Bill C-16: A Lament and a Call to Action

I had this poem cross-posted on mennoQmunity for maximum reach. Check out their blog—they have a lot of neat stuff happening at the intersection of queerness and faith.

I also can’t format my poetry properly on WordPress, so if you’d like the original format or would like to print it off, here it is in PDF: Bill C-16: A Lament and a Call to Action


Do you know what it feels like to have your very existence constantly up for public debate?
If you don’t, please, listen closely.
If you do, I am so sorry—
Feel free to come and find commiseration.
Feel free to leave if reliving this pain is too much right now.
But if you don’t know what it feels like to be trans, I implore you to listen!

Bill C-16 is currently in its second sitting in the senate.
It would add gender identity and gender expression to the protected classes in the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the Criminal Code.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t?
Apparently protecting a vulnerable group of people is too much to ask if our existence makes you uncomfortable.

How is this even up for debate?
In 2015, after three years of being eviscerated until the remnants were meaningless, a similar bill died in the senate,
Victim to the lie that trans peoples’ safety is less important than cis peoples’
That trans people having the same rights as cis people will endanger society.

Two years later, another bill offers protection,
Offers to help heal this wound.
Yet the accusations and fear-mongering have come back once more:
Your pronouns are plural; they’re not even real!
Men will sneak into women’s bathrooms!
You are betraying the feminist cause!

These sentiments never disappeared;
They just lingered under the surface for a while—
Lies that are easy to ignore if they aren’t about you
Lies trans people can’t escape from hearing.

This conversation keeps on coming back in different iterations,
Like Mozart’s Variations on a Common Theme,
Like Pachelbel’s Canon coming back to haunt our music decade after decade.

But it seems cruel to music that I would even use such an unflattering metaphor to describe how
The demonization of trans people
Of trans bodies
Keeps cropping up like a sludge you can never clear away,
Burrowing into our psyches like mould
Innocuous in appearance until you realize that
The tendrils have dug in deep under the surface,
Spoiling something that once was pure,
Villainizing the innocent.

Even fellow members of the trans community criticise each other, and I learn that
I am indecisive.
I should choose a side.
Non-binary identities are invalid.

This has been brought up in the Senate:
“The transgender community… believes there are only two genders… yet, seventy-plus genders will be included in this bill.”

The problem is,
They only talked to a small group within the trans population,
Science corroborates that gender and sex are not binaries,
And gender identity and expression also impact people who don’t identify as trans.

Does my having rights,
in addition to your having rights,
somehow diminish your rights?

Jordan Peterson has stirred up fear that this bill heralds the end of free speech,
That he could be jailed for not using my pronouns,
That his rights are on trial here.

This lie, too, has entered the Senate debate:
“This bill compels speech. It doesn’t just work against freedom of speech. It actually compels certain speech.”

Some facts:
This bill protects people from genocide and
From having hatred incited against them
It extends the same protections for people on the basis of gender identity and expression
As are extended on the basis of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”

Exhale.

These are not “special protections.”
These are basic human rights.

Every human deserves to live free from fear for their safety
Free from having their humanity diminished
Free from being a constant representative of an entire group of people,
From constant analysis and scrutiny and judgement.

But this bill does not guarantee these rights for trans people.

It just guarantees that it will be a specific crime to encourage genocide or incite hatred against us.

There are even protections in place for you:
If your hate speech is
Stating a truth,
Part of public debate, or
Part of your religious doctrine
You are protected from prosecution.

Intentionally misgendering someone
Intentionally using the wrong pronouns

These are acts of violence.

But you are within your rights to attack our dignity.

In the last year,
More than a third of trans youth have attempted suicide,
Almost two-thirds of us have self-harmed,
Over two-thirds of trans people are homeless, unemployed, or underemployed,

And you’re worried about losing your right to disparage us?

This bill is just trying to ensure that
All people really are equal before the law.

There is still a long way to go before this will ring true
Before all trans Canadians actually have access to basic human rights.

Basically, this bill enables the government to collect stats on hate crimes towards trans folks.

Is that too much to ask?

Your right to continue speculating about my gender,
To continue ignoring my pronouns,
To continue being unaffected by my pain,

Will still far outweigh my right to feel safe in society,
To feel respected and dignified,
To not worry about my existence.

Tell me, whose rights are in jeopardy?

In all the talk around Bill C-16,
In which Jordan Peterson’s voice has been elevated louder than all others,
Drowning out the cries of trans people for justice,
I have yet to hear a Mennonite individual or organization speak up.

Maybe I missed it;
I’m not the only trans Mennonite.

But I lament that in all the conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ inclusion,
You only really talk about the L and the G.
Your concern that two people who love each other,
but don’t fit your vision of Family—
that they could create something beautiful
This concern dominates the conversation,

Burying the identities and concerns of
trans Mennonites
bi Mennonites
queer Mennonites
intersex Mennonites
ace Mennonites.

Yes, we do exist
And we need you to hear us.

Jesus said to love your neighbour.
I guess I missed the part where he qualified that statement.
Love your neighbour—so long as they agree with you.
Love your neighbour—provided their existence doesn’t make you uncomfortable.

Even if you disagree with us,
Even if you think that we are somehow misguided,

When we are telling you over and over again that we don’t feel loved
That your words and actions are making us afraid
That your rhetoric is painful
That your decisions are literally killing some of us, especially trans women of colour

Isn’t it time to reconsider?

Jesus also said that if someone asks for bread you shouldn’t give them a stone
Yet you are trading fish for snakes and eggs for scorpions.

You are hurting me.

I am frustrated and hurt that you don’t know I exist
Frustrated and hurt that even in my affirming congregation,
I don’t feel safe enough to be out.

I’m tired of people using the wrong pronouns
Tired of limiting my out-ness and gender expression
Tired of being afraid.

I’m mostly feeling frustrated, hurt, and exhausted when it comes to the church.

It is exhausting to be trans, and to be trans within the church.
I’m tired of constantly thinking about my identity
Tired of trying to figure it out for myself
of worrying about coming out or being outed
of wondering what people think of me
Frustrated that this “issue” is the main thing I think about

That my existence can be reduced to an “issue.”

I have other interests; I have school!

If the church really wants to exhibit the love and justice of Jesus,
You’ll make the church a safe place for humanity to authentically be
So that trans people have energy to live life, form relationships,
and contribute to the church.

Stop hurting us.

If you hurt a member of the church, you hurt the body,

And trans people are the church.


Please help improve the lives of trans people in Canada by writing to or telephoning your senator and asking them to vote for Bill C-16. You can read this article to learn more.


The song for today is a song of lament by fellow Mennonite, Phil Campbell Enns. It’s called How Long. You can listen to it here and find lyrics, chords, and music here (in a long list of his songs, which are pretty great).

Guest Post: The Music of “World of Shadows”

As promised, here is Emily Rachelle’s guest post about the music she listened to while writing World of Shadows. I encourage you to read my review from last week, visit Emily Rachelle Writes, and purchase the book on Amazon.


When I write a book, I always have a playlist to go with it. Here are some of the tracks on my playlist for World of Shadows:

Like any faithful Disney fan, I love the soundtrack from their Beauty and the Beast. But not many of those songs really fit with my own story. I did listen to the classic “Beauty and the Beast” as well as “Something There.”

One of my absolute favorite songs while working on this novel was actually an obscure instrumental piece I found while doing historical research. It’s called “French Renaissance Lute Branle.” I’ve listened to this one on repeat for hours while working on scenes in the tunnels. It’s very relaxing.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge one of the biggest influences on my work. I know there are quite a few similarities between the fantastic show Beauty and the Beast from the 80s and my own Beauty and the Beast story. I’m pretty sure I saw this show after writing most of my first draft, although it’s been so long I don’t remember completely. There’s been a reboot of the show running for a few years now with an Asian heroine and a modern genetic-experiment twist. I watched the first two seasons; it’s romantic and full of action, but it lacks the magic of the original.

Anyway, the songs from this show that most spoke to my work included the suite from the episode “To Reign in Hell,” the score “Labyrinth,” and “Though Lovers Be Lost” from one of the most controversial episodes on the show.

There were also several modern tracks that connected with me while working on World of Shadows. I love “Demons” and “Monster” by Imagine Dragons. The mysterious aura of the characters and world in my story also fit well with “Riddle” by Mindy Gledhill.

Beila’s place in the tunnel world seemed best connected with “Mercy” and “Come Home” by One Republic.

The emotional setting and tempo of the book were perfectly embodied in Jennifer Thomas’ instrumental work “Illumination” and William Joseph’s “Stella’s Theme.”

The perseverance required of Beila as the book progresses, especially emotionally, was expressed well in Jayesslee’s cover of “I Won’t Give Up.”

On a romantic note, I frequently listened to “I Will Always Return” by Bryan Adams. I adored his work on Spirit as a kid. As cliched as it is, I enjoyed “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri. A lesser-known favorite of mine is “Sunshine” by Lucas Grabeel, an actor from Switched at Birth. Finally, “All About Your Heart” by Mindy Gledhill is just beautiful.

 

World of Shadows: Book Review

world-of-shadows-coverFairy tales are stories of wonder and magic, but they are also stories of life. Emerging author Emily Rachelle pulls these elements together beautifully in her first novel, World of Shadows. World of Shadows chronicles the adventures of Beila, a teenage girl whose nightmares begin to intersect with reality until she is pulled into the land of her dreams. The lines between dream and reality blur as she navigates her interconnected, yet multifarious lives.

This novel is a stunningly expanded adaptation of the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast. While in some renditions of the story, readers are left questioning the validity of the message that a pure woman’s love can change an abusive man, the complexity of Rachelle’s characters and their motivations provide an effective exploration of good and evil beyond a simple, dichotomized paradigm. She also incorporates many depictions of love within families, friendships, and broader communities, so that romantic love is not the primary motivator or manifestation of love within the story.

While certain plot points felt predictable, Rachelle’s descriptive writing style and use of detail maintained suspense throughout the book. The story is beautifully told, with writing full of imagery to describe scene and emotion, and Rachelle’s gift for fantasy storytelling was evident as I was pulled into this story. Besides a couple of times where I was unsure of the significance of a particular detail, Rachelle’s storytelling method is very interconnected, employing foreshadowing, satisfying character development, and imaginative world-building.

Like all good fairy tales, World of Shadows explores various important themes, including love, truth, and memory. When Beila recalls her childhood, she says that “[t]he memories come up in [her] mind like driftwood bobbing up on the ocean’s surface” (18). This idea of submerged memories recurs throughout the book as Beila works to uncover her truth and how it intersects with the truths around her.

These truths, while sometimes containing joyous elements, are often painful to uncover. When Beila is afraid to acknowledge a particularly gruesome truth, she is told, “Sweetheart, sometimes the truth isn’t pretty. It’s not clean or friendly. But it is truth nonetheless, and it must be faced and grasped” (232). Beila’s responses to the many distressing narratives throughout the book remind the reader that confronting pain is often the first step to healing.

A good fairy tale is at once familiar and eye-opening, and Emily Rachelle’s World of Shadows definitely satisfies on both accounts. With a cast of empathetic characters, a full set of emotions and virtues, and a believable world with a generous sprinkling of magical imagination and wonder, this book will enthrall you fellow lovers of fairy tales, and could even convert a few critics.


Launched on December 11th, 2016, Emily Rachelle’s World of Shadows is available for purchase on Amazon as a Kindle or paperback! Check out her blog, Emily Rachelle Writes for more amazing writing. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to review her book and look forward to hosting a guest post on December 20th, where she’ll talk about some songs from her book-writing playlist!

Day 1: Keeping watch, speaking out (fuck/rend)

“Therefore, you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” ~Matthew 24:44 (NRSV)


I have always struggled with the apocalyptic and Revelation texts within the Bible. They are too violent, too full of fear, and too often used to terrify people into seeking salvation. I often ignore these texts because I don’t know what to do with them. They bring up painful memories of damaging ideologies involving guilt and hell which I was exposed to in my childhood and adolescence, and this guilt digs its claws into my mind, waiting to interfere when I work to reimagine my faith.

This first reflection was one of the few times I have seen one of these texts in a new light. Throughout Matthew 24, Jesus instructs his listeners to keep watch, to prepare for the unknown coming of the Lord at “the end of the age.” Though I tend to imagine Revelation images of beasts and horror, when I reflected on this passage with today’s reflection words (fuck/rend), I saw a different idea of what it means to keep watch.

My reaction to an imminent second coming is two-fold. On one hand, I am terrified and selfish, thinking of all the things I want to do—learn more, travel, write, fall in love… Yet at the same time, I recognize that my future won’t be the fulfillment of “the American Dream.” We are hurting the world and our lives will change, with or without our consent. In my lament, words often feel inadequate to express my frustration. A grieving mantra of “fuck” can release some pent-up pain. In these times, I want to cry out, “God! Just come now!”

There is so much pain and hatred in the world, and we have seen innumerable, horrible manifestations of this throughout this past year: the vitriolic US election and its aftermath, war in Syria leading to unimaginable violence and ghetto conditions, police aggression and illegal torture of the Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock…

The world is a mess; it’s all fucked up. Just come and rend the pain, the horror, the hatred. Strip it clean. Make us new.

In all of this, it is easy to grow despondent, to want to say “fuck this” and not care anymore. But I cannot stop caring for my fellow humans and for the earth. My faith calls me to work for justice for all creation.

My dad has an interesting theory about the “second coming” that really resonates with me. He says that it has already occurred, at least in part. At Pentecost, shortly after Jesus left the earth, God came again in the Holy Spirit to dwell on earth—God in us, and us in God. In this vision of building the kingdom of God on earth, part of keeping watch is living in this tension of fear and expectation. Instead of waiting for some future time, watching the sky for signs of a descending Deity, we keep watch on the world.

Jesus calls his followers “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). As followers of Jesus, we must live into the call to be prophetic voices for justice in an aching world. To tangibly demonstrate our words with our actions. To live in right relationship with each other and with the earth, knowing that, whether God has already “come again” or whether that is still to come, the God who is Love is here with us and in us, and we are with God and live in God.

So let us keep watch as prophetic people living in the “now” of God’s presence here on earth. This vision of keeping watch isn’t the guilt-driven “oh, fuck,” but the active “fuck this!” Fuck the pain and sin and hatred. Fuck the guilt and fear-mongering. Fuck injustice.

We will keep watch.

We will speak out when our watch sees injustice.

We will work to rend the injustice and work for a new kingdom on earth.


How can we be silent is a beautiful, prophetic hymn by Michael Mahler. You can find all the words here, and can listen to the song here. This recording demonstrates the Mennonite tendency to slow the tempo; I’d recommend taking it a titch faster.

How can we be silent when we know our God is near,
Bringing light to those in darkness, to the worthless, endless worth?
How can we be silent when we are the voice of Christ,
Speaking justice to the nations, breathing love to all the earth?

None can stop the Spirit
Burning now inside us.
We will shape the future.
We will not be silent!

 

Not Queer Enough for your Non-Binary

“Too queer for your binary.” This is a common phrase used by the non-binary and gender non-conforming community to protest against the enforcement of the binary gender system and to celebrate our queerness. I love the sassiness of this sentiment that says, “We are here and we’ll make our own lack of rules, thanks!”

However, in spite of my identifying as queer and non-binary, I often find that I feel awkward vocalizing this to people, even to those who are affirming or queer themselves. A great deal of this certainly has to do with all the internalized homo-and-trans-phobia that I am still working through, but another component I’ve been noticing is that I’m just not queer enough for many peoples’ idea of what it means to be non-binary.

I’ve often been told—both by people to whom I’m out, and otherwise—that I “wouldn’t understand what it means to be a gentleman, because I’m such a lady,” or that I “look quite feminine, so it’s to be expected” that people wouldn’t be able to remember my pronouns. Friends to whom I’ve come out still regularly ask, “What’s up lady?” or “How’s it going girl?!” I appreciate the sentiment of affection they are trying to convey, and how I deal with these uncomfortable situations is a topic for another post, but I use these examples to highlight how common it is for me to be misgendered. (Never mind all of the iterations of “Have a great day miss!” or “Thank you young lady!” doled out by strangers).

Non-binary gender is slowly coming more into the mainstream in the last few years, but there are still many assumptions made about what it looks like to be queer. I do not have short enough or bright enough hair, wear expressive enough makeup, or have the right blend of sass, piercings, and stylish “gender-neutral” clothing to fit in with a certain image of queerness.

My hair is too feminine. My voice is too feminine. My clothing, body, and sensitive spirit are all too feminine.

This is in part because I’m not yet fully out, don’t have money to spend on my physical appearance, or feel too timid to try to pull off some of the looks I enjoy on others. Yet it is also partly because I enjoy some elements of the ways in which I present myself.

Regardless of why I look or behave the way I do, my physical appearance does not dictate my identity or my pronouns. This is true for me, and it is true for all people.

One day my appearance may be more in line with what I envision. One day I may actually figure out what this vision is. For now, regardless of what others might imagine, I am too queer for your binary.


In the spirit of not defining people by our expectations, but instead welcoming all to come and be loved fully as they are, I offer this song:

Draw the circle wide.
Draw it wider still.
Let this be our song,
No one stands alone,
Standing side by side,
Draw the circle wide.

The full words to Draw the Circle Wide, by Gordon Light, can be found here. You can listen to it here.

Pronouns and Safer Space

“Welcome! Let’s go around the circle and introduce ourselves by saying our name, our preferred pronouns, and the oddest thing you’ve ever eaten.”

For anyone who has introduced themselves within a queer-friendly environment, this is a pretty common experience. Which is great! Pronouns can be an important part of our identities, especially as trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC)* folks.

I was recently at a retreat where we went around introducing ourselves in this way. Though I was really glad for the multiple opportunities to share my pronouns, this experience got me thinking again about my continuing journey with pronouns, and some critiques I have of the process.

1. “Preferred pronouns”

My pronouns are my pronouns. They are not an optional thing for people who know which pronouns I use. Since I’m early in transitioning to they/them pronouns, I’ve sometimes said things like, “Oh, I don’t really mind if people use she/her pronouns so long as they also use my preferred pronouns.” I’m not great at correcting people and still sometimes accidentally refer to myself using the language I was assigned at birth.

But in reality, I do mind, and when people catch themselves and use the correct language, I feel wonderful. My pronouns aren’t a preference like my love of cookie-dough ice cream or reddish hues. They are my pronouns, and the use of she/her pronouns and traditionally “female” language is incorrect and makes me squirm. When asking people to share their pronouns, do just that. Don’t use language which implies that respecting peoples’ pronouns is optional.

2. “Male” and “female” pronouns

At this retreat, people often introduced themselves saying “I use male pronouns,” or “I use female pronouns.” This language implies that gender identity and pronouns are equivalent. They are related, but not everyone who identifies as a certain gender uses the same pronouns.

There are enbies who use she/her or he/him pronouns. Some people identify within the binary, but use some form of gender-neutral pronouns, either alone or in conjunction with she/her or he/him pronouns. People of any gender identity may use one or multiple sets of pronouns. Sure, it takes a bit longer to say, but detaching pronouns from being masculine or feminine helps those of us for whom our gender identity does not “match” our pronouns.

3. Pronouns aren’t comfortable for everyone

Mandatory declaration of pronouns assumes that I am cis and should therefore state my pronouns as an ally, or that I am comfortably TGNC. However, this excludes a lot of people and makes things really uncomfortable when you’re first coming out. Not saying your pronouns can make you look like a bigot; saying your pronouns can mean you intentionally misgender yourself or out yourself prematurely.

I hated the pronoun question a few months ago, and had many an uncomfortable moment. I didn’t even know what my pronouns were! How was I supposed to say them? Sometimes I launched into a stumbling explanation of my confusion. Other times, I just said “she/her” and squirmed inside. Even now, there are many spaces where being asked to share my pronouns would make me supremely uncomfortable. I am not ready to come out to everyone at church, yet would hate to be forced to misgender myself out loud. Even in “safe spaces,” we can’t assume that people feel certain about their pronouns or safe enough to share.

This said, pronouns are supremely important for many people, and acknowledging them is a must. This article isn’t perfect (let’s get away from saying that someone’s appearance can match their pronouns), but I really appreciate the suggestion to acknowledge and invite people to share as they prefer. This will, I’m sure, still result in awkward feelings for new and questioning TGNC folk, but hopefully not feeling an obligation to share can help.

***

Acknowledging pronouns can be a super important means of affirming our identities and creating safe space, but it can also be the opposite experience for many people. Being aware of our language and assumptions when discussing pronouns is crucial to helping to create safer spaces for all.

***

*TGNC includes MTF and FTM, as well as genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, gender-f*ck, gender-bender, two-spirit, intersex, and anyone else who does not identify as strictly cis-gender or the gender they were assigned at birth. People under the TGNC umbrella may not identify with this language (for example, two-spirit Indigenous people who may or may not identify with settler language). Erasure of identities within the non-cis umbrella is a good topic for another post, but I’ve selected this as a more inclusive term. As always, I’m open to feedback from other TGNC folk!


The song Will you come and follow me, by John L. Bell, has a verse that really resonates with me in my coming out journey. Our discomfort with pronouns often has to do with uncertainty and hidden selves. You can see the whole song here and listen to it here.

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

This Eventide

20150731_193051

At sunset, when the light fades red
And crimson blushes ‘cross the sky
I linger ‘tween the mossy trees
As loons call out their lullabies

Echoes haunting through the fog
O’er gleaming, golden, silent glass
Crackling leaves and snapping twig
As mother deer and fawn creep past

Tangerine and turquoise fade
To gath’ring mist and glitt’ring coal
Diamond prisms scattered lending
Wonder to my pensive soul

Twinkling laughter breaks the night
As paddle stroke arcs silver spray
Silent ripples warp the glass
Wood–hewn canoe glides o’er the bay

Roughened rock my makeshift bed
I gaze up to that endless sea
Where moonlight guides the ships of dreams
The universe sings back to me

Croaking frogs and cricket’s trill
Join whippoorwill and flautist thrush
In nature’s reverent vesper hymns
Hooting, rustling, sighing, hush

Snapping spark of piney fire
Orange stars rising in the night
Dancing flame and glowing heat
Embers dying, fading light

The silence of this peaceful hour
Pierced only by hushed evening sounds
Breathes forth a prayer of love content
This eventide where joy abounds.

Pools of Light

In the deep blue hush of a crystal pool
I see your soul, in all its mysterious beauty.
Gleaming stars—those pinpricks of light—
Reflect on your faintly rippling waters
And sparkle, winking back at me.
Each individual facet of the sky above
Reflecting
Refracting
Dancing
Bits of the world passing through you,
Then shining back for me to see.
And aren’t we all like pools and stars—
Sharing our light with the pools around us
And reflecting the light of the stars above?

Listening Church

This is a fabulous video featuring the voices of LGBTQ+ Mennonites. It was created by the Listening Church Project in conjunction with Mennonite Church Canada’s Being a Faithful Church process. The voices highlight the joy, pain, and hope of being LGBTQ+ in the Mennonite church. I thought I would share it here for people to hear some more stories!

An Open Letter to the Mennonite Church Regarding LGBTQ+ Inclusion

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.