Thursday, June 14, 2012

About Gays and Mennonites

Back in 2001, I attended a national gathering of Mennonites in Nashville that brought two strands of the church together into the new Mennonite Church USA. It was a weird week—one that both made me thrilled to be a Mennonite, but also helped set my path out of the church.

The official gathering was on the grounds of the Opryland Hotel. But across the street from that, there was a second gathering—of gay and lesbian Mennonites. While individuals were allowed into the main gathering of Mennonites, the group itself wasn't allowed to put up a booth or display in the convention hall. So they met separately, sharing stories and worshiping together.

I made the trip across the street, and doing so permanently transformed my feelings about the church and its treatment of gays. It was meeting two gay middle-aged Mennonite men—one of whom had nursed the other through a heart attack—that I found compelling. They shared a real love, one that allowed them to serve each other in a real and genuine way.

And in that moment I thought: "Surely God can't condemn this. And if God does condemn this ... maybe I don't care. Maybe that's not a God worth worshipping."

A year later, I was out of the church.

I mention all of this because my friend Joanna, who is now the pastor of Peace Mennonite Church where I last attended, is under fire within the broader church denomination for officiating at a gay wedding. And today, she shares some thoughts about why she wants to be able to do that and (unlike me) remain a Mennonite.

Here’s the thing, though–I am not United Church of Christ or Presbyterian or Episcopalian. I am Mennonite. Anabaptist to the core. I will not baptize babies. I will not put a flag in a place of worship. I value simplicity and discipleship and community. And if I get to sing a few hymns in four-part harmony every week, that’s a bonus! I want my life to mirror the life of Christ, and I cannot find any other group of Christians that encourages me in this pursuit as well as the Mennonites. 
And here’s the thing–there are so many GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered) people who also want to follow Jesus in this way. They want–they need–a Mennonite community as much as I do. It breaks my heart to know of sexual minorities who cannot find a faith home because the churches that most resonate with their souls will not welcome them in the fullness of who they are. 
And here’s the thing–the Mennonite church needs the graces and gifts of GLBT folks as well. It breaks my heart to think of the wonderful leadership, music, art, ministry that the church is missing out on because we do not fully include GLBT people. (I wish you all could know Randy Spaulding and Sarah Klaassen.) At a recent preaching conference I met a young woman pastor from United Church of Canada. When I told her I was Mennonite she said, “Oh, I have a lot of lesbian friends who used to be Mennonite.” 
And here’s the thing–from my perspective, according to my reading of the Gospel, anything less than full inclusion for gays and lesbians in our churches is an injustice. More than that, our failure to embrace and support sexual minorities is a rejection of Jesus’ way of love. It is to side with the religious powers that be–some of whom make good money off of their tirades against gay people–over and against the radical message of Jesus.
Read the whole thing.

As for me, my faith is still a broken thing. I do know that I won't worship a God who supposedly hates love—real and wonderful love. But I've also tried very hard to make sure I leave the door open to a return to the faith. And Joanna—her bravery and strength under fire—is one very big reason why.

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