Sexual Worthiness

I’ve been out of the blogging business (jk, it’s a nonprofit) for a while now. It’s hard to decide just how much to say about why that is. I can say this, however: it is deeply connected with healing from the many forms of sexualized violence I have experienced as a member of Mennonite Church USA.

As I re-enter the online world of Mennonite discourse, it’s interesting to find myself in the process of profound changes, and MC USA in the same old holding pattern I’ve been familiar with over the course of my thus far 33 years of life.

Mennonite people, most often men, are committing heinous acts of sexualized violence behind closed doors. Some are eventually caught. Then there is generally a Mennonite-orchestrated cover-up. Then there are attempts to prove that enough was done, and the survivor/s was/were hard to work with, and everyone tried their best, and it just didn’t work out, ok? And we’re really sorry! For real this time, and let’s all agree to do a better job next time. Then the hunkering down and the hoping it will blow over.

And, of course, I can’t leave out the moment when we pivot to: “And this is why we have to have the strict sexual boundaries of sexual activity taking place exclusively in the context of a cis-man and a cis-woman who are bound together in holy matrimony, preferably for the purpose of reproduction.”

And there we are, without ever speaking the words, queer folks and those committing heinous acts of sexual violence, all lumped together again as those outside Mennonite sexual boundaries.

As if there are two alternatives:

  1. A strict one-option sexual code
  2. Total chaos with orgies, bestiality, pedophiles, constant violence, and no consent to be seen

Come on, MC USA, let’s stop deflecting attention from the need for accountability on the parts of those committing sexual violence and those with any participation in cover-ups. Let’s stop deflecting attention from survivors who have been traumatized two-fold: by the perpetrator of the violence and by the cover-up or failure to address violence in the faith community we believed to be the epitome of nonviolence.

How can survivors make meaning of the violence we’ve experienced, when the belief system where we used to find meaning has betrayed us so deeply, has been a part of that violence? And meaning-making is an essential part of recovery from trauma.

I’ve told this story in a couple places, and I’ll most likely tell it again:

Last summer at the MC USA convention in Kansas City, in front of a body of delegates including very few openly queer folks, church leaders re-read a letter they’d written a few months prior apologizing for their utterly catastrophic failure to lead the church when it comes to how to treat queer people. There had been no change in leaders’ behavior since then, and in fact they had come up with a resolution that would be brutal for queer folks – a resolution, by the way, that bypassed the two that had already been submitted through our denomination’s process, and the one resolution that had been approved. Mennonite leadership is expert-level at the violence of behind-the-scenes bureaucratic oppression.

The next day I sat in the convention hall waiting for a resolution on Palestine to come up in the agenda. Suddenly, a resolution to forgive MC USA leadership was brought to the floor. With absolutely no discussion, a delegate body containing very little queer representation was being asked to forgive leadership for the violence their poor leadership had done, mostly to queer folks.

My cheeks flushed and my blood pressure rose. Was I seeing this right? What business did this delegate body think it had forgiving leadership for the harm they’d done me and my community? And were they about to do it with no steps of accountability taken, with no signs of a change in behavior, and with every indication leadership would continue in its catastrophic path?

Yes. They were about to do that. They did do it. With only my brother and one other delegate in disagreement.

To me, it was no different than if Ervin Stutzman himself was standing next to me, punching me in the arm while turning to a group of unrelated Mennonites and asking them to forgive him. Then that group agrees and forgives him, all the while he continues punching me, and proceeds to punch harder after “forgiven.”

Time slowed down for me, as a moment stretched out in which I wondered, for the first time, whether a church with such a fundamentally different understanding of forgiveness from mine was worthy of me.

I had spent so much time trying to prove I was worthy of MC USA. Look at my passion for justice and peace! Look at my happy queer family! Look at the peacemaking work I do in my day job and in my free time! Look at how lovingly I navigate conversations online and offline! Look at my beautiful Mennonite family, all of whom love me: my pastor/professor Mennonite grandfather, my conflict resolution brother, my Menno World Review editor sister, my church elder father, my loving Mennonite mother and my other loving Mennonite sister! It doesn’t matter who I have sex with, as long as it’s consensual and harm-free and violence-free! I’m worthy!

Now, I realized, there was another question. Was MC USA worthy?

Coming back to Mennonite discourse at this moment, with leaders once again skirting accountability, waving around the word forgiveness, asking us to *trust them* to do better next time because now they’ve written a better list of things they promise to do than that last list they never followed through on – just wow.

Is this church worthy of us?

Not when it comes to anything involving sexual ethics. Or the powerful yet complex concept of forgiveness. Or the constantly-cited by Menno leaders, yet never-enacted concept of accountability.

Is this church worthy of us?

Not that I can see.


4 thoughts on “Sexual Worthiness

  1. Good piece, thanks for writing it. Your question at the end is an important one from a certain perspective. However, the question seems to cede the right to define MC USA to Ervin and other Moderate Mennonite Male Managers (Here’s what I mean by that: ).

    As long as we continue to let the MMMM’s define MC USA, we’ll continue to reach the conclusion that the church is not worthy of us. But at the heart of the Anabaptist tradition is the taking back the church from the state and church hierarchies.

    So for me, your piece stops short of where it needs to go. By all means, stop looking to the leaders of MCUSA for affirmation of our self-worth and flip the script of whose is worthy, but let’s take the next step and refuse to let the MMMM’s define MCUSA. Let’s take back the church.

  2. Thank you for this. As one of the delegates in that room, I don’t think I really understood the implications of either the apology or of the forgiveness at that time, and I kind of just went along with my good Christian girl knee jerk instinct that when someone apologizes, you should forgive them. I now wish that I/ we had taken the time to unpack the questions of who was apologizing, to whom, for what, and what concrete steps are being taken toward reconciliation before so we so instinctively and quickly extended forgiveness. I am sorry for my part in perpetuating this painful dynamic.

    • Thank you, Kristin. I think this was the experience of a lot of delegates. And I think it represents the way the process is used to maintain the same old thing.

      You shouldn’t have been put in the position of having a few seconds to decide if you wanted to forgive intensive systemic failure!

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