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