MC USA’s power-holders meet and gather, discern, hem, haw, and engage in thoughtful discussion with no particular end in sight. Individual conferences meet and write letters, agree, disagree, talk about leaving the denomination, struggle, worship together, find commonality, despair (or rarely delight) at difference.
We queer folks in the Mennonite church and allies for inclusion gather, support, write, lean in, take a breath, take a break, envision new paths, hug, plan, build.
At this moment I feel called to engage a particular voice within our community. Perhaps we can engage with each other and model for the broader church ways to agree and disagree in love. To call in, to lean in, to strengthen solidarity, support, and community. Let’s dive in.
“The very minimum required by intellectual honesty and good faith is that the questions thus raised be faced by all without defensiveness, rancor, or dissimulation.” Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex. Mary Daly, while a visionary feminist philosopher, contributed to transphobia and hatred of trans folks and transbodies.
Ted Grimsrud, with love, I am calling you in. The first request of this call-in is that you read the post I’ve linked to. It’s a social justice framework for conflict transformation. It’s for when allies fall short and make mistakes, and folks in oppressed communities need to call those allies in and practice peace, accountability, and transformation. Because we’re both Mennonites, I’m going to work in some of John Paul Lederach’s framework of Conflict Transformation as well.
To quote from the article I’ve linked above, I’m calling you in “[b]ecause when I see problematic behavior from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed.”
I’m doing this publicly on my blog, because the mistake and context of behavior I’m referring to is on your public blog. The recent episode I’d like to address is your post about Othering and Mennonite Sexuality Struggles. I noticed that you Othered me right in your title by referring to me, to my human Mennonite queer body, as a Sexuality Struggle. I talk more about this common practice in my post Re: Elephants, A Call to Allies and Humans in the Mennonite Church. I give examples of language choices that humanize queer bodies in that post, and I’d love for you to apply some of those principles.
The second thing about your Othering post I’d like to address is the way you frame Othering of queer folks in the context of the Cold War and criminals. This felt problematic to me for a couple of reasons. One is that queer folks have done a ton of intellectual work around Othering, and that work was entirely passed over by your blog. A simple Google search for “Othering Queer Theory” would’ve provided you with the framework you needed to build your basic points. It’s something we queer folks have been talking about for quite some time. For just one example, check out this cool scholarly article about queer folks and Othering in the context of education from the Review of Educational Research. The American Educational Research Association published it in Spring of 2000, fourteen years ago.
The fact that you completely (willfully?) ignored Queer Theory, an entire body of rigorous intellectual work by the very community you are purporting to be examining, hurts my heart.
The deep painful history of people conflating queer existence with criminality also makes your framing problematic. In particular, people equate queer folks with sexual abusers, sexual violence committers, and pedophiles. In truth, we queer folks experience sexual violence – and all violence – at higher rates than straight folks. Your choice to link the two populations thematically and to drop in an end-of-post defense of John Howard Yoder – the man whose predatory sexual abuse of women is a focal point in the current Mennonite discussions about sexual violence – felt supremely insensitive to the history (and sometimes current practice) of equating queer folks’ sexuality with sexually predatory behavior and to queer folks who are survivors of sexual violence.
I want to look at your post in the context of your other writings. I have several times found it interesting and helpful to read the growing, learning, intellectual wrestling, and shifting views of a straight Mennonite man. You do sometimes use Othering language like “gay issue,” and you frequently use the term “Homosexuality.” More painful to me, you have many posts that pass over the rigorous intellectual work of survivors and anti-sexual violence experts (in the context of John Howard Yoder), and queer folks inside and outside of the Mennonite church (in the context of your posts about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities).
When you write about John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuse, and its impact/meaning for his work, you engage primarily with Yoder’s own writing, and with the writing of men defending Yoder or explaining Yoder’s behavior. In the Othering post, you engage primarily with work on Othering in the context of the Cold War and Criminals, and your reflections of whether that could be applied to queer folks. Where are your posts engaging with survivors and sexual violence experts (other than one guest post by Barbara Graber and a brief shout-out to Alice Miller) regarding John Howard Yoder? Where are your posts engaging with queer theory and with queer theology regarding queer folks?
So I’m calling you in, Ted, and I’m asking whether you can rethink and rework your post about Othering to draw from Queer Theory. In the larger context, I’m asking whether you can lean in and learn more about operating in solidarity with oppressed communities and about practicing allyship.
Here are some articles about allyship – a couple are in harsh language, and they can be difficult to read. The links I’m sharing are my personal collection of links I read and re-read to keep myself accountable. Most, if not all, are specifically about race, but can often be applied to any person with power and/or privilege.
So You Call Yourself an Ally
How to Tell if You’re Racist
4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege
8 Ways Not to Be an Ally
No More Allies
True Solidarity: Moving Past Privilege Guilt (Updated to add this article I read and loved today, 3/26/2014)
Ted, how can you and I be in community together and lift up each other’s successes and call in each other’s mistakes? How can we support each other as we work together to make peace in this Mennonite Church of ours?
This particular episode of conflict has moved me to call you in, and I have energy to do this work with you. Will you join me?
“The moment we choose love, we begin to move toward freedom.” – bell hooks