When retired Mennonite pastor Chester Wenger defied his church to officiate his son’s same-sex wedding, he knew it would likely lead to reprisal from the church.
In fact, he reported himself. They responded by revoking his ministerial credentials, which he had since 1948.
Writer and commentator Malcolm Gladwell featured Wenger on the most recent episode of his podcast Revisionist History, in which he says Wenger is an exemplar of “generous orthodoxy,” the theme and title of the episode. He was willing to suffer a loss in order to do what was right, while showing “respect for the body he is trying to heal.”
Wenger, 98, said that at first he thought his son Phil might just be going through a phase when he came to him and said he was gay. When Phil told him a year later that it was not just a phase, and that he would begin identifying as gay and his father would just have to learn to live with it, Wenger came to terms with it.
Phil was expelled from the Mennonite Church by a clergy member, without speaking to either Phil or Phil’s parents.
He stressed to his son that all he cared about was that he not lose his faith. So he was pleased when his son joined an Episcopal Church, a denomination known to be more accepting of LGBTQ people. So pleased he was “weeping with joy,” according to Phil.
When same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania, where they all live, Phil and his partner Steve was married in a ceremony officiated by the rector of his church. Wenger gave a blessing at the end, but later admitted that he had wished his son had asked him to officiate his wedding, so they had another ceremony with Wegner officiating, leading to the action against him.
Wenger wrote an open letter to the Mennonite Church titled “An open letter to my beloved church,” calling for more acceptance of LGBTQ individuals. It went viral.
Gladwell highlights the following passage as his favorite:
When my wife and I read the Bible with today’s fractured, anxious church in mind, we ask, what is Jesus calling us to do with those sons and daughters who are among the most despised people in the world — in all races and communities? What would Jesus do with our sons and daughters who are bullied, homeless, sexually abused, and driven to suicide at far higher rates than our heterosexual children?
He concludes that while Wenger’s viewpoint may not be winning out just yet, it undoubtedly will. Maybe not soon, but on a long enough time line it is inevitable.
The United Methodist Church is going through a similar struggle, with the Reconciling Ministries Network working from within for LGBTQ equality since the early 1980s. A Methodist minster looked to be facing trial after officiating at the same-sex wedding of his son, before the church decided against that action.
The episode also explores student led efforts to have the name of Woodrow Wilson, former university president and U.S. president, removed from the university’s graduate school due to his racist views. You can listen to it here.