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Our loss

8.25. 2016 Written By: Joanna Harader 1,986 read

Joanna Harader is Pastor of Peace Mennonite Church, Lawrence, Kansas. 

My friend Sarah is a phenomenal writer and preacher. She considered going to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.* They told her they would not be able to grant her an MDiv if she was “in a relationship” with another woman.* Since she didn’t want to be “in a relationship” with a man, she decided to go to Vanderbilt instead.

My friend Randy is a gifted musician. He served on the committee that put together our most recent Mennonite song books. Then he married the man he loved. Then he was kicked off of the music committee. Then he left the Mennonite church and went to Yale Divinity School.

My friend Shan is the most vibrant, pastoral person I know. She loves Jesus a lot and decided she needed to leave the Unity church and join a Christian denomination. I wanted to say, “Please, please, please, be Mennonite! It’s a wonderful church and we love Jesus and we love people and we sing really well!” But I didn’t say any of that because I feared the questions that would come from the ordination panel when they realized she has a wife. I feared the emails and letters she would get from complete strangers.

Many of us within Mennonite Church USA are painfully aware of the ways our denomination pushes out LGBTQ people. I often hear impassioned pleas from justice-minded Mennonites begging the institution to stop oppressing the LGBTQ Christians in our midst. Yes, I often make those pleas myself.

We proclaim the injustice of it all: it’s not fair that Isaac Villegas’ credentials are suspended because he officiated a same-sex wedding; it’s not fair that Theda Good is still not ordained just because her spouse is female. It’s not fair that our national office will not process the ministerial information of people known to be in a same-sex relationship.

“Stop hurting LGBTQ Christians!” we say. “Let justice roll down!” we proclaim. And then we feel very prophetic and justicey and righteously offended on behalf of all the poor oppressed gays and lesbians and trans/gender queer Mennonites of the world.

Which is O.K. As far as it goes.

It is true that our church has deeply wounded and continues to wound many people: LGBTQ people, their family members, their allies. It is true that our church, which is supposedly committed to peace and justice, is doing spiritual violence and perpetuating injustice. All true.

But moving our denomination to an unqualified affirmation of LGBTQ people is not only a matter of doing peace and justice like good Christians should. It is also a matter of church growth, spiritual vibrancy, and even denominational survival.

MCUSA’s current policies and attitudes deprive our church of some of the most gifted writers, preachers, musicians, pastors, teachers . . . butchers, bakers, candlestick makers. We can never know the extent to which our anti-gay doctrines and policies have diminished the life of our churches. We are all poorer for the sermons we will not hear, the songs we will not sing, the prayers that will not be prayed over us because of the preachers and singers and pray-ers we have excluded.

Those of us within the Mennonite church are suffering.

My friend Sarah, though is doing fine. Great, actually. Last month she began as pastor of a Disciples of Christ Church. Randy was ordained in the Unitarian Universalist church last month. Shan pastors a little United Church of Christ—where they absolutely adore her. It seems the Holy Spirit still dwells with each of them, even outside the blessed fellowship of the Mennonite church.

As long as we fail to receive and celebrate the gifts that our LGBTQ siblings long to share with us, we deny the full working of the Holy Spirit in our church. Every time an LGBTQ person is forced out of the church—or not welcomed in to begin with—it is our loss. Our deep and profound loss.

*Response from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary: While Harader doesn’t offer a date, the admissions policy she refers to in her comment about Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) was likely from before 2008. In 2008 the board changed the policy to read, “Gender, marital status, and sexual orientation are not criteria for admission to or completion of any degree program at AMBS.” AMBS’s current statement on admissions reads, “AMBS will make decisions regarding admission to study at AMBS without discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, physical disability, national or ethnic origin, gender, and sexual orientation.”

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2 Responses to “Our loss”

  1. Yes, inspired and talented people have left our circle of congregations because of our understanding of sexuality.

    But wait, we’ve experienced equally painful losses because of our understanding of military service, our ambivalence about wealth, our penchant for nonconformity, the authenticity (and sometimes in-grown character) of our fellowships. Just think of all we’ve lost by being so stubbornly Mennonite!

    So it seems our gifts as a church are also our liabilities, certainly in a marketing sense and sometimes in a deeper and more spiritual sense too.

    Yes, it’s tempting to think this is terribly unnecessary. We can rise above the limits of a giftedness that excludes; we can declare love to be our gift and let everything else take care of itself.

    Or, in all humility, we can admit the wisdom we have received in all of these controversial matters is for the peace of the world. This wisdom is flawed, to be sure. It creates an abundance of knotty dilemmas and shows us to be as imperfect as the next church down the road. But the peace of the world is a very big agenda; in our finitude, we cannot fully comprehend it. We give what we have received, seeking always to do so with more compassion and grace.

  2. Conrad Martin says:

    There are stories in the Bible where a standard for following Jesus was established and persons welcomed to join, but alas they decided not too and went away sad (eg. the story of the rich young ruler). Was it a loss for the kingdom not to have them in it, sure. Was the church weaker because they chose another path, maybe; but the standards for following Jesus into the kingdom are not to be compromised. Jesus didn’t follow up with the rich young ruler by saying, please stay, I was only joking.

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