A book intended to give women pastors a voice in the Mennonite Brethren Church is seen as silencing one of those voices after one of its authors’ contributions were censored.
Winnipeg pastor Mary Ann Isaac is one of 15 women leaders who contributed to On Holy Ground: Stories of Women Ministry Leaders in the Mennonite Brethren Church, which was publicly released last month.
Three pages written by Isaac were removed from the book at the last minute at the request and expense of the Canadian and US authorities that control the denomination.
“I have been reflecting on my entire pastoral journey, but for three pages I have also been reflecting on an issue that has come up in all three congregations where I have pastored, which is LGBTQ integration,” said Isaac, who was a pastor. pastor of River East Church for the past seven years.
According to Isaac, the teachings of the Mennonite Brethren Church indicate that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman.
In the skipped pages, Isaac said she explained how her views on LGBTQ+ inclusion have changed over her 26 years in charge, especially, she said, her stance on whether a gay couple can marry in a church.
“By studying the scriptures, I think that a same-sex couple can get married,” Isaac said.
The book was commissioned by the Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission, which is under the direction of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (CCMBC). The book was conceived as a collection of women’s stories or biographies about their experiences of serving in various leadership positions in the ministry.
Several hundred advance copies were printed this spring before the CCMBC put an end to it and ordered the copies to be destroyed. The book has since gone to press without three pages.
Reprinting the book will be “more effective”
CCMBC declined to be interviewed by CBC News and did not provide a written statement.
Instead, the response, co-authored by the US authority, was published in the Mennonite Brethren Newsletterpublished by the conference.
The entry states that the book was to be a collection of women’s stories of how they experienced encouragement or disappointment as they served in various positions in the ministry.
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“However, three pages by one author suddenly disappeared to record reflections, experiences and questions about her changing perspective on gay, gay and transgender people and the MB Church,” the Herald article says.
“The writer describes her journey in which she expresses joy over a Christian woman’s marriage to her same-sex partner and how she found her ‘view of same-sex marriage was starting to change’.”
The article states that the pages have gone off topic and into the realm of a theological essay, “advocating the inclusion of an LGBTQ+ type in opposition to a direct reading of our MB Confession of Faith.”
Church authorities said they regretted not being able to speak to the author, editor, and other contributors, but were unable to do so due to tight publication and distribution times.
“We believe that a slightly shorter edition On holy ground … will reach a wider audience and more effectively share the stories of MB women about their personal leadership experiences,” the article says.
Opportunity for conversation
Isaac said she doesn’t necessarily push for change in the church, but advocates for dialogue: “How do we stay united and create space for different opinions?”
Isaac says she wants to approach this conversation with empathy because she remembers being on the other side.
“I remember being afraid to have this conversation openly and honestly,” she said. “When people got angry or pushed harder, I just pushed harder,” she said.
The pastor says the situation is similar to another struggle that has been played out within the church for several years – the struggle for the ability of women to take on leadership roles in the church.
“When I was young, I was also against women in leadership positions, I thought the Bible said, ‘No, there’s no place for that,’” Isaac said.
Isaac says she is sad about the way the situation has turned out because the book is meant to help male-dominated women find ways to validate their experiences and be heard.
“I think the saddest thing would be if this controversy overshadowed the voices of all 15 authors,” she said.