A Love Letter to My Brothers and Sisters in Christ

rainbow doveThe 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.


17 thoughts on “A Love Letter to My Brothers and Sisters in Christ

  1. Thank you for your eloquence, Joanna. I am very sad to hear about this decision. I wonder when the church’s administration will have the insight and courage to adopt a position that is true to Christ’s vision? In the meantime, it is vital to write in a spirit of love, as you do, to the ostracized and silenced ones. When will the leadership of the Mennonite
    church stop placing tongue screws on ones whose vision differs from theirs?

  2. This is so beautiful. Although I’m not a Mennonite, I can relate to the frustration you feel with your denomination. Your post encourages me to keep on loving and hoping. Sometimes the biggest challenge is to keep on loving those in leadership positions who are slow to right the wrongs (or even admit they exist). Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful words.

  3. Thank you Joanna, You describe me as a gay man almost perfectly. I wish the Executive Board were there to hear the memorial sermon I gave for a dearly departed friend there at a Lancaster Conference Mennonite congregation the end of April 2014. Some people told me that it was the most meaningful funeral/memorial service that they ever attended. I wish the Executive Board would have marched down Fifth Avenue in New York this past Sunday for the Gay Pride March in solidarity with us as Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship instead of seeming not to understand. I wish the spirit will give me strength to write and publish in the Mennonite press, what a deeply spiritual experience this march was for me this year.

    • Yes. There is a lot of non-understanding going on. And a lot of gifted people being discouraged in their gifts. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story.

  4. Always climb up on the side of the boat that’s highest out of the water. Thanks for being you, Joanna, and reminding us all of the beauty of diversity and the joy of loving acceptance and the happy celebration of differences. On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights bill it is again appropriate to sing, “Deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome some day.”

  5. I am new to this page and from some people consider the south. Here we do not call homosexuals queer. That would be a derogatory term. Mostly we say gay or homosexual. Just wondering if that is a usual term from your area.

    • Hi Stephanie,
      The word “Queer” has its roots in derogatory language, but many communities have reclaimed it as a positive stand in for the acronym LGBTQA etc. It’s useful as a short word that encompasses many people without using labels, gendered pronouns, or implying a hierarchy.
      That being said, using and hearing the word “Queer” takes some getting used to, and many people feel strongly (due to past experience or their own cultural understanding of the word) that it is not an ok word to use. I would refer to myself and my community as queer, but take care to listen to how other people and communities refer to themselves before I reference others that way. When I lived in the south, I never used the word “Queer”, and in the Northeast I hear it all the time, and actually prefer using it.
      I hope that helps!

    • Stephanie, there may very well be regional differences in preferred terminology. I know several people who refer to themselves as “queer.” In academic contexts, “queer” is often used as an umbrella term to cover a range of sexual attractions and gender identities. Can someone else explain this better than I am?

  6. Indeed. The term queer was actually developed originally by homosexual men at the turn of the 20th century to identify themselves and their sexual preferences in a ‘coded’ way that would be understood by homosexuals in a mixed audience (where there were both gay and straight people present). The term ‘gay’ had similar origins. Various members of the LGBTQ community actively claim the label ‘queer’ for those historical reasons and also because it has been used to describe the trend in scholarship on homosexuality from various disciplines that seeks to upend the existing hetero-normative system through changing of laws and social customs related to sexuality (for instance, queer theory and queer studies).

    In that regard, people who refer to themselves as queer are those who not only are homosexual but are politically dedicated to a systemic change in our views and understanding of sexuality more generally. Therefore, there’s nothing derogatory about the use of the term queer. And hopefully now it is also more obvious why members of the LGBTQ community choose to refer to themselves as ‘queer’.

  7. Thanks Joanna for these words. While I know I have a strong God-given spirit within me, there’s only so long I can deal with oppressive BS, and it’s the wonderful support of the allies around me that gets me through.

  8. A love letter was no doubt the right thing to do first. But I for one would like to see the brilliantly scathing one sometime in the near future.
    Does the repeated line in the report “unless the delegates make changes at Convention 2015,” really mean unless hell freezes over? Or is there a ray of hope for a modest resolution calling for decisions about membership and credentialing of leaders to be lodged with congregations and conferences, in light of the dissolution of consensus about how to interpret and apply the relevant Biblical texts?

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