacting or committing or doing violence.

Here is one small thing we can all do about it, we humans. We can use different words when we talk about this. What’s in a name? In this case, acknowledgment of my humanity is in a name. Please, stop saying “issue,” “elephant,” “dilemma,” and their ilk.

Instead, talk about humans. Use human-first language. A person who is a lesbian. A person who is gay. A person who is trans. A person who is bisexual. A person who is queer. Jen, who is queer. Wes, who is trans. Our queer community members. I would even ask that, at least for now, we drop the shorthand LGBTQ, so that we are sure to focus on humans.

I’m going to rewrite just the first paragraph of a recent MWR blog post as a demo.

Her first paragraph actually was:

I’ve long said I wish as a church we could open our hands to receive the irreconcilable dilemma we’re faced with around sexual orientation, as a gift from God. Am I out of my mind to say this? Maybe. But I do not assert this glibly. As a 60-year-old, I know the crucible events in my life — as wracked with pain as they are — drive me deeper into the love of God. Break my heart open. Make me more humble. And perhaps a tad wiser. 

Rewritten to reflect the humans, it would be:

I’ve long said I wish as a church we could open our hands to receive conversations with our community members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer, as a gift from God. Am I out of mind to say this? Maybe. But I do not assert this glibly. As a 60-year-old, I know the times that I have engaged with people about the Biblical implications of their or my lives and identities – as complex and vulnerable as engaging can be – those times drive me deeper into the love of God. Break my heart open. Make me more humble. And perhaps a tad wiser.

So instead of an “irreconcilable dilemma” queer folks are community members. Instead of a “crucible time,” queer folks are people being engaged about the Biblical implications of their lives and identities.

What do you think, everyone? Can we shift the way we talk about this so we remember who, and not what, we are really talking about?

Let me know your thoughts!

“The moment we choose love, we begin to move toward freedom.” – bell hooks


8 thoughts on “RE: Elephants, a Call to Allies and Humans in the Mennonite Church

  1. Powerful. As a PFLAG member who makes announcements about meetings on our PFLAG page, I’ve wondered what to say about the speakers that humanize what they’ll be talking about, make it not just another soundbite. Is “Trans* knowledge and experience” enough (in lieu of “trans* issues”), or is Elena, who’s an expert on her own life better? Is “Nichole, who’s an expert in mental health needs” enough, or is there something more humanizing that I can say about mental health (I’m a consumer, so maybe, “Nichole, who knows a lot about me??”) while conveying the same message. Anyway, you gave me some good food for thought, and good luck in your church! They’ll come around. (Oh, and when going to TDOR I felt the same “chest tighgening” when I walked into the chapel of one of our local mortuaries. Why do we have to have such violence/fear surrounding us?) Peace. 🙂

  2. Ladies and Gentlemen, the elephant has left the room…. only humans remain. Thank you for your wise challenge to think as we speak.

  3. This is awesome. A few years ago, at our annual conference assembly, in a session designed to make sure we all knew the “official teaching position of the Mennonite Church USA”, I cringed as people talked about “the homosexuals” and “The issue of Homosexuality”. I had enough, and during the question time, I took the floor and told them that if they truly were interested in solving “The problem of homosexuality”, they could start by a) not referring to people as problems and b) for the love of gawd, quit calling people homosexuals – since the only people who use that term are folks who want to change them. It was hardly the speech of the century, but 4 years later, people still talk about it as if I delivered some rare and valuable wisdom.

    Keep up the good work. There is good in this denomination, and it is worth the fighting for.

  4. Yes, a face and a name. May that become the practice of every church in every situation. The worst sinner and the best saint are real people with names and faces — and are rarely the “worst” or the “best.”

    I’d like to point out that those who hold to the historical positions about sexual morality also have names and faces and real relationships. And we wrestle with how to live out our convictions (which rather awkwardly includes the conviction that “love warns brothers and sisters in sin”) because we have learned that to speak anything other than affirmation is usually misconstrued as hate. Many of us shy away from the public conversation altogether for fear of having our names and faces redrawn in an unfair caricature as shallow-minded bigots. That’s a power-play that usually wins the public debate, so we have learned to become the mouse in the room, hoping to go unnoticed, hoping to not get stepped on by the “elephant.”

    My appeal would be for humanizing the issue, but with impartial compassion for all people — even if your conviction uses words like “unjust” to describe what I believe and practice, and even if my conviction uses words like “immoral” to describe what you believe and practice. As Paul said, my conscience is clear but that doesn’t mean I’m right. God is my judge. To some degree both of us cannot be correct, but both of us CAN be guided by a genuine desire for love and rightness.

    May the grace of Jesus prevail over my errors, and likewise over the errors of those who believe differently than I.

    Thank you for your human post.

  5. Pingback: Femonite Bites: March 9, 2014 | The Femonite: Musings from a Mennonite Feminist

  6. Pingback: Why Heterosexism and Sexualized Violence are Linked, Part II | Our Stories Untold

  7. Very interesting read…I am interested to know if you have interviewed any of the Holdeman Mennonites out here in SW Kansas?
    I happen to be a lesbian doctor out here in a tiny town for almost 22 yrs now…it’s been very interesting to say the least living with some of the different types of religions and groupings of people out here in a most conservative area…
    I have found over the years that me just being me…honest, funny, good at my job etc has gone a long way in affecting the peoples overall perception of me and gay people overall… It’s taken time, but the tide is changing… I don’t talk about being gay to most of my patients, but most of them know….but most of them know I am kind, try my best with their best interest at heart etc…I’m human with them 😊.
    I’ve been interviewed by Tami Albin at KU…on being gay in a small town…and why I chose to stay in this small town when I could have gone anywhere…she was surprised my answer was simple….family and the people..
    Of course there are going to be some that no matter how great a person you are…..if they know you’re gay…they will mock, tease behind your back, go to another doctor etc…but more often my personality and dedication to doing my job well has won them over.. 😀
    Great job on your blog….I’ve often wondered about starting one..

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