Pastoral Fetters

originally written June 27, 2014

Warning: this post may only make fragments of sense to those outside Mennonite or at least vaguely theological circles. I’m working on that, but feel free to tag along or ask questions.

Earlier today, the Delegate Assembly at the biennial Mennonite Church USA convention voted to retain the existing church membership guidelines, allowing congregations to prohibit LGBTQ individuals from church membership, and certainly from church employment. Another resolution passed today may allow for more flexibility for local congregations to bend those rules, but the rules were passed, and I’m frustrated.

In protest, below is something I wrote last year; my response to my church’s response to another church ordinating a lesbian pastor.

One midwinter Sunday in 2014, it was a Sunday not long after Theda Good’s ordination, the congregation of Franconia Mennonite Church filed past mailboxes freshly stuffed with a letter written by their lead pastor. Though the letter chose not to mention her name, Theda Good was hired in January 2014 as a pastor at First Mennonite Church of Denver, and this pastoral letter was not happy about that.

“Recently the Mountain States Mennonite Conference leadership approved the licensing of a pastor in Colorado who is in a same-sex relationship,” the letter told us. “It is clear that there are many churches and conferences across MCUSA [Mennonite Church USA] who are also grieved by this decision and are expressing their concerns,” which I think was code for “you too should be grieving.”

The letter then told us to “pray for our church, our conference and the Mennonite Church. Pray for spiritual revival and growth in obedience to God’s Word.”

That night I found a PDF of Mountain States’ most recent conference newsletter, decided there was no need to try and out-pray them, and wrote a small letter of thanks to Theda for being her.

One midsummer Sunday in 1837, it was a Sunday during the peak of the Grimké Sisters’ speaking tour, the General Association of Massachusetts Clergymen distributed pastoral letter of their own to all their various congregations. Sarah and Angelica Grimké at the time were two highly outspoken abolitionists and women, and the General Association of Massachusetts Clergymen was very angry at them for being abolitionists, and women.

We invite your attention to the danger which at present seem to threaten the FEMALE CHARACTER with wide-spread and permanent injury,” the band of Massachusetts pastors wrote. “The appropriate duties and influence of woman [sic] are clearly stated in the New Testament. Those duties and that influence are unobtrusive and private, but the source of mighty power. When the mild, dependent, softening influence of woman upon the sternness of man’s opinions is fully exercised, society feels the effects of it in a thousand forms. The power of woman is in her dependence,

and so on.

We cannot, therefore, but regret the mistaken conduct of those who encourage females to bear an obtrusive and ostentatious part in measures of reform, and countenance any of that sex who so far forget themselves as to itinerate in the character of public lecturers and teachers.

Pastoral letters are nice because they allow diversity and conversation to give way to congregational unity against evil things like lesbian pastors and vocal women. Imagine if the Grimké Sisters had succeeded and we lived in a world today where slavery was no longer culturally accepted. Imagine if the world today were filled with intelligent women behind microphones and keyboards. Imagine if an LGBTQ person could be allowed to pastor a church.

I am no pastor and I have no congregation, but this is my letter. Shift happens, and I am excited for it.

Or was excited.

We’ll see.

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