The discussion in Mennonite Church USA about LGBTQ people in the life of the church seems not to welcome the conservative voice. Although many parts of the denomination still are largely represented by the conservative voice and exclude LGBTQ people, the MC USA convention last summer in Kansas City, Mo., represented a dramatic and recent shift.
A few of us openly gay or queer people were delegates at the convention. We were warmly welcomed in our table discussions and beyond. Although many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people who were not delegates were not so welcomed, the voices of Pink Mennos and others were present in unofficial ways and more prominent than in previous years.
However, my LGBTQ brothers and sisters are not known for their readiness to include conservative voices in the discussion. This is not inclusion and not the way of Christ. The church needs all voices to be heard so that the body of Christ can function in unity. To demand to be included while not being willing to include those who disagree with us is hypocritical. How can we call that inclusion?
I understand the pain, trauma and distrust that exist for many of us, given the way we have been treated by the church during most of the years since 1986. That was the year the General Conference Mennonite Church, in official action at Saskatoon, Sask., covenanted to be “in loving dialogue” on “the issue” of “homosexuality in the church.” A statement in that resolution that became the “teaching position” of the two denominations (the Mennonite Church adopted a similar statement in 1987) became the prime passage used for the next 25 years as a disciplinary tool to exclude or marginalize members and congregations. Today it continues to be used as a measure of judgment in MC USA.
The ensuing pain is deeply felt by many LGBTQ people and our allies. While our church has made much progress in dealing with sexual abuse in the church, there was a glaring disconnect felt by many who were experiencing spiritual and emotional abuse at the convention in July.
Everyone has humanity
However, that pain does not justify excluding the voices of our brothers and sisters who disagree with us. Their humanity, their commitment to follow Jesus Christ and be faithful to Scripture as they experience it, their concern for the purity and tradition of the faith that has been precious to them, are just as important as the viewpoints and experiences of moderates and progressives.
Truth is not discovered nor community achieved by such exclusions. For too long the history of Anabaptists and Mennonites has been bloodied by cruel words and judgments, by divisions and splits that have left deep wounds and tarnished our testimony as followers of Jesus Christ.
Let’s find a way to honor Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that we all be one, as Christ is one with God. Let’s end our long and painful practice of excluding and splitting. Let’s show how Christians can love God and each other, in spite of strongly held differences of opinion.
Keith Schrag lives in Ames, Iowa.