Disruptions abound in Mennonite Church USA these days. The very public debate about LGBTQ inclusion once again reveals that our peace-loving denomination is no better equipped to handle internal conflict than anyone else. Mountain States Mennonite Conference recently licensed a lesbian pastor, and behind a call to form another task force, the executive board shows signs of responding in a punitive manner. I’ve watched these patterns repeat on various church levels for years, and the actions from leadership are more frustrating than surprising. Responses and open letters and analyses are flying around the Menno-interwebs. Here’s my addition to the cacophony.
My name is Sarah Klaassen, and I live in Columbia, Missouri. Among many other things, I am a lifelong Mennonite and a lesbian. As a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School, a some-time preacher, an accidental church planter, and a community organizer, I am well-equipped to analyze power dynamics and speak about justice and inclusion.
But today instead, I want to write about leadership. My great friend and mentor Weldon Nisly who recently retired from Seattle Mennonite Church modeled leadership on the edge of the inside, something eloquently written about by Richard Rohr
.The edge is a sacred space where considerations of job security, rules, and constituencies fade into more prophetic concerns. The people on the edge mediate that liminal place between those of you in seats of power and those of us who don’t have access to the institutional church. Mountain States Mennonite Conference plays that role today. Other leaders, groups, and institutions will play that role in the future.
I recognize the contentious ecclesial circumstances you face today, and so I respectfully say to you and others at the center: if you yourselves are not called to take the leadership risks required for this time, please do not be the ones who prevent others from taking them.