“Surely, the church will eventually change their stance on the lack of acceptance toward the gay community,” I thought to myself. But when I proposed that thought to my wife Anita, she wondered on what basis I was formulating my conclusion.
Having both grown up in the Mennonite community, Anita and I have seen a great deal of change within the denomination throughout our lifetime. Looking back, some of the previous norms of the faith now seem quite comical. We both chuckle remembering our visits to see Grammy and Grandpop Godshall, who at the time were active members of the Mennonite community near Harrisonburg, Virginia. Upon arrival to their home, Anita would systematically remove all jewelry and stash earrings, rings, bracelets, and/or necklaces somewhere in the car before entering the Godshall residence.
At the time, the issue of jewelry seemed very clear to the church based on the scripture in 1 Peter 3 “Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments, or fine clothing…” Armed with scripture, Mennonites have presented a gentle self-righteous front on many issues throughout their storied history. One of the more peculiar traits of our youth involved the “covering” based on the scripture in I Corinthians “… but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head”. Thankfully, the covering has vanished from mainstream Mennonitism but the more conservative faction of the denomination still struggles with the deeper issue of sexism as defined in I Timothy 2 “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”
The Disciples of Christ denomination where I now attend has made far more impressive strides in regard to the three aforementioned cultural issues. However, I am told that our church grappled with “allowing” female deacons and elders as recent as the mid-eighties. From a personal standpoint, being the father of three daughters, the notion of keeping them “silent and submissive” is rather infuriating and would have served only to shield them from dealing with the realities of life.
The concept of being “shielded” inspired the creation of a recent artwork titled Truth Wielder. Constructed of ceramics and wood, Truth Wielder is intended to illuminate some of the inconsistencies that pervaded the religious teachings of our youth. It is interesting to look back and discover how we were directed down certain paths according to our particular church dogma. In the Mennonite church we were constantly fed a scriptural diet that centered on the peace scripture in Isaiah 2:4 “they shall beat their swords into plowshares”. It wasn’t until much later that a friend of mine pointed out another scripture in Joel 3:10 that proclaims the exact opposite, “beat your plowshares into swords…” So, what scripture should be followed and what scripture ignored?
In the artwork, Truth Wielder, this question is presented through the hundreds of scriptural phrases that converge in the center portion between the welding helmets. The mass of words and directives form a confusing pile of garble. Many times, this is the way I feel about religion in general. “Do this,” but “don’t do this,” … and “only on Friday.” As many churches confront the topic of boldly stating a commitment to being “open and affirming” toward the gay community, it behooves me to bring to light another screaming inconsistency that calls for contemplation. The book of Leviticus cites scripture that suggests homosexuality is an “abomination” and in the same book scripture that places the act of eating shellfish as an abomination. I am certainly not a biblical scholar but one wonders why churches are not considering changing their mission statement to be more inclusive to those who eat shellfish.
As life evolves, bits and pieces of my religious upbringing are either embraced or discarded. This action of “open-mindedness” is represented in the artwork by the gradually-opening visors on the welding helmets. The theme of welding has been implemented as a major theme because of the proverbial warning associated with the act of welding: “when not wearing the protective shield, don’t look into the light”. In reality, the exact opposite is the case. When we look closely into the scriptural “light” and attempt to ascertain the truth, by uncovering the shielded perspective of our particular denomination, we are capable of determining a more lucid path.