The Welcome Committee was organized in 1998 when Titus Bender and John Stoner shared their vision with several other participants in a Connecting Families retreat of ways to issue a call to the Mennonite Church to walk with us (friends of someone who is among the sexual minorities) in conversion and discernment.
John and Titus were joined on the original Welcome Committee by Doug Brunk, Lois Kenagy, and Ruth Conrad Liechty. They recruited others along the way. In 2000, they published an open letter to Mennonites asking for more dialogue in the churches concerning gay and lesbian inclusion.
This letter called the churches to uphold commitments made by Mennonite general assemblies “to mutually bear the burden of remaining in loving dialogue with each other in the body of Christ, recognizing that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that the Holy Spirit may lead us to further truth and repentance” (quoted from the 1986 Saskatoon Statement on sexuality).
Over 600 members of Mennonite congregations signed this letter. The letter and list of signers may be read at our website: http://welcome-committee.info/openletter.html.
The Welcome Committee publishes the Welcome to Dialogue Series booklets. The present booklet is the eighth in this series. All eight booklets may be purchased or read on line. See inside the back cover for ordering information.
Those who have participated in the work of the Welcome Committee are keenly aware of the pain caused by strict adherence to “the official church position” as it relates to sexual minorities and their families. We are also aware of the loss to the church of the gifts that sexual minorities offer the church that nurtured them in their youth. We deplore attempts made to force such persons either to “pretend” to be heterosexual or to leave the church, refusing to listen to their stories or offer a welcome.
By giving witness to what we observe and believe, we do not imply that those with different understandings are less serious or less faithful in their study of scripture and their journey of faith. We do, however, ask that we, too, be recognized as members of the Mennonite community on the journey of faith who seek to be faithful to scripture and the guidance of God’s Spirit. We pray that you will hear our testimonies and reflect on the words of these booklets for what they are – our witness growing out of our journey with God, our study of scripture, history, and psychology, and our pilgrimage with co-travelers of faith.
The Welcome Committee Steering Committee
In Mennonite circles, one often hears that while it is good that peace-oriented Christians in North America are expressing concerns about the sufferings of our gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender (glbt) friends, these issues seem an awful lot like the kinds of issues wealthy, comfortable North Americans can too easily get distracted by to the detriment of concern about the truly big issues of global peace and justice in our day.
Certainly glbt North Americans and their friends are not immune from being distracted from the hard work of genuine peacemaking. However, the articles in this booklet seek to make the case that inclusion of glbt Christians in our churches should be seen as itself an important peace and justice issue. These articles argue for a holistic view of faith that recognizes that all acts of violence and exclusion counter the gospel message of peace that Jesus presents us. And all acts of welcome and generosity toward vulnerable people among us validly witness to Jesus’ way.
Weldon Nisly has served for over ten years as pastor at Seattle Mennonite Church, following a long term at Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship. He is a graduate of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana. He has gained notice in recent years for his risky peacemaking efforts that took him to Iraq during the first weeks of the United States attack in late March 2003. Weldon’s witness led to his being hospitalized with serious injuries in the opening days of that war. More recently, Weldon was back in the news in Mennonite circles when his pastoral credentials were suspended by the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference in response to Weldon presiding at a union ceremony involving two women who are members of his church.
In his interview below, Weldon reflects on how he integrates his opposition to warfare with his opposition to what he sees as hostility toward glbt Christians in our churches.
John Linscheid is a writer, a member of Germantown Mennonite Church (Philadelphia, PA), and a former Mennonite pastor. John also is a graduate of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He has written numerous articles, most notably in the late, lamented magazine, The Other Side, reflecting on how he brings together his biblical and theological scholarship with his experience as a gay man.
John’s brief article provides a concise sketch of a positive reading of the Bible as the basis for inclusion of glbt Christians. He suggests that the Bible is not primarily a problem for inclusive Christians to overcome, but rather a resource for welcome.
The third article is written by a member of the Welcome Committee steering committee, Ted Grimsrud. Ted also has been a pastor and is a graduate of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He currently is a theology teacher in Harrisonburg, VA, and a member of Shalom Mennonite Congregation.
Ted’s article suggests that the biblical theme of hospitality provides the most basic criterion for discerning faithfulness to the will of God on the part of communities of faith. He argues that following the criterion of hospitality pushes us towards concern for vulnerable people (including, especially in our day, glbt Christians). Communities that practice inhospitality run the risk of distancing themselves from God’s will for their common lives.
Thank you for your interest in this booklet. Please contact the Welcome Committee with any feedback you may have. Contact information may be found inside the back cover.