We must not underestimate the power of our words

Glen Guyton is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.

The words of the prophet Jeremiah came to mind as I read Pastor Harold Miller’s blog post Reasons we support same-sex marriage — or not. Even as I write this in my role as executive director of MC USA, I am mindful of Jeremiah 23:1 (NLT).

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the Lord.

We who are called to ministerial leadership exercise power when we speak and write. We must not underestimate the weight and power of our words.

As shepherds, people often follow where we lead, and I am confused as to where this blog is leading us. I am surprised that Mennonite World Review would choose to publish it, and I am troubled by the analogies used in article.

Our church is varied and diverse. One pastor or one church cannot speak for the entirety of Mennonite Church USA. Though we may look at sexual orientation differently, there are many things that unite us as a body. Talking about the need for long term study and data collection on people in the LGBTQ community sounds more like eugenics and less like the gospel of Christ.

As a person of color, I find the racial analogy particularly disturbing. I am a proud African-American.

African-American people come in many shades from white to black. Most of us love our skin color and would not change it even if given the choice. Only hatred and evil equate our skin color with being less than.

Mennonite World Review should have shown better judgement than to allow the hateful and false skin color analogy to be published under its name and to highlight the analogy further on its social media channel. The author suggests that being white is better or something blacks aspire to. We don’t regret our identity.

I must also acknowledge that MC USA has done a poor job in our ministry to the LGBTQ community, and those of us leading the system are complicit in that failure. We have been inconsistent in our treatment of LGBTQ people. In some ways we have tried to put ourselves in the place of God thinking it is our job to “fix” people. We pretend that salvation belongs to us rather than to our God. We have cast aside grace and focused only on judgement. We have tried to institutionalize our approach to sexual identity rather than training our leaders to be shepherds and guides. Everyone is and should be welcome to the love of Christ. In scripture, Christ appears to be far more welcoming than both the past and current institutionalized church. I pray that everyone finds a place to grow and develop as spiritual disciples.

We need shepherds to guide, rather than scatter the people of MC USA moving forward. We need less pontification and more love. The institutions that serve our churches need to focus less on trying to sell products to the body and spend more time building up the body of Christ. If they don’t, we need to hold them accountable.

I pray that we don’t confuse opinion pieces with the church. I pray that we don’t confuse the structure of Mennonite Church USA with the pathway to salvation. I would encourage everyone to follow Jesus and to work out their own salvation, in a way that endures and in a manner that honors God. MC USA should be a denomination that mobilizes and equips all its members to spread the Good News and be witnesses to Christ’s redeeming love.

In the end, I leave you with scripture:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Cor. 5:18-20, NRSV.

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12 thoughts on “We must not underestimate the power of our words

  1. Thank you, Glen, for your fierce and compassionate spirit. Your words and leadership are much appreciated in these times of gratuitous cruelty and insensitivity. Courage and strength to you!

  2. Glen. Your thoughtfulness brings me hope. Many thanks as well for your spirited chapels at Eastern Mennonite school a few weeks ago. Rarely does a chapel speaker connect so well with both middle and high schoolschool students. Well done!

  3. Yes, may we who are shepherds guide rather than scatter our people. And be like Jesus who was “far more welcoming” than the church tends to be. Last summer I delighted in hearing Bishop Francisco say that Calvary’s youth program flourished most while you were leading it, Glen!

    I deeply regret that my words conveyed an appallingly hurtful message. Such was farthest from in my goal when I wrote those words. But you and many, many others got that message—for which I bear responsibility.

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