In a different spirit

I wrote this yesterday before I read Angie’s post. Her thoughts on Dorothy Day and the church reflect very well my own thoughts. While Angie’s post is thoughtful, mine is angry. Maybe in a few days, I can manage thoughtful but for now, this is what I’ve got:

A Little Stunned

A couple days ago, as I was skimming through the Mennonite Weekly Review. I noticed this item on the front page. My immediate response was to roll my eyes and think, “well, they would wouldn’t they?” and I went on with my day. Now, the more I think about it, the saltier I get. Carol Oberholtzer, the chair of the conference’s Women in Leadership Subcommittee, said she “was a little stunned.” Well, I guess so. I mean, this is 2007, and they are having a vote on whether women can be ordained? LGBT people don’t have a chance there. Here’s what I have to say to all those “credentialed leaders” who took that vote: “well done, the church will be better for it.” No, I’m not just blaming the minority that voted against women and justice but all of them, and the rest of the Mennonite Church with them.

I’m left wondering why the Mennonite Church spends so much time scratching its collective head wondering: where are all the young folks? Well, maybe those young folk are scratching their heads wondering: why that vote fell short by less than one percent? Who are those 33.26% of credentialed leaders in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference who said “no thanks” to women’s gifts? Maybe they’re scratching their heads wondering: why do a bunch of men get to hold a vote in the first place (looking for a super-majority I might add) to see if women can be fully ordained pastors rather than just licensed partial pastors. Maybe they are scratching their heads wondering: why did the rest of the church fold to this conference’s demands to be allowed to discriminate at the time of the merger for the blessed “unity” of the church? They may be wondering: will the rest of the church have had enough yet or are they are still grasping onto the myth of “unity?” Thank God for this wonderful “unity” we have in the merged church. “Unity” just seems to be a codeword for “let’s keep the status quo because some powerful minority has held the church hostage.”

The funny thing about that “unity” is that it is false and it comes at the cost of some who aren’t fully allowed in. Does that “unity” apply to the women whose gifts were just “declined” by their own church? Does it apply to the current moderator-elect, Sharon Waltner? Or have her gifts and leadership also been “declined?” No, those women and others throughout the church were just told they are expendable for the “unity of the church.” “Unity” seems to be the reason we can’t have fair honest conversations about sexuality and equality for LGBT Mennonites. “The unity of the church” doesn’t seem to include some of the daughters and sons of the church. But we can’t talk about that, someone might get offended and leave, then where would our “unity” be?

Carol Oberholtzer also said “I don’t think it has quite set in what this means for our conference.” So, I’d love to hear what y’all think it means. Try to look past the rough edges of my post (it’s late and I’m a little salty) and post a comment on this. Are you rolling your eyes or are you pissed off? I’m reminded of that bumper sticker, “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” So, yeah, I’m angry, this is what my dissent looks like, it’s a little messy, a little radical even. The thing about dissent, you have to really care about the thing you are critiquing, otherwise, you’ll just give up on it and leave. It bothers me to see the church take two steps backwards and get a little less relevant. It bothers me because this is bad for the church.

Comments (8)

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  2. Melanie

    I belong to a church that is definitely impacted by this decision, and we’re going to be spending a lot of time processing this over the next weeks. Some people are angry and just want to leave the conference. Others are more cautious. It’s all tangled and complicated, not because we agree with the result of the vote or want to just give in . . . but because splits (potential splits?) are always messy.

    And the thing is . . . I know of at least one church where a bunch of the people supporting this decision are young folks. So this vote doesn’t make the church irrelevant for them; it might make them happier with the church.

    I’m not agreeing with the vote. And I’m not disagreeing with this post. At all. I just feel burdened by all these complications.

  3. eric

    Wow. Count me among those youth disillusioned (and dissolution-ed?) with organized religion. The amazing peace church has done it again.

    But to bring it back to GLBT issues (as you started to), put this together:

    The denominational guidelines – adopted in 1996 by MC USA’s predecessors, the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church – also state that “cultural/ethnic origin, race, class and gender are not criteria for determining who is acceptable for ordination.”

    From Mennonite Weekly Review

    I remember a time that some other congregations attempted to set their own guidelines, different from those of broader church. Those congregation were allowing GLBT members, and the church responded with harsh punitive measures. This time they whimper and take no action? those who are really concerned go as far as to have pained dialogs?

    where is the fiery wrath from on high this time? no need for anger, this time we have to remember that “equally sincere and faithful people understand Scripture differently.”

    I’m sorry, did I miss something? This is disgusting.

    Sure, I love community and consensus, moving forward in unity, but when is it just too damn big? When is the range of beliefs too broad to call it a church under one name? The Mennonite church split apart from Catholicism and then again from the other protestants over what main issue? infant baptism. Why do we suddenly now feel like unity is more important than anything else? Now we can watch the church exclude one group after another – years behind secular culture – and remain members ourselves for the sake of unity?

    Unity with who? Why? If we’re serious about that, why not just rejoin all the Christian churches of the world under one umbrella? Why not? Or even all the faiths of the world. Which beliefs are important enough for us to split over? baptism, sola scriptura, mustaches and buttons but not gender equality? Not GLBT equality?

    Shame on the entire Mennonite Church.

  4. Amy

    I attend a church where we were kicked out 10 years ago for being welcoming and affirming. So, I’ve been through the pissed off phase of this discussion.

    Yes, we have reason to be angry. The Mennonite church is not a place where all are welcome–yet. So, the choice is–take your marble and go home (the the UCC church maybe? My congregation talked about it for a minute…), or stay and be that annoying voice of reason.

    Being a church that accepts all of God’s people, my church makes other pastors and churches very uncomfortable. I was just at a pastor’s luncheon the other day, where the WASA (White Anglo Saxon Anabaptist!) ministers asked me several times, “How are you in Germantown?” in that worried, concerned-looking way. I was happy to report to them that our “out there” congregation is growing and that the spirit is moving with us. Our church is full of young people and babies. So there, pastors!

    Whatever choice y’all make, it impacts the future of the Mennonite church. Leaving sends a message, and so does staying, and being that annoying, persistant voice, working to change the Mennonite church, returning it to a true peace church.

  5. Curt

    I totally resonate with feeling stunned and then angry when I learned of the vote in Lancaster Conference. It is true that it is a culture and system that has produced much pain for women, particularly those who feel called to use their gifts in ministry.

    But I want to test another perspective with Katie and her readers here… When I get honest about this “love your enemy” stuff I have to remember the anger that I feel and the “caricature” I make up of the “men” who filled out their ballet with a no vote in Lancaster Conference fully convinced that the Bible tells them that in order to be faithful they needed to vote that way. I can psychoanalyze this caricature of a man and pass all kinds of judgments about him, judgments which I would find hurtful if someone did the same to me. I can dismiss his intellect and think of him only has dangerous and destructive to the community I love…At the honest bottom of things I think of him as enemy!

    So here is a new thought. What if Lancaster Conference, of which basically 2/3 wants to express the same inclusion of gifts from men and women, has quietly been doing some rather difficult peacemaking work in recent history? I mean these people have actually been committed to working with and being in process with their enemies in a way that most of the rest of us wouldn’t dream of doing. I put this out there simply because I often see Lancaster Conference lumped together as one big thing but from the results of the vote, it clearly is not!

    One more question. What do you think would happen in Lancaster Mennonite Conference if the thing in contention, “ordination” was temporarily and voluntarily laid down by the 2/3 of the men who voted to include women? A case could be made that the Biblical interpretation that produces the NO vote in Lancaster Conference also is being used to define what ordination means. If I was ordained in such a culture I would want to revisit what ordination means before deciding that it was something that could be used to define my role and calling.

  6. TimN

    What do you think would happen in Lancaster Mennonite Conference if the thing in contention, “ordination” was temporarily and voluntarily laid down by the 2/3 of the men who voted to include women?

    Fascinating challenge, Curt. I think there’s a seed of some creative action with real transformative potential there. Have you considered proposing this idea in a more visible venue where some Lancaster conference pastors might read it?

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