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
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 Harder. However, 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.
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.