By Mark Rupp
“[Jesus] has called us to find our blessing in making peace and seeking justice.”
The Mennonite Church’s peace stance is likely the first thing people think of when trying to articulate what makes Mennonite faith distinct from other Christian denominations. In fact, the Mennonite emphasis on peace and justice are what initially drew me to find a home in this denomination. It is not that other Christians do not think peace is a good thing, but Mennonites have claimed peacemaking as central to their understanding of faith and, in our better moments, have worked to understand the complex relationship between peace and justice.
Article 22 provides a good foundation for beginning to think about this complex relationship through the way it declares, “Led by the Holy Spirit, we follow Christ in the way of peace, doing justice, bringing reconciliation, and practicing nonresistance even in the face of violence and warfare.” All of these parts are wrapped up in what it means to be a peacemaker, to live the “way of peace.” Peace is about more than an absence of physical violence. Peace is about more than maintaining the status quo. Peacemaking is about creating, sustaining, and maintaining right relationships between all manifestations of creation.
Yet Article 22 also calls on each of us to witness against all forms of violence, and this is the point at which the Mennonite Church often falls short. Our focus on witnessing against physical violence and perpetual warfare are important, but we must not ignore how violence gets played out in small, subtle, and intimately personal ways. Anything that works to undermine or discredit the full humanity of another (whether intentionally or unintentionally) is a form of violence that leaves scars too deep for human eyes to see.
Part of my own journey has involved recognizing the violence that was being enacted against myself during the many years I spent in the closet. There is an important difference between discipline and violence, and it took many years for me to understand that the repression of my sexuality was, in many ways, coming from a place of emotional, psychological, and spiritual violence. I never reached a point of physically harming myself, but I am left wondering how many more times we will have to hear of another suicide by a young queer person before the Church recognizes its own complicity in this violence.
My decision to finally accept and celebrate my queer identity was (and still is) rooted in the realization that the “life to the fullest” that Jesus came to offer all of us (John 10:10) requires a full and authentic expression of our truest selves formed through right relationships with ourselves, God, each other, and all of creation. As Article 22 asks of us, I have “found my blessing” through the process of making peace with my own sexuality and seeking justice for all those who experience violence in both subtle and overt ways.
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This post is part of a series in which LGBTQ Mennonites reflect on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.