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Rev. Joanna Harader Headshot

Gay Marriage: It Is Personal

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I know the Presbyterians and United Methodists get most of the press around the church and LGBT issues these days, but we Mennonites have similar controversies and conversations. At our recent district conference (Western District), one church brought a resolution calling for the suspension of my ministerial credentials because I officiated a same-sex ceremony.

Ultimately, the delegates voted for me to retain my credentials and to include a note on my profile that states my actions are "at variance" with denominational guidelines.

Through the course of the weekend, I had an opportunity to talk and pray with many individuals from the church that proposed the resolution. These folks were nice to me, even friendly. Many of them assured me that the resolution was "nothing personal."

My name was in the resolution document six times. If their resolution had passed, I would no longer be an ordained pastor in the Mennonite church. But it was nothing personal.

On one hand, I understand what they were saying. They don't hate me. They did not propose the action because they wish me ill. This is a church matter. It is about accountability, about church authority, about a particular way of reading scripture. It is about principles of righteousness and faithfulness and obedience. Nothing personal.

Except it is personal. Of course it is personal. My life would have been deeply affected if the resolution had passed.

In our ongoing discussions about the church and sexual minorities, I think we all need to give up the illusion that any of it is not personal. We need to admit that what we say and the policies we create deeply affect the lives of actual human beings.

If you say, "Homosexual activity is a sin," that is personal. It is personal for every person who chooses to be in an intimate same-sex relationship. It is personal for the parents and siblings and friends of those people as well.

If you say, "It is God's intention that sexual activity should be only between a man and a woman," it means my friend, Randy, is no longer allowed to be a Mennonite pastor. It means my friend, Sarah, could not attend our denominational seminary. It means my friends Sheri and Megan and I face credential reviews for ministering to people in the way we believe God is calling us to minister. It is personal.

If I say, "Homosexuality is not a sin," that is personal too. If you believe the Bible teaches against same sex intimacy, then I'm saying you are wrong. That your reading of the most important text in your life is a flawed reading. That is personal. And if by chance you are queer yourself and have struggled your whole life to be not queer, or if there is someone you love who you have rejected because of their sexuality -- well then, that's really personal.

If I say (or perform an act that indicates) that God calls us to fully include our LGBT brothers and sisters in the church, that's personal too. It means that if your church does not welcome sexual minorities, you are, in my view, outside the will of God. It means I think you should change your minds and change your policy in order to obey God. That's pretty personal.

And it should be.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

Christians believe that God's fullest revelation to us is in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. God put on skin and started calling us by name. It's personal. Words of anger, words of love. Dinner parties and theological discussions. His body formed in Mary's womb; a woman's hand on his cloak; his spit in a man's eyes; a woman's tears on his feet; his skin mutilated by the pounded nails.

It is deeply personal.

Can you imagine Jesus saying to the rich young man, "It's nothing personal. It's just that it's pretty hard for rich people to get into heaven"? Or to the Pharisees, "Don't take this personally, but you're a bunch of hypocrites who are like whitewashed tombs -- nice on the outside, rotten on the inside"? Or to Peter, "You are Satan and you need to get behind me. Please understand that it's not personal"?

Of course it's personal.

When we follow the God incarnate in Jesus Christ, we give up the luxury of claiming that it's not personal. We accept responsibility for the ways that our words and our actions, our proclamations and our procedures affect other people.

It is our realization of just how personal these conversations are that can keep us on the path of love as we struggle through discussions about sexuality and the church.

If it's not personal, then we aren't following Jesus.