Mennonite publications play an essential role in our community. Not only do they share news from Anabaptists around the world, they’re also a vital forum for honest and difficult conversations. No matter how we engage with one another, the goal should be to build up our community and to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
A recent post from the blog of Harold N. Miller, a Virginia pastor, was republished on Mennonite World Review’s website. In it, Miller made a case against same-sex relationships and advocated celibacy for those of us who are LGBTQ. It’s a case he’s made before in Mennonite publications and on his own blog. Except this time he used a racist analogy to support his views. According to him, the church should be free to discriminate against LGBTQ people because we can choose how we respond to our romantic desires. He contrasts this with black people on the basis that they have no choice over their skin color, implying that black people would want to change if they could.
But why should black people want to change the color of skin? There’s nothing wrong with being black. But there is something profoundly wrong with a society that treats people as less than human based on the color of their skin. In the same way, there’s nothing wrong with being LGBTQ. But there’s something profoundly wrong with a church that denies people full inclusion on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Fortunately, the executive director of Mennonite Church USA, Glen Guyton, responded publicly a couple days later, saying: “Only hatred and evil equate our skin color with being less than. . . . The author suggests that being white is better or something blacks aspire to. We don’t regret our identity.” And also: “Talking about the need for long-term study and data collection on people in the LGBTQ community sounds more like eugenics and less like the gospel of Christ.” This response was important and valuable, but it never should have been necessary. Miller’s article shouldn’t have been published in the first place.
While Miller amended the post and apologized for the racist phrase, the racist undertones continue to prop up the analogy. Not only is it racist, but its basic logic is false. Sure, nobody chooses their race. But neither does anybody choose their queer or trans identity. And there’s nothing wrong with either of those.
In reality, the appropriate comparison would be between same-sex marriage and interracial marriage. Again, this shows just how racist the analogy is. The argument that we should not be married because same-sex marriage is a choice was applied in the same way to interracial marriages. For centuries, white Christians argued that interracial marriages run directly against human nature and biblical values. They acknowledged that nobody picked their race but that interracial marriage was a choice. That was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
In our communities, there are a variety of views on LGBTQ inclusion. In my opinion, Miller’s writings on LGBTQ people are hateful, harmful and stand in opposition to Christ’s love. I understand that not everyone feels that way. But, at the very least, we should all agree that white supremacy is unacceptable in our communities and in our publications. It directly harms Mennonites of color — who, by the way, are the majority of Mennonites globally — and it tarnishes the church’s integrity.
The Mennonite world is large and diverse. Unfortunately, there will always be those whose words divide us and break down community. We cannot necessarily silence them but, at the very least, we can choose not to amplify their voices.
It is OK, and even necessary, to have a diversity of opinions about a range of important issues facing the the church. But racism is never acceptable and should never be given a platform.
It is imperative that Mennonite publications focus on building and uplifting the community. That will mean seeking out and amplifying a diversity of voices, especially those who have been marginalized or oppressed.
Scott Sprunger is an M.Div. student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he will graduate in May. He blogs at scottsprunger.com.