LGBTQ advocates make the most of greater acceptance

Pink Menno and BMC see opportunity for conversations

Jul 17, 2017 by and

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ORLANDO, Fla. — From official seminars and an inclusive worship service to direct involvement in the Future Church Summit, LGBTQ participation and presence at the Mennonite Church USA convention reflected movement in from the sidelines.

Two years ago, the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests was present within the convention for the first time and operated a booth in the exhibit hall. Pink Menno, a group committed to being a visible and vocal presence at Mennonite gatherings, was also given a room within the convention hall for hosting events that year.

Participants in an inclusive worship service at the Mennonite Church USA convention write the names of people killed in a gay nightclub shooting about a year earlier in Orlando. The service was one of the ways LGBTQ people and topics are having a greater presence within MC USA. — Vada Snider for MWR

Participants in an inclusive worship service at the Mennonite Church USA convention write the names of people killed in a gay nightclub shooting about a year earlier in Orlando. The service was one of the ways LGBTQ people and topics are having a greater presence within MC USA. — Vada Snider for MWR

Both groups returned for the Orlando, Fla., convention. The official schedule included an inclusive worship service lamenting the June 12, 2016, shooting that killed 49 people and wounded 58 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and celebrating additions to BMC’s Supportive Communities Network. At least 200 worshipers cheered July 5 for each of 17 congregations or church groups that have made public statements of LGBTQ welcome in the last two years.

“As I’ve thought about our denomination and the way forward, in my most maybe unhelpful moments I may have said, ‘Burn it down,’ ” said Regina Shands Stoltzfus, Goshen (Ind.) College assistant professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, in a meditation. “But let it burn. Anger burns, but love burns, too. We know what feeds our anger. Let us also make room for what makes us burn with love.”

Outside the delegate hall after a long day of Future Church Summit sessions July 7, Luke Miller of Pink Menno said a series of conversations with MC USA chief operating officer Glen Guyton led to BMC selecting a list of 20 representatives to take part in the summit.

“That itself is very new for Pink Menno, to have an invitation to be part of anything official,” he said. “. . . We were reflecting with a couple of pastors who remember being on stage in Columbus in 2009 who were forbidden from wearing any pink clothing at the time, so that feels like a lot of evolution, where we’ve been given a bit of voice.”

Writing by email a few days before the convention began, Guyton said he had always tried to be welcoming to the diverse people who make up MC USA.

“We have not changed policies or strategies of how we relate to people since I have been leading convention,” said Guyton, who also directs convention planning. “. . . The inclusive service is part of the Executive Board staff’s response and acknowledgement of the hate-based slaughter of queer and Latino people at the Pulse nightclub,” he continued. “It is also our way of living into the forbearance policy set forth by delegates” in 2015.

Stumbling forward

Three seminars on LGBTQ themes featured panels sharing about inclusive congregational discernment experiences, pastors responding to God’s call to ministry and families speaking about being supportive. Each room was full with people standing at the back of the room.

Three pastors shared about encountering roadblocks as they worked toward the ministry field and the pain of having part of their identity publicly scrutinized in a way foreign to their straight counterparts.

“Being singled out and standing at the podium and hearing people say, ‘Well, we know Theda is a lesbian,’ ” related Theda Good, pastor of nurture and fellowship at First Mennonite Church in Denver. “I cringe at being called out in that way, but I realize that for the church to move forward we kind of stumble sometimes.”

While the three seminars expanded the convention’s slate of options, Hayley Brooks of Pink Menno said she and BMC director Carol Wise submitted 15 to 20 potential seminars for approval.

“I’m grateful that they did get accepted, but that also brings up the complicated thing I had with the youth convention,” she said.

Brooks said she was approached about doing a young adult seminar on sexuality featuring conference leaders and young adults, which never actually happened.

“I’m still not clear why it fell through. There was very little communication,” she said. “I did a lot of research for it, made a Powerpoint for it, but then I didn’t find out it wasn’t happening until a week before convention.”

While inclusion is happening at the adult convention, there was lament to see no changes on the youth side of things. Brooks was able to use her material in events at Pink Menno’s convention center room, located away from other activities.

In addition to a series of presentations, Pink Menno hosted a three-hour youth summit July 6 attended by about 40 youth and young adults. Participants discussed how homophobia is manifested in the church, ways to support people coming out and ways to create inclusive worship experiences.

“There’s a lot of queer youth who were there hanging out,” Miller said. “I think we’re providing a ministry that’s desperately needed.”

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