This blog is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board or the other resolution writers. Readers are encouraged to consult other resources, engage the writers of the resolution and discern within their own context. Mennonite Church USA would like to extend an invitation to members with differing viewpoints to submit blog posts, rooted in Scripture, on this and other matters for potential publication in the Menno Snapshots blog.
Michael Crosby is a pastor at First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and a member of the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors Leadership Team.
It was a Sunday morning in 2009 and one of my first times in a Mennonite church. During the congregational prayer, someone shared a heavy petition, discomforting for the way it brought everyone into the presence of someone else’s heartache. We held the prayer and offered it to God.
This was a tender moment. It drew me into a congregation, and wider tradition, where a person’s pain found honest, prayerful expression in the body of Christ.
But what happened next caught me by surprise. The mic moved on quickly, and the next person to take it immediately made a bad joke (as in, not very funny). Desperate for relief, the whole congregation erupted in exaggerated laughter. I leaned over to a friend who was a member of the church and a longtime Mennonite. “What just happened!?” I asked.
“I’ll explain later,” he told me. After the service, I received an education in Mennonite conflict avoidance and a corresponding discomfort with strong emotions. It’s certainly not exclusive to Mennonites, nor is it true of everyone in the church, but since that first experience, I’ve felt and seen this happen over and over in church spaces. I’m sure I have done it myself.
As a relative newcomer to Mennonite Church USA, I’m also still learning our internal politics. When “A Resolution for Repentance & Transformation” (R&T) went before the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) for discussion last year, a report said that some found it “scolding” and “not invitational.” They were hoping for “more pastoral ways to accomplish the resolution’s goals.”
When I read the report, I felt the same dissonance from that Sunday morning when pain was so quickly cast aside. The criticism leveled at R&T — to be “challenging” was reported as a negative trait! — was disheartening and seemed out of sync with the biblical witness.
Did Moses fail to pastor Pharaoh when he announced God’s liberating plan for his people? Did Elijah miss the class on pastoral care when he called Ahab to account? Does Mary’s joyful song of toppling power fail the pastor test for those on their thrones? Was Jesus not Zacchaeus’ pastor when he called him down from his high perch? Was Peter not pastoral enough when he stood before the same officials who executed Jesus and declared the Good News that Jesus was raised and God was calling them to repentance?
I suspect the discomfort comes from being invited to see ourselves or our churches as Pharaoh, Ahab and Zacchaeus, or as the authorities scolded by Jesus and offered a second chance by Peter. Yet, this is what the Bible invites us to do, repeatedly, while holding on to the hope of repentance.
There’s a common distinction made between “pastors” and “prophets,” which suggests that some are called to provide care while others are meant to provide accountability. But I worry that this distinction has confused the church’s witness.
It leaves out the fact that naming our failures and committing to change are powerful acts of care for ourselves and others.
Even more importantly, the pastor/prophet distinction neglects a key question: pastoral for whom? Directly naming the church’s harmful actions towards LGBTQIA people redirects our attention. Instead of asking whether the call to repentance is invitational enough for those of us who find it “challenging,” we begin to ask whether the Good News lived out by MC USA invites the flourishing of queer people within and beyond the church.
In my experience, this question follows Jesus down a path that leads to deep joy. I am learning to humble myself before the Jesus stories that others have to tell, and to embrace my own Jesus story with renewed conviction and an always-growing sense of God’s love. R&T invites the church to live this joy in word and deed, not because it’s an easy road but because the Spirit of God is calling us to new life.
It’s true that “A Resolution for Repentance & Transformation” is not catharsis, and this is why it gives me hope! The church’s honest lament is that the body of Christ is hurting. Instead of too quickly looking away from this pain, the pastoral invitation to repentance can set us on a healing journey that has so far eluded MC USA. I pray we are up to the challenge.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.