Almost two years ago now, I received a tentative email from a young woman asking if she could have her upcoming wedding at our church. She and her fiance were Christian. They wanted a church wedding, and a friend had told her that she might be able to get married at Peace Mennonite in Lawrence.
And by the way, in case I hadn’t figured it out by the names, she was a woman. So was her fiance.
Our church publicly states that “we welcome into the full life of the church” a broad range of people, including people of diverse sexual orientations. Our church also has a building use policy, which I sent to the young woman. I said that I would want to be in touch with the minister who was officiating the ceremony.
Turns out that the couple did not have a minister to officiate the wedding. They couldn’t find a minister in their town who was willing to do it. Would I be willing?
I said what I say to couples who ask me to officiate weddings: This will be a Christian wedding. You will need to attend pre-marital counseling sessions. Let’s meet and talk and see if this will work.
The ensuing counseling sessions, which the couple faithfully drove into Lawrence to attend, looked pretty much like other premarital counseling sessions I’ve led. Except the part where I had to explain that this wedding would not be legally binding. Except the part where I asked what Christian community they planned to be part of as a married couple and they said, “We quit going to any of the churches in our town because we were tired of pretending to be roommates.”
I proceeded to officiate this wedding with the support of my congregation. It was an honor for me to bear witness to the love these women had for each other. (And it was probably the only wedding I will ever do where I was not noticeably shorter than either of the two people I was marrying!) I believe my ministry with these women was a faithful expression of my calling as a pastor. It was an opportunity to open the church doors wide, to practice hospitality, to encourage human love and faithfulness, to lift up the oppressed and promote justice.
Not everyone agrees with my assessment of the situation.
My credentials have been reviewed and upheld by the Leadership Commission of the Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA. There were dissenting opinions, but I am still an ordained Mennonite pastor. That decision came down over a year ago. I have since moved on with my ministry, fielding only the very occasional phone calls from concerned Mennonites who want to talk about “what I did.” Most days I just pray and study scripture and plan worship and write sermons and offer pastoral care and don’t get anywhere near a gay wedding.
Then, a couple of days before my sabbatical began, I received a phone call from our Conference Minister. He wanted to let me know about two resolutions that would be coming to the delegate floor at the Western District Conference Assembly this summer. The email containing the resolutions was going out later that day to all WDC pastors and churches.
He called me personally because these resolutions concern me, personally. One asks that the Leadership Commission suspend my ministerial credentials. Mine specifically. My name is in the resolution 5 or 6 times. (And never as “Rev. Harader.”) The other is much more general—pastors should act in accordance with the Mennonite Confession of Faith or resign. (And let me see the hands of every pastor who believes and follows every word in their denominational statement of faith. Anyone? Anyone? Last I checked, the Bible was still the holy text of the Christian church.)
When I wrote my Open Letter, I quickly learned that anything I say (or write) can and will be used against me. And I do not want to fan the flames of controversy or cause further disunity in the Body. So I tell my story here with a bit of fear and trepidation.
Still, I tell it. For a few reasons.
- Some of you want to know what’s going on. Secrecy is not helpful. So now you know. Full texts of the resolutions are available from Western District Conference churches or the office in Newton.
- Lots of people have been and will continue to be talking about me, and I want to have a voice in the conversation as well.
- The sexual minorities who are still within the church (God bless them!) need to feel supported and to know that many of us long for the day when they are not an “issue” but beloved people within the faith family.
- The sexual minorities who are not in the church (and who can blame them?) need to know that not all parts of the church are hostile.
- The Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin do not deserve to be the loudest or the official or the unquestioned voice of biblical Christianity.
So here is my story. For what it is worth.
Some of you will think I am “Super Pastor Justice Crusader.” Which I am not.
Some of you will think I am out to destroy the world in general and the Mennonites in particular. Which I am not.
What I am is a wife and a mother and a pastor who is trying to follow Jesus the best I can. In word and in deed. For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. Now and forever.
Prayers are appreciated—for me, for gay Christians, for Western District and Mennonite Church USA and . . . just prayers. Lots of prayers. And open hearts. And listening ears.