As the BMC volunteer/ Kaleidoscope coordinator I know I’m supposed to be filling my mind with thoughts about Brethren and Mennonite stuff in North America, but I keep finding my mind wander to secular issues or world politics.
Maybe it’s because I’m bombarded with emails about the latest state marriage law campaign. Maybe it’s because I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that moving a measly 500 miles south to be here in Minnesota resulted in my loss of a long list of civil rights and protections. Or, maybe it’s because of last week’s news story out of Uganda about proposed legislation that would impose the death penalty on the crime of homosexuality (Read the NY Times article). That story certainly makes the connections between religious beliefs and secular laws.
Do negative stories motivate you to action, or paralyze you with frustration? Just in case, here’s a happy world news story, about young queer activist meeting in Scotland last month for the International LGBTQ Youth and Student Organization’s General Assembly (www.iglyo.com).
This summer’s Annual Conference was my first experience with a Brethren Conference of any kind. I showed up at the Richmond Coliseum with my mindfull of fears and worries of what might happen when a group of lgbta people start walking around with large reminders of the exclusion the CoB so deeply practices, by brazenly displaying 11×17″ photos of lgbt and allied Brethren. I felt really proud of all the work that went into BMC’s Picture Project — the gathering of photos and stories was just so tremendous. Here’s adescription of the project from the BMC website:
We were primarily interested in photos from CoB lgbt people and our families; both those who have left the Cob, and those who remain yet struggle. We also included some non-lgbt allies who have either already left the church because of its exclusive practices, are just barely hanging on, or who daily struggle to remain a part of the church and wanted to express their solidarity. We received over 80 beautiful pictures that we enlarged and mounted. We invited supportive individuals at Annual Conference to carry a photo with them at all times at Conference. Our goals were two-fold:
a) to challenge the exclusionary practices of the church by making visible the presence of CoB lgbt families and allies.
b) to encourage individual conversation with other conference-goers.
Growing up in the CoB, I heard every year about BMC’s presence at Annual Conference. I was always eager to hear what creative and moving way BMC staff and supporters would use space never given to them. I’ve been inspired over the past few years to pay more attention to the CoB as I learn more and more about the policies banning BMC from having a space at Conference. For me, it has been a situation in which the more I learn about the struggle for BMC to do seemingly simple things at Conference such as providing information for passersby and staffing a BMC booth, the less hope I have for the Church of the Brethren to right its wrongs. I’ve become hesitant to believe promises for change, and as this year’s Conference grew closer, I prepared myself for the worst: no one will carry posters around with them, BMC materials will be taken from booths and thrown away or not allowed, and people won’t show up for the BMC witness. I was ready for Annual Conference to be the last straw for my relationship with the Church of the Brethren.
It almost pains me to say it, but I’m afraid I’m sticking around for a while. Due to three main reasons (meeting wonderful and genuine allies, learning more and more stories of lgbt people in the Church, and conversations in the exhibit hall), I just can’t help myself. Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m not completely separating myself from the Church of the Brethren; at least not yet.
Now back to those reasons…
I met wonderful and genuine allies at Annual Conference. Family members and close friends of lgbt people in the Church stood out to me as an amazingly powerful presence. The Picture Projectcertainly got people involved, and I believe it allowed people a chance to speak out in a manner as moving as it was loving and influential. Some of the allies who joined us in the witness have been advocates for lgbt rights for years, even decades. I deeply respect those individuals who would challenge their own privileges and work to create change.
The more I learn about lgbt people who have, at one point in time, associated with the Church of the Brethren, the more my anger grows. It’s a strange kind of anger, however, that makes me feel equal parts motivated and discouraged. It’s an anger toward the CoB matched with the respect I feel for the lgbt Brethren population. The actions of the Church of the Brethren in the lives of some of these individuals have been so detrimental that I am amazed we can call ourselves a “Peace Church” with a serious face. The stories of lgbt people in the CoB are often filled with a deep love of a Church that frequently rejects them outright or demands their silence. Many are forced to distance themselves from the Church which had always been a presence in their lives. The strength one must possess to journey through pain, frustration, and betrayal truly astounds me. I have become aware of a great number of individuals who have braved the trail before me, and for that I am grateful.
Sitting in the exhibit hall, I was able to discuss the Church of the Brethren in all its liberal glory. Or rather, the hopes for the future. I was able to meet and get to know some individuals involved with Womaen’s Caucus, On Earth Peace, and VOS … and I picked up on the strong energy to believe that change is possible in the Church of the Brethren. For the first time in my life, I thought to myself, I really want to believe that the Church can change. The commitment formerly present in a few has now sparked in many, and may one day spread even more. I am not yet ready to commit to the thought that the Church of the Brethren will change for the better, or even that it has the ability to make that incredible turn around. I will, however, commit to stickingaround for a bit longer. I want to see where this is going…
Lawrence King?s young life tragically ended in his junior high computer lab in Oxnard, California. Larry, who identified as gay and sometimes dressed in a ?feminine? manner, made the mistake of asking his fellow student, Brandon McInerney, to be his valentine. Apparently the idea of this was so abhorrent and shameful to the fourteen year old Brandon that he brought a gun to school, walked into the classroom, and shot Larry directly in the head.
It is tempting to gasp, express dismay, and then convince oneself that this is an isolated incident that is tragic but, thankfully, an anomaly. However, this dismissal ignores the disturbing statistic from the 2005 California Healthy Kids Survey that 28% of gay and lesbian students report being threatened or injured with a weapon, a rate that is five times that of other students and consistent with national findings. In such an environment, it is no wonder that social engagement, educational aspirations and overall academic achievement can suffer. Students who experience harassment because of sexual orientation or gender expression are more likely to skip school, drop out, reject college, suffer from depression and substance abuse, and under perform academically.
Both the Mennonite Church and Church of the Brethren have included language in their sexuality statements that expresses sorrow at the violence and hatred directed towards gay and lesbian people and calls for understanding and even the pursuit of civil rights (note: bisexual and transgender people are not included in the statements ? the obsession is with ?the homosexual.?) Such sentiments, however, have had little impact. This year BMC proposed a booth for the exhibit space at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference that would focus solely upon providing education related to lgbt hate crimes, job discrimination and housing discrimination. The request was denied, with the committee citing homosexuality as ?an issue which causes passionate divisiveness in our denomination.? It is a telling comment when violence directed towards lgbt people is understood as ?the issue of homosexuality.? Is anti-Semitic violence the ?issue of Judaism??
In practice it is difficult to interpret pious denominational words as little more than an exercise in cheap grace. What efforts have any of the denominations made? What can they point towards in terms of fulfilling this promise? Where have they made a difference? I can think of no instance where the Mennonite Church USA, the Mennonite Church Canada or the Church of the Brethren has spoken out to challenge lgbt directed violence, discrimination or the violation of human or civil rights. Indeed, denominational officials from Mennonite Church Canada were vociferous in their opposition to marriage equality. The courageous congregations and the few pastors who have taken seriously this message of non-violence and understanding have found themselves becoming targets of discipline, derision and hostility.
Lawrence King is dead. May he find a peace that was denied him in life. Brandon McInerney, age 14, will probably spend most of his life in prison. Thousands of young lgbt kids have just gotten the message to be very careful about coming out or displaying any type of gender non-conformity. All are victims of a tragic homophobia that is reinforced by the policies and practices of the Mennonite and Brethren denominations. It is up to each of us to end this shameful complicity. Speak up, come out, talk to your friends, challenge your congregation, demand that your pastor break silence, organize your campus, ask more of the larger church, and get involved in the movement for lgbt justice. For the sake of other young people like Lawrence King and Brandon McInerney, it?s time.
So, as it happens, I didn’t manage to keep writing throughout the week at San Jose or even give a report from the San Francisco conference. For that, I am sorry. If you are hoping for regular posts on this blog, I’m afraid I will have a hard time filling that bill on my own. If other voices want to add their two cents, we might get closer to regular posting. Sign up or email me if you want to share - firstname.lastname@example.org.
I do want to share one little bit I found interesting during one of the presentations at the Mennonite Conference in San Jose. One of the items that the delegate body voted on was a resolution (pdf) in support of bill in the US Congress to “acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the United States government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.” Part of the presentation before this vote included some words by Steve Cheramie Risingsun, a Chitimacha Indian who leads Native Mennonite congregations in Louisiana and Alabama. You can read more about it at the Mennonite Weekly Review article.
The thing that I found particularly interesting about this was a comment made by Risingsun. He was talking about the various ways white colonizers mistreated Native Americans and tried to take away their culture and were generally pretty nasty. He said that there was a phrase that was often used by these white folks: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”
In my official position with a para-church organization, I’ve wondered not a few times in the past few months how I can negotiate this position with anti-oppression work relating heterosexism. Specifically, how to speak and act in a just and life-affirming way while serving in a job description that doesn’t include addressing heterosexism as part of my charge.
I’m in an admittedly easier situation than many, since my position (as the Mennonite Church USA representative to AMIGOS – the global young adult network of Mennonite World Conference) fits into a institutional structure that’s non-coercive and still evolving, as well as the fact that I don’t depend on receiving a salary from my work (it’s volunteer). And since people perceive me as heterosexual, I’m almost never challenged on a personal level.
Nevertheless, I’m not quite sure how to proceed when I’m speaking in my official role. I aspire to acknowledge homophobia alongside other oppressions when I’m listing things that contribute to exclusion/imbalance of power in the church, but I sometimes feel like I’m out of place bringing up sexuality in conversations on global church.
So I was thinking one thing that would help would be to get to know more queer Mennos and allies – as well as stories of how people have negotiated such positions. I’m keen to hear stories of how people (professors, conference reps, pastors, etc) who have taken courageous stands even at odds with their institution.
I should be clear too that I appreciate also the perhaps less-flashy stories of queer folks. Hearing them helps me on my personal faith journey as I seek to learn more about how the dynamics around sexuality, gender, authority, and theology (to name a few) play out in my own life as I interact with the past and present of the church. (The Young Anabaptist Radicals blog and this one have been great places to start for such stories.)
And hearing them also helps me in my official position, as I become more able to recount real examples of how sexuality and the various faces of oppression play out in the lives of people I’m supposed to be representing.
I could say more, but perhaps I’ll tie up my thoughts here by saying thanks to folks who have already shared, and that I hope to hear more about how folks are taking risks to support more thoroughly healthy relationships to sexuality in the church.
I’m writing from the Mennonite Church USA Churchwide Assembly in San Jose. I’ll try to keep some updates coming as I have time and content. I’m here more as a delegate from my congregation than as BMC staff but of course I still have similar concerns whether I’m wearing a BMC hat or just the Katie hat.
The speaker at tonight’s adult worship session was Juan Martinez. I didn’t know of him before but you can read a bit about him here. As I listened to him speak, I was reminded once again that the church has a long way to go. The reason I say this isn’t because I disagreed with much of what he had to say, I felt he was right on as he spoke of the need for the church to deconstruct boundaries and break down walls. He spoke of the church needing to able to change and deal with diversity and I was there with him. I wish I took notes at these kind of things because then I would be able to give a better idea of his words to those gathered tonight. I’ll try to get my notebook out more the rest of the week so I can give better synopses.
The thing that bothered me was that as he was talking about deconstruction and breaking down walls, and boundaries and such it was clear he was talking about language, race, and culture boundaries (maybe even gender, wish I had those notes that I didn’t take) and anything outside of that gets a little fuzzy. When I hear a good speaker talk about themes like this, I tend to apply the inspiring words to my own experience and think how well it all fits but, as far as I could tell, he wasn’t talking about some walls the church needs to deconstruct (or if he was, he wasn’t making that clear with his words). He wasn’t talking about the boundaries that push lgbt people out or tell them they are unworthy. He wasn’t talking about the walls for heterosexism, homophobia, and transphobia.
I’ve begun to notice that in so many church situations, people say as much with what is left out as they do with the actual words that come out of their mouths. If a church person (especially a leader) is talking about diversity or justice, I can’t assume they are saying anything about diversity and justice for the queer community unless they specifically say that. There is always a lot of talk about the church for all people and the unity of the church, but I know to always check for that asterisk and the footnote. It surely rings hollow when it doesn’t seem to be a full call for justice, or diversity, or unity.
“God’s Table, Y’all Come”*
“Live the Call, Vive el Llamado!”**
*some restrictions apply, offer only good for heterosexual Mennonites.
**not if your call is to be queer, out, and anapologetic about it. In that case, if you could just keep it hush hush, that would be just great.
I’ll be writing more later about the amazing BMC/SCN conference this weekend in San Francisco. It was inspiring and fulfilling. First Mennonite of San Francisco is truly a gift.
It’s great to see this blog up & running. A (very) short intro to me: I’m currently halfway through medical school at the University of Chicago. My partner and I have now been together for six years - we had a commitment ceremony a year ago.
I think that LTH, HTS is really about Christians who are good people and feel like good people wanting to continue to feel like good people. They may have heard something about the injustices that queer people have undergone, but in general their worldview is pretty clear on heterosexuality being the only possible expression of sexuality. So the idea of “loving the sinner, hating the sin” feels to them like a way of continuing to feel like they love everyone without really changing their ideas about sexuality.
The thing that just doesn’t work about it is that people can’t be separated from their sexual natures in the way that people can be separated from a “sin.” A sin is usually something you DO, usually knowing that you shouldn’t do it because it will cause others harm (I’m sure there are more profound theological examinations of sin, although I actually find the concept a rather weak way of thinking about behavior.) But someone’s sexual nature is a part of who they are that runs deep into so many areas of their life and being. “The sin” (presumably a certain sexual act) is just one small part or facet of that person’s sexuality - it becomes kind of ridiculous to fixate on “it.” So to me, LTS HTS seems like a very primitive way of talking about queer sexuality that shows only the very faintest notion of what such sexuality even is. For example, my relationship with my partner includes eating together, sleeping in the same bed together, kissing each other hello and goodbye, relying on each other for emotional comfort, sex, being each other’s main confidant, lying on the beach together, on and on… notice that sex is just one aspect of a whole relationship, a relationships that cuts through every area of life. Supposedly “the sin” in all that is exclusively the sex part, but that seems to me like trying to pick one little area of a whole picture and claiming something about that piece that ignores its relation to the whole.
Sexuality is integral to humans relating to each other. I’m not sure most straight people even understand that, probably because the way it affects their relating has always been so taken for granted that they’ve never had to think about it. That’s the main reason why, to me, the church hasn’t even really begun to address the issue of queer sexuality. The only teaching they have is a ban on gay sex (”the sin”) but they’re absolutely silent on sexuality itself.
Thank you Katie for commencing the topic of LTS, HTS. I cannot count the number of times I have felt personally saddened at hearing this phrase from non-accepting and understanding mennonites and other christians. To expound on what I mean, I think that I must share the multiple thoughts that come to mind when I hear this. The phrase itself allows for the following analysis. First of all we must accept that EVERYONE sins, so this phrase is meant for everyone including the pastor who preaches every sunday, the nice little old woman teaching sunday school, and the elderly twins in your home church who never married. However, how often is this phrase actually used for these people? I think that I have only known of it being referenced to people continually living in what the church calls sin or those who have committed societal immoralities such as theft, murder, or rape.
I remember, many years ago, while visiting family friends in Lancaster, PA at a church service the pastor and congregation asked a man to stand up and speak about his sin and his forgiveness. I remember him talking about sinning because he had sexually assualted a woman, a friend, and he was now asking for god’s forgiveness and for forgiveness from his congregation. As a child, I did not completely understand what was going on or what he meant, but that image of this man asking for forgiveness has never left me. Whether someone is christian or not and believes what he did was a sin, he had done much worse than that by violating someone’s body, privacy, and personal rights as well as breaking a law. In that moment, his congregation was accepting to love him and commit themselves to him and his recovery (as some might say) while hating the very act that he committed. Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin. What a perfect example of how this should be used. Love the violator, Help him heal.
So, how is it that when churches say LTS, HTS for queer persons, how in any way is this comparable? How is it at all possible that someone can correlate a brutal illegal crime with loving someone of the same sex, or consensual sexual relations with someone of the same sex?
Looking back at when I was in college, I think of the cliques that I was not immediately involved in of mostly heterosexual white men and women, made up of pseudo-jocks, athletes, incredibly intelligent persons, and your average joe/jane. The majority of these well known people were liked, not for their looks alone , capabilities, or brains, but mostly because they knew how to have a good time. I’m talking about constant partying every weekend, drinking like we were in a bad water crisis, pre-marital sex, even the occasional non-consensual sexual assualt. All this, from those who our church deems sexually moral simply because outside of their clique and others around them, everyone thinks that they are the good little mennonite boy or girl who occasionally has fun with friends. Unknowingly, the church is Loving the Sinner and secretly accepting the sin, because they are not doing anything to stop it. Yet, when the church finds out someone is queer and in a relationship, the mere fact that they are in a relationship means that they are sinning because they are engaging in some sort of physical behavior. However when the “good little mennonites” are in a relationship they may still be having sex and the church does not know this because their sexuality allows for physical actions that may not be sexual that are not sinful (as deemed by the church). So basically I’m trying to say that there is not equal treatment between queer and heterosexual relationships when it comes to what the church sees.
So when I hear LTS, HTS I am filled with sadness, anger, and sometimes a painfully sick feeling in my stomach. I think it is unfair how the church uses the term for some and cannot for others, I think that when someone says this I know that I cannot and do not want to be around them nor would I ever want to attend their church, and I think that it’s simply a cheap answer for a church that will not study the issue and get beyond their fears of understanding and acceptance.
If you’ve been perusing the categories section, you may have noticed this jumble of letters and wondered, what is LTS HTS? It means “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It gets used so much in the church that I decided to just abbreviate it here.
If anybody feels inspired to write about their thoughts and feelings on LTS HTS, I welcome some comments, or even a post. I’ll wait a bit to write more about it.
For some more of my thoughts on the language of like this: check this out. Like a lot of my other stuff here, it was at young.anabaptistradicals.org first because that is where I was writing before I started this blog here.
The US House of Representatives just passed hate crimes legislation that would extend hate crimes protections to be based on gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity in addition to current protections for race, religion, color, and national origin. It still has to go through the Senate and then face veto by you know who.
The thing that really blows me away is that people are actually against this, and that those people happen to call themselves Chrisitians. Now, if folks have a problem with the idea of hate crimes protections in general, eh, I would be happy to discuss that. But the idea that some groups of people should get protections while other groups (groups which happen to experience a disproportionate amount of hate crimes) should not is completely ridiculous. As it happens, the religious right is coming out en force against hate crimes protections for lgbt people. I linked this article about this(really, check it out, it’s a good one) in an earlier post.