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We are dying

6.13. 2016 Written By: Jay (Jennifer) Yoder 7,335 Times read

Editor’s note (June 22, 2016): This submission from Jennifer Yoder was sent to us for consideration on June 13, the day after a mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., that claimed 49 lives and injured 53 others, most of them young, Latino and members of the LGBTQ community. This is considered the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States. In the Mennonite Church USA bylaws, one of the purposes outlined for The Mennonite is to serve as a forum for diverse Mennonite voices. We published this piece because we felt it represented a first-person perspective on the pain and lament being experienced by individuals within Mennonite Church USA in response to this tragic event. As with all opinion pieces, this piece does not represent the official perspective of Mennonite Church USA’s staff or Executive Board (You can read our roundup of  statements, including those from the MC USA EB and Executive Director here). Although comments on this article are now closed, you are always welcome to send feedback to me directly at or submit a letter to the editor or opinion piece for consideration. Hannah Heinzekehr, Executive Director, The Mennonite, Inc.

Jay (Jennifer) Yoder is the co-founder of Pink Menno, Communications & Engagement Director for Christian Peacemaker Teams, a sexual violence advocate with SNAP Anabaptist, and co-pastor of Pittsburgh Peace Church.

Yesterday, I woke up to celebrate a holiday honoring my community’s uprising against violence and oppression. Specifically queer and trans folk, many of them People of Color, fought back against police violence: arrests, beatings, and rape of queer and trans folks. They fought back at Stonewall Inn, and it was a riot, and it lasted for days. If you don’t know about it, look it up now. I’ll wait.

These days, Pride is often a mishmash of corporations looking for queer cash, rich white gay dudes looking to get richer, churches apologizing and loving queer folks, and our communities getting together to just be. In my queer and justice communities, we work to educate folks about Pride’s origins, and to always honor our queer elders. At Pittsburgh Peace Church, where I co-pastor, we’re planning a gathering next Sunday to honor our elders and talk about the ways that Jesus’s liberating love calls us to radical action for justice today. I had flyers ready to hand out as I marched in yesterday’s Pride parade, inviting people to attend PPC for this Pride gathering.

It was in this mindset that I rolled over in bed yesterday to grab my phone and post a Facebook Pride post. Instead, a Guardian headline on my homescreen caught my eye: 20 Dead in Mass Shooting at LGBT Bar in Orlando. I read frantically: at least 20 dead, and the toll later rose to 50. At least 40 in the hospital and injured (that total later rose to 53). It was Latin night. Latina drag queens were hosting and performing.

My initial reaction of “No. No, no, no.” quickly shifted to “Who do I know there?” I flipped through my queer communities in my mind. I sent out texts and FB messages. “Are you ok? What about your friends? What can I do? What do you need?”

Everyone was accounted for. No one was ok.

We humans are wired for connection; we’re wired to find and build communities where we belong. When our hearts are broken; when we need comfort and shelter in a storm, we turn to our communities. I turned to mine.

The most significant conversations I had yesterday were with my queer Mennonite community, with those in and out of the closet, with white folks and people of color, and many of us living with the lasting impacts of the trauma and violence the church has done to us: PTSD, depression, anxiety, permanently impacted lives from the violence of Mennonite Church USA.

For some of us, we’ve come close to death, looked suicide or addictions or self-harm right in their eyes, stared them down, and made it through somehow. My queer Mennonites and I, we reached, together, for explanations, for comfort, for meaning in our peace church’s theology, culture and denominational community.

What we found was the violence of the recent MC USA convention in Kansas City. What we found was decades-long firings and shunnings and shamings. What we found was a whispered history of rape, of suicide, of addiction, of Mennonites dying secretly in their homes of AIDs, their wives by their bedsides. What we found was forcing queer people of color to deny one piece of their identity so that they could be tokenized for another. What we found was preaching peace while ignoring violence and accountability. What we found was passing resolutions acknowledging that treating queer folks as less than full members of our Mennonite community results in us being targeted for sexual violence while *simultaneously* passing a resolution denying us full membership in the community.

Most of the times I don’t tell the hardest parts of my story publicly. Most of the time what I want you to know is that I’m whole and I’m happy and I’m not your sad broken queer story to be used.

Here’s what I want you to know today. We are dying, and you are killing us. We are dying, and you are killing us. We are dying, and you are killing us.

God forgive you. I’m not ready to.

The views expressed in this opinion post do not necessarily represent the official positions of The Mennonite, the board for The Mennonite, Inc., or Mennonite Church USA.

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29 Responses to “We are dying”

  1. Forrest Moyer says:

    Thank you, J., for speaking truth to power.

  2. Cindy Singer says:

    Thank-you Jay. Thank-you for your heart felt words. When we see hate of any kind in our churches it should be called out. If people did not see the hate at convention – people you had your eyes closed. We love you but don’t accept you needs to stop. It is hate. Love is unconditional. No conditions. Hate makes more hate like a string ball gathering more string it just grows. The church is not ok until everyone is unconditionally accepted. We’re not doing church, I don’t know what we’re doing but it’s not church. Stop killing my friends church.

  3. M. South says:

    A heavily armed Muslim supporter of ISIS murdered fifty or more at bar in Orlando over the weekend.

    Also in the same Orlando on Friday, a 22 year old Christian performer was gunned down at a club, specifically for her faith, by another one of these disaffected emissaries of Satan, this time specifically for being an evangelical Christian espousing historical Christianity. He intended to kill more of those in attendance but was thwarted by non-lethal quick action, whereupon he turned the weapon he intended to use further on others on himself and committed suicide.

    “Christian singer Christine Grimmie was shot three times by Kevin James Loibl of St. Petersburg, while she signed autographs following her performance at The Plaza Live in Orlando. Loibl then fatally shot himself after being tackled by Grimmie’s brother Marcus. Grimmie was taken to the Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical condition; she died early the following day. Police Chief John Mina later called Marcus Grimmie’s actions heroic and said they prevented additional loss of life there. The Orlando Police Department reported that Loibl did not have an arrest record in his home county, and did not appear to know Grimmie personally. A department spokesman said Loibl had traveled to Orlando to commit the crime; Loibl had brought with him two handguns, two extra magazines full of ammunition, and a hunting knife.”

    It may be jarring juxtaposition to equate that the homosexual club celebrants were also murdered for deeply felt beliefs (ISIS has claimed credit for killing American civilians in general because we are at war in the Middle East and this radical Islamist terrorist chose this particular group), but perhaps theirs could be called a religion, too, for which they were murdered. It is unjustified murder, but it ought to go without saying that all murder is unjustified, regardless of provocation. There is an argument to use deadly force, which stopped further murders in this case, but that is an argument Mennonites
    might wish to challenge. The person who overpowered the assailant at the other Orlando club didn’t use deadly force to do so.

    Jewish people, Muslims, Native Americans and others have also been murdered for their faith or ethnicity in this country.

    Dylan Roof entered a church and murdered the Christians who welcomed and sat with him.

    And reputable media have published editorials calling for physical violence against those who go to Republican meetings. When you beat people up, some of them die. Some have opined that Trump himself ought to be “subject to a Second Amendment remedy” – the legally veiled reference to subverting democracy through assassination.. I take it those are not Mennonite voices either.

    This isn’t about Mennonites murdering anyone. Believing that sin exists is not murder. Murder is the penultimate sin, second only to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, rejection of God’s call. The Jesus way to deal with sin, opposite from the world’s hatred and force, is for repentance, restoration, forgiveness and reconciliation. You do not lessen evil by instead doing more evil – return only good for evil. The way of revenge, whether by religion or personal vendetta, is an eye for an eye, until the whole world goes blind.

    And you do not lessen sin by pretending it is not. Like all attitudes, that spreads, is applied elsewhere, until individuals have very little self-control generally, believing themselves autonomous and free to make up their own morality and ethics – even in the matter of violence.

    The larger American society in general has mixed feelings about violence as redemptive, through long history and intensified by current imperial necessities to have the public support violent militarism and to make sure of a ready supply of young men without moral scruples about killing others if the offense is felt to be sufficiently grievous.. What happens when you believe in violence, and that as the Supreme Court Justice opined, that you are free to create your own understandings and reality, and then you decide you have a grievance, imagined or real? At what point is it justified, for a nation, or an individual/

    The moral underpinnings that have been loosed, unmoored society’s and individuals’ beliefs in ethical certainties, overturned during the tumultuous sixties, have unleashed a torrent of appetites, including that for violence. After the Summer of Love, Altamont.

    Despite all the revolutionary worldly rhetoric about peace, this is not a kinder, gentler America, but one with individuals and the nation more selfish than ever, at home and in the world it seeks to rule by force. What goes around, comes around.

    Even though Pink Menno believes the world has everything to teach the Church and the Church nothing to teach the world, it is the unChristian lessons society has taught well outside the Church that wreaked the tragic consequences of Orlando.

    • Pablo Honey says:

      Firstly, M. South, there is no evidence that Ms. Grimmy was murdered “because she was a Christian” unless you count her celebrity from Christian music performance that put her in the public spotlight therefore exposing her to deranged violent fans as causality. I wouldn’t. “Christians” aren’t truly persecuted in this country…our right to worship and practice our religion is not being infringed in the least bit. Many Christians complain that they cannot compel the government to allow or enforce the tenets of their very fractious and personal religious politics upon the greater population, or descry that their bigoted words and behaviors are rejected and challenged by others when inflicted upon the public, but this is simply discourse not persecution. When bands of militant atheists or Unitarian Universalists patrol the streets with automatic weapons and crystals in attempt to stop you from attending the church of your choice, then we can discuss religious persecution.

      Secondly, unless you are secretly homosexual and the unapologetic openness with which other queer folk live and love makes you feel disappointed in yourself no actual harm will come to you if you construe LGBTQ folk in terms of their humanity and not in terms of “sin”, whatever that means. If you’re not into same sex marriage or same sex sex, then THANK JESUS you live in North America and no one forces you to change your orientation and the dominant culture validates your lovestyle. If you suddenly appreciate Christ’s sacrifice and God’s love as a compassionate, inclusive, unconditional grace that includes humans who are different from you in very fundamental ways, that will not suddenly make you gay against your will. I promise.

      And finally, while you are correct that there are forces outside the auspices of MCUSA that contribute to massacres such as the one in Orlando, you forget that you are advocating for the exclusion of 10% of your membership on some fairly sketchy theological grounds and with the same bias, prejudice, and hatred that promulgates such institutions as slavery. You want to align yourself with those violent secular forces, those extremist non-Christian elements, those ignorant and regressive bigots that are the natural enemies of a pacifist, Christ-centered organization. It’s a ridiculous contradiction and it is how “you are killing us”….by pushing us out and aligning yourselves with ISIS, with the Taliban, with Westboro Baptist, with Trump, with warmongers, with racists, with sexists, with rapists, with the true sinners!

      But there is hope! God loves us all unconditionally, meets us where we are…even people like you, M. South. Even people like you. We might save you yet….

      • M. South says:

        … ” ‘sin’, whatever that means.”

        If yours is a religion that has no concept of sin, and rejects it, then it is not historical Christianity, nor is it faithful to or consistent with the New Testament. Of course you are fortunate that you can make up this new religion of “another Jesus,” and that no real Christian is going to hate you for it, nor either advocate or use violence against you. But the truth must be upheld, to state that this new revelation is far outside and contrary to the orthodox, historical tenets of the faith of all the two thousand years of Christian history.

        No amount of defamatory and accusatory language about “aligning yourselves with ISIS, with the Taliban, with Westboro Baptist, with Trump, with warmongers, with racists, with sexists, with rapists” can alter or obscure the truth of the scriptures and God’s Holy Spirit. Those are false accusations, bearing false witness – but since sin is an obsolete concept, even violation of what have become less than the Ten Suggestions may be of no consequence or interest.

        In fact, by the intensity of such expressed hatred, we have confirmed publicly what so many have experienced and reported during the “discernment” process of the congregations and conferences at variance with the church’s Confession of Faith, that those not in favor of the LGBTQI agenda are silenced, marginalized, insulted and driven from churches where leadership in favor of the LGBTQI agenda has come to dominate discourse. So much for forbearance, so much for the affirmation of the Confession. Neither resolution is being upheld in good faith by those seeking to overturn scriptural authority in favor of a new revelation driven by secular agendas outside the church.

        How very sad that when persons who believe in violence commit murder, who neither know Christ nor acknowledge Him, and have pledged allegiance to forces that are in fact AntiChrist, that the response is not to blame the perpetrator, but to instead demonize innocent Christians of a faith which in its former central beliefs rejected every practice or justification even for war conducted by governments under the deeply flawed Just War Theory, rejected conscription into killing organizations known as armies, and practiced this to such an extent that many were punished, imprisoned and martyred, even last century – and in many other places, to this day. There are political prisoners for peace like Norman Lowry right now. But perhaps ignorance of scripture now extends also to a complete lack of knowledge of church history, in favor of made up ideological useful “politically correct” narratives.

    • Kathy Shantz says:

      I always marvel at the posters at various Mennonite websites who seem to have so much to say on every issue. I have to wonder if they have day jobs. Anyway, just wanted to raise to your attention M. South that you could be wrong. And in the words of the great philosopher Homer Simpson: What if we picked the wrong religion, every week we’re just making God madder and madder?

      • M. South says:

        Homer (Matt Groening) may have a point.

        “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

        (Proverbs 1:7)
        (Proverbs 9:10)
        (Job 28:28)
        (Psalm 111:10)
        (Proverbs 30:3)
        (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
        (1 John 5:19)

  4. Caren Swanson says:

    Beautifully said Jay. Sending you love and light, particularly at this moment. I am blessed by your ministry and your friendship.

  5. Frank Trnka says:

    It comforts me to think that M. South is related to M. Butterfly and that the moniker is chosen as a supportive action towards the non-binary queer community. My suspicion, however, is that this is just a cover for a person who is not willing to publicly take responsibility for their comments.

    • M. South says:

      Madame Butterfly: Ironic to be compared to a child bride who converted to Christianity and was sexually abused by an American Naval Officer, betrayed, then forced to commit suicide.

      When argument fails, insult flails.

      • Kathy Shantz says:

        I could be wrong M. South but I think you have the wrong Butterfly. There is a difference between Madame Butterfly and M. Butterfly. Look it up, hint it’s not in the Bible.

        • M. South says:

          Someone does have the wrong butterfly.

          I do realize in addition to “Red Letter Christians,” there are “Dead Letter Christians” – those who take none of it seriously, not even the highlighted sections!

          Perhaps, those are, as the worm turns, more like “flutterbys.”

          Anyhow, thanks for the comment back. Thick skin should be a prerequisite for dissent!

  6. M Mullet says:

    Thank you, Jay, for from sharing from the heart. Hopefully, you’ll gain some comfort from the support you receive in this forum and elsewhere.

    As for M South… My advice for you is the same I would offer D Trump: keep talking. Keep expressing opinion as fact. Keep up the hyperbole (“sweat soaked professors” is one of my personal favorites of yours). Keep telling half the story. In this particular case, thank you for reinforcing Jay’s point through your dismissive and morally superior attitude.

    • M. South says:

      You have me confused with someone else, or are yourself confused, because even though “sweat soaked professors” is your favorite term, I’ve never used it. I’m sure I don’t even know what it means.

      Also you are definitely confused, when you have me confused with Donald Trump. I guess he’s the person you hate most right now, so if you take offense to what I say, then I become his stand in for a two minutes’ hate.. But that is more revealing of the accuser, than it is of the accused.

      Moreover, it’s the case that Donald Trump is an unlikely template; he doesn’t disapprove of any of the LGBTQI agenda. To the contrary, I heard he would welcome Bruce Jenner to one of his entertainment programs.

  7. Frank Lostaunau says:

    Thank You for the well written article.

  8. Keith says:

    Opinion or not, it is disappointing that this is printed in the official publication of MCUSA. It is further disappointing that this is an employee of the CPT organization. To suggest that the church is violent comparable to the horrific hatred of the Orlando shooter is . . . there are no words.

    • M. South says:

      And as the truth is further teased out, the mass murderer himself was a Pulse club patron for at least a year, and engaged continuously in at least gay sexting with others there. Like the 9/11 perpetrators before him, he enjoyed a libertine Florida lifestyle.

      Again, it’s not Mennonite Christians who adhere to our confessional faith who are the self-loathing homosexuals, (even if some of us have repented and been delivered, as with any sin) but likely the murderer himself. On the other hand, this deluded emissary of Satan considered several Disney venues for his mass murders in the name of ISIS. But like the San Bernadino ISIS terrorist who killed his own workmates, he settled on killing those he was most familiar with, which he found most convenient.

  9. If your worldview includes the belief that everyone not for me is against me, then Rev. Yoder’s essay is coherent.

    Thus, Mennonites who quote Genesis 2 and Matthew 19:4-5 join ISIS, Muslims and gun-nuts as accessories to the murder of those young men and women in Orlando.

    Yet along with Keith, I find it odd to read such a point-of-view in my denomination’s periodical. Aren’t we the Christians who resist the division of humanity into warring camps, who insist that in Messiah Jesus there is a third way?

    As for who beyond Omar Mateen is responsible for the Orlando atrocity, experience has taught me to pay close attention to the roles of agents of the U.S. government. Matten was employed for many years by a contractor with deep ties to covert U.S. “security” operations. The FBI had extensive contact with him, and according to media reports spied on his communications, kept him under surveillance and introduced him to confidential informants.

    Isn’t that the kind of thing the FBI is supposed to do? Yes; problem is, in an era where “terrorism” is the magic word that wins elections and makes people rich, the FBI repeatedly has used its investigatory powers to create threats, which it then “saves” us from. Was Mateen groomed for such a role?

    • M. South says:

      Berry, your COINTELPRO questions aren’t out of line, given our government’s covert involvement in the persecution of and questionable circumstances around Dr. King’s martyrdom. Those tactics then, fueled by pervasive and invasive technology, are now on steroids. No doubt many participating, like Snowden, have had good intentions, but that didn’t prevent the unwholesome unintended consequences, also known callously as collateral damage. Domestically, since CPT has strayed so far from original purpose, investigation into this would be a better use of their time, instead of biting the hand that provides their resources.

  10. Jeni Hiett Umble says:

    I’ve been wondering if the Mennonite Church will realize that its formal actions add to the atmosphere of hate and fear toward the Queer community. In light of the Pulse shootings, I think it is time to ask forgiveness for stigmatizing our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. It is time to welcome them into the church. It is time to welcome them into leadership. It is time to say: You are made in the image of God. You are beloved. You belong. We want to walk with you as followers of Jesus.

    Thank you, Jay, for saying what needs to be said.

  11. Chuck Friesen says:

    On Monday, June 13 I received the Brethren Newline statement in which leaders on the Church of the Brethren denominational staff released a statement responding to the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. Two quotes from the statement appear below with questions I would like answered by the staff?

    “Both the LGBTQ and Muslim communities are regularly the targets of hate.”
    And how do the official positions of the Mennonite and Brethren denominations contribute to this hate directed toward the LGBTQ community?

    “As followers of Jesus Christ, we must speak for those most vulnerable. LGBTQ brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors so often have been targeted by violence.”
    And how will the words and actions at this year’s annual conferences model this? And how do we treat congregations and conferences who are trying by word and action to do exactly this?

    • Linda Rosenblum says:

      And just how does remaining faithful to Scripture and calling our brothers to mercy and repentance exactly amount to violence and hate? No one believes that MCUSA or any other denomination condones, encourages or sits in apathy of violence and hate. Yet we are continually accused of such by the LGBTQ affirming folks of just that because we disagree on the meaning of Scripture. I too am quite disappointed that MCUSA would publish such inflammatory speech in an official publication.

      • M. South says:

        We hear a lot about the brotherhood of man (if that term hasn’t been dissed as cis) and all men being brothers.

        It may be so, but it does seem mostly to be the example of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac.

        As Christians who dedicate ourselves to try to live for the Lord, I don’t know that we can credibly claim most of the victimized gay bar patrons as our Christian brothers. The things that go on at those places, one would have to say, are those of people whose hearts at that moment are far from the Lord, and His praise is certainly not on their lips at that time. Nor are they living for Him. And that goes for any Christians who fell into temptation by celebrating hedonism there. There is a particularity about gay bars, bath houses and other accoutrements of a hedonistic lifestyle that is certainly a unique experience. But having had the experiences, I can’t call the Stonewall “uprising” a victory that was led by God’s Holy Spirit. Nor does it fit the definition that is supposed for “covenanted same sex relationships.” Such are the places for intoxication, by alcohol legally and other substances illegally, often “poppers,” and for the euphemism of “hookups,” which I can attest are of remarkably short duration and of notable promiscuity. All kinds of evil is conjured up thereby – including that which enchanted sexting Pulse patron Mateen – to mass murder what turns out to have been his own. Sexual violence is no stranger to gay relationships, unique to heterosexuals, and orders of magnitude more than that encountered among faithful Mennonites. And this particular violence was a hundredfold more violent than the usual.

        We don’t seek to hate alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, nor would we homosexual practitioners. Moreover, only murderers seek to kill, the most grievous of all sins.

        To the Christian, this abominable Orlando slaughter is even more tragic than it is for some others, because it means that all those lives are not only lost to themselves, but potentially to Christ as well.

  12. Frank Lostaunau says:

    Dear J…Thank You again for your thoughtful words. The mourning will continue worldwide.

    All are Welcome to share their loving thoughts.

    chili, puddy, & frank

  13. Jay Yoder says:

    Thank you for the love and support.

  14. John M says:

    Agree with Keith with added text: “To suggest that the [current Mennonite] church is [actively] violent comparable to the horrific hatred of the Orlando shooter is . . . there are no words.”

  15. I am so sorry. I am a relatively new Mennonite, but I’m fairly certain I’ve been complicit in a hundred ways, in a thousand different places. I’m so, so sorry. <3