Mennonites must face harm done to LGBTQ+ community

Ludovic Bertron/Wikimedia Commons Ludovic Bertron/Wikimedia Commons

I write with a plea to the Mennonite community to support the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation that will be presented to the Mennonite Church USA special delegate assembly May 27-30 in Kansas City, Mo., as well as a plea for justice amid reckonings around LGBTQ+ issues in Anabaptist church communities across the United States.

Mennonite institutions desperately need a sincere repentance for the harm they have committed against LGBTQ+ people and an urgent commitment to radical reconciliation.

I write as a member of the queer community and as one with Mennonite roots. It is frightening for me to share this part of myself. But I feel a responsibility to speak.

I grew up in a Mennonite church in small-town Kansas. I went to Sunday school every week, rang my little bell in the Christmas concert, was baptized in high school and made zwieback for the Mennonite Central Committee sale.

It took me until I was out of college to come out to myself as a bisexual and queer woman. It is taking me even longer to start to feel settled in my own skin, to unlearn the harmful teachings that made me contort myself to fit an unnatural mold and miss out on the full possibilities of joy.

Today, I am a graduate student at Simmons University in Boston, studying history and archives management. As a student of history, and as one who grew up hearing stories of my Mennonite ancestors’ immigration over the Atlantic to the prairies of Kansas, I feel the rich and deeply rooted history of the Anabaptist tradition.

But this history also contains a record of the brutal harm done to Indigenous communities, to women, to communities of color and to the church’s LGBTQ+ members, through silencing, banishment, erasure and violence. The teachings that drive this harm not only affect Mennonites but also the wider world, through the church’s participation in ideologies of fear and hate and exclusion.

This is not simply some theological question to be discussed in a fellowship hall meeting, decisions delayed year after year with calm excuses. LGBTQ+ people are here. We are sitting next to you in church. We are your family members. We are your neighbors. We are out there fighting to survive.

The grim statistics speak clearly: the disproportionately high numbers of homeless LGBTQ+ youth, the experiences of bullying in schools and mental health issues, the violence against gay and transgender people.

The places where LGBTQ+ people should be most safe — places of faith — are often the very places that provide the language and the fuel and the excuse for the machines of hate.

Many Mennonite churches and other houses of faith have become LGBTQ+ affirming. This is good and right and gives me hope. But official Mennonite conference policies rooted in discrimination continue to perpetuate the widespread physical, emotional and spiritual violence.

We could debate the historical contexts of particular biblical texts or the structures of power behind long-standing church traditions, or the modern interpretations of social justice. But that is a longer article than this one, and none of that will truly move hearts.

All I can do is offer my own experience and hope that it might make a little bit of difference. Right now, there are kids in the church who were like me, who feel guilty or afraid or simply out of place and not sure why.

There is so much I still love about this church family. But I have been hurt and heartbroken, and yet I am one of the lucky ones. So I write this with both love and a profound grief. Action is needed now. Study and discernment are ongoing processes, but in the meantime, we urgently need safety and healing and a transformed church. There is no time to waste; we have waited long enough.

Look up and see us. Hear us. The church must first acknowledge the harm done, past and present, to pave the way for justice and a better future. Continuing to deny the personhood, dignity and capacity for love of your church family members and neighbors is to steal their faith from them.

As much as Scripture brings about the revelation of divine love, so we do ourselves, through the communities we build with each other.

Change is difficult and often frightening. But a church community’s “togetherness” and “peace” at the expense of the vulnerable is not true peace but a festering wound that injures us all. Let us face the pain, start to heal and work to make a better home.

Erin Wiebe lives in Cambridge, Mass.

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