As some of you know, this fabulous foursome gathered in Kansas City a few weeks ago to talk to the Mennonite Church USA board. (Well, Stephanie was really just there to glare at people.) I appreciate the opportunity we were given to share about the movement of the Spirit in our communities and the hopes that we share for our denomination.
For those of you wondering how it went–it was fine. Ruth Harder and Sarah Klaassen are two of the most brave and articulate people I know. The board members listened respectfully. They were polite. They smiled at us. And nobody threw anything–not even a fit.
I did not come away from this session with any news about MC USA or any new insights into the inner workings of our denomination. But I did come away with one very clear message–something many people on the board wanted me to share with other inclusive-minded people. So . . .
Dear Pro-Inclusion Polarity Exacerbaters: The MC USA board members–at least the ones who spoke to me–are nice people. Every single person I talked with at the meeting was nice. I like them. And I think most of them like me. (I am pretty likable, after all.) You should like them, too. Because they are nice people. Who love Jesus.
I would also like to say:
Dear MC USA Board Members: I do like you. And so do a lot of my friends. Lots and lots of pro-inclusion, gay-loving Mennonites think you are nice people.
I like you.
I do not like the statement you put out about Theda Good’s credentials. Or the denominational policies against pastors officiating same-sex weddings. Or the way that statements coming from MC USA leadership present those working for inclusion as the problem children who are tearing the church art.
I am allowed to not like these things and still like you. I am allowed to disagree–even publicly–with your theology and/or your polity and/or your Biblical interpretation and/or your word choices and/or your fashion sense–my disagreement does not mean that I do not like you and respect you and understand that you are deeply loving and lovely human beings.
Dear Everyone: I think it would be helpful on all sides for us to keep a few key points in mind.
- Liking someone and agreeing with him are two different things.
- Respecting someone and agreeing with her are two different things.
- Loving an institution (say, as a random example, a denomination) and supporting every decision made by institutional leadership are two different things.
Here is what many Mennonites–from a variety of theological positions–seem to believe: If we can just get everyone to sit down together and talk and realize that we are all nice people who like each other then this whole controversy will go away.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, friends, but this is not a workable strategy.
I could give you a list of several Mennonites who have listened to me, who respect me and love me and I think even like me–who are still not willing to be church with me if I am willing to officiate same-sex weddings. Which I am. Even though I like them and respect them and think they are nice.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am glad that most Mennonites are nice people. And I am glad that most of us like each other.
But being nice is only a tool we can use to deal with our conflicts. Forming personal relationships with others–liking each other–is simply a tool that can make working through conflicts more bearable.
Being nice people who like each other–this is not our end game, folks.
Our end game is to be ever-more faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Which means that we need to be nice and like each other while we talk honestly and work to create a denomination where all people are welcomed and valued.
Because the truth is that Mennonites have been nice about oppressing queer people they like for a long long time. And I, for one, do not like that.