Winnipeg pastor’s thoughts on LGBTQ+ inclusion removed from book highlighting female leaders

A book intended to give women pastors a voice within the Brethren Mennonite Church is seen as silencing one of those voices after a contribution by one of its writers was censored.

Winnipeg pastor Mary Anne Isaak is one of 15 women leaders who have helped On Holy Ground: Stories by and about Women in Ministry Leadership in the Brethren Mennonite Church, which was made public last month.

Three of the pages written by Isaak were removed from the book at the last minute at the request and expense of the Canadian and American bodies that oversee the denomination.

“I reflected on my entire journey as a pastor, but for three pages I also reflected on an issue that arose in the three congregations where I pastored, and that concerned LGBTQ inclusion” said Isaak, who has been a pastor at River East Church for the past seven years.

Brethren Mennonite Church teachings state that marriage is only meant to be between a man and a woman, Isaak said.

In the omitted pages, Isaak said, she explained how her outlook on LGBTQ+ inclusion has evolved over her 26 years of leadership, in particular, she says, her stance on whether a gay couple could marry in the church.

The book « On Holy Ground » was reprinted at the request of Canadian and American organizations representing Mennonite Brethren churches to omit a section on LGBTQ+ inclusion. (Submitted by MB Historical Commission)

« By studying the scriptures, I think there is room for a gay couple to get married, » Isaak said.

The book was commissioned by the Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission, which reports to the leadership of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (CCMBC). The book was intended as a collection of women’s stories, or life scriptures, of their experiences of service in various leadership roles in ministry.

A few hundred early copies were printed this spring before the CCMBC called a halt and ordered the copies destroyed. The book has since been printed without the three pages.

Reprinted book will be ‘more effective’

The CCMBC declined an interview with CBC News and did not provide a written statement.

Instead, a response co-authored with the US body was published in the Mennonite Brethren Herald, which is published by the conference.

The entry indicates that the book was meant to be a collection of women’s stories about their experiences of encouragement or discouragement as they served in various ministry roles.

« However, three pages of one author’s writing suddenly left to record thoughts, experiences and questions about his evolving perspective on gay, gay and transgender people and the MB Church, » said the Herald article.

« The writer describes her journey where she expresses her joy at a Christian woman’s marriage to her same-sex partner and how she found her ‘perspective on gay marriage was starting to turn’. »

The article says the pages moved beyond the intended topic and entered the realm of a theological essay, « arguing for a type of LGBTQ+ inclusion that conflicts with a direct reading of our MB confession of faith. »

Church bodies said they regretted not being able to have conversations with the author, publisher and others involved, but were unable to due to the tight schedule of publication and distribution.

« We believe that the slightly shorter edition of In the Holy Land …will reach a wider audience and be more effective in its goal of sharing the stories of MB women about their personal leadership experiences,” the article reads.

An opportunity for conversation

Isaak said she’s not necessarily pushing for change with the church, but advocating for a conversation: « How can we stay united and make room for differing opinions? »

Isaak says she wants to approach this conversation with compassion because she remembers being on the other side.

« I remember how scared I was to have this conversation in an open and honest way, » she said. « When people got angry or pushed harder, I dug in my heels more, » she said.

The pastor says the situation parallels another struggle that has been going on within the church for several years – that of the ability of women to take on leadership roles in the church.

« As a youngster I was also really against women in leadership, I thought the Bible said, ‘No, there’s no place for that,' » Isaak said.

Isaak says she’s sad about how things turned out because the book is meant to help women in male-dominated roles find ways to validate their experiences and be heard.

“I think the saddest part would be if this controversy eclipsed the voices of the 15 authors,” she said.


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