Printing was halted, copies were destroyed, and three pages were deleted from the book, On Holy Ground: Stories by and about women in ministry leadership in the Mennonite Brethren Church. The Executive Boards of the U.S. and Canadian Conferences of Mennonite Brethren Churches (USMB, CCMBC) “requested” the book be reprinted without these three pages, because, as articulated in the statement they released:
“The writer [Mary Anne Isaak] describes her journey where she expresses joyfulness at the marriage of a Christian woman to her same-sex partner and how she found her ‘perspective on gay marriage beginning to turn.’”
“For many MB readers, these pages will overshadow the important contribution of the other writers, create confusion about what it means for MB credentialed leaders and local MB churches to ‘affirm’ the Confession of Faith, and unfortunately, it will reinforce the damaging stereotype that embracing women in leadership leads necessarily to an affirming stance on gay marriage for Christians.”
I have been watching this all unfold carefully because I was part of the MB family for almost 20 years: I entered as a college student at Fresno Pacific University in 1999; I left the church I called home for 12 years in 2019 when they told me they would not consider me for the leadership council because I was gay. The loss of that community was life-alteringly painful for me and my wife. Our journey of healing from spiritual trauma continues.
I have also been watching because I am the one whose marriage Mary Anne “expresses joyfulness at,” and, apparently, the one who pushed Mary Anne down the dreaded slippery slope. I am the one whose story “overshadows” the stories of women in ministry and “reinforces the damaging stereotype that embracing women in leadership leads necessarily to an affirming stance on gay marriage for Christians.”
I mean, I did hear that very language used against me by my church’s council when they explained why I could not serve in that capacity. So, this is not my first time being told I was a threat to the progress of women in ministry or to the unity of the MB family. I have been “othered” by leadership before, and I am certain that this will not be the last time. Not by a long shot.
Countless LGBTQ folks are marginalized and excluded in non-affirming Christian spaces all the time. Our very existence is deemed problematic or downright dangerous. Leaders use fear and shame to maintain power over us and any who might even consider making room for us. This is abusive. This is traumatizing. This is life-threatening.
As I am able – this is extremely challenging and comes with significant cost – I want to offer my perspective over the coming weeks on this event (the removal of the three pages) and its unfolding impact.
I encourage you to consider how the rhetoric used by the Executive Boards functions to exert power over already marginalized groups (in this case, women and LGBTQ people) and manipulate people to join them in “othering” these groups. The fear tactic is this: convince women that their partial seat at the table is being threatened by LGBTQ people. Women, you have to sacrifice “them” if you want to protect your place with “us.”
The truth is this: Submitting to this patriarchal system will always privilege the few at the expense of everyone else. They may dangle the carrot of “progress,” but a system of power-over will never turn into a system of shared power and equity. Systems of power-over must be dismantled in order to make room for “renewed creation.”
These power-over systems are afraid of us joining in solidarity, because we are a threat; we are dangerous. The marginalization and oppression of women is related to the marginalization and oppression of LGBTQ folks (and to all other marginalized and oppressed groups). Our liberation is also connected. If we see ourselves in each other, if we practice solidarity with one another, our ability to create justice and cultivate peace will expand and flourish.
As we see demonstrated in Jesus’ life, oppressive power has every reason to feel threatened by the oppressed coming together in solidarity. Jesus upended the status quo. The early church was a threat to the “peace” of Rome. To the powers that be, Jesus sounded dangerous and threatening. To those crushed by the powers that be, Jesus sounded like good news.