This piece is dedicated to queer folks, especially queer people of color, and survivors of sexual and spiritual abuse – may we have spaces to thrive and honor all of our identities. On the one year anniversary of the mass murder at Pulse Nightclub, Into Account Co-Director Jay Yoder reflects on their decision to leave the Mennonite Church.
One year ago today, I woke up and rolled over to post my annual Facebook “Happy Pittsburgh Pride!” When I pulled up my phone, instead I was faced with the headline, “At Least 20 Dead at LGBTQ Nightclub.” As the day went on, that number would only grow. I started sending text messages to my queer friends in the Orlando area. “Are you OK?” “What about your friends?” “What can I do?” “What do you need?” As I said in a piece that I wrote at the time, everyone was accounted for. No one was OK.
My next reaction was that we needed more flyers for Pittsburgh Peace Church, so that we could come together to grieve. I rushed to my office and immersed myself in the task of printing and cutting quarter-page flyers. I returned home and put on my Pride rainbow romper, and the same rainbow scarf I’d used a year before to stand up for queers at the national Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. I set out to march with Pittsburgh queer communities.
I live-streamed my Pride march that day, alternately joyfully relieved to be with my people, and crying in grief as we watched the death toll rise in real time. I startled at every loud noise and siren, worried one attack would inspire others.
Throughout the day, I was deep in conversation with my queer Mennonite community. When I got home, I sat down and wrote a piece about the links between the denomination’s theology and culture and all of the forms of violence that queer folks experience, from the subtle to the deadly.
I ended that piece with, “We are dying, and you are killing us. We are dying, and you are killing us. We are dying, and you are killing us. God forgive you. I’m not ready to.”
That piece was published in The Mennonite magazine, and in Christian Peacemaker Teams’ summer newsletter, and a couple other publications. It didn’t take long for the backlash to begin. Voicemails telling me I should be ashamed of myself, angry letters and emails, accusations that my words were violent, declarations that the work of CPT was now tainted and unsupportable. A member of an editorial board quit, and a special editor’s note had to be added to my piece in The Mennonite, justifying its publication, and ensuring that readers knew that MC USA’s staff and board did not agree with me.
As historic peace church MC USA prepares for its next convention, in Orlando, the site of the U.S.’s largest mass murder in modern history, I’m faced with the simple truth that I can’t participate anymore. At the last denominational gathering, in Kansas City, it was made clear that the majority of the delegate body does not consider queer people worthy of belonging in the church family. At the same convention, out of the other side of their mouths, they apologized to sexualized violence survivors, even acknowledging that treating my queer communities as “less than” makes us more vulnerable to sexual violence. For many of us in the queer community who are also survivors, we were slapped in the face with one hand, and patted on the shoulder with the other.
For those queer survivors who chose to go to the “service of lament,” they left more heartbroken than they entered.
I can’t, and won’t, be part of similarly twisted efforts in Orlando.
To the leaders and planners of MC USA–don’t be mistaken, this doesn’t mean you can rest easy. I’m not the only queer in town. I am, though, a tired one, and one that’s ready to value myself more than I value reforming a church that would rather hold on to its old image of itself as an endless victim of persecution, instead of a denomination assimilated into systems of violence and oppression.
I wish you the kind of brokenness that leads to transformation, the kind of death that leads to resurrection, the kind of deep and direct conflict that leads to trust and accountability.