At the beginning of this year our congregation officially joined the Supportive Communities Network and this Sunday SCN Coordinator Carol Wise will be a guest speaker during worship, the Sunday school hour, and at a luncheon held at the church (open invitation, food provided). Carol is also the Executive Director of the Brethren-Mennonite Council (BMC).
As we strive to be an inclusive congregation, we are a part of a national denomination, Mennonite Church USA, that is in the throes of conflict over how to relate to Christians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer – lgbtq. One group of congregations, calling themselves the Evana Network, a combination of the words “Evangelical” and “Anabaptist,” has recently parted ways with the denomination and is welcoming others who wish to affiliate.
Resolutions for this summer’s MC USA Convention in Kansas City have recently been released and two of them deal directly with lgbtq matters. One calls for forbearance amid our differences, stating: “we call on all those in Mennonite Church USA to offer grace, love, and forbearance toward conferences, congregations, and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.” A second, written by the Executive Board of MC USA, reaffirms the Membership Guidelines which prohibit pastors to officiate as same-sex unions and calls for the creation of “a conference-to-conference peer review when area conferences are not aligned with the documents.”
Those of you who only know Mennonites through CMC might be surprised that we are not representative of the whole. Those of us who have been connected with Mennonites for a long time might feel the tension in our families and personal being especially acutely these days. We need prayer. We need a miracle. We need the Spirit to guide us toward being the kind of peace and anti-oppression church we claim to be.
It is perhaps more reading than you feel like doing, but I am including below a letter I wrote to the Executive Board in response to their resolution, followed by a letter from Carol Wise to the EB. If you only have time to read one – read hers! It will give you a sense of the perspective that Carol will bring to us this weekend, and it will give some insight into the state of the situation of our denominational family.
Sunday’s service included sharing from eight new members about their faith journey and why they are committing to Columbus Mennonite Church. The entire service is recorded HERE and their sharing starts around the 25:40 mark.
6 May 2015
Friends of the Executive Board,
You have a difficult job in a difficult time – probably an impossible job in an impossible time. I’m grateful for the hours of thought and prayer you are putting into your work, and imagine some hours of sleep have been lost in the process.
When someone opens with a sympathetic statement, it might be followed by criticism, and I feel the need to express my perspective that the resolution you have sponsored and recently released seriously misses the mark and confuses the issue in some very noteworthy ways of how we move forward as a collective body.
In the Background section you claim to support the previously approved resolution on forbearance. However, the resolution you have proposed openly contradicts the spirit and direction of that resolution. Practicing forbearance with our very real differences – as individuals, congregations, and conferences – is a fundamentally different way forward than creating a mechanism of conference-to-conference peer review of conferences that are not aligned with existing documents. It would have been much more honest to say that this resolution provides an alternative to the forbearance resolution.
Rather than allowing a resolution that emerged from a partnership of congregations, affirmed by the CLC, to be our guide, the EB resolution essentially trumps and makes void the spirit of the forbearance resolution. You have therefore created a process that will be unnecessarily divisive in that the delegates will be choosing which of these two resolutions to support rather than focusing on how we might come together on one resolution.
You propose heightening the eldership of the CLC, even as you have undermined a resolution affirmed by these elders. As friends of mine who have attended CLC have shared, it is one of the best things the denomination has going for us. Diverse people representing the breadth of our national body come together in a space where they are enabled to share and pray together openly, listen compassionately, and affirm bonds of fellowship despite differences. In other words, CLC has been a beautiful example of practicing forbearance. Your proposal of using the CLC as a group to conduct reviews will negatively redefine this space.
In short, I feel that the entire spirit of the resolution goes against your own best efforts to offer us all a way forward together. Needless to say, I will be encouraging our congregation to support the forbearance resolution and vote against the EB resolution – although they will need little encouragement to decide this. I do share your hope in the final point of the resolution that we can join hands in the work that binds us together – only, please, don’t encourage slapping the hands of those who conscientiously object with a point in our documents.
With hope and, despite the criticism, appreciation for your service,
Joel Miller, pastor
Columbus Mennonite Church
12 May 2015
Dear Executive Board Members:
The prophets’ cries in the wilderness, the psalmists’ hymns of lament, and the agonizing words of Jesus upon the cross remind us of the fragile nature of hope in the life of faith. Acts of betrayal and abandonment have a way of crushing the spirit and testing the faith of even the most convicted among us.
Thus, it was very troubling to note how casually and callously the Executive Board has again dismissed the lives, experience and gifts of lgbtq Mennonites with its recent resolution. The grasping after “original documents” and the establishment of new paths for policing and punishment reflect sorrowful attempts to hold on to something that was corrupted from the beginning. We wonder how long it will take for the EB to realize that structures built on the backs and suffering of a group of people will ultimately crumble under the burden and weight of that injustice. Whether we use the language of forbearance or impose tiresome moratoriums, it remains a fact that the church will be in turmoil until it abandons its unloving practices of scapegoating, shunning and targeting lgbtq people and our families.
For nearly four decades, the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC) has sought to be a place of refuge, healing and hope for lgbtq Mennonites and our allies. Ironically, our community has practiced the very forbearance that has been denied to us. And in the process, we have grown stronger.
Over the years some of us have picked up our mats and left the Mennonite church for new spiritual homes. A few have understandably grown bitter and despondent. But many of us, perhaps more than the church truly deserves, have remained hopeful about our tradition. We have been bruised and battered, but we are still here, laughing and singing, dancing and praying, speaking the unpronounceable, loving and living with an elegance and pride that is persistent, resilient and wonderfully defiant. Certainly there are challenges, and the actions of the EB are among those challenges. Despite our confidence in the strength of our community, we are angered by the continual assaults upon our well being and the drain that it puts upon our reservoirs of hope.
Our church is in trouble. Not because of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, same gender loving, transgender, queer and questioning members and all of those who love us. Our church is in trouble because it is being led along a moral path that is unjust, inhospitable, and harsh. Obsessed by fear, the love that just might save us is being cast out.
In a film about his families’ experience when he came out as a transgender man, Calvin Neufeld, a former member of the BMC board, said: “I’ve only seen families grow happier and healthier when they choose the route to acceptance and affirmation…and I’ve only seen them grow sicker and smaller and lonelier when they choose the opposite.” This observation seems true of churches as well.
South African theologian David Field suggests, “If our theology is to be an authentic reflection on and witness to God who is revealed in Jesus Christ as the God of the excluded, then we need to embark on the often painful journey to meet with Jesus the Christ outside the camp, among the excluded. Such a journey will leave us uncomfortable and displaced…” The Executive Board seems to be fortifying rather than leaving the camp of which Professor Field speaks. This is unfortunate. It is past time to step outside of our denominational smallness and discover the Christ among the excluded.
May God grant us all the courage to journey outside the camp.