My response to Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, Mennonite Church USA Moderator

This blog post is a response to A letter to Mennonite Church USA from the Moderator – by Elizabeth Soto Albrecht


I am deeply disappointed and hurt by your statement published on the MCUSA website today. While I share your desire for an active, missional and united Mennonite church, I do not believe that our gay brothers and sisters should be thrown under the bus to achieve this aspiration.

Yes, the Mennonite Church faces many different issues in different places, but the issue of homosexuality is present everywhere, whether we want to believe it or not. Statistics vary (based on the difficulties in getting accurate statistics about something as sensitive as human sexuality) but the best numbers have found say that likely 3.8% of the American Adult population identify themselves as being LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender), with likely many more not being willing to be open about their orientation and/or are not sure about their orientation.

This means that LGBT folks are everywhere. Even in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (where you claim your home church – Laurel Street Mennonite Church doesn’t have this as an issue), there are gay people. The question is — are they welcome in the church or not?

Inclusion is not an ancillary issue, but rather is central to the gospel message. ALL are welcome in the Kingdom of God. Certainly it is good to be (as you said of your home church), “preoccupied with keeping our ministries going and on growing as a church community” but one should not be so preoccupied by these good things to realize that there are people being oppressed by the church.

Here’s one example from the comments of your original post on the MCUSA website

A few years ago, I was looking into buying a house around the corner from Laurel Street. I had emailed the church and asked if they would welcome a gay Christian into their community. I eventually got a reply stating that it might be best if I find another church as Laurel was not engaged with that issue at the moment. Here it is 4 years later, and they are still not engaged with it.

This “one issue” is part of God’s purposeful plan in growing a “church community “.

The reality is that refusing to be “engaged” with this issue is actively choosing to discriminate. It is actively choosing to embrace bigotry and to reject the Kingdom of God.

I don’t want to give up on the Mennonite Church. It was a lifeline to me to discover the Mennonites when I had been floundering, looking for a church community that actually tried to live out the teachings of Jesus. But I can’t help but wonder if my involvement with our homophobic church structure is in fact a form of complicity with evil.

I will keep hoping and praying that we can find a way forward but right now I’m having a hard time having the faith necessary to keep praying these prayers.

I have one parting thought… we know that the suicide and attempted suicide rate for LGBT youth is significantly higher than that of straight youth. This is an issue with life and death consequences, particularly since we know that that institutional policies that push LGBT discrimination often lead to upticks in the suicide rate. Mennonites in the past have been a powerful voice on mental health issues (such as through the Fierce Goodbye documentary). Our national church leadership should not be burying their heads in the sand right now. Inclusion is an issue facing all of the church. The question is, how will we respond?

– James M. Branum
Minister of Peace & Justice, Joy Mennonite Church, Oklahoma City

5 Responses to “My response to Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, Mennonite Church USA Moderator”

  1. Gene Mast says:

    Greetings Mr. Branum;

    Trying to understand some of the thoughts that go into formulation of the pro-inclusion position, the question occurs to me that maybe I have not started at the proper place. The traditional position, in my mind, objects to inclusion based on the understanding that scripture calls homosexual practice, not orientation, sin. As such it can not be condoned whether promiscuous or in a committed relationship. In this latest skirmish, there seems little discussion of the Biblical texts on the subject. In your view, or in the view of those who favor inclusion generally, does sin exist as a knowable, definable, thing, objectively and independent of human culture, specified by God in Scripture?

    Respectfully, Gene

  2. Patty Burdette says:

    The question is:Will MCUSA be on the leading edge or the trailing edge of inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters? They will eventually be included, the question is whether it will be at the time of church growth or further church shrinkage.

  3. Hi Gene,

    I appreciate you posting your thoughts. It is good to have to chance to dialogue with you on this issue.

    I first want to say though that I’m only going to speak for myself here. There are different ways of understanding these issues from an inclusive point of view.

    Secondly, I agree that working through the issue of hermeneutics (how we read the Bible) is essential to this issue and really any other important issue in the church. Both sides can quote scripture to back their viewpoint (one of the better explanations of how the Bible can be used arguably from both perspectives can be found here: http://ljohns.ambs.edu/Homosexuality.htm (the page is by AMBS professor Loren Johns).

    So with that said, let me first address the hermeneutical question. I hold to a Christocentric way of scripture, seeking to use scripture as Jesus did.

    As such, I think that one should seek to read scripture with the intent of looking for the deep meaning behind it. Maybe the best way of describing this process is from Jesus’ two great commandments…”and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” – Matthew 22:35-40 NRSV

    Based on this statement, I would argue that the rest of scripture is effectively commentary on these principles, and should be understood from this light.

    So based on these principles, I believe that the only way to be truly loving to LGBT folks is to love them, accept them as God made them, and encourage them to live lives of fidelity and integrity.

    Returning to your main question though, yes I do believe that sin is real. Sin is anytime we fall short of living out our identity as being bearers of the Image of God. This happens anytime we act in ways that our hurtful to ourselves, others or creation.

    But this is different than how you might define it (“as a knowable, definable, thing, objectively and independent of human culture, specified by God in Scripture?”). Sin is always rooted in the idea of harm and ruptured relationships. It can’t be removed from the context of human culture, human families, and human communities. Sin is always contextual.

    Certainly this is a messy and frustrating definition. Clear rules and black and white lines are easy to follow, but they are always incomplete and in the end unworkable. I think Jesus calls us to go a step further, to ask what is the heart behind the laws and to seek that.

  4. Gene Mast says:

    The relationship of inclusion to church growth seems to be that as a group moves toward inclusion, it shrinks. I am not sure, Patty, what this means to you as you seem to advocate opting for inclusion sooner rather than later. Is it your opinion that inclusion produces growth? I would be interested in how that conclusion would be arrived at. MCUSA has been shrinking since its inception while I don’t believe anyone would say that as a group it has been becoming more conservative on this issue.

    Certainly looking at scripture in light of the two great commandments is valid, as all of scripture is a coherent whole. It is another thing to say that context is all that matters, that there is no standard of holiness that surpasses a culturally determined definition of loving the other. When my definition of Loving my neighbor violates the Command against adultery, even if all involved are okay with it, it is still sin. There are applications of HOW we love God or our fellow man that are messy and imprecise, but there are some things that are clear. For example many on the left would say the concept of tough love is unloving of the downtrodden while those on the right may say excessive social programs are merely enabling many to continue in destructive behavior and are thus extremely unloving in result. Who is correct?

    But some things are not so debatable. The Pro inclusion side in the link provided relies too much on Speculation. The David/Jonathon relationship is prime example of filling in gaps with that which supports a position not condoned elsewhere. Even if there was such a relationship, a silence is not approval. While I thought Mr. Johns did a good job presenting both sides of the issue in light of the scriptures given, the pro inclusion side remained unconvincing.

    If one maintains that sin is unalterably contextual, things become fairly easy. All one needs do is find a group that agrees on what is and is not truth and declare it as such. There is not then any objective truth at all. Human reason then trumps scripture and by implication God. Defining sin as that which we decide is harmful to ourselves or others or creation requires perfect knowledge amid conflicting values. One could illustrate this easily with the case of DDT, the chemical that Rachael Carson blamed for massive ecological degradation. Whether her claims were valid is not germane to this discussion perhaps, but as a result DDT was banned in large parts of the world. As a result we could conclude that the environment was relieved of the sin committed against it. However, malaria returned, leading to millions of third world child deaths that could have been easily prevented. Sin or not? Was the western environmental movement complicit? This is a hard case, pitting two desirables against one another. We can not know, in our finite humanity all the ramifications of our decisions, an unavoidable situation. We can know that if God gives a specific command, it is for our ultimate good. As aspiring followers of Christ it would seem we should give greater weight to the specifics of scripture than to culturally mandated applications of the Command to Love our fellow humans.

  5. Gene Mast says:

    Holding that sin is always contextual is another way of saying that what is considered to be a violation of the teachings of Christ is determined primarily by the culture, our group or ourselves, in other words something other than Christ Himself. It is true that there are things that can be sin in one context but not another. This is not always true however. Removing all objective scriptural definitions of sin, also destroys any claim to objective truth since it has already been conceded that there is not a standard above that of human thought to which we are called as followers of Christ, meaning we really do not have much to offer those who would seek salvation, or even those who would seek to know how a believer should live. A purveyor of the gospel must at some point deal in absolutes, but if the context determines truth, how can it be said that salvation is only by grace through faith, that only by Christ’s shed blood there is remission of sins? We are left completely adrift with only ourselves to look to for eternal salvation, with one method or set of beliefs as good as the next. The elevation of personal relationships to the highest standard of Christian behavior is clearly not how Jesus used scripture nor is it how he described His mission. You could almost say the exact opposite is true. (I came not to bring peace but a sword Mt 10:34 FF) If we can not present timeless truth, the whole Mennonite church thing seems a bit pointless.

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