Silence and spinning wheels

Parents of LGBTQ children on the Being a Faithful Church process

January 15, 2014 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-Editor

For many parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) children, the ongoing Mennonite church’s inclusion discussion brings them back to different points in the last 30 years when similar debates took place. Since then, they say not much has changed for the church as a whole.

Mennonite Church Canada is currently undergoing a discernment period and compiling reflections through the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) process. The current document, BFC 5 provides biblical perspectives on sex, sexuality and faithfulness. MC Canada is asking for congregations to complete responses to submit to the BFC taskforce by February 2014 to aid it in forthcoming recommendations.

Individual and congregational responses are guiding the process, yet some congregations where LGBTQ people and their families attend aren’t participating, choosing to stay silent on the subject.

John and Mary Klassen* have three young adult children who are members of the queer community, an increasingly acceptable way to refer to the LGBT community as a whole; the queer community is reclaiming the term which was once considered a slur.

Their church in Saskatchewan hasn’t engaged in the BFC process and the Klassens do not find it to be a place where they can talk openly about their family or the alienation they face.

“I don’t feel supported on a whole by the church,” says Mary. “On an individual level, yes, but not as a body.”

Instead, the Klassens attend a support group for parents of LGBTQ children. Mennonite families who feel marginalized from their churches are increasingly finding support in self-started support groups.

“It’s a safe place,” says John. “We don’t have to worry. What we talk about there doesn’t go further than that. It has become church for us.”

After their daughter came out to them when she was 19, Erwin and Val Warkentin of Bethel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg approached their church about finding a way to lovingly discuss the issue of homosexuality in the church. For three years, they led the congregation in dialogue, education and founded the Pilgrim Group after the dialogue period ended.

Throughout the three years, the Warkentins didn’t feel there was a place for them to go for support within the church. It wasn’t until they began meeting with LGBTQ people and their families in the Pilgrim Group that they received what they were missing in church.

Although Bethel Mennonite Church is participating in the BFC process, Val is not. “When I hear things like, ‘Wait 10 years and we’ll be fine,’ that makes me crazy,” she says. “What happens to our kids, to families who are leaving the church? We’re losing a lot of wonderful young people in the church.”

Erwin says they take turns being “totally fed up,” but he continues to participate in the process while working to build community and relationships through the Pilgrim Group. “I’m not critical of what they’re doing [with the BFC process], but we’re into the third year now and if this process is supposed to take us 100 miles, we’re now at about 7.5 miles and we have a year to go,” he says.

He is also critical of the BFC process because he says it looks a great deal like the Human Sexuality in the Christian Life document that was commissioned by the General Conference Mennonite Church in 1980 and the Mennonite Church general assembly in 1981. The 160-page document just contained nine pages on homosexuality, he says, maintain, “We’re not going anywhere, we’re just spinning tires at this point.”

Paul and Martha Snyder of Kitchener, Ont., attend Bloomingdale Mennonite Church, which is also not participating in the BFC process. They have a gay son and often open their home to LGBTQ people whose families have disowned them. They started the group many years ago and found the support they weren’t receiving in their church. Now they meet about every two months and 25 people participate.

The Klassens, Warkentins and Snyders agree that, although difficult, having LGBTQ children has brought them on a wonderful journey where they have supported and been supported by a wide array of people outside of their home churches.

According to MC Canada, about 110 congregations—about half—have participated in the BFC process. The BFC 5 recommendations will be heard at the assembly in Winnipeg this summer, but the discernment period will not conclude until 2016.

* A pseudonym.

--Posted Jan. 15, 2014

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