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Care and compassion needed by all people


July 15, 2011
-Rachel Bergen, National Correspondent at Canadian Mennonite

Waterloo, ONT. — Many people struggle emotionally, physically or mentally at some point in their life and turn to the love and support of their congregations to deal with grief and pain. But for some people, that kind of care may seem elusive or even withheld.

At the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly 2011 in Waterloo, Ont. (July 4-8) a document called “Being a Faithful Church 3” (BFC 3) was a significant agenda item. This document seeks a way forward in the discussion of difficult or challenging issues affecting the body of Christ. One of these topics is human sexuality, including but not limited to non-heterosexuality.

The recommended BFC 3 document – which outlines a process for dialogue – is broadly based on all aspects of human sexuality, but for non-heterosexuals along with their friends and families, it is particularly poignant. They say they are often excluded by churches, sometimes harshly. They hope the discussions shaped by BFC 3 will lead to a more compassionate reception, and result in greater access to congregational care for those who need it – including those who may struggle with less visible issues such as extra-marital sex or addiction to pornography.

Those who have witnessed a lack of congregational compassion say that its availability is critical. Victor and Rebecca Fast of Valleyview Mennonite Church in London, Ont. ,are among them. They have a lesbian daughter.  Though Valleyview has been very supportive of the Fast family, not every church that their daughter has attended or led worship in has been.

“Our daughter was invited to lead worship at a church in [another province]… a man got up and left because she is a lesbian… that was very hurtful,” Rebecca said.

According to Rebecca, “It’s so important to find support in a community.” Victor “… can’t imagine what it would be like for a [non-heterosexual] person to try to relate to an unsupportive community.”

Scott Bergen has also felt the pain of being excluded by the church. Bergen was born into a Mennonite church. At a young age he knew that he was attracted to the same sex, but didn’t know what his church taught on sexualities other than heterosexuality.

“It scared me because I didn’t know any openly gay people. My parents never talked about it and my church never talked about it.”

Later on, he discovered that his church overwhelmingly felt that “to be anything but heterosexual was a perversion,” he said.

Bergen did all that he could to be accepted by the church, and by extension God, by taking on more and more leadership. But in order to be accepted he hid his sexuality. Bergen was constantly afraid that he would be discovered to be gay.

“I survived being queer in the church until my 20s by drawing a sharp divide between who I am and who I found myself to be in the church…When people would make jokes about people who weren’t straight, I wasn’t fazed because I separated that part of my life,” he said.

This meant paying close attention to his wardrobe, his manner of speaking, and the people he spent time with in order to appear straight. “It was beyond exhausting and played a very large role in an emotional breaking point in my early 20s.”

Bergen believes that he and other people who are non-heterosexual are marginalized by society, including the church. “I struggled against being gay for literally half of my life with everything in me, very fervently…It has done irreparable damage to my life,” Bergen said.

He no longer attends a Mennonite church and has left the Christian faith entirely.