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…

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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.

How Not to Apologize

file2181285550868A recent Facebook apology from my teenage son: “I’m sorry but I have nothing to do with that.”

And Trump’s apology for posting an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz: “If I had it to do again, I probably wouldn’t have sent it. I didn’t think it was particularly bad, but I probably wouldn’t have sent it.”

And an apology from the moderator and executive director of my denomination: “We apologize to . . . anyone . . . who may have gotten the impression that Executive Board leaders were not fully committed to justice and healing for victims [of sexual abuse].”

I’ve always thought that apologizing was a pretty simple task, one we learn at a young age: “Joanna, tell the dog you’re sorry for dragging him around the house in a pillow case.” “I’m sorry, Fluffy.”

That’s it. That’s an apology. Pretty straight forward. But apparently beyond the grasp of many people.

So, as a public service, here are ten ways to tell that your apology is not really an apology:

  1. The word “but” comes after the word “sorry.”
  2. The words “that you” come after the word “sorry.”
  3. Really, if anything but a period comes after the word “sorry,” you’re likely not apologizing.
  4. You list excuses for your pitiful actions.
  5. You use the passive voice. (“It is regrettable that mistakes were made.”–Not a real apology.)
  6. You claim that the person you are apologizing to is partly (if not completely) to blame for the horrible thing you did to them.
  7. You use words like “seem” and “probably” and “appeared” and “might” and . . . you get the idea.
  8. You mutter your apology to the ground while your mom stands by, glaring at you with her arms crossed.
  9. You pretend that your position of power and privilege makes you less responsible for your actions because it’s so difficult and complicated for someone in your position to negotiate all of their responsibilities—rather than acknowledging that it is exactly your power and privilege that make you that much more responsible for the damage you have caused and the damage you have failed to prevent.
  10. You have apologized for the same damn thing over and over and over again without actually changing your behavior in the slightest.

If you are having trouble crafting a sincere apology, I offer you this template from my younger self. You will need to replace the bracketed words to fit your own situation:

Dear [Fluffy]. I am truly sorry that [I put you in a pillowcase and pulled you around the house]. I am sure you did not like that and I should not have done it. Next time I will [put my stuffed dog in the pillow case] instead and give you a [dog bone].

You’re welcome.

The Girl Without a Name

Photo by Manu Mohan. “A Street Beggar”

Acts 16:16-34

Back in Jesus’ day, Paul’s day, they didn’t label people “mentally ill.” They said that people “had a spirit.” Generally the people Jesus and his followers encounter have “evil spirits,” but the slave girl in this story just has a “spirit.” Actually, it is a pyhtian spirit, associated with the god Apollo who was know as a snake-slayer. This spirit was said to inspire the oracles at Delphi and give them prophecies. This spirit supposedly allowed this girl to tell people’s fortunes.

So was this girl crazy? Maybe. But this “spirit” that possessed her also, in a way, provided for her. She was a slave, and her owners were able to make money off of her supposed powers. So, as a slave, she would have met with people, gone into a trance, and told them their future.

I imagine many girls who were slaves had it much worse.

This spirit compels the girl to follow Paul and his entourage proclaiming, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”

She may be crazy, but she is also right. These men are servants of God; they are telling the people the way to be saved. Paul, however, does not appreciate her proclamations–day after day, this girl following him, yelling to the people that he is trying to talk to.

In fact, Paul yells things quite similar to what this girl yells. Paul sees visions. We could ask, is Paul crazy? Well, despite all of the nutty things Paul does in the book of Acts, despite his drastic mood swings that are obvious in the letters he writes, history has nonetheless placed Paul in the “sane” category.

And because he is considered sane, even saintly, scholar after scholar works to justify Paul’s actions in this story.

The girl, they say, was not referring to Yahweh, but to a pagan god. The girl, they say, was trying to get Paul and his friends into trouble. Paul, they say, turned to her in kindness to free her from this oppressive spirit.

But the text tells a different story. According to the writer of Acts, Paul’s motive is not kindness or love; it is not to redeem the girl; it is not to challenge the oppressive economic system that allows certain people to be owned by other people. No. Paul’s motive is that he is annoyed.

Despite what the Pauline apologists would argue, it seems obvious to me that Paul does not care about the girl.

He doesn’t look at her, she follows him around–she is always behind him. He doesn’t speak to her, he speaks only to the spirit that inhabits her. And once the spirit is gone, this nameless slave girl, now without her means of making money for her owners, simply drops from Paul’s consciousness. She disappears from the story.

I am bothered by the fact that Paul never really sees this girl, but I trust that she is seen by God.

I am bothered by the fact that Paul never speaks to her, but I trust that, in her new life, the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit comforts her and guides her.

I am bothered by the fact that we don’t know this girl’s name; but I trust that God knows her name.

And even though Paul abandons her, that possibly her owners abandon her, that even the narrative of Acts abandons her, I trust that God does not abandon her; that this slave girl continues to be part of the story of the early church, part of the narrative of God’s activity in the world.

For the full text of this sermon, click here.

Presence in Absence

todd steele yosemite
Yosemite National Park. Photo Credit: Todd Steele

Some thoughts on this week’s Gospel Lectionary reading: John 14:23-29.

After the Last Supper, only in John, we have Jesus’ farewell discourse where Jesus talks to his disciples. And talks. And talks. And talks. For four chapters. John 14:23-29 is from the beginning of this speech. Jesus tells his friends that he will have to leave them, but promises that the Father will send the Advocate–the Spirit. While Jesus must leave, the Spirit will be with them forever. The Spirit will live with them and in them. The Advocate will remind them of everything they have experienced with Jesus. And so, in a way, Jesus promises that he will continue to be present with his friends even after he is gone.

That’s what we all want, isn’t it? For those we love to continue on with us. To still have Grandma in the kitchen, showing you how to roll out the dough. To still have Grandpa there beside you in the boat. To still be able to call Mom up and ask for advice when you don’t know what to do. We want that aching absence we feel when someone we love dies to be replaced by a living presence. Somehow. Any way we can manage. We want the emptiness to be filled.

A wedding I officiated a couple of years ago took place on a beautiful piece of land owned by the bride’s family—the same piece of land where the bride’s father is buried.

dads benchI thought of my own dad—who had been dead for about a year—when the groom’s uncle told me: “It’s really nice to have a professional here. You know, someone who knows what they’re doing.” My dad, also a pastor, came with me to the rehearsal of the first wedding I ever officiated. I had no idea what I was doing, and Dad told me, “You don’t have to know what you’re doing. You just have to act like you know what you’re doing.” Turns out he was right.

At this more recent wedding, I stood confidently in front of the gathered congregation and watched the groom walk down the aisle with both of his parents. Then the bride came with just her mom.

Somehow my dad and her dad were both painfully absent and comfortingly close all at the same time.

When someone loves us, mentors us, walks with us through life, the thought of their leaving us–the thought of them not being with us any more–is heartbreaking. So we can understand that during the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples are distraught. Jesus is saying that he must leave them, and they do not want to lose their dear friend and mentor; they do not want to be without the one who called them; the one who loves them; the one they love.

They long for his presence; they fear his absence. Jesus’ promise of the Advocate, the Spirit, is a source of comfort for the disciples even as their hearts are breaking.

For the full text of this sermon, click here.

You might also be interested in this call to worship based on Psalm 67 and Acts 14.