Still a Rev.

Some of the Peace Mennonite folks at the assembly. I love them so much!

Here’s the much-anticipated run-down of Saturday’s fun–Western District Conference style:

We had “learning communities” (a.k.a. workshops) in the morning. I managed to avoid the communities about sexuality and the church, thus giving myself about three hours this weekend where I did not have to talk or hear about “the issue” (a.k.a. people I love who are being hurt and excluded).

The people there from Peace Mennonite and from Bethel Church (Inman) gathered together right before lunch to pray together. We made a large circle and introduced ourselves. Their pastor spoke. I spoke. We all held hands. Their pastor said a prayer. I said a prayer. (This is where being a former Baptist comes in handy.) And then a lot of us hung around for a few minutes and talked and shook hands.

One gentleman from Inman gave me a hug and said, “I love you; you’re my sister in Christ . . . ” (wait for it) “but the will of God never goes against the Word of God.” To which I replied, “I believe that too. We just understand the Word of God differently.” (For the record, this was the most negative statement I heard personally directed at me all weekend. All things considered, it’s not bad.)

After lunch several of us (30 ish?) gathered in the lobby to sing and pray and hear scripture together. I know that many folks prayed from home as well. (There were 306 hits on the blog Saturday–over three times as many as usual.) That circle was a beautiful, beautiful thing. Love and joy and a reminder of why I bother with this church stuff in the first place.

And then, the delegate session. (During which I sat next to Terry Shue at a non-delegate table. The Lord works in mysterious ways. One of the first things he said to me was, “I’ve gotten a couple of letters from you.” Yes indeed, my brother.)

The first resolution: “We move that the Leadership Commission reverse their decision in which they stated ‘We find

Phil Esau, the Peace Mennonite interim during my sabbatical, and his wife, Pat. I sat with them during the delegate session.

Joanna Harader’s credentials to be in order’ and instead suspend the credentials of Joanna Harader.”

(How many times can you use the name “Joanna Harader” in a sentence? I heard from many Inman folks that this resolution was not personal. Still processing that.)

Delegates who wished to speak were given one minute each at the microphone. There were kind things said about me and my ministry. (I hope I can be half as good a pastor as people said I am.) Scripture was quoted in support of and in opposition to the resolution. At least one person expressed a concern that if the church allows the blessing of the “sin of homosexuality”, then we might next be condoning other sins like murder. (Which, for the record, I do not condone under any circumstances–even in cases of war and capital punishment.)

To give you a sense of the general tone: One of our delegates, who I knew had two or three possible prepared statements ready, did not speak at the microphones. Afterward I asked him why and he said that enough people had already said supportive words. We decided it’s like a little league ball game with run rules. You don’t run up the score just to run up the score.

So after mic comments, an amendment was brought from Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church:

We move that the Leadership Commission reverse their decision in which they stated revise the statement regarding Joanna Harader’s credentials as follows: “We find Joanna Harder’s credentials to be in order” and instead suspend the credentials of Joanna HarderHowever, it will be noted on her Ministerial Leadership Information form that her action in performing a same-sex union is at variance with the Mennonite Church USA’s Membership Guidelines.”

(This is the approach recently taken by Central District regarding Rev. Megan Ramer’s credentials.)

The Bethel church, along with one or two others, expressed their disapproval of this amendment. Then the amendment passed by a vote of 184-154. Then, after a proposed amendment to insert the word “not” into the now amended resolution was deemed out of order, the delegates voted in favor of the resolution 203-136.

I am happy with the result, but disappointed with the process. These were close votes and the outcomes do not really clarify much. Some people voted for the amendment because they felt pastors should be allowed to perform same sex ceremonies. Others voted for it as a compromise “slap on the wrist” (someone said this to me) option over and against a harsher penalty. Some people voted against the resolution because they want me to loose my credentials. Others voted against it because they wanted the opportunity to vote against the original resolution.

The second resolution, which called on pastors to resign if they could not act in accordance with the confession of faith, was tabled. Some people think it’s because people weren’t willing to talk honestly with each other, that it was a gesture of disrespect to the pastors who brought the resolution.

I tend to ascribe to Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Or weariness. Or hunger. At this point it was 5:30–half an hour past the scheduled ending time for the session. The childcare workers were going off duty. People were hungry and tired. And tired.

One of my fabulous dinner companions.

Then I went out for Indian food with awesome folks with whom I could discuss queer theory and other things that didn’t come up in the delegate session. We realized that we did not know of any openly LGBT people at the assembly.

In the aftermath of the delegate session, I found myself alternating between feelings of hope and despair; between feelings of anger and an impulse to try to understand. All weekend we talked about being “united in Christ,” and by Saturday night (true confession) I was at the point of “screw unity.”

Then the preposition shifted (thanks to one of the speakers). Instead of united in Christ, I understood that I am called to be united to Christ. That I can do. Or at least give myself to pursuing. And if the folks at Bethel Mennonite (Inman) and the angry man at the mic from Oklahoma and anyone else wants to also seek to be united to Christ, then I guess we’re stuck together. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.

47 thoughts on “Still a Rev.

  1. Joanna, although it’s hard and there is pain and tears shed, the church will have to change from the inside. I am convinced that many of our young people are leaving because this is not an issue for them. I am no longer in the local church for other reasons, but I love the Mennonite Church.

    • Connie, I did talk with several young people at the assembly–and old people too for that matter. I also hope and pray for change, as do many of us who love the Mennonite church.

    • Sabbatical? Actually, the sabbatical has provided me with emotional space and time to prepare for and debrief from the gathering. Plus the church had an interim pastor to walk with them through the time as well. The timing of my sabbatical has been a deep blessing.

  2. As I told you in an email, while I would have preferred to vote against the original resolution that bore your name, I reconciled myself to voting for the “Lorraine Avenue compromise” because it sets a precedent: If other ministers find themselves asked to perform a same sex union, they’ll simply need to dot their “I”s and cross their “T”s like you did and prepare to bear the “Mark of Joanna” on their permanent record (along with notes from their grade school teachers — “Joanna talks too much to her neighbors and has a messy desk”).

    Tabling the other resolution was horribly unfortunate. I don’t know the message it sent or the what future it portends. The Oklahoma people may resurrect it next year or they may just leave the conference or the denomination in disgust. On the up side: I found unity with the Oklahoma woman at my discussion table on this one — she and I both voted against tabling. We were both deeply dissatisfied. (And tabling carried by the narrowest of margins: 170-167, I believe.) She said she felt disrespected, that we didn’t take them seriously, and she was in tears. I felt she deserved her vote, so she and her cohorts could know and plan clearly what to do. It wouldn’t have passed if it had been voted on, and the crazy amount of time we spent discussing the meaning of “tabling” would have allowed plenty of time to take the vote on the original resolution. You are kind with Hanlon’s razor. I interpreted this as Mennonite avoidance at best, or passive aggression at worst. In its intentional ambiguity, it was a dishonest “peace” and I didn’t like it one bit.

    • How did you get access to my grade school records, Debra? 🙂 I do hope the delegate decision is seen as a precedent. And I am sorry that the Oklahoma resolution did not come to a vote.

    • I was one of those who voted to table the 2nd resolution. I specifically went planning NOT to vote to table either resolution. But, as Joanna noted, the time factor had me changing my mind. I had a headache, my stomach was wishing for food, and I was emotionally and physically weary. As a trained mediator, again and again, I have seen that these physical factors do not lead to good discernment. I heard another mediator say several years ago, “Any discussion that goes on longer than two and a half hours will not move anyone further toward light and hope.” I wish the planning committee had broken up the delegate session, so we had had a morning and an afternoon session, with one resolution discussed during each. Please do not assume that “tabling” was disrespecting the OK churches. At least in my case, it was looking toward a protracted, tired and grumpy process and seeing this as unfair to all involved. I told a couple of OK pastors this was my reasoning.

      • Kathy, I wish I could join you on that, but I can’t and this is why. The delegate who moved to table the second motion accidentally approached the microphone and submitted his motion while we were still discussing the first (and there was still much time on the clock). It was at that time that confusion and discussion ensued about what tabling means, etc. and we discovered that his intent was in regard to the second resolution. What his move told me was that he came to the assembly prepared to use the tabling as a tactic. When the second resolution did come up, then he was the first at the microphone, which (coincidentally or strategically?) prevented anyone from calling the question. I like to default, whenever I can, to a position of “benefit of doubt.” In this case I give my benefit to the Oklahomans, whom, I think, thought they were bringing a unifying motion to the conference, written in plain English with no disguised intent. When we asked them questions, they were forthright.

  3. How do you feel about being “at variance,” Joanna? This may sound a little off subject, but it isn’t, really. I attended a forum about open vs closed communion some months ago, and one of the panel members commented that until the Confession of Faith changes, we should follow it. I wonder just how many pastors (and their churches) are “at variance” for various things in the Confession.

    Thanks for this posting. I am anxious to hear our own delegates’ reports on the conference.

    • Jocelyn, I think your question merits a post rather than just a comment. I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

    • Amen! At my delegate table, we talked about being “at variance” regarding open communion, and not practicing footwashing. We also recognized that other congregations do not all recognize the ordination of women and the same level of commitment to the “peace position.” It would be VERY messy to turn the Confession of Faith into a litmus test of faithfulness. I just might get that “badge of honor,” too, in my MLI if we were to go down this road.

  4. Continuing to pray. Your integrity shines through this writing. Am glad that you are still a Rev. but dismayed by what sounds like a less than satisfactory process. May you find grace and ease and a gentle resting place in the midst of this all.

    • Thank you. I guess I don’t know what a good process would even look like with this many people who disagree so deeply. Continued prayers are much appreciated.

  5. Thanks for this detailed account. I’m curious about the second resolution, that “called on pastors to resign if they could not act in accordance with the confession of faith”. A debate on this would have been interesting. Does this mean pastors should resign if they minister to divorced people? Or if they minister to people who go into the military? One could go on and on in this vein. One could also go on and on about how those who seek to exclude, rather than include, should go their own way and not pollute the environment for the rest of us.

    • It is interesting, Jerry. These are all questions that came up in various discussions I have had about that resolution. I can’t find a full text of the resolution on-line to link you to–anyone else have it? I know that an Oklahoma church that is in the pastoral search process now has stated on their information sheet that they will not consider women candidates–which goes against the Confession of Faith. All kinds of ramifications here, I think.

      • Joanna, I’m not finding in the Confession of Faith where churches are required to consider a woman for the position of pastor. Most likely they have already discussed it at the congregational level, and discovered their members didn’t all feel ready for a woman behind the pulpit. And now after the delegates’ action at WDC, churches and leadership are no longer going to be viewed thru the lense of the Confessions. Footwashing made me uncomfortable anyway.

      • Jerry, you also won’t find in the Confession where pastors are forbidden from officiating same sex ceremonies. Those who argue that my action goes against the Confession are taking a principle stated in Article 19 and determining that my action was inappropriate based on that principle. I, in turn, could take the principle stated in Article 15–that the church calls men and women into leadership–and determine that those who refuse to call women gifted by God to serve as pastors are violating that principle. My point is not that all churches should hire women pastors (at least that’s not my point here), but that all churches fall more or less in line with various parts of the Confession based on their particular location, demographic, and based on their discernment of the Spirit’s work among them.

  6. Congratulations on getting through your ordeal and having a good outcome, in spite of the grueling nature of it.

    I heard about this third-hand from my mother through a minister who was there. He was excited to tell my mother all about it because he knew I am gay. He was excited that the denomination is moving in the right direction.

    I’m glad you are ministering in the way you are. LGBT people have been persecuted by their churches, the members of whom have driven so many away from God altogether. I’m glad there are some who understand Christ better and are trying to do right by his teachings and example.

    Much love and thanks for fighting the good fight.

    • Miche, much love to you as well. I’m glad the good news found you and I pray for continued movement toward justice and inclusion in our churches.

      • The “Oklahoma” resolution can be found on the “” website, under “congregational life”, “annual assembly”, “resolutions and background information” Please note this resolution came from three churches, not from everyone in Oklahoma. Jerry Weaver, you might note the careful wording regarding leadership and congregations. It is my understanding the intent was to find the Confession of Faith document

      • (Continued) a written position of the conference that the churches could unite around. I know that the witness and outreach of rural churches is different than urban locations. But Western District Conference does have a written affirmation of the Confession, and when the Leadership Commission ruled contrary to the Confession, this resolution was born. Is there a standard of pastoral conduct? Who should decide what it is? When a motion gets tabled because someone is tired, the sent message to those who wanted to vote on it is “I don’t want to know how you believe”. They had 90 days to discuss it as a church, why couldn’t we vote?

      • Jerry, thanks for providing the link to the resolution. I also regret that the delegates did not vote on the second resolution–or really the first for that matter. After talking with Clarence about the second resolution I have a much different understanding of it than I had just reading it.

  7. I’m trying to remember the details, Kathy. In general, the concern of the Oklahoma pastors was about integrity–if you accept ordination in the Mennonite church you should respect the established theologies and practices of the denomination. Much the way we tell new church members that they do not have to agree with everything the church teaches, but they have to agree not to come in and start teaching against the church’s established beliefs. What the outcome would be if such a resolution were passes, I can’t say. But I do believe David when he said that there was no intent to create a “police state.”

  8. Quite the weekend, Joanna! We were thinking of you and glad that things went well, although I also understand your disappointment with the voting procedure. We are rooting for you from our side of the Atlantic!

  9. I’m confused. Why not just leave the Mennonite denomination and form your own ministry? If you view the Bible so differently, why do you stay Mennonite?

      • It seems to me that you could take those aspects that you appreciate about the Mennonite heritage and incorporate them into your own ministry. I guess I don’t understand why there is a push to have the Mennonite doctrine/confession of faith, that has been held for generations, changed. If I don’t agree fully with an organization, I don’t join it. It doesn’t seem right that those churches who hold true to the ‘Mennonite doctrine’ would eventually have to remove themselves from the Mennonite name.

  10. In my understanding of Anabaptist theology, there is no “Mennonite doctrine”–simply Christian faith. The current Confession of Faith has not been held for generations, but was published in 1995 and presented to Mennonites as a document that described the basic beliefs of the broader Mennonite church–not as a statement of doctrine to which all people must ascribe in order to be Mennonite.

    When I was ordained, I was honest with the Leadership Commission about the points of difference I had with the Confession. And they chose to ordain me anyway. When I officiated the wedding, I was open with conference leadership about what I was doing and why. And they allowed me to keep my credentials. At the current convention, I was present and attentive and heard people say that my gifts in ministry were affirmed and my credentials stand. I trust the judgment of conference leadership and the discernment of the delegates that my presence as a pastor in the Mennonite church is within the will of God.

    • I was also very open with the Western District Conference about my support for LGBT inclusion when I was credentialed. I stated clearly my disagreement with the confession of faith on this point (and my Biblical and moral reasons for doing so) in my MLI (a form that all ministerial candidates submit as part of the credentialing process). I also explained my statement in the MLI in more detail when I was interviewed by the WDC Leadership commission, before I was accepted.

      So, I don’t see why there has been issue with the concern over integrity.

  11. One of the things I am most grateful for as a Mennonite pastor, is that our credentialing process invites us to be open about our dissent from The Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective (1995). In completing our paperwork in preparing for a congregational call, we have opportunity to not only identify those aspects of the Confession with which we entirely agree, but also those that we wonder about, and those with which we differ. If this invitation to dissent is honest, and I believe that it is, then we ought not be surprised when some of us go ahead and name that dissent. And I’d go further and say that when those of us seeking pastoral credentials are open about points of dissent or disagreement, we provide important and maybe even necessary information to those congregations seeking a pastor. The invitation to transparent interaction with the Confession, naming both agreements and disagreements, is a benefit both to the pastoral candidate and the seeking congregation. It becomes a valuable part of mutual discernment.

    So, the idea of taking our preferences and setting up our own thing would cause us to miss out on something really fine. The beauty of the church (at its best) is its ability to hold all kinds of differences together in one body. Or, perhaps more accurately, that beauty is our conviction that we ought to be able to do that. And that’s where the Spirit enters in, into that lovely space between the conviction and the coming true. The Spirit moves us ever closer to that coming true.

    No need for Joanna or anyone else to go away.

    There’s a science fiction novel called Make Room, Make Room. It’s actually about population growth, so is probably not apt. Still, I do like the sound of it. Make Room, Make Room.

  12. The irony in all this is that the 1995 Confession of Faith actually says nothing about homosexuality (Article 19, the place that is cited is clearly discussing divorce and remarriage—here is my blogpost discussing this). So, based on it, someone who supports inclusion would have no reason to think they would be going counter to “Mennonite doctrine.”

    It’s also ironic that the introduction to the Confession states that it specifically is not meant to be used as a doctrinal litmus test, and that such confessions are always snapshots of a specific moment in time, not something to be “held for generations.”

    When I was first licensed in 1982, we were about as far removed then from the 1963 Confession as we are now from the 1995 Confession. The 1963 Confession required without qualification that women in the Mennonite Church wear head coverings. By 1982, this was recognized as anachronistic. Those who did not agree on that statement were not considered to be “at variance.” In fact, probably in most conferences candidates for licensing or ordination who strongly affirmed that statement would be been looked at with concern.

    What is means to be a faithful Mennonite is certainly one of the issues behind all this controversy. I would argue, though, that someone like Joanna is much closer to the heart of the Anabaptist heritage in her commitment to Jesus and his way as taught in the Bible than many would are so critical of her.

  13. “A written statement should support but not replace the lived witness of faith.” -Mennonite Confession of Faith

    I voted to table because the second resolution did not square with the Confession of Faith itself. It sought to treat the Confession in a way that the Confession forbids. It wasn’t a question of whether I approved or disapproved of the resolution; it was a question of avoiding self-contradiction. If the resolution’s signers wanted more debate and a vote, then I think they should have included along with it a major revision of the MCoF’s introduction – which already sufficiently addresses the concerns of the resolution’s signers (that we should have a written document that can overrule and replace the lived witness of faith).

    As to Rangel5’s concerns… Joanna is not in disagreement with Mennonite doctrine (at least not to my knowledge). It is precisely those who seek to remove her that are. The “doctrine” is that the Confession is not doctrinal! Those who would make official doctrine of the Confession are those who are most “at variance” with it.

    • My point is, why fight to change the rules and policies of the Mennonite denomination? Joanna states, “…a faithful minority chooses to be at variance with the established rules and then the rules change….So I’m glad to be at variance with a policy of the church that I find to be unfaithful and discriminatory. And I am glad to have such variance noted on my MLI.  The note is an acknowledgment of where our church policy is and a reminder of the work still ahead.”

      Why fight that fight? If you don’t agree with the “rules” and “policies” in place then why not take your ministry outside of that affiliation and perform your ministry in peace?

      • Those who appreciate the current rules and policies also love the Mennonite church. But I am first and foremost a Christian and if that means leaving the Mennonite name behind than so be it. We will find a church that supports our family’s Bible based beliefs. I’m saddened because after generations of my family being in the Mennonite church, I will not be able to raise my children in the denomination because I cannot allow them to be taught a world view that contradicts the Bible (the Bible that I read and accept as the inspired, infallible word of God. That does not change with time or culture. It’s true yesterday, today, and forever.) I cannot participate in an organization that views it differently. I wish you felt the same because if you did you could use your well intended ministry at its rightful place rather than infiltrate a current denomination.

        Thank you for all the input. I see that this issue rises higher than the Pastor level in our denomination because if you all have been honest about your policies and still allowed to pastor a Mennonite church, then the church as I knew it is already gone. 😦

  14. I like your concluding remarks about focusing on being united to Christ as a manageable step toward being united with others in Christ. This seems to me like a helpful focus for ecumenical dialog as well.

    I also love the title of your blog–spacious faith. Just reading those words makes me take a deep breath and remember what it is that attracts me to the Christian faith in the first place.

    • Sally, I’m glad some of my writing has been meaningful for you. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think these types of discussions within the church are difficult, but essential.

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