In one of my Mennonite Facebook groups the other day, someone asked who would be the first to blog about the “elephant in the room.”
That elephant would be the recent licensing toward ordination of my friend and colleague Theda Good. Theda is called by God and gifted by the Spirit to serve a church and the Church through pastoral ministry. And she is married to an incredibly loving and supportive woman named Dawn.
Some people are afraid this elephant will smash into our nice glass-front curio cabinets, breaking the pretty china we’ve held onto all these years. The stuff we pack and unpack and dust (or not), but never actually use. And it’s true that elephants and fragile glassware are not the best of roommates.
Some people are sure that the entire structure is in danger. I’ve already read comments about what a good college try we’ve given this whole Mennonite USA denomination thing–too bad it hasn’t worked out. People are ready to clear out of the house in anticipation of the elephant barreling through a load-bearing wall.
Some people, to be honest about it, are hoping that the most extremely elephant-phobic housemates will just cut their losses and move across the street to an elephant-free house. Well, at least a house where the elephants are better-hidden.
But what I want to do is put that elephant in a party dress and dance around the room with her. I want to step and twirl and leap in rhythm to the music of the Spirit. I want to fill up my dance card with anyone and everyone who is willing to stay in the room–or even the house. We’ll dance together, leading and following and trying to make our steps match the ever-changing tempos of the music.
I don’t even care if all the moves are right or if my toes get a little bruised. I just want to dance.
16 thoughts on “Dancing with the Elephant”
NICE! As you are aware, you and I view the elephant differently… but your approach to it matches mine… we can disagree on the benefits or detriments of elephants in the house, but it seems more faithful to me, as a church, to spend time dancing with the elephant (and, perhaps, getting our toes stepped on a few times) than any other options.
Thanks, Robert. There are a few people I’d like you to talk with . . .
Alas and Alack, you’re in Kansas, I’m in Pennsylvania… I’m not sure if I’ll make it to convention in 2015… but if you ever come out east here, let me know… you, and I and a couple of other local MennoNerds can meet up and have a nerd fest… might even find a few elephants to dance with… 😉
I love you Joanna. I don’t know you but I love you.
Here’s to risking squashed toes and broken china.
I love you too, Terri.
This column is unfortunately emblematic of the larger problem, a culture of excess, largesse and self-indulgence. Emotion trumping reason, moment trumping history. We as “culturally progressive” Mennonites may have jettisoned the old prohibitions against “dancing,” but those prohibitions and others like them often arose out of a gentle and necessary attempt to balance freedom and responsibility, which I perceive is missing here — and in the discussion of the desirability of recognition of same-sex marriage generally — where perhaps more than just a few minor bruises are at stake.
The truth is that more than just a few minor bruises have been caused by the church’s narrow reading of scripture and negative rhetoric toward lgbt brothers and sisters. I want to dance in celebration of the decision to license Theda. I know not everyone in the church feels that way.
A reply to Bruce.
I’d be willing to bet you and I agree on certain aspects of the LGBT issues in the church. But when it comes to living in community, we cannot assume that everyone in our church communities/congregations have it “all together”. It’s pretty obvious reading the letters of Paul that even among the supposedly most “pure” Christian expressions of the first century, there were a LOT of people from a LOT of different perspectives and “orientations” and so forth present in the churches. The point of the gathering of the church is not to simply create enclaves of “purity”, but to make space and room for people who are seeking Jesus. This includes LGBT people… as well as gossipers, slanderers, liars, and gluttons. If we exclude one group, we should exclude them all.
Now, with regards to ordination and so forth… well, again, are even our pastors perfect? Were the leaders of Paul’s little church plants perfectly pure? Or is everyone in a place where they are trying to overcome things and seek Jesus and try and understand what it means to follow Jesus in this really strange, dark world? I do believe that church leaders need to be held to a higher standard… after all, they are there to teach and lead and guide us. But we must recognize that they are humans as well.
Do I approve of the ordination of an LGBT pastor? I’m not sure it matters, really, WHAT I approve of. If the person is gifted with leadership qualities, if they are genuinely seeking Jesus, if they are humble enough that they will accept correction if they prove out to be wrong, if they are preaching a gospel that speaks about God’s light and life coming into the world to make it possible for ALL humans to come to know God… Well, then, I’m not sure I can say “no”. I’m uncomfortable with it…I’m not sure what I would do if it happened in my church… but I’m sure some folks would be uncomfortable with me as a preacher for any number of reasons.
Anywho… I see it as a dance with an elephant… it’s not easy, it’s bulky, it’s messy, it is painful, it is risky and dangerous… but it is the best we can do, I believe, in our humanity.
Shades of 1988, when the United Church of Canada decided that being gay or lesbian (or transgendered or bisexual) was not, in and of itself, a barrier to ordination.
Fast forward twenty five years (has it really been that long? Wow, am I getting old!), when our MODERATOR is an openly gay married man, and many folks who were bitterly opposed to the 1988 decision are still with us, and fantastically enthusiastic about the moderator.
What changed? They actually met and talked to openly gay and lesbian and bisexual Christians. They realized that we’re as human and as committed to Christ as the heterosexuals. They realized, as Robert says, that what matters in a pastor (or any Christian, for I don’t feel that the laity are exempt from these standards) are humility and a willingness to preach and live the Gospel.
What is very apparent from 25 years on is that the decision to ordain non-heterosexuals has actually done zero damage to our denomination, either spiritually or materially. In fact, it may just have made it stronger.
Thank you Joanna! You are a true wordsmith – you illuminate truth in ways that show the love in your soul. I’m grateful you are a leader in our, and for your unflagging zeal for standing with others. Peace to you.
I have met openly gay Christians aplenty, and I count some of them as my friends. I am still sorrowful about the Mountain States decision and I will not dance at all, let alone with abandon, at the decision. Old Amish proverb: He who dances with elephants gets squashed. Nor do I think that any of us is in a position to say there has been “zerio damage” to the United Church of Canada or other churches that have so quickly hewed to cultural drift. I’ll let God do that sorting, but suffice it to say that our own assessments may be quite subjective and perhaps the United Church of Canada was already hopelessly damaged from the start …. (oh no, a sectarian among us!). When I see real improvement in the plight of the poor and oppressed, whether in Canada or U.S. or globally, and when the rich and mighty are warmongers are held accountable and humbled and repentant, then and only then can I believe that any denomination is fulfilling its mission (and MCUSA for all its political correctness is missing most of the real issues here as well).
Bruce, I’m glad to know that we both have a heart for the poor and for following Christ in the way of peace. I am honored to walk with you on that journey and trust that we can, as you say, let God do the sorting.
Also, you are out of line calling any denomination “hopelessly damaged.” Any future comments along those lines will be removed. (Who says I don’t believe in “the ban”?)
Joanna–you have given this topic a wonderful essay,. thank you. God’s love is all-inclusive; it doesn’t have man’s (and woman’s) conditions.
I’m not so adept at dancing, but I’d love to be in the band… 🙂
I want to add a fervent “AMEN” to your desire to dance with the elephant! I hope that as more lgbt persons come to the party we will not lose those who have been here all along. The house is large enough for all of us. Can we let some dance, some sit along the wall, some have conversations in the kitchen, and all of us still interact within the same house? I hope so!
I hope so, too, Jeni.