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.

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