I sat across the table from a leader in my church. We met that evening at my favorite coffee shop to discuss questions I had raised regarding the church’s mission statement. What does “dedicating… to be an inclusive community” mean? My wife and I were trying to figure out how (and if) we belonged in this congregation.
I had become a member years before when I was still rejecting my sexuality and holding to non-affirming theology. Now that I was proudly queer, married to a woman, and getting involved in LGBTQ inclusion work, I had questions about the church’s claims to inclusiveness. We had been cautioned against bringing up the issue of church membership (for example, if my wife wanted to join the church): technically, I should have lost my full-membership status when I began identifying as gay, and certainly when I entered a same-sex relationship. Leadership told us that the church would eventually discuss revising its membership policy; in the meantime, however, it would be better if we didn’t draw attention to the issue.
My wife and I started having conversations with several people who agreed that it was time the church talk about LGBTQ inclusion again. It had been over a decade since the church’s two-year deliberation about “homosexuality and church membership” that ended with the decision to deny full membership to a person in a same-sex marriage. A few people who supported our efforts to bring this topic back to the table had been teenagers when it was discussed previously. Remarking on the church’s current posture that “we’ve already dealt with that,” these members said, “We have not dealt with it. We weren’t involved back then. We want to be involved now.”
The church leadership, however, was reluctant to reopen conversation. Thus, my meeting at the coffee shop that night. “Have you ever heard of nudge theory?” he asked me. He went on to explain to me how a very effective way to create change is through little “nudges” over time. He then went on to tell me how the church, over the course of its 50+ years, responded to the issue of homosexuality when it arose, once in the early 1990s and once in the early 2000s. It was clear that this history lesson was intended to show me the progress the church had made. The implied message was: Be patient. Change happens best when it does so at an agreeable pace. If you try to push (rather than nudge), you will be stirring up conflict and causing problems.
I am sure that I was supposed to be satisfied, proud even, of the “progress” the church had made in dealing with LGBTQ issues. The opposite was true. I saw that it would potentially take my entire lifetime for the church to take one or two baby steps. I was expected to be grateful for the partial acceptance the church had managed to extend to LGBTQ folks in the decision that occurred a dozen years prior. If I asked for more, I would be seen as a very unwelcome thorn in their side – I would be hurting the church, threatening their unity, jeopardizing financial giving, and drawing the attention of a denomination that could kick them out and take their building. The church’s answer to my request that we begin talking about LGBTQ inclusion was clear: No. Not yet. We are not ready.
We are ready though – those of us who are harmed every single day by churches and families and workplaces and governments that marginalize, exclude and oppress us. Our allies and supportive loved ones are ready too. We are ready to be free from the abuse and trauma we suffer. We are ready to be part of communities in which we can flourish. We are ready for our full humanity to be honored as a vital part of the body of Christ. We are ready for our gifts to be acknowledged as critical to our shared calling to do justice and make peace.
I continue to follow responses to the revision and reprinting of On Holy Ground insisted upon by the U.S. and Canadian Mennonite Brethren (MB) Executive Boards. Conversations on social media are connecting people from many MB and other communities. Several “picnic protests” have been organized to give voice to the concern many feel (featured photo shows the protest held at Fresno Pacific University on July 13, 2022). One comment in particular that I read last week stayed with me and inspired this post.
We are ready for this conversation. It isn’t a danger to our faith, and we are not afraid. Open discussion is part of who we are, and in 2022 this discussion is now critical to our peacemaking doctrines.
As we have too-recently learned, people of the LGBT community are not the “other”, but are our parents, siblings, friends, and partners. They are us. The community isn’t going to magically vanish and save us the trouble of self-evaluation and critique.
While the denomination is somehow still debating whether girls can be trusted on stage, the rest of us are generations past that question, and have become eager for even more inclusiveness.Ryan Kargel, commenting on the statement from the MB Executive Boards
Richard Rohr teaches us that “great love and great suffering… are the universal, always available paths of transformation.” As in Jesus’ own story, suffering in solidarity with the oppressed–picking up one’s cross and laying down one’s life–is the great act of love that leads us through death and into resurrection.
I am ready for great suffering to be met with even greater love. We are suffering: women, LGBTQ folks, people of color, all those who are excluded and exploited in many ways. Will our suffering be seen? Will it be heard? Will we be met with compassion and love? Will we encounter support and solidarity?
Or will we continue to watch as those able to do something avert their gaze and pass by on the other side of the road? As they hurry by, they mumble, “I’ve got so many important things to do. I’ve got to keep the church going!” They leave us for dead when they do not stop, see us, and allow compassion to move them towards solidarity. They say with their actions, “I have no need of you. You do not belong.”
We do belong. We are created in the image of God. We are part of the body of Christ. Our queerness is a gift with so much transformative and healing power. We are ready.
Jesus proclaims the good news: deliverance into God’s dream of shalom is at hand. “Blessed are the peacemakers…”
Are you ready?
For those who want support and/or resources regarding LGBTQ inclusion, please contact me. I offer guidance and learning resources for individuals, small groups, churches, and other Christian spaces.
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