LGBT advocates pursue acceptance at Kansas City

Pink Menno gathers for largest convention presence

Jul 8, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Organizations advocating for inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people within Mennonite Church USA were allowed a presence within the denomination’s convention for the first time.

Philip Kendall and Pink Menno lead a hymn sing outside the delegate hall July 2 at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Philip Kendall and Pink Menno lead a hymn sing outside the delegate hall July 2 at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Pink Menno, a group committed to being a visible and vocal presence at Mennonite gatherings, operated out of a room around the corner from the delegate hall. Supporters combined for their largest presence ever at what was for many a very emotional convention.

In addition to conducting hymn sings at prominent locations and times, the group also took more dramatic measures to address efforts they perceive to silence and oppress them.

During a July 2 delegate session, about a half dozen people walked on stage to perform a satirical skit parodying the convention voting process by offering a resolution barring individuals “struggling with opposite-sex attraction at variance with the Mennonite Confession of Faith.” A simultaneous, separate action saw supporters wearing pink cover their clothes with trash bags to “de-pink” the assembly and visualize the act of silencing LGBT people.

Confusion reigned as a volunteer attempted to take the microphone from Pink Menno activists who interrupted the session. Some delegates shouted for them to be quiet. Moderator Elizabeth Soto Albrecht prayed at the podium, and others began singing.

‘Seen as fully human’

Hayley Brooks of Minneapolis, a recent Goshen (Ind.) College graduate, was part of the demonstration.

She acknowledged the group’s message probably didn’t rise above all the activity. And she maintained that a resolution that was ultimately passed — calling for grace and forbearance among churches with different views on same-sex unions — did not go far enough.

“The forbearance resolution is written to protect straight people. It lets people off the hook,” she said. “It doesn’t do anything for queer people. . . . It doesn’t change anything for our place in the church.”

 

She said inclusion would hardly impact the lives of conservatives who feel such a change would be monumental.

“We’re not making people be gay,” Brooks said. “We just want to exist in the church and be seen as fully human.”

Later that afternoon, Pink Menno demonstrators stood silently in a hallway, facing delegates leaving a session, with pink tape covering their mouths.

A final 30-minute hymn sing preceding the concluding July 4 delegate session began with a small circle but grew as people made their way to the far end of the convention center. Concentric rings of singers reached far beyond the stretch of the few song books available. By the top of the hour as many as 500 people of all ages raised their hands and sang, “I’m your child, while I run this race.”

‘We need to resist’

Pink Menno was also busy inside its convention center room, convening a four-day symposium, “On the Way: Dis-Covering Diversity,” with days dedicated to queer liberation, trauma healing, MC USA structural power and resistance to white supremacy. Some sessions were proposals that had been rejected for the convention’s official program.

One such offering, “Race, Sex and the Politics of Belonging in the Mennonite Church,” on July 3, featured Mennonite scholars Stephanie Krehbiel, Tobin Miller Shearer and Felipe Hinojosa.

Krehbiel said Mennonites are good at perpetuating cycles of abuse because pacifist theology has encouraged people who directly name problems to be shamed. She said this was why Pink Menno activists weren’t welcome in the delegate hall a day earlier.

“That was not about anybody being comfortable,” Krehbiel said. “That’s the problem, the addiction to wanting everybody to not be uncomfortable, to not be upset. So we need to resist when we are telling the story of what happened in this convention. We need to resist the urge to tell that narrative.”

Latino perspective

The narrative Hinojosa sees as a Latino Mennonite historian is that of white Mennonites in an 18-wheeler, capable at any moment of running minorities’ small cars off the road. Stories of the past and shorthand of today paint Hispanic Mennonites in the U.S. as being homogenous in theology, education and politics.

He said Latino Mennonites have fought for civil rights and welcomed immigrants, but the dominant story says this was mainly a white endeavor. He said the Latino history of alienation, colonization and marginalization fits well with other groups facing societal challenges. He said Latinos should take care when aligning with groups that could limit civil rights.

Iglesia Menonita Hispana is positioning itself within the racist church entities that, if we don’t wake up, will run it off the road,” Hinojosa said.

Madeline Maldonado reported on behalf of IMH to delegates three days later that IMH would hold a meeting this year to discern its future with MC USA.

Rocking the boat

In the afternoon on July 3, Pink Menno presented stories of Hugo Saucedo, former director of Mennonite Mission Network’s Mennonite Voluntary Service program, and Wendi O’Neal, a racial justice organizer in New Orleans, who said she was terminated from Mennonite Central Committee Central States in October because she married another woman, which violated a human resources policy.

“MCC attempts to uphold the confessions of faith and reflect the policies on sexuality of our supporting Mennonite and Brethren in Christ denominations as sensitively as possible in our own policies,” said MCC human resources director Susan Wadel after convention concluded. “These will be affirmed by some and will cause others to grieve.”

Both O’Neal and Saucedo suggested that a commitment to constituents and donors compromises organizations’ ability to pursue total justice.

“The whole values system the organization had was based on two things,” Saucedo said. “The status quo, let’s not rock the boat, and funders. Because if you rock the boat you will lose your fund­ers.”

O’Neal said she struggled to sign a paper saying she agreed with MCC’s policies, but the hiring committee included people who knew she was “queer as a $3 bill.”

“It’s difficult to represent an institution holding values inconsistent with yours and having to carry out those dictates,” she said. “I think it’s a decision to be a freedom fighter or have a paycheck.”

The Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests was also present within the convention for the first time and operated a booth in the exhibit hall.

Click here for all convention-related articles.


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  • Stephanie Krehbiel

    Thanks for this great piece, Tim. I want to clarify that when I am quoted as saying, “We need to resist the urge to tell that narrative,” the surrounding context of the remark was this: The temptation for many is to believe that LGBTQ Mennonites were on the verge of making real gains in the delegate session until Pink Menno activists messed it up by doing their stage action in the July 2 session, making people lose sympathy for their cause. My point, as an scholar of social justice movements, was that actions like these are not designed to garner sympathy or win votes. They are meant to make systemic violence visible, and to destabilize the processes that continue to victimize marginalized people (such as the MCUSA resolution process). I asked our audience to challenge the narrative that placed the blame for the “yes” vote on the Membership Guidelines resolution at the feet of the Pink Menno activists who made people upset and uncomfortable, and to understand that the discomfort caused by an interruption like this is an unavoidable component of effectively challenging an abusive system.

    • Laura Brenneman

      Excellent description of nonviolent social change mechanisms and excellent analysis of this situation, Stephanie. And I’ll add my thanks for your coverage, Tim.

    • Berry Friesen

      Stephanie, let’s be quick to add that the same tactics you espouse “to destabilize the processes” of majorities are favorites of the US-led empire, which has put them to work in the Ukraine to bring down the elected government,in Venezuela in an attempt to reverse the overwhelmingly vote for the populist party, in Hong Kong recently to delegitimize the shared power arrangements in effect there, in all of the so-called “color revolutions” of eastern Europe and in some of the so-called Arab Spring actions of a couple of years ago.

      In each such case, the same rhetoric of “systemic violence,” “victimization” and “abuse” was employed by the empire’s agents. The goal is to weaken the institutions that bring stability to civil society, splinter the shared interests that hold people together and give them the strength to resist, and thereby open the field for exploitation by corporate scavengers. And yes, it often has worked. Ukraine is a textbook case, but there are many others.

      That’s right, the tactics of Gene Sharp and Saul Alinsky are now part of the oppressors bag of tricks!

      I can’t be sure of your intent; you have called for Stutzman’s dismissal and for a boycott on giving to MCUSA, so you have given us reason to worry. But even assuming your intents are to strengthen our church, not weaken it, the tactics you have chosen will weaken it unless joined with other tactics that legitimize and strengthen the very processes and institutions you see as so badly flawed. We know that organizers such as MLK worked at both at once.

      • Stephanie Krehbiel

        Berry…we could talk until the end of time and we’d still never be living in the same conceptual universe, let alone be able to communicate meaningfully on anything related to this specific church body. Feel free to interpret my intent however you like. I challenge you to stop trying to dominate every comment thread that has anything to do with LGBTQ people.

        • Berry Friesen

          Ah Stephanie, this has to do with our church, right?

        • Joshua Rodd

          “Berry…we could talk until the end of time and we’d still never be living in the same conceptual universe, let alone be able to communicate meaningfully on anything related to this specific church body.”

          Berry Friesen is a significant figure in the space of progressive Christianity and of pacifist Christianity and peacemaking in particular. Stephanie Krehbiel is likewise an accomplished academic, active in the same fields.

          If the two of you can talk to the end of time yet still never be living in the same conceptual universe, nor communicate meaningfully on anything related to your church body, how will the church continue to exist and function with both of you in it?

          Wouldn’t it just make more sense to agree that you two will never agree, and each find spaces to peacefully exist in and carry out your mission, and acknowledge that those spaces will need to be in different church bodies?

      • Philipp Gollner

        I call for a four year moratorium on the term “empire.” And peer review if it is used nevertheless.

        • Berry Friesen

          Philipp, perhaps a descriptive alternative would be a better way to foster understanding. Instead of “the empire,” we could refer to ”the hegemonic power that seeks to integrate the entire world into its predatory form of capitalism and punishes societies that resist integration with political destabilization, the terrorism of mercenary and proxy forces, economic sanctions, cyber-sabotage and military aggression.”

          It is a bit longish, I suppose, but it avoids the the troubling biblical associations between “empire” and “Babylon” and between “empire” and the awful beasts in John’s vision. Keeps god out of it, in other words.

  • Luke Yoder

    Thanks for telling an important part of the story, Tim. And thanks to Stephanie for her clarification. I know all of the time demands that were on MWR staff during convention, and I’m appreciative of the care and thought that was evidenced in your coverage. I know there are always gaps in what is able to be covered, and I appreciate your willingness to work diligently to minimize those gaps. Thanks again for your thoughtful coverage.

  • Andrea Zuercher

    Good recap; thanks, Tim. I just have one quibble: I have been told (by I don’t remember who right now, but it was someone in a position to know) that the staff person pictured and captioned on Twitter (and now perpetuated in this account) as “taking a mic away” was actually “handing a mic to” someone. I could not see this happen at the time through my tears, so I cannot say as an eyewitness what actually happened in the delegate hall that day. It shouldn’t be too difficult to follow up with the convention staff to get this person’s account of what she was doing at that moment. — Andrea Zuercher

    • Jen Yoder

      Here’s what I know to be true. The mike was in my hand. There were very active attempts to remove that mike from my hand. You can see that clearly on pinkmenno (dot) org. Simply click on the tab at the top that says Pink Menno Press. The pic is right there.

      When I handed it off, there was an attempt to get to the mike from my co-performer’s hand. Then this person walked around to the amp that controlled the mike and another Pink Menno had to step in front of the amp to stop it from being turned off.

      This person was saying something in my ear: I couldn’t tell you what. She has told me since then that she was saying she wanted me to be able to speak.

      I was simultaneously hearing Elizabeth Soto-Albrecht shouting to turn off all the mikes, and that “we need order!”, hearing this person in my ear saying something about the rules, hearing people shouting that I should get off the stage (etc.), attending to my co-performers’ and their health and safety (these actions are emotionally difficult/dangerous), trying to read/say my part, read the atmosphere for safety, and feeling the strong physical attempt to remove the mike from my hand/ensuring that I stayed true to my commitment to nonviolence in any resistance to the mike being taken…it was quite a set of two minutes.

      We could focus on this one woman and what she said in my ear, which would be a great way to avoid the discomfort and disruption of this action.

      When a *process* is violent (believing you have the right to vote on the worthiness of my soul or my relationship with my partner, for example) and silencing, disrupting it is peacemaking. That action surfaced and made visible the previously invisible violence that was bolstering that process.

      Let’s sit with that violence and what it means for a peace church, and for us as members of it.

      • Andrea Zuercher

        Thank you, Jen. That’s what I wanted to know. I did not mean to divert attention from what happened by focusing on one person. While you were on stage, I was sitting at my table sobbing because of the MEN at a nearby table who started singing “Praise God From Whom” very loudly as this was playing out. People using beloved words to drown out your voices was too much for me. I’m sorry if you felt I was trying to downplay the violence of the moment in my comment. I wasn’t. I was attempting to reconcile what I’d been told with what actually happened. You have done that. Thank you so much. Peace to you, my sister. I am with you. — Andrea Zuercher

        • Jen Yoder

          Thanks, Andrea, not at all. I don’t want *anyone* demonized, certainly, so it’s a legit question.

      • Joshua Rodd

        “When a *process* is violent (believing you have the right to vote on the worthiness of my soul or my relationship with my partner, for example) and silencing, disrupting it is peacemaking”

        Is it? These are the same arguments I hear from my friends, Mennonites, about why it is OK that they keep and bear arms for self defence, or join the military.

        “I’m opposing bad things. Fighting bad things is actually peacemaking.”

        “Protecting my family is loving my enemy because it’s not loving to let him kill / harm us.”

        If I held your convictions and felt I were being silenced or that the process were violent, I would walk out and stop participating. “Whenever they persecute you in one place, flee to another.”

        • Stephen Johnson

          No one is telling our “friends” that they cannot belong to the church. A cry to have your voice heard and a longing for inclusion is the very essence the “community” the church was created to provide. While “peacemaking” may not be the best term to use in this instance the spirit behind the remark is. We are called to love one another. Suggesting that those who don’t like having their voice suppressed leave a church that they obviously love is far more harmful than any disruption created in the cry for a voice.

          • Joshua Rodd

            What I am saying is, that if you feel a process is violent and that certain people or factions in a church are not being loving – there isn’t much you can do to make them stop being violent, or start being loving, other than resorting to your own form of force yourself.

            There are a lot of places my voice isn’t welcome – some of them are places I would personally like to be, but it won’t bring any peace or harmony to that place, or the world at large, for me to express my voice there. It’s better that I be silent. I have questioned even writing the things that I do here, because I’m not sure how to speak without making the ill feelings all around even worse.

          • Stephen Johnson

            Thanks for clarifying but. The problem is that these brothers and sisters have been welcomed at many churches within MCUSA. The fact that other congregations are not as welcoming is not a reason for them to leave as much as some would like to see that happen.

  • Craig and Karen Long

    Seriously, if one can really understand the root of the homosexual movement, that one would surely, as the Scripture states: take the Kingdom (of YHVH) back by force.

  • Phyllis Bixler

    I did not attend Kansas City MCUSA, but this and other accounts I have read suggest to me that it was a cauldron of fear, on all sides. And a reminder that the “perfect love that drives out fear” does not come easily, especially when it involves expectation of some kind of punishment. I am struck by the relevance of 1 John 4:18 NIV: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because
    fear has to do with punishment.”

  • John Bekert

    Recently our Church decided to remove Mennonite from the Church name and I was not happy with it, but the more I read where the Mennonite Church is headed the more comfortable I am with the change. I know it is a matter of time before the LGBTQ people get their way!
    May God help us!

  • John Bekert

    I hope that I haven’t hurt anyone here, if I have please forgive me. I pray that God will guide us and lead us in the right direction!

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