“Mennonites are a queer people.”
The history of my people is one of unacceptance, resistance, and persecution. We are societal misfits, heretics,
and immigrants, pushed out of our homelands for a way of life that did not belong. Mennonites are an odd bunch.
Stemming from the Anabaptist movement of 16th century Europe, followers of Menno Simons called Mennonites were part of what’s known as the Radical Reformation, along with the Amish and Hutterites. This off-shoot movement developed in response to the Protestant Reformation in that era which sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church.
These Anabaptist radicals saw corruption in both the Catholic and Protestant church, resisting the hierarchy of
church and state at large. The Anabaptist name came from their controversial practice of “believer’s baptism,”
convinced that faith is to be claimed on one’s own and not involuntarily determined as an infant. Anabaptists’
refusal to take oaths, participate in civil government, take up the sword, and wear wedding rings also caused
great unrest among conventional Christian communities. Thus, these queer people were persecuted for their
heretical lifestyle; many became martyrs of the faith and even more scattered across Europe and eventually fled to North America.
While not persecuted as such today, Mennonites are still a minority people, diverse in belief and practice. Some sects, such as the Old Order Mennonites, maintain the wearing of plain dress and head coverings for women. Others stand out as conscientious objectors for their refusal to participate in the military. An emphasis on values such as simple living, voluntary service, and church communities led by the people distinguish many from the mainstream.
Within this minority people, however, is an even smaller minority. Despite the radical positions taken by
Mennonites on many issues over the ages, the denomination as a whole has a less than radical take on sexuality. While the church has committed to “remaining in dialogue” about issues pertaining to sexuality, in practice, congregations who welcome people of various sexual orientations have been ostracized and, in some cases, officially disciplined. In the meantime, many LGBTQ folks have fled. Queer Mennonite community has formed outside the perimeter of church. And sexuality has largely been ignored and silenced, leaving the Mennonites far from a holistic engagement of human sexuality, be they queer or straight.
I’d like to think that a people with ancestral ties to a community of misfits and martyrs could find a way to
welcome all, regardless of differing convictions, or at the very least not kick each other out in the process of
discernment. I would like to think that the followers a radical who modeled love to its fullest extent would be
more concerned with how we chose to love than who we choose to love. Rest assured, one thing is for sure. Mennonites will faithfully uphold tradition: queer and bold and on the fringe.