Why Can’t We Welcome LGBTQ People?
Originally Printed in The Nov. 2018 issue of The Mennonite
A handful of leaders in Mennonite Church USA, and especially Virginia Conference, have signed a statement called “Our commitment as we relate to same-sex couples: We Will Live in Grace and Truth.” Its aim is to reaffirm opposition to queer couples while still extending compassion and welcome to them.
This statement, which is intended to extend compassion to LGBTQ people, spends an inordinate amount of time justifying their condemnation. If we think we can welcome people into our communities, provided they remain second-class citizens of the kingdom of heaven, then we have a limited understanding of welcome and an even more limited understanding of Jesus’ love or God’s peace. Exclusion from full participation in the life of the church is still exclusion.
Why was this statement written? And why now?
We live in a country where undocumented children are separated from their parents and held in cages, where white-nationalist groups continue to rise in power and influence, where military spending surpasses every other nation, where wealth inequality continues to skyrocket, where powerful men commit sexual violence with impunity, where mass incarceration disrupts families and where police violence destroys lives. But this statement demonstrates a different kind of priority—the repeated condemnation of our LGBTQ siblings in Christ.
This isn’t an issue of biblical interpretation; it’s an issue of moral outlook.
There have been many statements like this one, and I’m sure there will be more. As a life-long Mennonite and a life-long queer person, I feel compelled to read each one, in spite of the violence it will do to my soul. I have a personal and faithful relationship with Jesus, whose love and acceptance of me I have never doubted. So I don’t understand why so many straight leaders—and straight male leaders in particular—dedicate so much time and energy trying to prove otherwise.
I’m also a Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary. I’ve spent the last three years ministering to LGBTQ people in New York City who have been wounded by the same tired rhetoric of heterosexism and transphobia found in statements like this one. I can debate the theological and biblical arguments for and against the exclusion of queer people from full participation in the church.
But those arguments have been made thousands of times and haven’t changed people’s minds. This isn’t an issue of biblical interpretation; it’s an issue of moral outlook. When the outright enslavement of black people was a legal and common practice in this country, white Christians debated among themselves over its biblical justification. Supporters of enslavement had more biblical support for their position than abolitionists did. There are dozens more verses supporting and regulating slavery in the Bible than are purported to talk about queer people and our relationships.
But slavery wasn’t about the Bible. It was about people who lacked the moral clarity or basic decency to treat other human beings as human. The spirit of Jesus is one of love, justice, peace and liberation, then and now. And as long as we have entrenched biases in our hearts, we will cherry-pick Bible verses to support them. Jesus had no condemnation for queer people or our loving relationships. But he had the utmost condemnation for exclusionary religious leaders.
This letter is wrong, not just because it misinterprets the Bible but because it narrows the scope of God’s grace and activity in the world. What God is doing will always be much bigger than the limited imaginations of religious leaders who preoccupy themselves with keeping others out of the kingdom of God.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I commit to respond in grace and truth. I will extend grace and forgiveness to all people. But I will tell the truth about injustice.