Worship Piece: Call to Worship

Generally, when selecting a scripture reading for worship, I would leave out phrases like “the end of all things in near.” But when I read 1 Peter 4:7 this week, I decided it should stay in. Because . . . well . . . if you’ve been following the news at all this past few weeks, I think you may understand.

Here is a call to worship based on 1 Peter 4:7-11:

The end of all things is near.” Or maybe not.
But some days it feels like it.
When we see news of violence,
Hear leaders spew hatred,
Watch loved ones suffer,
Feel lost and alone.
The end of all things is near.”
This world is breaking and broken.
For sure.
So above all;
Above everything
maintain constant love.
Love each other always.
Be hospitable.
Speak on behalf of God.
Serve one another with the strength of God.
And let us glorify God
together, now, as we worship.

“To Stop Whiteness from Trembling”

nbvwcHaPharaoh trembled at the growing Hebrew population; at the thought that these slaves might realize their oppression and realize their power. He demanded that the Egyptians throw all of the Hebrew baby boys into the Nile River.

Herod trembled at the report from the eastern scholars of a child who had been born King of the Jews; at the prospect of Jewish rebellion and an end to his tenuous hold on power. He ordered the slaughter of all the children in and around Bethlehem who were under the age of two.

I’ll grant that the slaughter in our country is geared toward males past their infancy and toddlerhood, but sometimes not by much. Never by enough. Tamir Rice was only twelve. Laquan McDonald, seventeen. Freddy Gray, twenty-five. Philando Castile, thirty-two. Alton Sterling, thirty-seven.

Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon connects the recent killings of Sterling and Castille to the fear that is illustrated in the Pharaoh narrative. She reminds us that “the State is still armed, and murder represents a justifiable response to stop whiteness from trembling.” The fear and slaughter to which we have borne witness this past week are not new.

And neither is the resistance. Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, refused to carry out Pharaoh’s orders to kill the male babies they helped birth. The wise men from the east went home by another way, disobeying Herod’s orders to return to him and identify the Christ child.

Diamond Reynolds live-streamed the scene with police as her boyfriend sat shot and dying beside her. Members of Stop the Killing, Inc., monitored police scanners and showed up at the Triple S Food Mart in time to film the encounter between Alton Sterling and police.

People across the country are protesting and praying, analyzing and admonishing. We are pushing for reforms in gun laws and police departments and justice systems. We are fighting against the fear we see in others and the fear we sense in ourselves.

When we resist, we join the heartbreaking company of Shiphrah and Puah, of the mysterious men from the east.

We join the company of those, like the midwives, who must watch the trembling powers terrorize innocent people despite our best efforts to thwart the destruction.

We join the company of those, like the magi, who listen to our dreams from God and follow the path God gives us, but somehow still find ourselves part of the horror.

We join the company of the Hebrew mothers of Egypt, the Jewish mothers of Bethlehem, who wail and weep and wait for the slaughter to stop.

The Mennonite Church and Sexual Abuse

greendoveIf you thought the Mennonite church’s incompetence in discussing issues of sexuality was limited to its “discernment” of LGBTQ inclusion in the church, then you thought wrong. We are also, it would seem, not particularly skilled at discussing questions of accountability in relation to sexual abuse within church communities and institutions.

We managed to get through some hard truth-telling and sincere hand-wringing about the abuse done by the beloved Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. But not until after he died. Luke Hartman, beloved Mennonite youth leader and former Vice President of Eastern Mennonite University, is still very much alive. As are most of the people responsible for placing and keeping him in institutional positions where he had access to the power he used to manipulate and shame his victims. Apparently it’s harder to hold people accountable while they are still alive.

But we have to hold them accountable. So much depends on it: the spiritual health of sexual abuse victims, the safety of those within our churches and other institutions, the integrity of our denomination, the witness of our church to the healing and hope offered in Jesus Christ.

Our Stories Untold has done a phenomenal job of making sure that voices of victims and their advocates are heard. It has done a phenomenal job of presenting and analyzing the denominational response to the abuse done by a trusted Mennonite leader and institutional employee.

It might be that Our Stories Untold has done too phenomenal of a job—or at least too thorough. Maybe you do not have the time/interest/patience/stomach to wade through all of the reports and testimonies and calls to action. Maybe it is just too much and you never made it to the end where you get to actually participate in holding our church accountable to the standards of peace and justice that we proclaim.

So, consider this your Readers’ Digest edition. And in all the time you save by reading this little cranky post rather than the pages of well-researched and primary source material on Our Stories Untold, you should have PLENTY of time to send a few emails.

In January (2016) Luke Hartman was arrested for solicitation of prostitution and resigned from his position as Vice President of Eastern Mennonite University. The Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of SNAP urged anyone who had been harmed by Hartman to report to an authority outside of the church. SNAP received information suggesting that Hartman had used his positions within the church to harass and abuse people within the church; SNAP reported that leaders within EMU, MCUSA, and Virginia Mennonite Conference may have withheld information that allowed Hartman to continue in positions that gave him the power he abused in violent and harmful ways.

Lauren Shifflett bravely shared her story, which includes manipulation and abuse by Luke. Her sister, Marissa Buck, wrote about how their congregation, Lindale Mennonite, responded when Lauren told those in leadership about being abused; while Lauren and her family experienced cared and support from some members, adequate steps were not taken to hold Luke accountable or to protect Lauren spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

As it happens, just last summer MCUSA delegates approved—with almost unanimous support—a church-wide statement on sexual abuse. The statement laments our personal and institutional failures of the past that have contributed to sexual abuse, and it calls the church to “repent and seek to change [its] ways.” As a response to that statement, a sexual abuse prevention panel was formed.

So, lucky for us, this wonderful group of people was already assembled to lead the denomination in addressing sexual abuse within the church. In May, this panel recommended that Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Mennonite Conference, and Lindale Mennonite Church seek out and cooperate with an investigation by an outside organization in a timely manner.” The panel recommended GRACE, Faith-Trust Institute, “or another panel-approved independent organization.” GRACE is considered the “gold standard” of investigating institutions by advocates in SNAP, and is the highly preferred option.

In early June, Ervin Stutzman (MCUSA Executive Director) and Carolos Romero (Mennonite Education Agency Executive Director) met with representatives of EMU, VMC, and Lindale Mennonite to follow up on the panel’s recommendation. Notice that the voices of victim advocates were not prioritized at this meeting. Those who were present developed a plan to “call for and review proposals from several outside organizations.” There is no mention of why they declined to simply hire GRACE as the top recommendation from the panel. The statement from this meeting also contains the problematic statement: “The panel will affirm the final choice prior to board approval.”

The panel, however, should feel free to NOT affirm the final choice. SNAP representatives are concerned that the use of GRACE is being discouraged because of that organization’s insistence on full access to institutional records. An investigation by an outside organization will only be worthwhile IF that organization does their job thoroughly and with integrity.

Mennonite Church USA has an opportunity in this moment to take significant steps toward the repentance and change it says it seeks in dealing with sexual abuse in the church. We can move toward healing and hope for sexual abuse victims, but we must prioritize those victims over the fears of institutional leaders and the personal relationships some people have with perpetrators and their enablers.

Please encourage our church leaders to be accountable to Christian principles of justice as they move forward in addressing the abuse done by Luke Hartman and in investigating the institutions that may have enabled such abuse.

Please contact the Sexual Abuse Prevention Panel members. Thank them for their good work and encourage them to insist that the outside investigation be done by GRACE.

Anna Groff: Anna@DovesNest.net
Regina Shands Stoltzfus: reginass@goshen.edu
Ross Erb: 
Nancy Kauffman: nancyk@mennoniteusa.org
David Miller: dbmiller@ambs.edu
Jenny Castro: jenniferc@mennoniteusa.org

And if you’ve still got a few minutes after reading this post and emailing the panel, consider reaching out to the MCUSA staff members who are overseeing the selection process. Thank them for taking seriously the denominational commitment to improving our institutional response to sexual abuse, and ask them to trust the expertise of the panel and hire the outside investigating organization with the best reputation among victims and advocates: GRACE.

Ervin Stutzman: ErvinS@mennoniteusa.org
Iris deLeón-Hartshorn: Irisdh@mennoniteusa.org
Carlos Romero: carlosr@mennoniteeducation.org

And if you’ve STILL got a few minutes after reading this and emailing the panel members and the denominational representatives, come on over to my place. I’ve got a kitchen floor that needs mopped.

No matter how much time and energy you have right now, please pray for our church to enact Christ’s love and justice in this world on behalf of victims of sexual abuse.

A Pastoral Letter to MCUSA

Turns out I had some more thoughts on Sunday morning’s shooting. This letter was written in collaboration with some wonderful colleagues and signed by even more wonderful colleagues and was originally posted on the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors web site.

“We are dying, and you are killing us.” These are the words Jay Yoder writes to the Mennonite church as a member of the Mennonite LGBTQIA+1 community in the wake of the shootings at the Pulse Nightclub. Their words point to the truth that no  murder happens in a vacuum, even when done by a single person, because inside each murderer is an echo chamber of the religious and cultural discourse that affirms hate.

So far there has not been a response from the leadership of MC USA to the tragedy in Orlando or to Jay’s accusation of the church’s complicity in this violence. (Note: The Moderator and Moderator-Elect of MCUSA published this statement on June 15; Ervin Stutzman, the MCUSA Executive Director, published this statement on June 16.) While it is difficult to find words at such a time, we realize that silence serves to enhance the violence being done to the bodies and spirits of people within the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color. And so we, as  Mennonite pastors, choose to not participate in the silence, but to offer these words, however inadequate they may be.

To those who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, your voices matter, your experiences matter, your presence in the Mennonite church matters. We are deeply grateful that you are part of the Mennonite church. We desire to support you in whatever ways we can. If you reach out to any of us we will seek to be a nurturing, Christ-like presence as we listen to you in your grief and anger. We love you.

To the larger Mennonite church body, we must acknowledge that this hate crime was directed against people who are part of both the Latinx and LGBTQIA+ communities; it is disingenuous to claim that our desire to welcome Hispanic Mennonites requires us to shun LGBTQIA+ Mennonites.

We must do a better job of listening to and believing the testimonies of those within the LGBTQIA+ community who have experienced violence within our churches. If we continue to insist on the unworthiness of those who do not conform to “official” standards of sexual identity and attraction, we must acknowledge the ways in which that message promotes ideologies of hatred and violence. We cannot continue to preach peace in one breath and condemn our LGBTQIA+ siblings in the next.

If we hope to even begin a faithful response to the horror of the Pulse Nightclub shootings, we must listen well, speak in love, and back up our listening and our speech with actions of compassion and justice. As the book of James exhorts us, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

As we attempt to resurrect our faith, let’s consider engaging in the following works:

  • Read the statement published by Brethren Mennonite Council (BMC) and support their work financially.
  • Thank your nearest Pink Menno advocate and support the work of Pink Menno as they prepare for our next MCUSA Convention in Orlando.
  • Give financially to the Pulse victims fund set up by Equality Florida, the state’s LGBTQIA+ civil rights organization.
  • Take any opportunity you can find to show God’s abundant, all-encompassing love in this world that so desperately needs it.

“Love is a verb.” Indeed. So let’s do something.


Ron Adams, Madison (WI) Mennonite Church
Rose Marie Zook Barber, Eugene Mennonite Church (OR)
Laura Brenneman (chaplain), First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana (IL)
Susan Gascho-Cooke, Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
Theda Good, First Mennonite Church of Denver
Joanna Harader, Peace Mennonite Church (Lawrence, KS)
Ruth Harder, Rainbow Mennonite Church
Cynthia Lapp, Hyattsville (MD) Mennonite Church
Chad Martin, Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
Joel Miller, Columbus Mennonite Church
Ryne Preheim, Rainbow Mennonite Church
Megan M. Ramer, Seattle (WA) Mennonite Church
Mark Rupp, Columbus (OH) Mennonite Church
Jeni Hiett Umble, Living Light of Peace (Arvada, CO)
Ben Wideman, University Mennonite Church (State College, PA)
Juel Yoder Russell, Salem Oregon
Ryan Koch, Peace Mennonite (Dallas, TX)
Michelle Burkholder, Hyattsville (MD) Mennonite Church
Kathleen Temple (Harrisonburg, VA)
Joanne Gallardo (Washington, DC)
Emily North (Harrisonburg, VA)
Adam Tice (Goshen, IN)
Weldon Nisly (Seattle, WA)
Rachel Ringenberg Miller, Shalom Mennonite Church (Newton, KS)
John Tyson, Bethel College Mennonite Church (North Newton, KS)
Trevor Bechtel, (Ann Arbor, MI)
Renee Kanagy, Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship
Janet Elaine Guthrie, First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana
Rachel Epp Miller (San Antonio, TX)
Carol Rose, Shalom Mennonite Fellowship (Tuscon, AZ)
Lee Lever (Austin, TX)
David Moser, Southside Fellowship (Elkhart, IN)
Michael Crosby, First Mennonite Church (Champaign-Urbana, IL)
Tina Schlabach, Shalom Mennonite Fellowship (Tuscon, AZ)
Samantha E. Lioi (Lancaster, PA)
Kelly Carson (Bloomington, IN)
Helen Hopson (Austin, TX)
Robin Walton (Columbus, OH)
James Matthew Branum, Joy Mennonite Church (Oklahoma City, OK)
Marty Troyer, Houston Mennonite Church
Tim Peebles, Chicago Community Mennonite Church
Amy Aschliman, Christ Community Mennonite Church (Schamburg, IL)
Beth Ranck Yoder (Harleysville, PA)
Gwen Gustafson-Zook (Goshen, IN)
Pamela Dintaman (Tuscon, AZ)
Debra Sutter, First Mennonite Church (Champaign-Urbana, IL)
Brian Bolton, Shalom Mennonite Church (Harrisonburg, VA)
Lloyd L. Miller (Goshen, IN)
Jane Thorley Roeschley, Mennonite Church of Normal (IL)
Karen Cox, Boulder (CO) Mennonite Church



1Lesbian, gay, bissexual, trangender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual

In order to honor the pastoral intent of this post, I have turned off comments. If you are a Mennonite pastor and would like to add your name to this letter, you may contact  me, Joanna Harader. If you have questions about the Biblical and theological understandings of those who signed this letter, I commend to you the resources on this page  and other posts on this blog.

Thoughts on a Tragedy

watching-a-rainbow-1405323I struggle to know how to respond in the wake of the shooting at Pulse Nightclub. Fifty dead. Over forty hospitalized. Hundreds traumatized. Guns, again. A tragedy followed by anti-Muslim rhetoric, again. Beautiful queer bodies targeted for violence, again.

I feel grief. And horror. And despair. And anger.

I feel helpless. I feel like I should do something. But then all I do is turn up the radio to hear the latest update. Click on the article links where the words blur together—Orlando, dead, gunman, mass shooting, FBI—and the grief-stricken faces come into sharp focus.

I sit and listen. I sit and look. I sit and wonder what the hell is wrong with us and what I can possibly do in the midst of the mess.

I commend my colleagues who are organizing and attending vigils. I see them posting invitations on Facebook. I imagine them sending emails and making phone calls and gathering candles and writing prayers.

I have not managed anything so energetic. I lit our peace lamp at church yesterday. I am trying to get some words onto this page so they stop ricocheting around in my head. I join my prayers with the millions ascending.

It doesn’t feel like much.

Tonight I will do what I’ve been planning to do for months: I will help out with Vacation Bible School. At first, that didn’t feel like much either. The thought of beach balls and cheesy songs and skits featuring a crab puppet seemed like a frivolity I could hardly manage in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, yet another attack on LGBTQ people.

Then I read this beautiful, challenging article by my friend Jay Yoder. And I saw my friend Stephanie Krehbiel’s Facebook post: “Homophobia in Islam and homophobia in Christianity is the same damn homophobia.”

And I’m starting to think that maybe helping with Vacation Bible School is the best possible response to the shooting. This week I have a chance to teach children that faith never means hate; that God created them and loves them just as they are; that every person they meet is worthy of their care and respect; that violence is never a good path.

This week I have a chance to counter any voices these children might have heard that suggest to them that the Bible and/or God and/or Jesus wants them to judge and hate people for who they are or how they dress or who they love. And I have a chance to do it while wearing a fabulous foam sun visor with sea animal stickers on it.

I think I’ll add a rainbow to my visor and dedicate every corny song, every silly dance, every messy craft project, every word of hope and love and life this week to the victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

On the Trinity

I’m re-posting some earlier material for Trinity Sunday. Always fun to explain a complicated theological concept in a 15-minute sermon!

Spacious Faith

There is a story about the great theologian, Augustine of Hippo. One day after he had been writing about the Trinity for awhile, he decided to take a break and go walk along the beach. He came across a boy who had a bucket.  He would fill up the bucket, run up the hill, and dump the water into the sand. He did this over and over until finally Augustine stopped the boy and asked, “What are you doing?”.  The boy said, “I am draining the sea into the sand.”  Augustine pointed out the futility of the task, and the boy replied, “Yes, but I will drain the sea before you understand the Trinity.”

Folks, I hate to tell you that if Augustine couldn’t figure it out, we’re not going to figure it out either.

The Three are one.  The One is three.  It doesn’t make any sense. It is…

View original post 551 more words

The Gospel in Translation

5791933614People are drawn to the story of God’s mighty acts, the story of Jesus, not simply for the story itself, but because they hear that story in their own native languages. If the apostles had been speaking Greek, everyone would have understood them—Greek was the lingua franca. But the Greek wouldn’t have been compelling. The Greek wouldn’t have touched their hearts and opened their ears in the same way as the Parthenian and Medite, and Elemish, and Cappadocian, and Pamphylian and Arabic did.

Translation is often what makes the Gospel compelling. New Testament scholar Margaret Aymer points out: that “on the day of Pentecost, Christianity became a movement with a divine sanction to multilingualism and to translation.” (Feasting on the Word) A divine sanction. We have a divine sanction to translate the Gospel into the native language of others.

At the last Western District Conference convention I sat down at a table with some Hispanic pastors and attempted to talk with them in their own native language. “Hola. Me llama Joanna. Estoy de Lawrence.” We awkwardly pieced together a conversation, and they graciously left me with this parting advice: “Necesitas mas practicar.” You need to practice more.

Not all of us are gifted linguists. Still, even those of us with sub-par foreign language skills have a divine sanction to translate the Gospel into the native language of others. And I’ve been thinking about what that means.

I’m slowly learning the language of the lgbtq community—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. I can tell you what all of those terms mean. And also what the “i” and “a” stand for in the extended version: lgbtqia. (Intersex and ally and/or asexual) I know that some people who do not identify with either gender binary of male or female prefer the pronoun “they” to “him” or “her.”

Sometimes I mess up. I was at a party yesterday where I very likely used incorrect pronouns. Sometimes I use a term or a label or a pronoun that does not communicate the love and respect I intend. But I’m trying. I’m trying to learn the language so I can speak the good news of love and grace to those who desperately need to hear it in their own native tongue.

And I am also trying to learn the native language of my conservative brothers and sisters. (See, I know to call them my brothers and sisters.) I’m trying to understand what they mean when they use terms like “sin” and “covenant” and “accountability” and “missional.” I sometimes try to speak in their language in order to help them understand my holy longing for grace and love and joy within the church. If you read some of my email conversations, you would recognize my theology, but you might not recognize my language. Because I’m trying, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to speak in the native tongue of another.

Of course, there is a danger that trying to speak in the native languages of others will slide into simply trying to say what others want to hear—which is not healthy or holy communication at all. No matter what language we speak, the message we are called to share is the same—the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And part of that good news is this: Even as we are called to translate for others, we are also promised the gift of hearing the Good News in our own native tongues—our own heart languages. The Spirit speaks to us in ways that resonate deep within our souls. Through music, through nature, through literature, through science, through chance encounters with strangers and intimate conversations with friends; through food and rest and work; hopefully, once in awhile, even through the words of your pastor.

We may experience the spiritual drama of tongues of fire and mighty winds—or their rough equivalents—a few times in our lives. But the most important miracle of Pentecost–speaking and hearing the Gospel in our own native language—this miracle is available to us each and every day.

May God give us ears to hear and tongues to speak. Amen.

This post is excerpted from a longer sermon, which you can read here.