the queer radical Mennonite conundrum

I’m going to do a spin-off from the speech I pointed you all to last week. So here is the conundrum. I grew up Mennonite. I went to a lovely, nurturing, happy, rural church (East Union Mennonite Church) where I was baptized at 16. I went to a Mennonite summer camp (Crooked Creek Christian Camp) for quite a few years and loved it. I went to many a Mennonite bi-annual conference as my parents were youth leaders for many years and when I was in high school. I went to a Mennonite high school (Iowa Mennonite School) where I learned lovely things about Mennonite history and faith along with the English and Trig. I served for a year with Mennonite Central Committee (SALT) in South Africa. I spent four formative years at Goshen College. I highly value every one of these institutions as they have played a major part in my formation. Those institutions represent an integral part of almost my entire life. The problem arises when I realize that every single one of these institutions would discriminate against me if I were to want to work for them or even volunteer for them as an openly queer Mennonite.

I feel quite a bit of loyalty to the Mennonite Church because it is an important part of who I am. I feel that I am part of the church as much as any other Mennonite who says I shouldn’t be. According to the official membership quidelines and many Mennonites – I shouldn’t teach, preach, or work for any official part of the church or even be a member. To me, it feels like the church is not living the values that I learned from the church.

So, how do I deal with that? I’ve thought of leaving it, shaking the dust from my sandals and finding greener and more welcoming pastures. While it does sound lovely, I’m not quite ready to do that. While a church that’s soul is so damaged that it does not follow its own stated values lacks relavancy to me as an institution, I have hope that it can change (even if it is dragged kicking and screaming behind society). In communities like Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis (where I currently attend) that have joined the Supportive Communities Network and publically affirmed their full welcome of all sexual orientations and gender identities and in individual allies that are actively working to heal the church. Because I feel loyal to the church and partial ownership in it as a member (despite what some would prefer, I am a member) I can’t leave it while I still feel that I can do something to change it for the better. I’m also a little stubborn and am not willing to leave and cede the church to those I disagree with just to make them and myself more comfortable.

So how do I deal with those discriminatory institutions? Well, I can’t feel very good about giving them any more money than I already have but I still appreciate what they have done for me and continue to do for others. Luckily, for now, I am a volunteer and don’t really have money to give anyway. When I can, I speak out about what I’ve gained from those institutions and what I would like to see change about them. I also try to change the church through my work with BMC.

I’d love to hear thoughts from others on institutions and values and loyalty and dissent and how to know when it is the right time to shake the dust from your sandals or dig in your heels.

Comments (7)

  1. Russ

    Katie,

    I found that as I read your story that I had a lot of questions go off in my small little brain. I have never explored a conversation with a homosexual (I’m guessing that is what you mean by queer) before. Not that I’ve sought one out but now the opportunity arises.

    I think it would be helpful for this conversations to know where my limited experience has led me. I have grown up many years in a Menno home. I believe that it is wrong to have homosexual relations. I’m assuming that you would disagree with this and I would wonder where that idea has been born and nurtured.

    I think that I’ll leave it at that right now. This conversation could go places if you’re interested and I would like to say that I am interested in carrying it forward with an agenda.

    First let me say that my agenda going into this is not to prove you wrong. It’s not to poke fun at you or embarass you.

    This conversation would have the agenda to see the other side. To better understand your thoughts and your ideas about possibly creation, sexuality, biblical understanding, etc. Please write me back. I look forward to it.

    Russ

    Reply
  2. Bruce Fast

    If you ever move to Boulder Colorado, you are very welcome at the Boulder Mennonite Church, another affirming congregation.

    I suspect that this irrational discrimination will be much less in 25 years. Maybe it’s worth hanging in there while more and more congregations become like Faith Mennonite and Boulder Mennonite until we reach a tipping point. But it’s *so slow*.

    Thanks for your volunteer work.

    Reply
  3. Amy

    Katie,
    I respect the dilemna. I have been attending Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia for the last 10 years. We were removed from our conference for our stand, and I guess officially we are not Mennonite, although it seems to me that we are MORE Mennonites than the denomination is currently. We continue to have a cordial relationship and tyr to get together with them from time to time. But, we are still who we are, and feel called as a congregation to be that voice in the Mennonite church. Our GLBT members are adopting, getting ordained, etc.. and our congregation is growing.

    I would love to see a day when our conference would accept us for who we are, and we could still be part of the wider mennonite church But, until then, we’ll keep doing what we are doing. Because what we are doing is important for the larger picture in the Mennonite Church.

    Reply
  4. Katie (Post author)

    This is a reply to the comments that have been left by Russ, Bruce, and Amy. First, to Bruce and Amy, thanks, congregations like Boulder and Germantown make me smile. Call up BMC any old time you need anything. To Russ. I’m glad to hear that you are open to some discussion. If you are still checking this, I’d be happy to make some effort on this. I don’t feel like getting into it too deep yet because I don’t know if you are still there. You might do some reading on the Brethren Mennonite Council website if you want to learn more.

    I also grew up Mennonite. I’ve been connected to the Mennonite church my whole life and my thought and belief has been formed in the context of Mennonite high school, Mennonite service, and Mennonite college. Growing up, I probably would have thought very much as you do about homosexuality. I didn’t know any gay or lesbian Christians and everything I had ever heard about homosexuality was negative.

    After leaving home to work for MCC in South Africa for a year and then on to college, I began to gain an expanded view. I learned a little more aboout scripture, religion, and theology. I met wonderful people who were both thoughtful Christians and openly gay or lesbian. In this new context with new information, I formed a new understanding. At some point after this, I began to understand my own experience to fit into this as well. I hadn’t had a consciousness of this part of myself before because I had no language or frame of reference to think of it in.

    So, that is how I came to this view. Morally, I don’t think same-sex sexual behavior is any better or worse than opposite-sex sexual behavior though it is statistically less common. To me, whether gay and lesbian people are born that way or can change does not matter (maybe they are/can, and maybe not, I don’t really care). The question that I would rather consider is if they should. I would say no. You may disagree, say more about that. Even more important to me is the question of how the church should relate to those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender who have grown up in the church, are growing up in the church or are looking for a Christian community and faith. What I’ve seen thus far has generally ranged from angry, violent hate and fear to a kinder (though I would still say bigoted) warmed-over anti-gay attitute (love the sinner, hate the sin). The exception to this is congregations that have loved and welcomed lgbt people as they are without telling they need to change or feel bad or hide their authentic selves (such as Germantown, Faith, and Boulder). I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this.

    That is as far as I’ll go right now unless I get a little more from you. I would ask you about your view of sin. How do we know what is sin and what makes a sin a sin? If you’d rather speak about it as morality, go for it. Where has that idea been born and nurtured for you?

    I apologize for taking so long to reply to this. Hopefully you haven’t given up on this conversation.

    Katie

    Reply
  5. Mary

    Hey Katie:
    This is my story. I can’t believe how similar we are! I actually didn’t go to a Menno high school, but in every other aspect this is me to a tee. Hilarious. I even did a year of volunteer work with the Mennonite church overseas as well (I’ll leave it vague as to whether that was with SALT or Inter Menno ‘cuz I’m not out to my church yet). But yes, this is me. I’ve stopped going to church, and I really miss it, I want to go again. But I can’t go unless I find somewhere that is absolutely affirming. And even then, I feel excluded from the larger church community as a whole. Argh. But more power to you. What the Mennonite church needs is more people like us, who continue to be involved, so that eventually, all the little queer kids will feel like they’re welcome in the Menno church.

    Reply
  6. Jacob Friesen

    Hey,
    I find this a very interesting thread especially since I too struggle with the same issues. I attended a rurual Mennonite Church most of my life and even attended a Mennonite primary and secondary school. But I have a different prespective. Yes I was taught that Jesus loved everyone and that we are also supposed to love everyone. In my church we also always did love everyone that was something that was truly lived out. But my church also affirmed that what the Bible says about homosexuality is true. But this of course was a conflict in my own life. I knew on one hand that the homosexual lifestyle was not what God wanted for me but on the other hand I also knew that I was attracted to men. In the end I decided to believe the Bible over my feelings. I never embraced the homosexual lifestyle but I am now going through counseling for same gender attraction. I clearly see now the brokeness of the homosexual lifestyle. I have not yet reached wholeness in my sexuality but I am on a journey in that direction and it is amazing to see what God is doing in my life especially in my relationships with other men (especially my father who I did not have a great relationship with). Now my message to homosexuals is: God does NOT hate you. God made you and he loves you. And because God made you and he loves you he wants what is best for you. Find out whats God’s best for you is (in His word) and embrace it. Seek out a godly counselor (exodus international exodus-international.org, can put you in touch with one as well as provide you with encouraging stories of people who have overcome their struggles).I did not write this blog to offend or attack or hurt anyone in anyway I wrote this blog because I care about and love people and I want to show them there is hope and encourage them to embark on a journey to find wholeness in Christ.

    Reply
  7. Katie (Post author)

    Jacob,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I must say that my experience has been markedly different. While I wish you well on the path you have chosen it makes me sad to hear that you feel the need to take this path. I would echo your message to gay and lesbian people to say that God made you and loves you and wants the best for you. For me, the best is to be an openly and honestly queer Christian and live a healthy and whole life.

    I do not “struggle” with “same-sex attraction” any more than my non-gay friends “struggle” with opposite-sex attractions. I have never struggled with the feeling that God doesn’t love me or wants me to be anything other than who God made me. I have, however, struggled with wondering if my family or friends would love and accept me if I were honest about myself. I have struggled with a church family (previous congregations and denomination) and society that would treat me as “less than” just for being authentic and rejoicing in who I am.

    I hope that one day you will find the “wholeness” you are searching for. This likely means something different for you than it would for me but I wish you well either way.

    Yours is not an unfamiliar story. Others within the BMC community have searched for wholeness though similar counselling and groups like Exodus, only to find themselves spiraling downward into depression and hopelessness. These people have found their wholeness by accepting themselves as God made them and rejoicing in healthy relationships.

    If you ever find that your current path is failing you, you might find help on a different path. There are many happy and healthy gay and lesbian Christians who would be able to walk with you on that path. There are also organizations that can help you with this. Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests might be a good place to start.

    If you wish to discuss this further, I would be open to that. I am curious to hear some of your thoughts on the questions I posed to Russ when he commented on this thread. I fear I didn’t respond to him in a timely manner and he didn’t stay around to discuss.

    Reply

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