Good afternoon, allies and humans of the Mennonite Church. I (a human who is queer) have a quick note, a “call to action,” if you will.
First, some facts:
- I am a human with a human life partner and a human (step/bonus/partner’s) son. In addition, members of my family such as my mother, brother, sisters, and father are humans.
- I am not an elephant.
- I am not an issue.
- I am not a crucible time.
- I am not a dilemma, a burden, a conflict, a problem, a discussion, a question, a challenge, a threat, or any other non-living, non-breathing thing, noun, verb, adverb, what-have-you.
- I am not even “homosexuality.”
With that out of the way, I’m going to ask you all to do something for me. Please, when you are discussing [insert euphemism for me here, such as "LGBT issues," "the elephant in the room," or "the current dilemma in the church,"] remember that you are discussing me. You are discussing whether or not you would like me to be a full member in the Mennonite Church, whether you would mind if a Mennonite pastor joined my partner and I together for a lifetime, whether you would mind if God called me and the Mennonite Church licensed me to minister to the Mennonite Church.
You are talking about the way my chest tightens when I walk into a Mennonite Church, the way tears are never far from my eyes. You are talking about the way I nearly panicked last Sunday when I was inducted as a new member into my local Mennonite Church, because I’m not sure the good people in the pews around me understand my membership means we could all be kicked out of our conference. You’re talking about me planning a really happy day in my life for my partner and I, and thinking about the broader implications for my congregation. You’re talking about the deep shame and confusion I felt when I was younger, the fear of violence, of rejection.
You are talking about humans who experience suicide, depression, violence, homelessness, HIV, lack of health insurance, and joblessness at higher rates (read all about it). These experiences are linked to oppression and discrimination, to access issues, to legal issues, to communities like our Mennonite communities. There was even a recent study that showed living in a community with a high level of stigma and prejudice for LGB folks is linked to dying, on average, 12 years earlier. No, really.
This is part of what we queer folks and our allies mean when we say the structure of the Mennonite Church is enacting or committing or doing violence.
Here is one small thing we can all do about it, we humans. We can use different words when we talk about this. What’s in a name? In this case, acknowledgment of my humanity is in a name. Please, stop saying “issue,” “elephant,” “dilemma,” and their ilk.
Instead, talk about humans. Use human-first language. A person who is a lesbian. A person who is gay. A person who is trans. A person who is bisexual. A person who is queer. Jen, who is queer. Wes, who is trans. Our queer community members. I would even ask that, at least for now, we drop the shorthand LGBTQ, so that we are sure to focus on humans.
I’m going to rewrite just the first paragraph of a recent MWR blog post as a demo.
Her first paragraph actually was:
I’ve long said I wish as a church we could open our hands to receive the irreconcilable dilemma we’re faced with around sexual orientation, as a gift from God. Am I out of my mind to say this? Maybe. But I do not assert this glibly. As a 60-year-old, I know the crucible events in my life — as wracked with pain as they are — drive me deeper into the love of God. Break my heart open. Make me more humble. And perhaps a tad wiser.
Rewritten to reflect the humans, it would be:
I’ve long said I wish as a church we could open our hands to receive conversations with our community members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer, as a gift from God. Am I out of mind to say this? Maybe. But I do not assert this glibly. As a 60-year-old, I know the times that I have engaged with people about the Biblical implications of their or my lives and identities – as complex and vulnerable as engaging can be – those times drive me deeper into the love of God. Break my heart open. Make me more humble. And perhaps a tad wiser.
So instead of an “irreconcilable dilemma” queer folks are community members. Instead of a “crucible time,” queer folks are people being engaged about the Biblical implications of their lives and identities.
What do you think, everyone? Can we shift the way we talk about this so we remember who, and not what, we are really talking about?
Let me know your thoughts!
“The moment we choose love, we begin to move toward freedom.” – bell hooks