1 John 4:7-8

From Barbra Graber (March 7, 2014):

“Everyone the loves is born of God and knows God.”

Have you ever felt like everyone seemed to be talking about you but no one was willing to talk to you about something that directly affected you? It can knock you off your game.

Have you ever been the target of personally injurious, defamatory, moral accusations for actions or behaviors you believed to have integrity? It’s heartbreaking.

Have you ever suffered the embarrassment of being publicly condemned for something in your life that you thought was private? It’s severely disturbing.

Have you ever received unwarranted and unjust personal attacks by persons who did not know you or have a relationship with you? It can make it hard to sleep at night and harder to get up in the morning.

Have you ever been publicly accused of gross wrongdoing? It can make you question your reason for living and even your worth as a human being.

Because these human interactions carry such weighty and damaging consequences for the persons who are their targets, they are considered unacceptable ways of communicating in civil society. In some cases they are illegal.

But as unkind and punishing the consequences of these behaviors may be, they exemplify precisely what well-meaning Christians carry out against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters on a regular basis. From the pulpit on Sunday mornings to the Sunday School classes and Bible Studies we lead, from the prayer groups to the church conferences we join, we unwittingly and constantly declare public condemnation. The Christian church has been busy with this particular kind of cruelty and unique brand of sexualized violence for centuries.

Without thought of the consequences, painful pronouncements of judgment and exclusion are meted out to every person in our churches, young and old, who do not fit the box of sexual identity known as heterosexual or cisgendered. I invite those of us who have the privilege of fitting into what’s considered a normative gender identity to take the time to notice and observe next time we sit in church, attend a Christian ceremony, or engage with church media. I invite us to imagine we are experiencing it from the perspective of someone who identifies as queer on the gender identity scale, from someone who is a follower of Jesus, and who lives or one day hopes to live a fulfilling life within a same-sex committed relationship.

Here’s what my experience was like over the last few weeks:

• In the Sunday morning service we sing “You’ve got a place at the Welcome Table,” from a favorite Mennonite hymnal. I think to myself, “Well, no, not actually. If I am queer, I absolutely do not have a place unless I’m willing to keep a tight lid on the secret of who I truly am.”

• I gather our church mail and find the periodical “Beyond Ourselves.” The letter inside the front cover from Executive Director of Mennonite Mission Network, Stanley Green contains a statement highlighted in large letters: “True partnership insists that all voices count, that all opinions are respected, and that everyone’s gifts are taken seriously.” If that describes true partnership then the church shares no part in it. There are countless persons in the Mennonite Church whose profound giftedness has been rejected,
whose voices and opinions have been silenced, and whose memberships of a lifetime are rescinded the minute they reveal who they are called to be in the context of freely chosen intimate human relationship.

• A woman stands during congregational sharing time to report on her 8-week absence from the Sunday morning worship services for knee surgery. She talks of listening in on the radio but says “there’s something so special about being together with you all in person. It is so wonderful to be back among you. I’ve missed this.” Yes it is special. But queer members baptized into this congregation, who were every bit as faithful as this sister, who also may listen in on the radio, know they are denied the comfort and blessing of corporate Mennonite worship, not just for 8 weeks, but for the rest of their lives.

• Sitting comfortably in our Sunday morning pew with husband Dale’s arm tucked around my shoulders, I feel cozy and loved, then realize that the closeted persons in our congregation’s pews or in pews around the world would not dare display such acts of affection. They may not even feel it is safe to sit together. They may well have experienced threats of violence when they exhibited the slightest fondness for one another on the streets of Harrisonburg. Attempting to think their thoughts and feel their feelings as I
sit there, literally embraced by the privilege of belonging, brings tears to my eyes.

• At a traditional church wedding we happily join in the extravagance and abundance of it all: the showering of love and affection, the generosity of lavish gifts, the beauty of ceremonial pageantry —all bestowed upon the bride and groom. Then I remember there are those also present who live with knowing this kind of communal support will never be possible for them and their beloved. Even though they know the love and commitment they share is no different than that of the bride and groom, they also know they are completely shut out. But they have come graciously out of the same need for community ritual as every human on the planet. They have come to share in the joy of that day, knowing full well that the experience will hold for them a deep-seated, longing and heartache.

• As I come through the door into the sanctuary on a Sunday morning I am warmly greeted and handed a bulletin by an usher. Then another thought comes to me: “How ludicrous it would be if I were asked by the usher to please, before entering, divulge the particulars of my sex life, details of how and when and with whom, in the privacy of our home, I happen to express my sexuality.” The invasion of my privacy would be considered staggering and appalling. Yet this is exactly the kind of invasive, disrespectful demand we place on LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

There is a flurry of prayer, dialogue, and discernment going on in the Mennonite Church about the intensely personal lives of brothers and sisters who happen to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or, the all-inclusive, queer. And we have made them outcasts. Even though we have known some of them since they were children, we do not even invite them to the discussion. Others of them have worked along side us in Mennonite congregations and institutions. They are sons, daughters, friends, colleagues, cousins, aunts, and uncles. They were at one time some of the most beloved members of our Mennonite community. They have been birthed, consecrated, baptized, commissioned, employed, even ordained into the congregations, institutions and agencies of MC USA; and then they were suddenly marginalized, ousted, rendered voiceless and made to feel unwelcome in our circles, our homes, and at our social events.

As we continue to talk about this “issue” I hope we can do away with the “issue” word and replace it with “people.” In actuality we are talking about these people rather than this issue. These are people who deserve a place at the table. It is time to end this cruel practice of exclusion. As Rick Yoder so aptly put it, “Mountain States Mennonite Conference is the Rosa Parks of today’s civil rights movement.” It is time for change.

To keep these good people at the forefront, I invite you to make a list of the persons in your inner circle of friends, family and congregants who you know have been shunned by our heterosexist church culture. Keep seeing their faces as you join in whatever privileged official church process you find yourself. They don’t want our pity, but they deserve our love, respect and full acceptance.

I John 4: 7-8 pretty much sums it up. “Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God.” Period. End of story.

God save us from pronouncing such a harsh sentence, such a lack of love, on yet another generation of honorable, upstanding, gifted, and faithful Mennonite young people.