It is hard to believe that I’m finishing up my third year at EMU. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to work in a place that so strongly aligns with my own mission and vision. I’m thankful for a university where I can bring together my commitment to education and my beliefs about restorative justice. I love working with people who are also passionate about issues of justice and equity and peace; and yet, in some ways, I often find myself standing on the margins here.
While I completely adhere to Anabaptist values, I didn’t grow up Mennonite so I don’t play the Mennonite game very well (i.e. I didn’t grow up next door to your cousin’s brother-in-law or go to the same church as your aunt). As a single female in a community that emphasizes family, I am often left out of family gatherings; maybe people think that since I don’t have children, I must not like them, something that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In addition, I struggle just a bit with singing four-part harmony; I can sing the harmony part or read the words, but I can’t manage to do both at the same time. I don’t have a hybrid vehicle, I can’t make homemade bread, and I identify as queer in a community that is still wrestling with how it will respond to those in the LGBTQ community. Yep, sometimes I feel like an outsider.
But I stay for the same reasons that brought me here. I guess in some way I chose to come to EMU because, after exploring lots of versions of Christianity, it might be my last and best hope for finding a Christocentric faith community. I joined the faculty, believing that the Anabaptist ideals that I had come to believe would result in a community determined to follow Jesus, not just worship him.
I chose to join this community because of the emphasis on justice and peacebuilding and restorative justice. I came here because, in my understanding of Jesus, justice matters. The Jesus I read about in the scriptures was prophetic in his vision of shalom and in his passion for justice and equity.
I see Jesus reaching out to those standing on the margins and welcoming them in. Whether it was the woman at the well or the leper, the Jesus I see in the Bible was hospitable and welcoming of those whom others would reject. He got angry at the commercialism that had overtaken the temple; he got angry that the children were being prohibited from coming to him.
He spoke passionately about his vision for the kingdom of God. There was an urgency in Jesus’ message. There was a prophetic voice that called for decisive action.
I believe that same prophetic voice is now similarly calling us to act on behalf of those marginalized because of their sexuality.
As much as I would like to frame the recent conversations about LGBTQ inclusion as simply a hiring policy, a human rights issue, or a move toward non-discrimination, in the end, it is also a theological issue. But perhaps the important theological question isn’t what we’ve thought. Maybe the theological discussion we need to be having isn’t about whether homosexuality is sin but rather who we believe Jesus to be, because our understanding of Jesus will guide a lot of our decisions about where we go as a university. Do we really believe that Jesus would cast out members of the LGTBQ community?
In the 1960’s, EMU decided that Jesus was less concerned about our racial differences than about our love for one another. Later, we decided that Jesus was less concerned about our gender – and we began recognizing the role of women in leadership positions.
I hope now that, regardless of our beliefs about same-sex relationships, we might decide that Jesus is less concerned about our sexuality and more concerned about our willingness to be hospitable across our differences and to truly walk in love for one another.
As an educator, I approach the world through a lens of restorative justice. While restorative justice is often viewed as an approach to addressing wrong-doing or harm, the more I study both the literature on restorative justice and the Bible, I find the principles of a restorative lifestyle to be much more encompassing. They address not only how we relate to those around us and how we respond to harm, but also how we work with God to rebuild those things which are broken, including ourselves, our relationships, and the institutions that perpetuate injustices.
In so many ways, I find EMU to be living into our Anabaptist ideals in beautiful ways.
I brag to my environmentalist friends that we have a huge solar panel project on the roof of our library. When my colleagues at other large institutions are complaining about their administrators, I smile and talk about the lack of hierarchical structures at EMU. When I go to chapel and hear stories about cross-cultural experiences, when I work with colleagues to plan MLK Day celebrations, and when I listen to students take up the mantel of peace-builder, I am so excited to be a part of this community. And most days, I am so proud of the way we have and are engaging in the listening process.
There have been prayers, spirited dialogues, and circle processes where people have safely expressed varying perspectives on changing EMU’s hiring policy. While this is a contentious conversation, I believe for the most part, we are doing it well.
Recently, after sharing my personal story with a colleague, she replied that she wasn’t sure what she believed about same-sex relationships, but that she was certain that she was glad that I was here at EMU as her colleague. I appreciated her hospitality and her willingness to be welcoming in spite of her own theological uncertainty.
I hope and pray that this is the spirit that we will continue to have as we listen to one another and as we speak our own truths. May we continue to follow the heart of Jesus and love one another well.
-Kathy Evans, Education Professor