Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I am thrilled that he wants to be supportive of his friends and mentors who happen to be lesbian, gay or bi. He has grown up knowing that people can love each other and be family in configurations different than the one in our household. His “normal” is certainly different than the one I grew up with. I am well aware that I am teaching my children a reading of the bible that not everyone agrees with. If we are honest, we all have our preferred translation and interpretation.
On the other hand, I don’t want to be accused of manipulating my children for political reasons. I am uncomfortable when I see children at pro-life rallies holding up gruesome posters. It feels like the children are being used by their parents to make a point.
At what age are children able to make a decision to be political or speak out? What is the age of accountability when it comes to speaking out against injustice? As Anabaptists we adhere to believer’s baptism. Should we also practice believer’s activism?
I am trying to teach my children about peace and justice, treating people fairly and lovingly. Just because they don’t entirely understand what that means for their les/bi/gay friends, does that mean they can’t speak out or sign the letter? (Though my 11-year-old said the other day, unsolicited, that he wants to sign the letter because it is just like when black people were treated badly because of the color of their skin.)
Maybe we should have a children’s page, a place where kids can make their own comments about what this means for them and their friends and families.
How do you talk about justice with children? What are children teaching you?
Monday, April 27, 2009
In the struggle over “homosexuality” in the church there is need for more “dialogue” and better “process.” But who controls the dialogue by what process matters greatly.
My experience in ministry over the past 30 years, leads me to observe that neither “dialogue” nor “process” focused on “homosexuality” have been honest, healthy, or helpful because we haven’t understood the premises of our dialogue or the nature of our process. In that personal and pastoral context, I offer a few of my observations about why “homosexuality” is so polarizing in the church and is not the issue.
First, dialogue and process about “homosexuality” in the church is always about “them” over whom “we” have power and only let into the conversation when “we” ask “them” to risk vulnerable self-disclosure which “we” have already condemned. For the most part, “they” are simply excluded from the conversation and decisions by which “we” determine “their” fate under the guise of biblical interpretation and church decision-making. I regularly hear the pain of those who bear the burden of being silenced and shunned even hated and harmed across MC USA however much “hate the sin love the sinner” is explicitly or implicitly espoused. Have you ever asked the recipient of your love-hate platitude, “Do you feel loved by me?” That is a real test of love.
Second, “homosexuality” is not an “issue” and is not the issue. “Homosexuality” is not an “issue” – rather these are real lives and the living faith of sisters and brothers in the church who are LGBT. “Homosexuality” is not the issue – rather it has become the lightning rod and litmus test that blinds us rather than binds us to Jesus Christ in the body of Christ.
Third, we have much to explore yet about what it means to be human beings created in God’s image and of human relationships and human sexuality before we can know or say anything intelligible about “homosexuality.” Until we genuinely address these matters of human flourishing and faithfulness, our dialogue and decisions about “homosexuality” are a dishonest diversion and dehumanizing discrimination.
Jesus consistently confronted, challenged, and comforted people depending on their situation in life. The gospel consistently, “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” I conclude with three ways I have been confronted and comforted by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A few years ago a visionary street-preacher and beloved friend from Atlanta’s Open Door Community, Eduard-the-Agitator, was preaching here at Seattle Mennonite Church when he turned to me in the middle of his sermon and confronted me with this question: “Are they throwing rocks at your house yet? If they aren’t throwing rocks at your house, you aren’t preaching the gospel!”
Theologian James Cone once voiced a stark revelation about racism that translates into an equally stark confrontation of heterosexism today: “In order to be Christian theology, white theology must cease being white theology and become black theology by denying whiteness as an acceptable form of human existence and affirming blackness as God’s intention for humanity.”
A beloved monastic mentor and former Abbot humbly said, “The greatest practical heresy of our time is the refusal to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.”
This Eastertide may we truly “Listen to the Spirit that dwells in our hearts!”
Weldon D. Nisly
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Perhaps the feedback that I wrestled with the most was from a pastor who heard in our letter a “non-acceptance” of people who disagreed with us. This pastor wrote to me:
“In my experience the biggest reason this stuff gets ugly has nothing to do with belief. It has to do with acceptance. The fundamental question on both sides is ‘can you accept me as a follower of Jesus with the best of intentions even if we don't agree?’ ‘Do you still accept me as I am if I'm gay or pro-gay?’ and ‘Do you still accept me as I am if I'm anti-gay?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then watch out, sparks fly.”
He went on to say:
“It does not mean we don't take a side. It means we learn to hold our position in a new way. We learn to practice daring humility. We hold our belief with deep conviction, as well as an open hand.”
The thing is, this pastor and I agree. I agree that we need to take a stand on justice issues. And I also agree that we need to do so in a nonviolent way – while still extending the hand of compassion and friendship to the person with whom we disagree. Never not accepting them. Never demeaning them. Never seeing them as something other than made “in the image of God” -- even if I believe that their inability to see LGBT people in the same image is wrong and hurtful.
Since we agreed, it bothered me that the pastor heard in our letter this “non-acceptance” (especially when others had heard us being very compassionate toward those with whom we disagreed.) I had to go back, after his feedback, and search my heart again and read the letter again. “Nope, I thought. “This was the best I could do. I spoke the truth that was laid on my heart as clearly as I could, and I did it with the most love of which I’m capable.” Some of the most beloved people in my life (hi, Mom!) disagree with me. When I wrote the letter, I tried to keep those people in my heart, as well as my beloved LGBT sisters and brothers.
The truth is, the written word can communicate only so much. As much as I try to be “true” in my word, I can’t control how people hear what I write. And I am fallible when it comes to the writing, too. That’s the risk of doing something like this Open Letter. But I felt something needed to be done, and the Spirit wouldn’t let me rest until I did something. History will need to judge if what we did was, in the end, helpful or not.
So, to everyone, no matter where you are in this: I am trying to see you in the image of God. I’ll never stop trying to see that image, even when it gets really obscured, for me, by other stuff. I’m doing the same for myself. “Do unto others…”
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
When I was a junior in college, I participated in an off-campus program my undergrad alma mater offered where we spent a year living in a group house with other Menno college youth, working at a social service or advocacy agency part-time and attending the University of Maryland part-time. My housemates were as eclectic as young, white, middle-class, mostly Mennonite kids can be (meaning not so much) but we still managed to pack a little bit of diversity in there.
One of my housemates, a senior, came out very early in the year - to himself and then to the whole house and then to his family eventually later that year. He came from a small town in the Midwest, from a very rural Mennonite community, and I think he knew that his family would have issues. He would get letters from his grandma saying that she didn't understand and she was praying for him and his mom kept crying when they talked on the phone. But I think the saddest letter he got that year was the one from his church saying that he would not be welcome to take communion with them.
I can still remember him reading the letter to us around the butcher block island in the kitchen. And I can still remember his anger and his deep, painful sorrow. I had had a semi-rough relationship with the church before but that was my first first-hand example of how the Church in general - and the Mennonite Church in particular - had utterly and completely failed someone. Failed to accept, failed to love, failed to understand, failed to dialogue, failed this person in every way possible.
This wouldn't be the last time I saw such a failing but that one really stands out and might, in fact, haunt me for a very long time. And it would take another decade or so before I found a Mennonite church that would acknowledge those failings and, in its own way, attempt to rectify them.
When I asked the question "where have all the Mennonites gone" one of the answers is that we have driven some of them away and willingly left others behind. I think about that housemate of mine who might have been a great asset to his local church whereever that may have been (the irony is that he actually currently lives a block away from a good one). Or about all the other gay Mennonites I know who aren't really Mennonite anymore. Or about the young MYFers who are afraid to talk about it to their youth leaders or to their friends or to their pastors. Some of them will leave anyway. But we have lost so many who might have stayed. We have caused so much pain.
The bravest Mennonites I know these days are the LGBT Mennonites who stay in the church - actively participating in the church - knowing that the Church has hurt them and their loved ones deeply but believing that it can and will change. Most amazingly of all, they find it within themselves to forgive the Church and to bring to individual congregations and people the compassion, love and acceptance that is so often not given to them.
Whether the larger Mennonite Church will ever be able to talk about this issue, much less accept the hurt it has caused and apologize for its failings, I don't know. Some days yes. Some days no. I'd like to have faith that there will be more yes days than no days. What is faith after all but the triumph of hope over experience.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
We'd also like to indicate on the signature page who is a pastor/minister. But we also didn't think about this until two days after people began signing! So, if you are a pastor/minister who signed the letter before we began asking for signers to self-designate as such, please let us know at the above address. Of course, if you'd like to remain in cognito, we're not going to "out" you. Thanks!
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
This letter, on the other hand, focuses on inclusion and justice, topics that should be at the heart of what the church is constantly discussing and furthering its understanding about. These are the bigger topics that address any of the “isms”, that challenge the human tendency to create groups that are “us” and not “them”, that push us toward taking very seriously the call to “love your neighbor as yourself”. This can be a scary thing because it might be that I then need to accept someone with whom I strongly disagree and that raises tough questions about faith and truth. But those questions stare us in the face all the time anyway and it could be that by talking together about them we may find new ways forward that we can't find individually.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Passion Sunday 2009
We are writing as pastors and people who have ministered in the Mennonite Church. We are distressed by our Church’s exclusion of sisters and brothers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). Our hope for a Church guided by the radical hospitality of Jesus compels us to invite us all to confession and healing.
Our vocation as ministers is to proclaim and embody the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is the Gospel of radical hospitality and extravagant love (Luke 15, John 4). We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. We believe that we can not deny that grace to anyone seeking to be part of the Body of Christ. We are each called to faithfulness to Christ, accountability in the Church, and integrity in human relationships. We believe that all people are invited to faithful fellowship in this Body, blessing for our deepest relationships of love and care, a spiritual home for ourselves and our children, and the opportunity to fully express the gifts for ministry that God has given us.
Through our unwillingness to extend full hospitality to LGBT people, we believe the Church has lost sight of this Gospel vision and, in so doing, has seriously compromised its witness. Jesus often confronted religious people with their spiritual blindness and offered healing so that they could see not only with their eyes but with their hearts (Matthew 23, John 9). Jesus offers the same challenge and healing to us today.
We believe that now is the time for us to confess and be healed of this spiritual
blindness. Some of us, out of love for the Church, have remained silent for the sake of unity. However, we must acknowledge that the Church is already divided. We have been willing to sacrifice our LGBT brothers and sisters, their families and friends to preserve a presumed unity. While some of us may caution to “go slow,” we are reminded by prophets such as Martin Luther King, Jr. that going slow only perpetuates the injustice. We are also reminded by Jesus and our Anabaptist forebears that the faithful path is not easy or without pain.
As ministers in Mennonite Church USA, we invite all members of Christ’s body in MC USA to join us in this call to confession and healing. If you desire a Church that offers Christ’s radical hospitality and extravagant love to everyone, please sign on to this letter by going to the web site, http://www.openlettertomcusa.org/.
Let us seek a new unity where all are welcome and all are called to an abiding “faith, hope and love…and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
For the healing of Christ’s Body and the sake of the Church,
Sheri Hostetler, Cynthia Lapp and Weldon Nisly
The letter’s authors – Sheri Hostetler, Cynthia Lapp and Weldon Nisly -- worked on the letter for almost a year before inviting other pastors to sign it in November 2008. (Click here to read the letter they sent out inviting pastors to sign.)
Sheri Hostetler is pastor at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco; Cynthia Lapp is pastor at Hyattsville Mennonite in Hyattsville, Maryland; and Weldon Nisly is pastor at Seattle Mennonite Church.
By March 2009, 106 pastors and others who have ministered in Mennonite Church USA had signed the letter. The letter was released on April 5, 2009, via this web site. At that point, everyone in Mennonite Church USA was invited to sign the letter. Click here if you wish to join this movement for inclusion by signing the letter.