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Lectures break new ground to bring perspective to LGBTQ experiences

Rachel Waltner Goossen

Rachel Waltner Goossen of Washburn University will give the 66th annual Menno Simons Lectures Sunday, Oct. 21 (7 p.m.), and Monday, Oct. 22 (11 a.m. and 7 p.m.).

She appears to be breaking ground with her subject matter – of the 65-plus lecturers (some years had multiple speakers) who preceded her, none broached the topic of “sexuality,” at least not according to their titles.

Goossen, professor of history at Washburn University, Topeka, will speak at Bethel College Mennonite Church on the morning of Oct. 21 and then deliver three lectures at the college. She chose the overall series title “Sexual Identities and Leaders in the Faith.”

As that title implies, not only do her lectures deal with “sexuality” – they look at the experience of pastors and other leaders within Mennonite/Anabaptist faith traditions who identify as LGBTQ+ (the term Goossen uses throughout, since her subjects identify variously as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer).

The lectures are a result of two years’ worth of research resulting in more than 30 oral history interviews with people in Canada and the United States.

Specifically, the study includes 27 LGBTQ+ people and four allies, ranging in age from mid-20s to 80s. Many gave permission to be identified by name and other details. Virtually all are theologically trained.

Goossen’s first lecture, at 7 p.m. Oct. 21, “‘Coming Out’: Mennonite Leaders Departing,” looks at the experiences of people raised, and in many cases educated, within an Anabaptist/Mennonite faith tradition who, for a variety of reasons, felt they had no choice but to leave that for other denominations.

Of her seven examples, six have been ordained for congregational ministry or chaplaincy in Disciples of Christ, Congregational, Unitarian-Universalist, United Church of Canada or United Church of Christ.

The seventh, Russ Schmidt from First Mennonite Church of San Francisco, felt called to ministry from an early age but eventually opted not to pursue ordained ministry, largely because he  saw no avenues for him as an LGBTQ+ Mennonite. He has instead served almost every possible role, as a lay leader, at FMC.

Goossen says when she began her oral history project, she expected she would be looking almost exclusively at these kinds of stories, of “out-migration” from Mennonite institutions and the church’s resulting losses to other denominations.

However, she discovered, in addition, stories of (younger) leaders who have found welcome and vocations within Anabaptist/Mennonite institutions, some of whom came from other traditions. And there are also those of older ones who, after being “rejected” or “expelled” by the Mennonite church decades ago, in more recent years have found themselves reconnecting in some way with the denomination.

The second lecture, at 11 a.m. Oct. 22, is titled “‘Coming Out’: Mennonite Leaders Arriving,” and looks at the former group.

Goossen tells about two young women who grew up in evangelical Protestant denominations, and came to Anabaptism through voluntary service, for one, and being welcomed as an interim pastor by an urban Mennonite congregation, for the other.

Several others were born, raised and in some cases educated Mennonite and have been able to find at least some measure of vocational welcome within Anabaptist/Mennonite institutions.

The final lecture, at 7 p.m. Oct. 22, “Finding a Home: LGBTQ+ Leaders,” includes some of the stories of older leaders who heard early calls to ministry, who were forced out of the church as queer Mennonites decades ago, and who have now begun to find reconciliation with the denomination.

In this lecture, Goossen also references her interviews with two Mennonite Church USA officials who are now retired – former MC USA executive director Ervin Stutzman and former denominational minister Nancy Kauffmann.

She notes that policies regarding LGBTQ+ people who seek pastoral positions are now less restrictive in some Mennonite conferences. Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary no longer denies the M.Div. degree to qualified, openly queer students, nor does MC USA refuse to process the Ministerial Leadership Information (MLI) forms of candidates who openly identify as LGBTQ+. Both things were true in the past.

There is, Goossen contends, much to be learned and some things to be celebrated from the stories of pastoral leaders who identify as both Anabaptist/Mennonite and LGBTQ+, even if they have formally left the denomination.

All Menno Simons Lectures take place in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center and are free and open to the public. A question-and-answer session will follow each lecture.

Goossen has taught at Washburn University since 2000. She is a graduate of Bethel College with a B.A. in history, and has an M.A. in history from the University of California-Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Kansas.

In 2017, she received the Visiting Regional Humanities Faculty Award from the Hall Center for the Humanities at KU and, in 2015, the DeBenedetti Prize in Peace History from the Peace History Society, among other awards and honors.

She is the author of numerous articles and books, including “‘Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse” (Mennonite Quarterly Review, Jan. 2015), “Disarming the Toy Store and Reloading the Shopping Cart: Resistance to Violent Consumer Culture” (Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research, July 2013), Women Against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-47 (University of North Carolina Press, 1997) and, with Robert S. Kreider, When Good People Quarrel: Studies of Conflict Resolution (Herald Press, 1989).

The John P. and Carolina Schrag Kaufman family established the Menno Simons Lectureship Endowment to promote research and public lectures by recognized scholars relating to Anabaptist-Mennonite history, thought, life and culture, past and present. Since 1997, the family of William E. and Meta Goering Juhnke has also contributed substantially to the endowment. Both families have their roots in the Moundridge area.

Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu. –Melanie Zuercher

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.