When Emma wrote her college application essay, she wrote about how Germantown Mennonite had formed her values by modeling “radical inclusivity” despite the cost of being thrown out of the larger Mennonite Church. As the larger church takes baby steps forward and giant steps backward in its journey toward a welcoming stance, I struggle with what radical inclusivity means for GMC at this particular moment.
There is no question that GMC is a “welcoming” congregation. GMC has long embraced its gay members and has more recently worked to extend this welcome to those on the non-binary gender spectrum. There has been general acknowledgement that we are privileged and need to own up that – despite income differences – we share a level of comfort and – by and large – education that puts us in a privileged minority. There is hospitality and welcome to visitors and poppers-in, and new members keep joining, many who previously had no connection with Mennonites. There is certainly no litmus test for those who want to participate in our worship or congregational life.
Yet I have long struggled with the statement that often opens worship: ‘No matter who you are, or where you have come from, you are welcome here.’ I put it to someone recently that tea-party conservatives would probably not feel very comfortable worshiping at GMC. “Maybe they wouldn’t be comfortable, but they would be welcome,” was the answer. That doesn’t seem radically inclusive.
The truth is, any time you have a club, there are boundaries. To be a member, you have to somehow fit inside those boundaries. Where those boundaries are at GMC is not as sharply defined as at other clubs. That they are there, however, has recently become more apparent as we wrestle with what to do with MCC.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is an umbrella organization that – in the name of various Anabapists from conservative plain people to progressive urban Mennos – has undertaken global disaster and poverty relief efforts for a very long time. It has managed to unite Anabaptists who have se aside fundamental theological and doctrinal differences around the general principle of aiding the suffering. This “big tent” concept has been a lifeline to many who found themselves perhaps uncertain of how they fit in with the Anabaptists, but certain that, at least, we could all agree that sending school supplies to children in need, facilitating clean water in developing countries, and volunteering when disasters strike is a Christ-like thing.
MCC also managed to stay Anabaptist at its core, promoting and extending the life of the cultural heritage of Anabaptists. Stop in at the Material Aid Center in Ephrata and you will find women in cape dresses bent over a quilting frame; go to the annual Relief Sale and you will witness the tally of the thousands of water jugs for Penny Power; and go on the MCC website, and you will find stirring, Biblically based arguments in favor of peace and social justice at home and abroad and guidelines for voluntary service.
And yet even this “big tent” has its boundaries. Right now, GMCers have been debating whether that means withholding support for MCC.
For some, it’s not even an open question. To them, MCC’s internal policies are homophobic, and anyone who supports civil rights should not support or work with this organization. For others, it’s “cutting off your nose to spite your face” to deny aid to people who don’t care about an organization’s internal politics – they just need disaster aid, or school supplies, or clean water.
I think it’s not that clear. Every year for almost a decade, my son Hans has collected used denim to contribute to the Material Aid Center to make into quilt patches and rag rugs to support shipping costs of MCC aid. It hurt my heart to think that MCC’s policies might torpedo this annual tradition of a young boy’s engagement with a faith-based effort to help the less fortunate. As the denim drive draws to a close, I am pleased to report that the box overflowed. People want to help; maybe they want to help Hans as much as they want to help MCC.
Similarly, a GMCer posted on Facebook that she wanted to contribute to MCC’s efforts in Syria but, to make sure it was clear, along with her check, she would send a letter of protest against MCC’s policies that discriminate against gays.
I’m all for speaking truth to power. That’s what I want to say to GMC: Don’t abandon MCC and its good works, but hold it accountable for its homophobic human rights policies. The CEO of MCC is a former GMCer. Yes, Ron Byler and his wife Miriam attended GMC in the 90’s. Presumably, Ron has to accept the MCC Board’s policies to enforce them. If ever there was a time to acknowledge the boundaries of GMC, perhaps this is it. If Ron returned to GMC, would he be comfortable? Or merely welcome? Should we let him know?
Yeah, this radical inclusivity thing, it’s complicated.
Though Germantown considers itself a single community, we are all individuals with our own backgrounds, and therefore any opinions expressed in this blog should be read as the opinions of the author, and not the official position of GMC. We encourage positive discourse, so all comments will be moderated before posting.
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