Reflecting God’s love

Over the next few months we’ve invited folks from across Mennonite Church USA to reflect on our Journey Forward and consider how they’ve seen Renewed Commitments at work in their lives, their congregation or community. If you’d like to contribute to this series by highlighting stories that bring our shared values to life, email JenniferC@MennoniteUSA.org

Ben Tapper has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Manchester University, a master’s degree in Public Affairs from Indiana University and is currently pursuing a M.Div. from Christian Theological Seminary. He serves as the faith formation coordinator for First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is actively involved in community engagement. Ben has a passion for issues of justice and liberation for oppressed people. 

“The Holy Spirit dwells in and among us, transforming us to reflect God’s love. Through worship the Spirit gathers the body of Christ, where our diversity reveals God’s beauty.” 

The language of this core value draws me into a memory from the 2017 MC USA Convention. The most transformative moment of that week for our youth group was the Inclusive Worship Service. While worship was uniquely powerful from start to finish, one moment in particular still brings tears to my eyes when I recall it: the glitter anointing.

As the service came to a close, everyone was invited to go to one of several designated areas if they wished to be anointed. Almost immediately, my wife rose with one of our teens who identifies as LGBTQ+. As the two of them made their way to one of the people giving the anointing, the rest of the youth began anxiously looking at each other to figure out who else might be going, and if it was appropriate for them to be anointed as well. After a few moments, I realized that several youth were just waiting for someone to make the first move, so I stood and began to walk. As I did so, our entire youth group walked to the back and joined one of the anointing circles in support of their friend.

As I looked around the circle, I saw a group of 15-18-year-olds motivated by love. In that moment, it didn’t matter that the issue of LGBTQ+ inclusivity was ripping MC USA apart. It didn’t matter that entire congregations had left the conference. It didn’t matter that thousands of pages had been written debating if the Bible supported or denounced homosexuality. Only one thing mattered in that moment: the love we had for each other. As a cross of glitter was spread on each of our foreheads, I continued to watch the youth’s faces and I thought to myself “they get it.”

They understand what it means to love in a way that I couldn’t grasp until I was in my late 20s. When I was their age, I was ready to quote Leviticus 18:22 until I was blue in the face and pray for people that were gay in the hopes that God would deliver them. It took years for my heart and mind to be captured by love, so that I could have a vision of God that is wide enough to include members of the LGBTQ+ community. What took me years to understand, these teens innately know and live out: God’s love is radically inclusive.

As such, glitter is the perfect way to represent that inclusivity. Glitter, with its rainbow of colors is symbolic of the universality of God’s love, acceptance and promise. Unfortunately, we’ve worked to withhold this love, acceptance and promise from members of the LGBTQ+ community for a long time.

People have lost their lives over the hate and negativity that are tied to issues of inclusivity. Others have been so emotionally hurt that their capability to love themselves, let alone understand that God loves them, is greatly diminished.

Some may find an anointing ceremony conducted with glitter inappropriate or sacrilegious, and I understand that, but I also recognize that God works in ways that confound our sensibilities. Moreover, I imagine God takes more offense to theology and doctrine which lead to self-loathing than to a couple bottles of glitter.

As I continue to reflect on that worship service, I’m reminded that there is hope.

There’s hope that one day soon, people will no longer commit suicide because they hate themselves due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. There is hope that the church will be so possessed by love that we don’t give the ordination or marriage of members of the LGBTQ+ community a second thought. Finally there is hope that those of us who have contributed to the pain of our LGBTQ+ family, myself included, will repent and participate in the healing that is needed.

I’m proud of our teens. I’m proud to attend a church that has helped foster that love within them. I’m proud that they let my wife and I walk with them during these formative years. Above all, I’m proud of the way they love. They are embodying what it means to reflect God’s love so that our diversity can reveal God’s beauty. Love must be the main thing. Our youth are leading by example. Will we follow?

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All congregations are invited to use Journey Forward’s “Pathways” study guide. Find it and all Journey Forward updates here.

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