Monthly Archive: July 2013

Groanings Too Deep for Words: The Zimmerman Verdict and the Dividing Wall Between Us

By Pam Nath. Cross-posted from The Mennonite
Image by Ricardo Levins Morales

If “your” elected officials are middle-aged, white people who smile at you a lot, it may be time to relocate. Being a “minority” – even a sizable minority – in a city with white officials has become more of a hazard than at any time in the last twenty years. American justice is divvied out across a great racial divide. We don’t believe that Black elected officials are – on their own – a cure for our problems. However, we do have a greater ability to pressure them. [Living in a white community], you may have more government services, but those services include more policing by officers who think your child is dangerous. If you move, the idea that your child is not as easily singled out can give some comfort.

Kamau Franklin, New Rules for the Black Community after the Zimmerman Verdict

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly…Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Romans 8: 22–23a, 26

Because I know that Kamau Franklin’s words in the quote above are likely to be disturbing to many people who read this column, and some may be tempted to dismiss them as the words of a hateful demagogue, I want to begin by saying that I have met Kamau on several occasions, and once participated in a two-day strategic planning meeting with him. He has never been anything but kind and friendly to me, a white woman, and in fact, has always struck me as a particularly gentle and thoughtful person. If his words seem jarring and painful to you, my plea to you is to struggle to hear them nonetheless. I think doing so is critically important to the life of our church because I am sure there are other Mennonites who are reading this column who totally get where Kamau is coming from, and in fact are feeling and wondering similar things as he. We are a divided church and sadly, the dividing walls between us (Ephesians 2:14), rather than being broken down by a free movement of the Spirit, too often are growing ever thicker.

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Time to confront John Howard Yoder’s sexual assault and abuse and Mennonite Church complicity

by Barbra Graber

This is cross-posted from Our Stories Untold

I remember the Sunday morning two Mennonite Youth Fellowship friends were made to get up in front of the congregation to publicly confess their sins. They were pregnant out of wedlock. Meanwhile John Howard Yoder, the most acclaimed Mennonite theologian and symbol of male power in the church sexually assaulted and harassed untold numbers of Mennonite women and was never made to publicly confess. And AMBS, the Mennonite seminary that hired him, was somehow rendered powerless to take action, allowing years of silence and collusion to go by while a file of complaint letters accumulated in the Dean’s office. To their credit, AMBS eventually fired him, but neither AMBS nor Indiana-Michigan Conference has ever been called by the church or anyone else to publicly explain or acknowledge the years of complicity. Quite the opposite.

John Howard Yoder continues to be lauded, his books roll off the presses, and there’s pressure from all sides to go back to business as usual, though again to their credit AMBS has made some helpful changes to the way in which his writings are introduced in the classroom.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse by men of the Mennonite Church, though not JHY. And I have walked through hell and back with many of the church’s soul-scarred women (and men), including victims of JHY. Long time friend Ted Swartz, after reading my recent rant about reviews of JHY’s books in “The Mennonite” asked me, “So what needs to be done? It feels like we are stuck…is it possible to move forward?” I like a challenge from friends and thanks to Ted I sat down again to reflect. I too would like to see us move forward. But we can’t cry “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” There is no peace (and may never be) for many women who lost years if not lifetimes of normal, healthy, joyous living for having been sexually abused by male leaders of the Mennonite Church. And JHY remains a symbol of those widespread woundings like no other churchman.

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Babel No More

Crossposted from A Bible and a Bat’leth

Sermon preached on May 5, 2013 at Mississauga Mennonite Fellowship. In my introduction, I acknowledge the land and the many nations who have used, shared and lived on it since time immemorial, especially the Mississauga people. I introduce Christian Peacemaker Teams Aboriginal Justice Team and thank the congregation for inviting us to speak.

The following scripture texts have already been read: Genesis 11:1-9 and John 8:31-43

In her 2009 TED talk, entitled The Danger of the Single Story, the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie, starts by identifying the stories she read as a child. Growing up in Nigeria, she began to read early on, and she read the books she could get; British and American children’s books. At the age of seven she began write her own stories.
“All my characters were white, blue eyed. They played in the snow. They ate apples. And they talked a lot about the weather. How lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria, had never been outside of Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangos, and we never talked about the weather because there was no need to.”

The stories she read as a child only featured foreigners, so she wrote about foreigners, without even thinking that literature could be about Nigerian children until she encountered Nigerian writers.

Later, attending University in the USA, her roommate is surprised that she speaks English so well, that she knows how to use a stove. When she asks to listen to some of her tribal music, the roommate is disappointed to be given a cassette tape of Mariah Carey.

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A Pink Menno case study: Tension and Nonviolent Direct Action

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

An energetic mix of excitement and anxiety hung in the air. It was 10 pm on July 4, the second-to-last night of the Mennonite Church USA convention in the Pink Menno space. I was sitting with 40 others as we talked through the following morning. We planned to enter the national delegate assembly of Mennonite Church USA and use our bodies to make a visible, silent witness challenging the church to repent from its treatment of LGBTQ people. We didn’t know what would happen, but we knew that we had to take a stand.

Only 24 hours earlier, seven Pink Menno planners had developed the vision for the witness. It was our third convention organizing Pink Menno hymn sings and they had become a fun, familiar presence outside the worship spaces. We had our space a block and a half from the convention center. We had hundreds of people coming to seminars we hosted. However, we were a known quantity that could be too easily ignored. It was a situation that has been faced by many social change movements over the years.

Tension and MLK

Tension is a crucial part of nonviolent social change work, whether in the church or in broader society. (more…)

Wanted: Stories of Women & Leadership in Mennonite Church USA (which I always think sounds like a sports team)

“I will tell you something about stories . . . They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.”
~Leslie Marmon Silko

I truly believe that sharing our stories–including the actual process of writing them out–is one of our most powerful tools–a small act that starts a transformation in ourselves and the world around us. What if sharing our stories could help future generations of both men and women? What if a story could “overturn a table” in the various Temples of our day– including in the bellies of our own communities and congregations? Social media’s given more women affiliated with Mennonite Church USA a chance to get a glimpse of the diversity and reality present in our national congregations and communities–a reality and diversity that’s not always heard or lived out, let alone celebrated.

Let’s change that. Every step and every story counts.

Wanted: Stories from any woman or girl who considers herself Mennonite or shaped by the Anabaptist-Mennonite traditions. Check out the newly launched Mennonite Monologues web site where stories can be told through essays, poems, art, songs, photographs, and other forms of creative expression. The Women and Leadership Project needs stories that speak to your truth and experience: joy and gratitude, as well as stories of lament and pain. Multiple stories are encouraged. Whatever story you wish to tell, it is welcome. All will be collected on our blog and may be submitted with a name or anonymously.

“Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.”
~Adrienne Rich


Prompts to help get you started

-As a woman, what are the stories that have shaped your sense of leadership?
-What are your experiences of being called (or not called) to leadership in Mennonite Church USA?
-How have you been empowered by the church to lead?
-How have you been discouraged from taking on leadership roles?
-Do you think there is a difference in the ways women and men are cultivated to be leaders?
-Did you grow up seeing women in leadership?
-Who were your mentors?
-What is your ideal vision of church leadership in the future? Where do you fit in?

YAR, we need your awesomely radical selves! Thanks for helping to spread the word. ~Women in Leadership Project, Mennonite Monologues team

Jesus’ bad example: Overturning tables in Phoenix

Image by Dave King www.flickr.com/photos/djking/3728775956/

Oh how I wish Jesus had set a better example!

Let’s be reasonable here. He should have proposed his prophetic action in consultation with the religious leadership far in advance of the Passover feasts. This would have reduced so much stress for the Pharisees and scribes.

He shouldn’t have made his case using sacred scriptures. Too risky, too radical, too much playing his religion card like he knew it all. Why did he have to bring Isaiah or Jeremiah into this, crazy activists claiming God’s house for foreigners, eunuchs and the like! One issue at a time now! How dare he come to the temple with an agenda!

He certainly should have worked within the structures to ensure no one would be offended, no one would risk the chance at dialogue due to untimely, unvetted mention of certain outcasts. Didn’t he know that if you want to include these people, you have to exclude those people.

He should have toned it down at least a little, no name-calling nor blocking pedestrian traffic in the temple. And what’s with the whip of cords!?

Read more and get involved over at overturningtables.org!