One more brown body
and I think of all the lessons I never
my son like
avoid the police at all costs
and don’t wear red or blue or any color that they might think means you’re in a gang
keep your hands at your sides in the store
so they know you’re not stealing
or preparing to throw a punch
and if they accuse you of stealing
or preparing to throw a punch
say “sir” and “m’am”
and keep your head down.
I have not taught these things to my son.
And not once
have I thought to give him the script
that should have saved Michael Brown’s life
Never have I said,
when they take aim at your beautiful body
spread your fingers,
raise your arms
clear as day
‘I do not have a gun.'”
One more brown body
Last year my teenage son got in trouble for playing Pokemon with a friend before school instead of attending a meeting he was supposed to be at. He informed me that it was my fault he was playing Pokemon because I would not let him be in Pokemon club. So he had to play before school with his friend.
“No,” I told him. “That was not my fault. You made a choice–a poor choice–about what to do that morning. You had the power in that situation. I don’t have a remote control that works on you. (If only I did!) You need to take responsibility for your choices and their consequences.”
I find myself wanting to have this same conversation with our denominational leaders.
The Executive Board report released the end of June does not come right out and say “It’s the delegates’ fault that we have to refuse to recognize Theda Good’s credentials,” but that is the distinct impression I get. The implication of the report seems to be that the board must abide by the foundational documents (approved by delegates) and therefore they must refuse to recognize Theda’s credentials. And gosh gee if the delegates would just do something already because the board’s hands are really tied here.
“No,” I want to say to Ervin and the board, “This is not the delegates’ fault. You are made a series of choices that lead to your decision to refuse to recognize Theda’s licensing.”
First, the “foundational documents” that the board has to abide by are documents that they chose to identify as foundational. Yes, many of them have been approved by a delegate body. As have many other documents that are not listed as “foundational.” The board chose which documents to consider foundational.
Second, the board chose which parts of the documents to emphasize and how to interpret those documents. (Gordon Oyer articulates well some alternative understandings of these documents.) It is not the documents themselves that prevent an acknowledgment of Theda’s credentials, it is the board’s particular interpretation of those documents.
Finally, the board chose to respond to their selection and interpretation of foundational documents by refusing to recognize Theda’s licensing. It was completely within their power to say, “These documents indicate that Theda should not be licensed, but we don’t care. We will recognize her pastoral calling and authority anyway.”
The board report indicates that the delegate body can present resolutions at our 2015 convention that might allow for a new understanding of credentialing, and indeed several people are currently working on such resolutions. The fact remains, however, that the Executive Board is exercising power in the choices it makes about how resolutions are submitted and processed and which resolutions get to the floor for discussion and vote. The idea that the delegates are all-powerful over the Executive Board is a false one.
Currently the denominational leadership is refusing to send Theda a copy of the survey that is going out to all credentialed MCUSA pastors. She has been told that the Executive Board statement leaves the survey-sending powers that be “no choice” but to not send her a survey. In reality any number of people at the national office could choose to send Theda a survey. It would take a computer connected to the internet and about three minutes. Would that choice have consequences? Of course. But that doesn’t mean there is not a choice.
Obviously I disagree with many of the choices the Executive Board has made and continues to make regarding LGBTQ inclusion in general and Theda’s credentials in particular; but I am most concerned about people with power pretending that they do not have power; about people with choices convincing others–and maybe even themselves–that they are left with no choice.
The denominational leadership does have a choice. A very difficult choice. If they choose to “enforce” their interpretation of the “foundational documents,” many congregations and even conferences will be placed under discipline and possibly choose to leave the denomination. If the board chooses to regard and interpret the church documents in a way that allows space for conferences such as Mountain States to ordain LGBTQ clergy, then many congregations and even conferences will choose to leave the denomination. If they choose to continue on the current path of pretending not to choose and referencing the ever-ellusive “third way,” we may all just collapse from exhaustion.
As we move forward in our conversations and (please, God) actions related to inclusion of LGBTQ people in our denomination, we all need to be honest about the power we have and the choices we are making. We need to make the most loving and faithful choices we can make, and we need to take responsibility for those choices and the consequences that come with them.
With a little bit of John 1 thrown in for good measure:
Call to Worship
(Inspired by this lovely reading from Katherine Hawker.)
The word of God came to Jonah
The word of God comes to us:
Despite your fears
the truth of God
your neighbor and you enemy
as you have been forgiven
grace upon grace
overflowing from the fullness of God.
I commend to you all a letter written by Gordon Oyer to the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board in response to their recent report. Gordon gives a respectful and insightful critique of the board’s refusal to recognize the credentials of Theda Good. The conclusion of his letter states:
MC USA documents do contain space within them to chart alternative courses. New movement of the Spirit rarely originates with majority consensus. Permitting minority “variance” offers windows to test the continued legitimacy, durability, truth of established practice. Deference to delegates is technically correct. Yet in practice, the Executive Board sets agenda for delegate discussions; rarely do delegates autonomously frame and generate decisions. The Board will ultimately chart whatever course delegates follow, whether by intent or default, and help determine whether MC USA permits space within it to test for God working new things in this church.
In closing, I empathize with your dilemma, and can only guess at the anxiety and pressure you must feel. But I also ask you to consider this from our Purposeful Plan: “We believe that God is calling our church to empower leaders in our midst to lead, not simply manage the affairs of the church” [829-830]. I believe MSMC has taken a step of bold leadership in their local context.
Given the scope of horrendous challenges humanity now faces, it appalls me that we as Mennonites remain mired in squabbles over sexuality that impair our freedom to recognize and call upon the gifts of all who confess Jesus as Lord. Sexual orientation should not be used to rob the church of those gifts, especially when an area conference discerns them as valuable and needed in its midst.
As the conversation moves forward during the coming year, I encourage you to lead rather than manage. Name this conversation as one driven more by emotion, fear, anger than by documents, commitments, or polity. Ask all MC USA conferences to honor the only organizational/relational covenants and commitments that can possibly see both denomination and Church through this time of ferment: respect for each other’s local, contextual, Spirit-led and biblical discernment, while remaining in full fellowship despite our fear. Doing otherwise risks the appearance of calculating who among us is most expendable.
**This letter is shared with Gordon’s permission. You can read the full letter here.
I was reading through some of my old worship liturgies this morning and came across this prayer of confession. I wrote it with this passage from Deuteronomy 30 in mind:
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.
As I read this I realized that part of my utter, deep sadness for my denomination right now (MCUSA) is that I see us repeatedly choosing death over life. Death for ourselves, because we are alienating–if not outright rejecting–individuals, families, and a large swath of an entire generation. Death for others, both spiritually–as LGBTQ people and allies wander away from an unwelcoming church–and sometimes physically–when LGBTQ youth believe that their deepest longings for human relationship are sinful and shameful, some of them commit suicide.
And I see us repeatedly choosing curses over blessings. We are denying our church the blessings God wants to give us through the gifts of LGBTQ people. And we are denying LGBTQ people the blessings God wants to bestow on them through the church.
I am sad to see us clinging to law over love, death over life, curses over blessings. So today, this is my prayer for my denomination; a prayer for repentance, forgiveness, and renewal.
Gracious and Holy God,
For those times we have chosen death over life for ourselves,
Forgive us. [Silence]
For those times we have chosen death over life for others,
Forgive us. [Silence]
For those times we have chosen not to receive your blessings,
Forgive us. [Silence]
For those times we have prevented others from receiving your blessings,
Forgive us. [Silence]
For each time we have made the easy choice of law over the hard choice of love,
Forgive us. [Silence]
O God of mercy,
Hear our prayers. [Silence]
Call to Worship (from Psalm 28):
Praise be to God
who hears our voice.
God is our strength;
God is our shield;
Our hearts trust
and help comes.
Our hearts leap for joy,
and with our songs we praise our God.
Here is a call to worship for communion Sunday based on the spiritual “You’ve got a place at the welcome table.”
We gather together to worship God.
We gather together to share a holy meal.
We gather around this table
To which Christ has invited us.
You’ve got a place at this table.
And you’ve got a place at this table.
We’ve all got a place at this table.
We’ll feast on milk and honey.
We’ll give thanks.
We’ll find our home
So welcome to worship. Welcome to the table.
The Mennonite Church USA made their report from last weekend’s meetings public today. To be honest, I feel a bit sick to my stomach. (Though it is hard to say if that is solely because of the statement or also due to the inadvisable amount of cake I just consumed to console myself.)
I want to make an eloquent argument about why the Executive Board is wrong in its refusal to acknowledge the ministerial credentials of Theda Good–and any other Mennonites who are queer and called to ministry. Morally wrong. Theologically wrong. Strategically wrong. Just . . . infinity wrong.
I want to point out the numerous inconsistencies in the report itself. Not to mention the inconsistency with which the board is enforcing the policies and “teaching positions” of the seven “guiding documents” that it cites in the report.
But I’m tired of negativity and criticism. And I’m tired of picking apart the words of other people and of choosing my own words ever so carefully, one by one, with little linguistic tweezers. And I’m tired of being disappointed and upset and spiritually drained.
So instead of a scathing (and what I’m sure would be brilliant) critique of the Executive Board’s report, I am going to write a love letter:
Dear Queer Mennonites,
Yes, you. Gay guys and lesbians. Bisexuals and polysexuals. Transgendereds and cross-dressers and otherwise non status-quo-heteros. You. I love you. And I am sorry that our denomination is still treating you in unloving ways.
I love your gifts. Gifts of music and writing and preaching and worship leading and prophecy and discernment. The church needs these gifts, and you continue to graciously offer them even when they are not graciously received.
I love your perspective. There are times I get tired and forget to care enough about the injustice and discrimination in the church; you remind me why it is important. There are times I want to cry and yell and scream about the injustice and discrimination in the church; you make me laugh instead. Or you remind me that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the Executive Board of MCUSA. And you sing. Always. No matter what. You sing fabulously!
I love your courage. Being honest about who God created you to be. Proclaiming your faithfulness. Criticizing traditional (mis) interpretations of scripture. Showing up when and where you are not wanted–but are desperately needed. That all takes courage. And you do it anyway. Over and over again.
And I love the fact that you are still here. I am humbled and deeply grateful for your presence. There are times I don’t understand why you stay. But I am so very glad you do. You make the way of Jesus clearer for us all. Whether we like it or not.
I hardly know what to say to you in the shadow of the recent Executive Board report except that I love you. And I promise to keep fighting (in peaceful, Mennonite ways, of course) for your inclusion and equality in our churches and our denomination.
May the joy of our spectacular Creator, the deep and abiding peace of Jesus Christ, and the relentless power of the Holy Spirit surround and infuse you, my brothers and sisters.
The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA is meeting this weekend. They will be discussing the denominational response to Mountain States Mennonite Conference (since they licensed Theda Good) and talking more generally about issues of denominational structure and maintaining unity in the midst of theological disagreements–particularly related to our varied understandings of faithful sexuality.
If you know me at all or follow this blog, you know that I do not agree with the current denominational “teaching position” on sexuality. You know I have been frustrated with the failure of the Executive Board to make a clear and safe space within the denomination for LGBTQ Mennonites and their allies. You may not know that some of the board members are people I consider friends. I know that they are feeling a heavy weight as they enter into these meetings. I have a deep respect for the work that the board is called to do this weekend. It is hard–and hopefully holy–work.
So, for those of you on the board, my prayers are with you.
For those of you not on the board, I encourage you to join me in prayer this weekend–beginning on Thursday evening. You may pray the prayer below if you like. You can also go to the MCUSA Executive Board page and pray for the board members by name. I would love for those joining in prayer to leave a comment–or even a prayer–below.
May those gathered for the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board meeting this weekend know the powerful presence of your Holy Spirit. May the Spirit dwell in each breath, each word, each silence.
Lift the heaviness that weighs on the board members’ hearts and replace it with the easy yoke, the light burden of Jesus.
Let them discern the false wisdom of the world from the true wisdom of God, which we know in the foolishness of the cross.
Lead them not into temptations of people-pleasing and conflict avoidance, but hold their feet on the path of Christ.
Do not let the obligations they may feel to rules and institutions get in the way of their faithfulness to the Gospel.
Burn away their fear and let them be inflamed with courage.
May each word that is spoken come from love and be heard with love.
May those who are present speak for those who are not at the table, so that even absent voices may be heard and held.
Remind these leaders, and us, O God, that our church is not our church; it is your church.
And because it is your church, we pray that your life-giving, death-defying, justice-making power will be at work within and among the MCUSA Executive Board members this weekend. We cling to the promise you give–that your power is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine. Amen.
There is a story about the great theologian, Augustine of Hippo. One day after he had been writing about the Trinity for awhile, he decided to take a break and go walk along the beach. He came across a boy who had a bucket. He would fill up the bucket, run up the hill, and dump the water into the sand. He did this over and over until finally Augustine stopped the boy and asked, “What are you doing?”. The boy said, “I am draining the sea into the sand.” Augustine pointed out the futility of the task, and the boy replied, “Yes, but I will drain the sea before you understand the Trinity.”
Folks, I hate to tell you that if Augustine couldn’t figure it out, we’re not going to figure it out either.
The Three are one. The One is three. It doesn’t make any sense. It is not clear. It is not easy. It is not comfortable. But relating to God as Trinity is a profound experience for me, an experience that gets me as close to the Truth of God as I dare to go.
The point of the Trinity is not to separate out and define the parts: Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Trinitarian theology merely opens up to us one way—the primary way—that Christians have worked to understand the vastness of God.
Yes. God is the Almighty Creator who spoke the world into being.
Yes. God is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth who fully embodied the extent of divine love for the world.
Yes. God is present with us today as Holy Spirit who guides and comforts and enlivens us.
It is important that we understand the breadth of the activity and personality of God. The doctrine of the Trinity should keep us from narrowing our vision of who God is and what God does; and this should broaden our understanding about who God loves, and what the work of God looks like in the world.
I don’t often show off with fancy Greek words. But some of them are worth learning. And there is one you need to know if we are going to continue this futile task of trying to understand the Trinity. This particular Greek term was introduced by the Cappodocian monks in the fourth century. It describes the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. The term is: perichoresis.
Creator, Christ, and Spirit relate by means of perichoresis. Like a lot of Greek words, this one is somewhat difficult to explain. There is no English word to use as a direct translation. It suggests the mutual indwelling of the three parts of the Holy Trinity. The idea is that all three parts are equal and their identities are based in each other.
But perichoresis is not a static concept. It has the same root as choreography. There is both inward and outward movement involved in the Divine Trinitarian relationship. Theologian Molly Marshall calls it “the dance that characterizes Divine life.”
To think of the Trinity in terms of perichoresis means that relationship is at the heart of the Divine identity. Relationships are not just something that God forms with creation as God sees fit, but relationship is who God is.
And if God is relationship, that means that we, too, are drawn into the Divine choreography. And our neighbors are drawn in. And all those who love us. And all those who hate us. And the stars. And the soil. And the squirrels that jump from tree to tree and eat from our bird feeders.
The perichoresis of the Trinity means that our God exists in and for relationship. And we, my friends, are made in God’s image. Made to be connected to the people and the world around us.
Ultimately, the Trinity is not a doctrine to be argued and recited. It is not even a concept to be understood. It is a mystery into which we are invited. A dance for all to join.
This post is excerpted from a longer sermon.