Mennonite marriage, Tinky Winky and a slew of droves

What do you do when you’re in a tsk-tsk-ing tizzy about same-sex marriage, but you’re part of a denomination that holds a core doctrine of individual liberty?

Ann at The Revealer finds the answer in a recent statement, from the executive committee of the Mennonite church, which says:

The board owns the understanding of our confession of faith that sexual union is to happen between one man and one woman who are committed to each other for life in holy marriage.

But then, remembering that they’re Anabaptists with no popes or bishops, the statement concludes:

The national church does not have the authority to control the discussion or decisions at [congregation and area conference] levels. … Congregations decide on their members and conferences decide on member congregations. Ministerial credentials are held at the conference level and thus minister’s accountability is to the area conference rather than the national conference. We are aware that our polity creates some differences in the practice of church discipline from conference to conference.

The promising news that sparked this awkward exercise in magisterium-envy was this:

In 2011, Western District Conference pastor Joanna Harader performed a same-sex covenanting ceremony. Since Illinois made same-sex unions legal on July 1, 2011, Central District pastor Megan Ramer has performed three such ceremonies.

* * * * * * * * *

Scott Paeth discusses Nick Vadala’s theory that the exodus of the younger generation from the church began with Jerry Falwell’s attack on Tinky Winky.

Paeth is reluctant to pinpoint a single moment as quite so significant, but if the Tinky Winky Incident wasn’t actually a watershed moment in the cultural history of the church, it was at least an outstanding example of many of the things that have gone awry in American Christianity:

Jerry Falwell’s Teletubby stupidity was simply an example of the way in which these trends began to coalesce in a particularly toxic way over the last decade or so. There had certainly been precurors — the rise of the religious right in the 1980s, the emergent barbarism of the 1990s era Republican congress, the personal and political corruption of Bill Clinton and his followers, the 2000 election. But for any who had begun to become political aware in the period from about 1995 on, there were too many examples of the absurdity of essentially any institution or ideology you could point to to make any of them credible on the surface as viable methods of organizing one’s life.

* * * * * * * * *

That study of religious doubts expressed by members of the Millennial generation has produced a slew of articles describing how younger people are leaving the church “in droves.”

So I thought this might be useful: The Word Detective on “in droves.” (The noun “slew” above, btw, comes from the Irish sluagh, meaning “a host, crowd, multitude.”)

* * * * * * * * *

One in. One out.

* * * * * * * * *

In Baghdad, a performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which the Montagues and Capulets are Shiite and Sunni.

More than 20 years ago, on a student trip to Israel and the West Bank, I wound up late one night at the American Colony in Jerusalem, talking Shakespeare with a teacher from one of the underground schools of the first Intifada. His dream was a production of Romeo and Juliet, with a Palestinian Romeo and a Jewish Juliet.

That wasn’t a new idea then, and it isn’t a new idea now, but it’s still a good idea.

Wherever there is ethnic or religious conflict, wherever civil blood makes civil hands unclean, that play should be performed, over and over.

"It's like two Vogons staring each other down."

‘That’s why we are here’
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  • mcc

    There’s apparently a decent-sized breakaway chunk of the Methodist church which is pro-LGBT. I’m still a bit confused about how this works, but as I understand they’re actually within the UMC, are technically in violation of the UMC rules, but the UMC doesn’t have a provision to kick them out. When I volunteered for Equality California one such Methodist church was letting us use their space to phonebank from.

  • mcc,  the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church says “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching”.  That wording was added in 1972, IIRC. At this year’s General Conference, there was a movement to strike that wording from the BOD, but it failed. What also failed (actually, they were never brought up before the general body) were petitions to establish mandatory penalties for pastors who celebrate same sex marriages or are in same sex relationships. Those pastors can be (and one at least has been) disciplined, but “discipline” can be comparatively light. What I keep reading is that the majority of the UMC delegates in the US would have voted for striking the anti-LGBT wording, but that the African and Phillipine delegates along with delegates from the south central and southeast jurisdictions were overwhelmingly against it (and, in fact, wanted those mandatory penalties).

    What is really sad (and infuriating) is that a substitute motion to say that the church is strongly divided on the issue of same sex relationships was also voted down. The reasoning on the part of the people who voted against it is that no, the church isn’t strongly divided, because anyone in the church who is pro-LGBT does not represent the church. I wish I could make all my conflicts disappear that easily.

  • Grey Duck

    The Palestinian/Israeli Romeo & Juliet already exists.  It’s called “West Bank Story.”  Of course, it was made in the US, not the Middle East, so maybe it’s not quite the progress one would hope for.

  • About Falwell & Tinky-Winky…

    My reaction is not that “Falwell’s piously hateful, anti-gay screed represents an early memorable experience with religion on a large public scale. ” I think it was a matter of messaging, audiences, and perception. The “Bert & Ernie are gay” meme was around for literally decades, but didn’t disenfranchise Gen-X folks from the church. So what was different about Falwell’s remarks?

    The message of “popular culture element is really gay/evil/Satanic” is a common in-group message among certain religious circles, whether it’s Madonna or Proctor & Gamble or the Lord of the Rings. And as an in-group message, it works to reinforce narratives and build solidarity. Trouble happens when those in-group messages get spread beyond their original audience. 

    Remember the South Park Scientology episode that featured the flashing subtitle “This is actually what they believe!”? Well, when Falwell shot off his mouth about Tinky Winky, it was 1999; there was this thing called the “internet” where people loved to share stories. A humble website was dedicated to exploring and de-bunking urban legends. And this kind of reality-denying, tone-deaf message about a nonhuman, androgynous, asexual children’s television character promoting homosexual behavior was like catnip to the snarkers. 

  • MaryKaye

    I can’t get behind Scott Paeth’s apparent conclusion that young people are ideologically unmotivated and apathetic–not when it’s overwhelmingly young people that are driving the marriage equality movement. That was a fight that looked hopeless to my generation (I was born in 1963) and yet–young people pushed it, and they got results.  That’s idealism in action.

    But a lot of people have grown up with the conviction, based on what they saw and heard all around them, that religion, or at least Christianity, is actively hostile to their ideals.  So naturally their idealism expresses itself in other forms.  You can see the same thing happening in the Green movement.  A lot of young people are very active in trying to protect the environment, but sadly, many of them know quite well that their local religious institutions are not their allies.

  • Tricksterson

    An excellent book on this is Congregations In Conflict: The Battle Over Homosexuality by Keith Hartman.  It was written in 1996 but comes across as less dated than you’d expect.

    I also reccomend his two works of fiction that I’ve read, The Gumshoe, The Witch and the Virtual Corpse and Gorilla Gumshoe although I may have gotten the title of the second one backwards.

  • Young people are always going to be called apathetic, unless they’re being called violently radical. I remember how furious I was when the Baby Boomers called my generation apathetic because we didn’t take to the streets in massive numbers to protest… stuff. Completely ignoring the fact that times had changed, that there were a lot fewer of us than them, that anti-Vietnam protests were largely motivated by fear of the draft, and that my generation volunteered for charities more than any other generation before it. But we weren’t exactly like the Baby Boomers, so we were wrong and bad and horrible and lazy and uncaring and, in one article in The Nation, slugs.

    Now it’s the Millennials’ turn to be lied about by older people with superiority complexes. And then the older people wring their hands and wonder why the younger people aren’t interested in doing things the way the older people tell them to do things. 

  • Lori

    Young people are always going to be called apathetic, unless they’re
    being called violently radical. I remember how furious I was when the
    Baby Boomers called my generation apathetic because we didn’t take to
    the streets in massive numbers to protest… stuff. 

    I still hold a grudge about this. I’m part of the generation that worked hard to end apartheid. Apartheid ended. Mostly because of the incredible work and sacrifice and courage of black South Africans and their allies, but also because of devestment. Devestment that happened because people, most of them young, pushed companies and schools to stop doing business with and investing in the apartheid regime and pushed entertainers to stop working in South Africa as long as apartheid remained in place.

    We did protest and we did camp out, but a lot of what we did involved huge amounts of research distilled down into 5 or 10 minute presentations to university boards of directors and letters to companies explaining why we would no longer be buying their products.  The money gradually stopped flowing and the work of reformers in South Africa got just a little bit of a boost and then de Klerk gave up and Mandela was released from prison and a bit of the world changed for the better.

    It’s also worth noting that the end of apartheid had a follow-on effect that no one expected (mostly because people seriously had no clue)—-South Africa because the only country ever to dismantle a successful nuclear bomb program. They also shut down a very nasty biological weapons program. They did that because they were still racists asshats who didn’t want the ANC to get control of the weapons, but it was still a positive outcome.

    Because a lot of people, most of them young, worked very hard and very passionately to help make it happen.

    TL; dr—the Boomers can kiss my butt.

  • MouseABroad

     I wonder if the real disconnect was that Falwell’s hate was clearly directed at a harmless target – as you said Tinky-Winky was demonstrably a “nonhuman, androgynous, asexual children’s television character”.  Falwell’s fulminating over a minor deviation from the norm hit a lot of Millenials just as we were starting to grow into the realization that the world was not as simple or regimented as we thought it was.

    I remember the creed being a standing joke over here but there was also the feeling that Falwell was being a bully.  Pre-school kids shows are soft targets for contempt but there was something distasteful about the sheer venom of what was said.  It left a bad taste in my mouth which is partly why I remember it.