Saturday in the Winnipeg Free Press John Stackhouse wrote an article about why Mennonites oppose our province’s proposed anti-bullying legislation Bill 18. I wish he’d said ‘some’ Mennonites because in fact many Mennonites support Bill 18. (For my international readers controversy about this bill stems in large part from its provisions to protect members of the LGBTQ community in schools from bullying.)
The Carillon is the local paper in Steinbach, the Mennonite community at the center of the controversy over Bill 18. I’ve checked the letters to the editor there and in the Free Press over the last few weeks and quite a number of people with Mennonite surnames have written in support of the bill or the LGBQT community. I don’t know them all personally but I do know some attend Mennonite churches and at least one or two are Mennonite pastors. The chair of the local school board is a Mennonite pastor and he has made it clear the school division will implement the measures outlined in Bill 18.
Westgate Mennonite Collegiate in Winnipeg has a Gay Straight Alliance on their campus and Canadian Mennonite University has a student- initiated group called Safe Haven that provides a place for supporters of the LGBQT community to engage in dialogue. I know of Mennonite churches that state on their websites they welcome LGBQT people to attend their worship services and participate in the life of their church.
After doing some internet research I confirmed that both the representatives on Steinbach City Council who chose to vote against the council’s request to ask the Minister of Education to review Bill 18 are active members of Mennonite churches.
The March 16th issue of the Winnipeg Free Press included an interview with a courageous young man from Steinbach with a Mennonite name, who stood outside the meeting place during the February information session on Bill 18, and handed out pamphlets in support of the bill. Another Steinbach young man who also has a Mennonite surname has had his story in all the major Canadian newspapers. He wants to start a Gay Straight Alliance at the Steinbach high school.
I think John Stackhouse was making far too sweeping a statement when he talked about ‘Mennonites opposing Bill 18’. Not all of them do.
I’m usually proud to be a Mennonite. I list myself as one on my Facebook page. I write for Mennonite periodicals. I’m a member of a Mennonite church and volunteer for Mennonite organizations. I am proud of many things Mennonites have done, and are doing, but I’m not proud of the opposition to Bill 18 or the lack of support it suggests for the LGBQT community.
If, as I believe, people don’t have a choice about their sexual orientation, it just seems right for followers of Jesus Christ to respond with acceptance especially when we know the rate of suicide is higher among LGBTQ youth. People who have a LGBQT lifestyle do nothing to harm anyone else, and members of the LGBQT community make valuable contributions to society that enrich all of our lives.
Some people of faith who object to the bill say they care about the LGBQT community but they don’t support the bill because it is unclear, poorly written and may impinge on people’s religious freedoms. Let’s be honest about this. If the bill didn’t mention anything about protecting those of varying sexual orientations no religious group would have given it a second thought or look.
At one time the Christian church supported slavery and women not having civil or human rights. We claimed Biblical support for those viewpoints but eventually changed our minds. I think it is time to change our attitudes towards the LGBTQ community as well. We need to let people know Mennonites have more than one opinion on this issue.
Steinbach’s Southland Church perhaps unintentionally seems to have become the most publicized religious voice for the feelings of the community, yet a search of their website for the word Mennonite produces zero results. They can’t be the primary spokespersons for Mennonites.
John Stackhouse probably needs to write another article in the Winnipeg Free Press about why Mennonites support Bill 18 and the LGBQT community because many Mennonites do. Their voices need to be heard as well.