The following letter is my response to this letter by Jim Schrag, Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA.
Dear Jim (cc: WDC Conference Minister),
I am writing regarding the letter you sent regarding Convention 2009.
I am the Minister of Peace & Justice at Joy Mennonite Church (Oklahoma City), but I am writing speaking only for myself and not the congregation as a whole.
I know that you and the rest of the MCUSA executive committee were under a great deal of pressure regarding the allegations of what happened at the convention and I can understand part of the context of how this letter came into being, however, I still believe that this
letter is in direct contradiction of the policy approved at the convention, that our church should create “a healthy, safe environment in which to have this dialogue, one that builds up the Body of Christ, and is respectful and honest about our differences.”
I was not at the convention but have spoken to several friends that were at the convention, and their reports of what happened was quite different from what your letter states. The reality is many, if not most, Mennonite youth know that the denomination’s stance against
homosexuals is wrong. This viewpoint was one they already had, but certainly the presence of the Pink Mennos at the convention gave them a new boldness to speak out about this truth.
I may be wrong, but I think that what has happened is that certain members of our church are upset with the youth for thinking for themselves and want to blame the Pink Mennos for this phenomenon. MCUSA’s capitulation to these voices to me smacks of disrespect to the
youth who wish to be full participants in this dialogue.
Yes, I will share your letter with my congregation but I’ll also share the other side of the story too.
I also will continue to speak, as many other Mennonites have already spoken, for our church to turn from the sin of excluding our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ from full fellowship.
I received a gracious response from Jim (which I won’t reprint here as I don’t have his permission to share it) in which he said that there were often different perspectives in a dispute, and referred me to this article he wrote on the subject of dialogue in the church. He also stated that this letter was an attempt to speak from “the center” on this issue.
I appreciate Jim taking the time to write back and I appreciate his stated desire to continue dialogue on the issue, but I also still think his letter is far from the center, and is in part inaccurate based on the reports I have heard from from Pink Menno members who were at the convention.
In particular, I want to highlight some of the instances mentioned in these reports of gay-bashing by some at the convention. Notably, these stories were omitted from Jim’s letter…
. . . No mention was made of one very significant element of what occurred in Columbus: namely, the confrontational, directly harmful behavior that occurred at the hands of a few very vocal and aggressive individuals who disagreed with Pink Menno. Youth and adults wearing pink, simply going about their day at the convention, were the recipients of extremely problematic behaviors on many occasions. These behaviors included being aggressively confronted in a hostile manner with a few Bible verses, being called fag, being verbally abused, and in many instances being driven to tears. We do not know whether Jim was aware of these occurrences when he drafted this letter, but if he had talked with us about the letter before sending it, we would have told them about these events. This is a missed opportunity to address some negative aspects of what occurred at the convention and invite healing.
There are a lot of untrue stories going around about what happened in Columbus in regards to the “gay issue” and the Pink Mennos. I would like to make a few comments about the youth at the convention. I spent a lot of time at the MennoNeighbors display. It seems like the Mennonite youth quickly discovered that this space was a safe place to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings. I had many wonderful discussions with these youth (tomorrow’s church). Most of them were honestly seeking a better understanding of human sexuality and how God would want us to relate to those who are homosexuals. I was shocked to hear some of their comments about their youth groups, sponsors, and youth pastors. I talked to so many, I can not give you their names or where they were from. Here are a few examples:
“Most of the kids in my group and our sponsors seem to hate gays, but I told them they need to talk to some of the pink people and read some stuff, so they can at least talk about this”.
“My youth sponsor told the group we can not talk about homosexuality this week. I told him we should be allowed to talk about anything and ask questions.”
“My friend and I got pink shirts. This morning our sponsors came to our hotel room and said we cannot leave the room until we took them off.” . . .
Anyway that’s the story as I know it. I am incredibly discouraged by the letter Jim sent out on behalf of the executive board of MCUSA, but I don’t think this battle for justice is over. Mennonites are used to oppression and we just have to be faithful to what we know is right. We must continue to speak the truth in love to our brothers and sisters who are not yet ready to embrace our LGBT kin. We must continue to stand up for justice, while at the same time continue to love those who participate in oppression. This is a hard task for us, but I think it is what we are called to do.
Most of all I want to say for the brave Menno youth who were willing to question their youth sponsors and others who wanted to indoctrinate them in LGBT-hatred, keep on asking questions. You have the right to do this. Your faith is just that, your faith. I’m so proud of all of y’all who dared to ask questions and dared to speak out in a hostile environment.