Dear Willard Metzger and Mennonite Church Canada,
Over the past few months, I have come to embrace my identity as a queer Mennonite. However I am still in the process of coming out to my larger circle, and I trust you and the BFC committee to respect my confidentiality in this matter.
The Mennonite Church was essentially silent with regards to sexuality as I was growing up. In conversations with others, both heterosexual and LGBTQ+, I have found common threads of shame and confusion. For years I struggled with feelings of shame in relation to my sexuality, though I was too afraid and ill-informed to put words to my feelings. It was only after becoming more independent and moving away from home that I was able to acknowledge my identity, which is fortunate, as in high school, I would have felt trapped and unable to access resources. I wouldn’t have felt safe to come out. I am learning to love myself, and after months of prayer, conversation, and research, identify as queer—someone who falls outside of the hetero and cis identities society presupposes. My prayer is that the church can open itself to talk openly about sexuality, so that kids and teens today, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, won’t have to hide in shame or wait until they are adults to discover a beautiful aspect of themselves.
Thus, I write to you not to talk about some other group of people, outside of the Mennonite Church, theoretical and distant. I write to you as someone very much in love with the Mennonite Church, but also very frustrated with the narrative I see playing out. I am queer. I am the people of whom you speak. LGBTQ+ people are very much present within the Mennonite community, either currently (whether covertly or out in the open), or within the church’s history, having left because they do not feel welcomed. It is not acceptable to continue to silence our voices, ignore our pleas, and constrain or even ignore our identities. LGBTQ+ people are not some outside group, even if that is the place that has been allotted to us. It is not a matter of “the church” versus “those people.” We are the church! We are all the church, and we need to move away from oppressive social structures which erase the identities of some of our members and move to a place in which the church does not merely tolerate, but openly accepts, includes, and loves even its minority members.
I love the idea of the Mennonite Church. The belief in non-violence, active pacifism, reconciliation, love, and inclusion. But “everyone” needs to actually include everyone! Jesus didn’t rebuke or shun those on the margins. He rebuked those who rejected those on the margins, and sat down to eat with people in the minority. I am frustrated with the slowness of our church to realize the vision of the early church. Mennonites love reconciliation, but not among ourselves. We love to bring healing to other people, but we are scared to dialogue in our own churches and denomination. Mennonites don’t like to rock the boat; it is easier to let discontent and disagreement ferment under the surface until the rift becomes too great and we divide rather than mend. We need to actively practice reconciliation as a church.
An area where I see a failure to live out the fullest expression of Christ’s love is the Being a Faithful Church process and documentation. I call upon the BFC committee, and Mennonite Church Canada to consider the following concerns with an open heart:
- I am frustrated and saddened with the timidity of the proposal. I believed that the church was further along than to say “that we do not have an appetite to change the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” (BFC7:1). Many people, myself included, are placing their hope for a more inclusive future in this decision; many are thirsting for change. Several churches and individuals within our denomination celebrate the sanctity of covenanted and committed LGBTQ+ relationships, and believe that God’s blessing is not constricted to hetero-cis individuals. The current Confession of Faith does not represent these voices, and it is important that the wording in the document reflects that our church is not unified in the belief that “God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life” (Confession of Faith, Article 19).
- First of all, the church practices hypocrisy in applying this statement to the exclusion of LGBTQ+ marriages, but not to couples who divorce. I say this not to cast a value judgement on divorce, but to call out the inherent flaw in judging LGBTQ+ relationships more harshly than divorce.
- Secondly, sex and gender cannot be divided into the binary of “woman” and “man.” Some people are born intersex, or do not fulfill all the biologic and genetic criteria to fit one sex. Gender expression is a societal construct with no clear boundaries. Thus, to use binaries to define people erases the identities of many individuals.
- The document uses the phrase “same-sex attraction” to describe the experience and identity of LGBTQ+ individuals. This phrase does not accurately represent the LGBTQ+ community or their preferred words for identification.
- The phrase “same-sex attraction” was popularized by people in the ex-gay movement who wanted to remove LGBTQ+ identities and instead label people as suffering from the temptation or sin of same-sex attraction. The LGBTQ+ community should be addressed using their preferred identifiers, not with language that makes people outside these identities more comfortable.
- The phrase also suggests that LGBTQ+ individuals are all attracted to people of the same sex. As previously mentioned, sex and gender are fluid, and this phrasing ignores those who are attracted to multiple genders, or who do not identify within the gender binary. It also places emphasis on sexual identity, when LGBTQ+ people are much more than their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even though the concern with Article 19 in the Confession of Faith deals with marriage, all members of the LGBTQ+ community should be welcomed to the church, regardless of marital status or identity.
I ask that the Church reconsider their commitment to the current wording in the Confession of Faith, and that the wording of the BFC documents be changed to reflect the diverse identities of the LGBTQ+ community, in a way that respects our preferred terms of identification.
The BFC process is only the most recent program of a thirty year process. The Mennonite Church has been talking about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church since 1986. It’s time to stop limiting our expression of God’s unlimited love and extend what has been freely given to all people! It is time for the church to start acting like the church! I urge you to consider the following points regarding the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ Mennonites:
- The Church needs to show God’s unlimited love to all instead of placing human limitations on that Love. This means making the church a safe place for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, or any other superficial characteristics.
- The Church needs to include all people as active members of the church, able to use their unique gifts and talents, and pursue calls to ministry. Personally, I have been encouraged many times to pursue pastoral ministry. Why should this change when my orientation is something other than “straight”? I have always been queer, even if it is only recently that I have been able to attach a specific word to my feelings. Thus, I have already preached as a queer person and been encouraged in that calling!
- The Church needs to work for healing and reconciliation where bonds were severed, societal assumptions were made, and proclamations made against LGBTQ+ people. Whether through explicit discrimination and judgement, or through complacent silence, Mennonites have caused the LGBTQ+ community harm and allowed that hurt to continue. Services of reconciliation and grieving of past harms could help to heal our Church communities.
- The Church needs to move forward with respect, engaging in conversation with LGBTQ+ individuals. Why is my discernment, and the discernment of other LGBTQ+ Christians, not valid at the same level as the voices which cry “sinner!”? Many of us have come from places of extreme pain, and have earnestly sought God’s guidance in this area of our lives. I understand and respect that many people have searched equally fervently, and come to a different conclusion. However, many voices have parroted what they have been told the right interpretation is, without actively discerning for themselves. Through careful discernment, people have come to varying conclusions. Why do we assume that one interpretation, based off of uncertain and widely debated translations of ancient Greek, is the right one, simply because it has the popular vote or has been touted in recent days? Jesus was a champion of minorities, and called out those who persecuted the outcasts. The church needs to hear the voices of minorities who have walked with Jesus and found a welcoming companion.
- Because we do not all agree, our documentation needs to at least reflect that we are a church in turmoil. Continuing to state that we believe in one definition of marriage excludes all members of the church—both LGBTQ+ and not—who do not hold this belief. As Jesus stood up for people on the margins of society, our words need to reflect the rights of the minority group.
- It does not just do to say, “We are a welcoming church.” We are not a homogenous group inviting in the outsider; many of our members are LGBTQ+. Thus we need to express that “We are a diverse community of people with a variety of backgrounds, identities, and orientations.” To ignore this is to cut people out of the church! We need to then be that community for all people, showing our faith through our love for all people. We all make up the body of Christ, and I encourage you to consider the following excerpt from 1 Corinthians 12, and to read the entire chapter at length: “19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this” (1 Corinthians 12:19-24). We need the entire body of Christ; not to sever a part of that body.
Mennonites believe that “[i]n individual and communal worship, the Holy Spirit is present, leading us deeper into the wisdom of God” (Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 18). In my faith journey, I have constantly struggled with the dissonance between literalism and interpretation, logic and faith, written word and Spirit. A close friend once told me that it is appropriate and healthy to approach faith, God, and Biblical interpretation from a logical perspective. However, she also emphasized that to rely solely on rational thought is to limit the ability of God to speak into our lives today. The Holy Spirit was sent to “guide [us] into all the truth” (John 16:13, NRSV), and it is only when we are open to the Spirit’s guidance, rather than repeating what we have been taught without question, that we can experience a growing and authentic faith.
I have cried out to God in my darkest hours, and felt God saying that I am loved. That I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a God whose “eyes beheld my unformed substance” (Psalm 139:14-16, NRSV). God created us with intention to be relational beings. God created us to love each other, and to love the One who is Love. Genesis says that it is not good for us to be alone, and that we seek partners to walk with us. How can we as humans limit a creative God who doesn’t make mistakes on what that love can look like? Science now supports the fact that sexual orientations and gender identities are inherent to at least some extent. I do not believe that a God who is Love would make something so core to a human’s identity, so integral to the way they express and experience love, in such a way that some people are predisposed to be excluded from that love if they desire a committed marital relationship. Many, many people have come to the same conclusion, and it is time for the church to celebrate all sexual orientations, gender identities, and relationships. We need to listen to the prophetic voices of our time which call the Church to reconsider and extend the Love of God as far as God extends it.
I am saddened and scared that a future relationship of myself or others may not be blessed by the church that I love. I am speaking out because I cannot be complacent any longer. I love and share many of the church’s beliefs, and seek to live in a way that follows Christ’s call in my life. Right now, that call is telling me to speak up and challenge the church’s discrimination. Jesus called out the Pharisees who cast judgement against those on the outside. Regardless of theological perspective on the sanctity of LGBTQ+ marriage, it makes no sense for the church to dwell on this one attribute above all others. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”—it would be wise for the church to consider Jesus’ words as we deal with our different perspectives.
It is scary for me to speak out. However, my personal comfort is less important than the rights of my LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ. I say the same thing to people who are uncomfortable with LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. Your personal comfort is not our concern; the rights of people on the fringes are. Many have discerned and feel the Mennonite Church is ready for change. It is time to embrace all people, and I plead with you to consider the many people the BFC decision affects. The pain can stop here; future generations can feel safe and celebrated. LGBTQ+ people are here to stay. We are the church. We will not be silent.