Why become publicly affirming?

Over the past year I’ve heard a lot of reason why people don’t think they or their congregation should become publicly affirming of lgbtq people. I thought about writing a response to each reason – there really aren’t that many. Maybe I still will, but before laying out counter-arguments, I decided it was important to start with why I think becoming a publicly affirming congregation is the necessary ethical action to take.

Why your congregation should become publicly affirming and join the Supportive Communities Network:

Premise 1
All people are loved by God. It is our responsibility to treat every person with respect and dignity. Our responsibility increases when a group of people is systematically marginalized and oppressed.

Premise 2
When religion is used as a tool to exclude, discriminate, harm, or promote fear and hatred, it adds a layer of spiritual abuse on to the harmful action. Additionally, it damages the reputation of the religion and the ability of religious followers to be a witness for love and justice in the world.

Premise 3
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been treated poorly by our institutional denominations, and by individuals acting in accordance with what they have been taught at church. At best, we have been treated as second-class members – at worst as sub-human.

As (Mennonites or Brethren), as Christians and as human beings, it is time for us to end all discriminatory policies and practices, promote lgbtq inclusive theology and education, and engage in (personal and institutional) reflection about how we Christians once again managed to use our religion to support our bigotry.

Joining the Supportive Communities Network means doing these things and standing with other communities who are doing the same.


Where’s the middle?

When you ask someone where their congregation is in terms of being affirming towards lgbtq members, the response is predictable. Usually some humming and hawing, and then a “well, some are on one side, a few on the other, and most people are somewhere in the middle.” You will get this same response, no matter how welcoming a congregation is or is not (unless of course, the congregation has made a public statement).

What I want to know is, what does “the middle” mean in this context? Am I, or am I not, a sub-par human being? Where exactly is the grey between being created as a child of God or as an abomination?

Additionally frustrating is that the middle is viewed as neutral, and being neutral is seen as better than taking sides. This is especially true when our pacifist beliefs get distorted to the point where they mean nothing more than the avoidance of potential conflict.

When a congregation has an internal dispute about sanctuary décor or music selection, it is understandable and appropriate for some to find themselves on middle ground, neutral, and possibly taking on a mediating role. But this is not about paint chips or praise bands, this is about people’s lives and how we judge human worth. Besides, how do you mediate a conflict when one party is actively excluded from the table?

When our context is an institution that has historically persecuted and continues discriminatory policies and practices towards particular groups, being “neutral” supports the status quo. This same pattern is repeated throughout history. Silence in the face of discrimination is never viewed as ethically justified when we look backwards in time, yet during each “today” we continue to look for reasons to justify our silence and inaction.

This unwillingness to learn from our past scares me. Until we do some serious self-examining, this pattern will continue. Who will be tomorrow’s marginalized group? Will it be you or someone you love?

Those of us working towards welcome and affirmation sometimes fall into the trap of arguing against those few who are actively working for exclusion and condemnation. Engaging in that argument takes a lot of time and energy, and is unlikely to change that person’s mind. Engaging in that argument also allows the self-proclaimed middle off the hook – they don’t have to do anything, and get to feel good that they’re not as bigoted as those people quoting Leviticus.

It has become clear that the institutional church isn’t going to end its discrimination of lgbtq people until it’s forced to by individual members and congregations. This means the people in “the middle” are going to need to find some moral courage and speak what they are thinking and feeling. Yes, I know there may be some who are uncertain what they believe, but time and time again, individuals share that they are “personally supportive” but can’t say so “publicly” for reasons a, b and c.

We need to ask the people in the middle, and the people in the middle need to ask themselves:

1)      What are the core values of my faith?

2)      What do these values tell me is the right thing to do?

Then do it. I want you to do it even if you come to a different conclusion than I have, because at least you’ll be acting with ethical integrity. When we compromise our own values, we do harm to ourselves and our ability to witness to others on all other issues. This is the true danger the church should be trying to avoid.



The Change Must Start Now

BMC is consistently denied exhibit space at denominational events.

A close friend of mine was recently asked to wait 10 years for the Church to be ready for her to be an out lesbian and accepted in ministry.

Brethren and Mennonite listservs frequently opine that “within a few generations, LGBT acceptance won’t even be an issue.”

Denominational staff people have suggested that the youth and young adult population of today’s Church need not discuss LGBT issues, because being LGBT simply “isn’t an issue” for that demographic.

For at least nine years, BMC volunteers have been sponsored by United Church of Christ Partners in Service and/or Lutheran Volunteer Service.

These are just a few reasons why I feel underwhelmed by the overwhelming sense of false support for LGBT individuals within the Brethren and Mennonite Churches. I was raised to believe that any one person could make a difference; as long as I stood up for myself, I was doing the right thing. As I stand up as a lesbian and a member of the Church of the Brethren, I wonder where the support has gone.

We have reached an interesting place in the Brethren and Mennonite Churches. Support for LGBT individuals seems to be spreading throughout both traditions, and at times I am even surprised by the number of people willing to claim an ally identity. All too often, however, I feel perplexed by individuals who personally whisper their support of LGBT individuals, yet remain publicly silent. When times are tough (and times are always tough), these individuals abandon their progressive leanings and remain silent.

Being an ally is a powerful identity. Being a good ally is even more powerful. I am frustrated and disappointed with the repeated experience of allies not exhibiting the kind of bravery necessary to create real change. How many of us belong to congregations who “support” LGBT individuals, but have yet to join the Supportive Communities Network and really come out to their denomination and local community? Granted, this is not an easy task. In fact, LGBT individuals face an enormous risk upon coming out to family, friends, and their congregations. Without facing this risk with courage, we would never see change. Allies also face a risk when choosing to stand up for equality and justice. Taking this risk is what creates an amazing ally. As Anais Nin stated, “…the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” What is stopping us from taking the risk of making our support public?

 I call allies to action. Move your congregation to join the Supportive Communities Network. Speak up at meetings when the vote could easily be turned to a landmark victory for LGBT persons within the Church. Be that voice of dissent, unwilling to budge on issues of equality and justice. Remaining silently supportive is a detrimental act for the movement, and it is causing a great amount of hurt to individuals, families, and the church as a whole. Start the change. Do not allow yourself to relax and wait for equality and justice, because every day the chance for action passes us by. Most of all, stay committed to your beliefs when difficulties arise; for an ally is hardly an ally if they are unwilling to act.

We can no longer wait for a great revolution of change within the Brethren and Mennonite Churches. The change must start now.