LGBTQ

Haunting straight Mennonite moderates: the Christian tradition of confrontation

This piece is cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

In this month’s editorial in The Mennonite, editor Everett Thomas quoted Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman as follows:

“The experience of Pink Mennos at Columbus in 2009,” Stutzman said, “introduced a new level of engagement in controversial matters … The techniques of social advocacy and confrontation that we have taught young adults in our schools has come to haunt our church’s most visible gathering, to the end that convention-goers feel immense pressure to take up sides against one another on [homosexuality].”

Mennonite pastor Amy Yoder McGloughlin has already written quite eloquently and diplomatically on how Ervin’s words ignore the real ghosts who haunt the Mennonite convention. So I’d like to focus particularly on Ervin’s use of the term, “haunt,” to refer to the use of social advocacy and confrontation by Pink Mennos. As a Mennonite, I find social advocacy and confrontation at the heart of the gospel and at the roots of my Anabaptist tradition. To suggest that those of us who sought to embody this tradition as Pink Mennos at Colombus were “haunting” the convention is highly problematic.

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A New-Old Call to Radical Christian Community

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“Community”, “Radical Discipleship”, “Prophetic Witness”: An urgent and self-giving Christianity has taken hold of the imaginations of a new generation of the faithful. Group houses of sincere young folks earnestly desiring to live for Christ and serve the poor are springing up like daisies after a summer rain.

It is humbling to witness the movement of the Spirit in their work. Yet it is mournfully apparent that the language, aims, and means of our Christian communities are often defined by a narrow contingent of the movement or what might be the movement if our communities were accountable to anti-oppression work and in solidarity with those under the foot of kyriarchy in its many forms. In fact, the voices of women, queer people, people of color, those of immigrant or non-North American status, the economically disadvantaged, and the disabled are often secondary to the voices of celebrated white heterosexual North American men. And while certainly, our God’s cause is the cause of the poor, there is something troubling about our communities’ rhetoric and movement “to the margins”: it is a dangerous sense of entitlement that gives some of us the notion to obtain property and create ministries and services- often while lacking training or outside accountability. Many community houses have been started without the members having first developed a meaningful relationship with the community leaders and projects already underway, without having been invited to come nor having undertaken a serious analysis of the kinds of unjustly gained power that make some service providers and others receivers of services.

Yes, our God’s cause is the cause of the poor and the inspiration to give one’s life for God’s people- especially the most obviously vulnerable among us- is right and good. But the desire to give one’s life must not overcome a commitment to give that gift with a holy indifference that might lead one another way. (I am reminded of priests on foreign mission returning home, having been told that it was in disarming U.S. imperialism that they could best care for their beloved congregations abroad.) And while the lack of representation- and accountability- in our movements is casually acknowledged by many (“Sure, we’re mostly white, middle class, and male”), acknowledging it without committing to changing it perpetuates the unexamined privilege that underlies so many of our communities. It feeds the supremacy of whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality and class privilege in our most compelling “radical” North American Christian experiments and recreates the dynamics of oppression we name as sin.

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Running in Fear

Ever feel like you’re somewhere where you shouldn’t be?

Yesterday I was running on the Coal & Coke Trail outside Mount Pleasant when I found myself in the midst of hunting season in Western PA. Orange-clad hunters with rifles patrolled the woods on either side of the trail.

This isn’t abnormal this time of year…after all, the PA hunting season is short and the interest, strong (i.e. supply and demand sends hunters and the hunting-inclined out in droves), and I’ve certainly seen hunters out and about during my daily runs.

But I felt particularly vulnerable this time around.

Yeah, I was wearing bright red and running in a b-line down a wide jogging trail, and I realize that hunters for the most part are very careful with their rifles. Most of the hunters I saw even acknowledged me with a hand wave or a tip of the cap.

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Queerness, Mennonites and Bullying: Beyond Spirit Day and Wearing Purple

This week on Thursday, people around the world wore purple in response to a spate of suicides has raised the profile of bullying dramatically. Specifically, bullying of gay and lesbian adolescents and teens. Watching this video of Google employees got me thinking about my own experiences of bullying as I grew up.

For the first 8 years of my education, I attended New Danville Mennonite School, a small Mennonite elementary school in Lancaster county. Almost as early as I can remember during my time there, I was picked on.

It started on the bus ride to school, which included two bus trips. The first one went from my home to Penn Manor, the local public high school. Most of the other riders were going to public elementary or high schools. The second bus took us from Penn Manor to New Danville and so only had kids going to New Danville. It was on the second bus, of mostly Mennonites, where I faced regular bullying and harassment through my early grade school years.

Often one or two kids would egg each other on and so the tradition was passed down from brother to brother and cousin to cousin. Some of the names they called me still hurt enough that I won’t repeat them here. I remember the bus drivers one or two ineffective attempts to stop the harassment. But it was impossible for them to maintain any discipline while safely driving a bus full of kids over Lancaster’s winding hills.

Starting in fifth grade, the bullying became more physical. It seems I was a good way for boys coming into their adolescence to try out their new-found strength. I remember Todd* in particular because he was the popular boy in the class. It was as if he was experimenting to see how much pain he could inflict, where hitting me under the desk in class or kicking me in the back while we walked down the hall.

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gay/evangelical love

Love is an orientation

Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community
Andrew Marin
InterVarsity Press
Published: March 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8308-3626-0

If you were to meet Andrew Marin (and providing you have some experience with Evangelical culture), it might strike you that he looks, acts, and talks like the epitome of a twenty-something Evangelical guy.  His hair is cut pretty short.  When I heard him speak, he was wearing long khaki cargo shorts and an oversized striped polo shirt.  He is effusive and outgoing in mannerisms, and when he speaks, he loves to interject words like “awesome” and “pumped up” into his emotional-wallop-packing anecdotes and series of simple, Bible-verse backed points.  Stock Evangelicalish phrases seem to work their way un-self-consciously into every other sentence.

In his own words (paraphrased from what I remember), he is what his large Evangelical church in a (quite) affluent Chicago suburb raised him to be: an outgoing, straight, conservative, Bible-believing alpha-male.  And he doesn’t just appear to be this.  He truly is this, and he fully claims it.

So… this has all been just to set up some tension over everything else I want to say about Andrew Marin, his eight year of work in the GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered) community, and especially his new book published by Intervarsity Press, “Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community.”  For those who don’t know me, I grew up very Christian and very Mennonite, went through a lot of pain figuring out my sexual orientation, am gay, and currently approach the church and the Bible with a lot of ambivalence over whether they’re fundamentally good or bad (and whether they lead one toward Christ or kill any possibility of actually encountering Christ.)  Add that to the tension.
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A Platform for MCUSA

I have been involved in some pretty strange things—a church planter of an all-homeless/mentally ill congregation; encouraging leaders of a mosque in Bangladesh to re-think Jesus; dumpster diving for Jesus, and so recently becoming the poster child for dumpster diving in Portland (Check out http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/issues/archives/articles/0409-holy-diver/ and read a recent article about me—heck, just look at the pics!). Stuff like that. But when I got a call from MCUSA a week ago, that took the cake.

Someone nominated me to be the Executive Director of MCUSA.

At first I figured it must be a joke. Who would, in their right mind, think that I—radical pastor who has to bite his tongue every time he speaks to a middle class person—would make a good Executive Director? Someone just did it for a lark, I thought. Or perhaps I was recommended by someone who just wanted to shake things up. Well, that would do it. Me as taking Jim Schrag’s place? Just unthinkable. (more…)

pink Menno campaign

NOTE: Read first before commenting:

This is a very very simple little post put up way back when only a couple dozen people have heard about Pink Menno (my, times have changed!) meant simply to announce its presence for YARers who might be interested.  If you want to actually find out about Pink Menno, go to pinkmenno.org.  If you want to talk to Pink Menno directly, you can email pinkmenno@gmail.com.  I think a number of people have found their way to this post because it’s pretty high up if you google “pink menno”, and it seems to have attracted some non-YAR people looking for a place to share their hellfire & pinkstone.   If that’s you, please see the YAR guidelines & required reading, as well as the sermon on the mount (especially the beatitudes) – Matthew 5. That said, some good discussion has also happened, so I’ll leave this post up.

original post (March 4, 2009):

If you’d like to do something to help the Mennonite church become more LGBT-friendly, check out the pink Menno campaign. We’re organizing an effort focused on the convention in Columbus this summer to start a lot of informal conversations with people and show that queers are already a central part of the church – and that most people probably know a lot of us already.  And that we’re really very friendly and good and Mennonite-y.

Baltimore’s Progressive Catholic Church

It would be unfair to label Saint Sebastian’s Independant Catholic Church a “gay church”. But it’d be unfair not to mention that, perhaps, they are very into the gay happenings in Baltimore and minister to the gay community. While I am sure that Pastor Flaherty would be disheartened to think that Saint Sebastians is only a church for the queer community, the community at large would probably reference it as “The gay church”. I find this sort of thing unfortunate.

I wound up here by means of an Emergent Village book group that meets in Baltimore. I met Assisting Priest Joan Stiles, a bleached blonde short-haired middle aged woman, while discussing Claiborne’s book Jesus for President. The group discussed much and varied in theological belief tremendously. Disagreement’s abounded. Surprisingly, no one argued. I learned about Joan, her Catholic past, her current priesthood and thought, surely, if there was anyone I would disagree with it was female priest at a pro-gay church. But Joan, like much of the world, was full of surprises. I found myself captivated with her outlook on our faith, her impression of God, her passion for Biblical authority.

A few months later the Reverend Flaherty, the Priest at Joan’s church, even came to the emergent church meetup group. A tall man, who dwarfs me, with long fingers, he strikes me as the sort of person who is easy to get along with. Perhaps that same young idealism that runs in all young people’s blood still runs in his. I found him quiet, questioning, firm in his convictions yet willing to hear others out. It’s hard to not like him. (more…)

Proposition Hate

Tuesday was quite the night. Like Celeste, I found my way to Grant Park (coveted tickets for the official campaign event in hand) and joined the crowd of a hundred thousand gathered to scream, cry, hug, and jump our way into a new spirit of hopefulness that is solidifying around us.

Besides Obama’s victory, there was another vote that meant a lot to me on Tuesday, and left a lingering bittersweetness to the otherwise perfect night: Proposition 8 amended the California constitution to define legal marriage as exclusive to opposite-sex couples, overturning the decision of the Supreme Court and ending the right of California same-sex couples to the legal protections of marriage for the near future.

Initial reaction: rage. I found someone who expressed this very very well:

Ultimately, though, rage against injustice must energize something else, something life-affirming.

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When will they update the 12 marks?

In class we’ve been studying a lot about New Monastics. Lots of good stuff that you can read about it in many places, some even on this blog. Since it’s a fluid movement, I was wondering when they are going to update, change, or adjust their 12 marks. I have some comments on a few, and I’m sure others do as well, so when is the next conference? Or do we just email somebody like Johnathan W-H?

I agree (in thought and action) with a lot of what is said in the 12 points and what I see in the daily lives of the community around me and my interaction with some of these folks. But my particular question is spurred with regards to mark 1, which says that they relocate to abandoned places of Empire.” Some think that I am doing the “new monastic thing…” I’m not sure about that, but I do know that I am in my home area…and it fits many of the descriptions, but it’s not abandoned by Empire. Or do they mean that it’s abandoned by Empire because no (or hardly any) white people live in the area? There is a beautiful organic culture here and I don’t want to discount that by saying it’s abandoned. I think it is important to affirm the initiative of persons rather than possibly falling into “white savior” complexes again. I see that many New Monastics are very aware of race and class dynamics, so I’m hoping that mark 1 can be articulated in a more antiracist way. (more…)

Jeremiah Wright and Black Liberation Theology

I was surprised to see that there was little discussion about the Jeremiah Wright controversy on this blog; perhaps because it is being discussed in every other forum available.

At any rate, if nothing else, the whole charade has produced a number of interesting responses; I was particularly struck by the series that NPR did on black liberation theology. I think it was a thoughtful way to approach the Jeremiah Wright scandal: they asked the question “where is he coming from?”, and set out to find the answer. If you are interested, I have linked below a number of radio pieces on black liberation theology, particularly interesting is the interview with James Cone, a founding thinker in the black liberation theology movement.

Black Liberation Theology, in its Founder’s Words

The Roots of Black Liberation Theology***

Religious Scholars Discuss Liberation Theology

Understanding Rev. Jeremiah Wright

And here is a great video of a Catholic priest who was stopped on the street by a Fox News team to question him about why he was having Rev. Wright speak at his parish. This priest then goes on to basically own the Fox News reporter and give one of the better interviews I’ve ever seen on Fox News.

Fox News Owned by Catholic Priest
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Mennonite Narratives on Heterosexual Privilege

Last Thursday, I had a conversation with a professor and a fellow student that gave me a window on the Mennonite narratives on heterosexual privilege. We had discussed Obama’s speech and white privilege in class. After class, I asked about heterosexual privilege. My prof and classmate both responded that a concept of heterosexual privilege “trivialized racism” since the sufferings of African-American are so embedded in our culture (I guess with the implication that the sufferings of LGBTers aren’t). My prof even claimed that the bans against single-sex marriage and other anti-sodomy laws were not persecution, but just limited the “freedom” of LGBTers.

This was a quick conversation in passing, so I didn’t really have my wits about me to respond. These are both caring, intelligent people who care deeply about social justice issues. Yet, for some reason, they don’t consider queers a persecuted group. I realize that I also don’t know yet enough about the history of this issue to be really comfortable about a response. However, after more reflection and conversation, I do have a couple of responses / observations —

  • I don’t think that my colleague’s response is really about “trivializing racism.” It’s about not defining the queer experience as a social justice issue. As soon as LGBT is defined as a social justice issue, then the Mennonite Church is on the wrong side of the issue. As long as we can keep this just about Scripture and not how Scripture has been used to persecute or block access to institutions, then the Mennonites can have it both ways — we can advocate for social justice and keep the gays out.
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Tired

A little while ago, I got an email from Tim relating to the latest poll. He wanted to know if I had any thoughts to share on the issue of gender balance and women’s participation in particular on YAR. This has been discussed some before on YAR but it continues to be an issue. This is pretty much what I sent him, but he’s currently out of the country and I felt compelled to share it now.

As many of you know, I used to write more and now I don’t at all. This is largely due to being back in school and spending a lot less time in front of my computer and thinking about being young, anabaptist, or radical. If I really wanted to, I could make time to read YAR more than I do, even comment and contribute.

But I got tired. I got tired of the same stupid discussions over and over with basically the same person (actually different people, but it started to feel so familiar). I got tired of watching my friends and allies get tired and burned out (sometimes they just got quieter, sometimes they gave up and walked away in frustration), I got tired of having to defend my own existence and belief to straight white men who, as a friend of mine so aptly described it, “come on the blog for a while and do the virtual equivalent of beating their chests and yelling.”* (more…)

Advice time! What should I know or do before going to Bolivia?

It looks like I’ll be spending some time in a different hemisphere before too long. Details aren’t finalized, but I think it’s safe to say I’ll be going to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for about four months starting in January. My church has been supporting an orphanage there for longer than I can remember. I’ve been hearing about this children’s home since I was 12 years old and seriously thought about going there at other decision points in my life. This time, I’m actually going and not just listing it in my options.

If we had smilies on YAR, I’d use the one where the character jumps up and down excitedly with a giant grin.

Since this will be my first trip to the Third Word—technically I was in central Jamaica when I was three, but I don’t remember it—I know I have a lot of mental work to do in the next two months. I can never be fully prepared. I expect to be changed a lot while I’m there. But there’s no reason I can’t start that personal process in the mean time.

What/who do my fellow YARs recommend I read, listen to, watch or talk to before I go? If you’ve been to Bolivia, or Santa Cruz, or even this orphanage (like Denver), what do you wish you would have known before you went? What should I pay close attention to while I’m there? What surprised you the most? What do you wish people would ask you about? (more…)