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.