This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Welcoming “conservatives” in an inclusive discussion about LGBTQ persons in Mennonite Church USA

Keith Schrag lives in Ames, Iowa, where he is a member of Ames Mennonite Church and maintains a small private counseling and consulting practice since his retirement as a marriage and family therapist. 

This piece is a companion to John Rempel’s essay, “Make room for conservatives at the Mennonite Church USA/Canada table: Who turned the tables?” 

Currently the discussion in Mennonite Church USA about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) persons in the life of the church seems to not welcome the “conservative voice.” Although there are many parts of the denomination that still are largely represented by the “conservative voice” and exclude LGBTQ persons, the gathering of Mennonite  Church USA last month at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City (KC2015) represented a dramatic and recent shift in our church.

A few of us “openly gay/queer” persons were official delegates at the convention. We were warmly welcomed in our table discussions and beyond. Although many LGBTQ persons who were not delegates were not so welcomed, the voices of Pink Mennos and others (including Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC) persons, who had the first-ever presence of their booth in the convention exhibit hall) were present in unofficial ways and more prominently than in previous years.

However, my queer (LGBTQ) brothers and sisters are not known for their readiness to include the “conservative voices” in the ongoing discussion. This really is not inclusion. It is not the way of Christ.  The church needs ALL voices to be heard so that the community, the body of Christ, can function in unity and move forward.

To demand to be included ourselves while not being willing to include those who disagree with us is hypocritical, according to Jesus’ teaching. How can we call that “inclusion”?

I understand the deep 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 that the General Conference Mennonite Church, in official action at Saskatoon, in Canada, 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 ( in 1987 in Purdue, Ind., the old Mennonite Church adopted a very similar statement), became the prime passage from that resolution. It was used for the next 25 years as a disciplinary tool to exclude and/or marginalize members and congregations and as a measure of judgment in the existing denomination(s) which now comprise Mennonite Church USA. The ensuing pain was and still is deeply felt by many LGBTQ persons and our allies. While our church has made much progress in dealing with sexual abuse in the church (e.g. the resolution almost unanimously passed at KC 2015), there was a glaring “disconnect” felt by many who were still experiencing the spiritual/emotional abuse at the same convention.

However, that pain does not justify excluding the voices of our brothers and sisters who clearly and firmly 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, is just as important as the viewpoints and experiences of “moderates” and “liberals/progressives” who do not agree with them and stand in opposition. Truth is not discovered and community is not 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 have tarnished and profaned the testimony of “peace-loving” followers of Jesus Christ, resulting in a weakened and often unbelievable witness to our faith.  Both the world and the church suffer as a result.

Let’s renew our vigor and discipleship and find a way to honor Jesus’ prayer  (the high priestly prayer, 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 change our practice and show how Christians can love God and each other, in spite of strongly-held differences of opinion.

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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