This blog is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board or the resolution writers. Readers are encouraged to consult other resources related to the Special Delegate Assembly, engage the writers of the resolutions and discern within their own context.
Anna Yoder Schlabach is a worship pastor on the pastoral team at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. She served on the board of the Central District Conference from 2017-2021. She holds an M.Div. from Iliff School of Theology and a B.A. from Goshen College. She enjoys gardening, thrift shopping and watching Marvel movies with her family. Anna is a storyteller for the 2022 Special Session of the Delegate Assembly.
For the past several months, I have been meeting with folks from across the denomination to help plan the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) special delegate assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, in May. As we have worked, we have thought about how these meetings in Kansas City are going to impact our congregations and the broader church. I’m also trying to figure out what to say at the opening worship service that will help lower anxiety, open hearts and tell a story of overcoming disappointment that will speak to 500 or so people. I know that this delegate assembly will likely leave people across the denomination feeling disappointed for various reasons, and if we name this right from the start, how might that shape our conversations?
This MC USA delegate assembly will include a vote to retire the Membership Guidelines, as well as a vote to decide whether or not to process and vote on the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation. I believe that MC USA leadership has done an excellent job providing materials, webinars and articles about the upcoming resolutions. No one should be unprepared to discuss these resolutions.
But being prepared to discuss and being prepared to be disappointed are two different things. No matter how much thoughtful preparation has gone into this gathering, there will likely be no outcome that leaves anyone feeling great. We will likely all leave feeling some amount of disappointment with where the church is and wondering about our place in it. And the stakes are especially high for LGBTQ people.
Whatever the outcome of this special delegate assembly, I want each of you, especially my queer* siblings in the church, to know that you are beloved. There is no resolution and no vote that can take that away.
I know that there are people in the Mennonite church who do not welcome the myriad of gifts, ideas and God-given blessedness that queer people in our community offer. They are missing out, because each of you are radiant. My queer siblings in the church, I have seen you courageously showing up to conventions as delegates, leading singing in the hallways. I have seen you creating artwork, I have heard you preach, I have been heartbroken when your clear gifts for ministry were not given the opportunity to grow. This delegate session may lead you — or any of us — to give up and walk away, and we would all be poorer for the loss of your gifts, even though it might be what you need to do to save your life.
Like many of you, I wonder, “How are we still having this conversation?” I remember getting on an airplane after the Mennonite Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2005, in the midst of participating in the Ministry Inquiry Program in Denver, Colorado. I was young and idealistic, lamenting the slow pace of change in the Mennonite church to my seatmate, who happened to be a Mennonite pastor from my area. He told me that change in the Mennonite church is like trying to move a giant steam ship. Institutions change very slowly, but that doesn’t mean that smaller vessels can’t move more quickly. We have certainly seen this in the smaller vessels of MC USA congregations and conferences.
Institutional change is also happening. We see it in the changing makeup of conference moderators, conference ministers and church leaders, in the leadership of MC USA, in the very persistence of queer leaders and allies, and the presentation of the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation. However, it is still slow going and I know that psyching up for another conversation about the Membership Guidelines and sexuality in the church is painful.
I hope that the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation passes, because I believe it is time that we acknowledge the past and ongoing harm done to queer people within Mennonite Church USA. It is time to have queer representation whenever decisions about inclusion are being made, I think our conversations at the Constituency Leaders Council were better and more compassionate when there were representatives present from Inclusive Pastors and Brethren Mennonite Council.
And I believe that our queer youth are watching us, watching to see if they have a future in this denomination.
But it may not pass. This may not be the resolution that moves us toward greater inclusion and greater love. And if that happens, I will be disappointed. My congregation and my conference will be disappointed. But I will stay in this denomination. My congregation and my conference will stay in this denomination. Because our worth and our belovedness is not tied to these resolutions. Not for queer people and not for anyone. Those things are not up for debate; they never were. All of us are beloved children of God, bearers of God’s divine image. No resolution can change that.
*I use “queer” as an umbrella term that encompasses any non-cisgender, non-heterosexual identity, relationship, behavior or desire, in addition to the ever-changing LGBTQIA+ acronym. “Queerness” includes a wide variety of ways people are non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual, though it should be noted that not all LGBTQIA people use this label.
View resources for the Delegate Assembly, including the resolutions, webinars, a prayer guide, and registration link, here.
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.