From fear to joy

May 26, 2014 by

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In reading the letters from Mennonites about same-sex sexuality and gender identity, I feel called to respond to the fear and anxiety I read in their words. I want to tell them about my joy.

When I came out as gay, it was the culmination of years of self-discovery, including biblical study, conversations with God and questions about my identity as a child of God. This period of spiritual formation centered on these questions: “Does God love and accept me as I am? Am I a child of God’s?” I chose to be baptized in my Mennonite congregation with this resounding answer: “Yes, of course, I am a child of God’s.” Because pervasive voices in our society had taught me to question my validity as a queer person, it was not a revelation I took for granted.

Those years before coming out were hard, in part because I was fueled by fear. For an LGBTQ person, the decision to be open with your community is not made without fear. There are risks of broken relationships, job loss and church exclusion. But a beautiful thing lies beyond all of the fear: joy. This is at the heart of my spirituality as a queer person: I am known by the God who loves me in all my queerness. In fact, my queerness brought me closer to God in my hour of greatest need. Because of this, my faith in a loving God and my queer identity are intrinsically linked. I have been freed from fear and live into my identity as a queer Mennonite with joy. This is my hope for the Mennonite church — to be free from the bonds of fear. I dream of the Mennonite church living into the joy of a table big enough for all and a community empowered by the belief that our sexuality and gender identity are gifts from God.

Patrick Ressler
Philadelphia


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  • Forrest Moyer

    Thanks for these good words, Patrick. My experience was similar in some ways. I strove so hard to please a god that I feared, to defeat my sexuality (which I feared), and to earn the approval of people whose judgment and rejection I feared. Living in fear (of god, sex, or anything else) did not produce joy in my life, but only frustration and desperation. Letting go of the fear and choosing to embrace questions, new experiences, LIFE–accepting the call, the adventure–and trusting that truth will set me free–that is where I found joy. I think that’s part of why openly homosexual folks have been called “gay”–because of the joy and celebratory spirit of queer women and men who have stepped past their fears and chosen to live openly and truthfully.

  • QueerMenno – Jen Yoder

    Thanks for making a joyful noise, Patrick!

  • Lisa_Schirch

    Thank you for sharing part of your story. I wish it were safe for all Mennonites to feel such joy. I too long for a church where LGBTQ people can be free from fear and feel safe to express their God-given identity.

    • Patrick Ressler

      Thanks, Lisa! In the last sentence, I was referring to all people—heterosexual, cisgender, and LGBTQ. In many (and often problematic) ways, LGBTQ people have become the litmus test in understanding sexuality and gender identity, but the work we do now will not only free LGBTQ people from sexual and gender nonconforming shame—it will free ALL people to understand sexuality and gender identity as gifts from God (as heterosexuality is an orientation and cisgender is a gender identity). This is important work for the Church, and work that LGBTQ and non-queer people should carry together.

      • Lisa_Schirch

        Hi Patrick – Yes, I did read your last sentence that way and I’m sorry my comment didn’t reflect that! I heartily agree that Mennonites need to find better ways to feel joy rather than shame about our sexuality – and to understand the concept of “sexual integrity” and well-being rather than thinking all sex is shameful. It is of great concern to me that some of the same Mennonite church leaders who in the past covered up the sexual abuse and sexual assaults of Mennonite leaders in order to repress any conversation about sex are now the ones leading the charge against allowing church membership for people with same-sex sexuality. These church leaders allowed Mennonite leaders to continue teaching and preaching in public while they were assaulting women behind closed doors.

        Billy Graham’s son runs an organization on clergy sexual abuse and notes the Christian mission field is a “magnet for sexual abusers.” (see http://prospect.org/article/next-christian-sex-abuse-scandal) Clergy sexual abuse is prevalent in Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and most religions of the world including the Eastern yogis and gurus. Why do religious leaders who preach sexual ethics to others violate these same ethics behind closed doors? What is it about sexuality that makes it so difficult for people? Is it the shame we all are taught to feel about our sexuality? The vulnerability and private nature of our sexuality?

        How does the Mennonite Church address these terrible, wounding sexual crimes of domination happening in our churches? Why are churches focussing instead on defining sexual integrity as limited to a very narrow definition of “heterosexuality”? What happens when a husband rapes his wife in a heterosexual marriage? Is this moral?

        So many questions for the church to discuss…
        Lisa

  • Harold Clayton

    It’s great to hear the songs of the next Queer Menno generation!!! Never put yourself in a box, they are just too small…lol!!! You own the sky!!!

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