Mennonites and Men Monday Nights

One evening during my freshman year at Haverford College, I was hunched over a book in the library when a most unusual vision appeared seemingly out of nowhere. I blinked hard; the vision remained. “Don’t look now,” I whispered to the guy sitting next to me, “but there’s a Pilgrim in the library.” He turned, saw the apparition, and failed to suppress a loud snort that reduced me to violent spasms of barely contained laughter. The woman was dressed in a floor-length black dress with white trim, plain black shoes, and a white bonnet. It’s not every day that you get to see a bonnet. But alas, the woman was not a Pilgrim but rather the Mennonite wife of an elderly English professor, an explanation so mundane that it killed the hilarity. Almost.

I couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Edgar Rose as I was reading a fascinating piece in Al Jazeera America online about the conflict over homosexuality within the Mennonite community. Al Jazeera America is the US subsidiary of the media empire funded in large measure by the ruling family of Qatar. The article, by Kevin Williams, begins with the story of Matthew Hunsberger, a devout Mennonite who also happens to be gay. “I can go now and legally be married, but it feels somehow incomplete because the church is such a part of my life,” Hunsberger said. “I work at a Mennonite institution and go to a Mennonite church. I really would like that marriage to be in the church.”

Mennonites are –– as Williams puts it –– “vocal on peace and social justice issues,” but the church maintains a stubborn resistance to accepting LGBT folks. Evidently the concept of “social justice” is strictly circumscribed in Mennonite culture. According to Williams, “a recent conference in Kansas City was supposed to smooth over some of the Mennonite church’s deep divisions over the role of the LGBT community in the church. Instead, the conference seemed to stake a compromise on a very narrow strip of ideological real estate in the middle, which left few satisfied, some churches threatening to exit altogether, and other members engaged in silent protest by sealing their mouths with duct tape.” Lucky for them, Mennonite men don’t have beards. Ripping off the duct tape at the end of the day would have been unpleasant.

Media Circus

“The issue crosses the boundaries between age and religion,” Williams continues. “For instance, Chester Wenger, age 96, was stripped of his ministerial credentials by Mennonite Church USA after performing a same-sex wedding for his gay son. On the other end of the spectrum, Briana Thomas, 19, a Mennonite blogger on food and faith, declares gay marriage to be a sin. ‘God created us male and female and all of nature has always operated upon that premise. It’s common sense,’ Thomas said.” Thomas is evidently unaware of the enormous number of species in which homosexuality is common: caribou, giraffes, koalas, ravens, seagulls, chickens, and salmon, among many others (not that I’m a big fan of comparing ourselves to lower forms of life). Nor, it seems, has she ever had a dog hump her leg. In point of fact, “all of nature,” as she describes it, tends to get its rocks off by any means possible. Men are lucky to have penises big enough to prevent us from fucking electrical sockets.

On the right side of the issue, which as usual is on the left, is a group calling itself Pink Menno. They’re the ones who duct taped their mouths shut –– with hot pink duct tape, of course. “Promises of dialogue have not been fulfilled,” Pink Menno co-founder Jen Yoder told Williams, who wrote, “Yoder, whose partner is transgender, founded the group with her brother. She is also a co-pastor of the Pittsburgh Peace Church, an inclusive church that is part of Mennonite Church USA. She says Pink Menno’s aims go beyond simply allowing same-sex marriage. ‘This is about Queer folks being able to live out our lives fully and completely as members of the Mennonite church,’ Yoder said, adding that there are plenty of straight Mennonites living together or having premarital sex, and those issues are left unexamined.”

Williams’ article is a model of fair and balanced reporting, and for that he and Al Jazeera America are to be congratulated. At the same time, it’s worth noting that homosexual acts are illegal in Qatar and can result in prison sentences of one to three years, not to mention that ever-popular modern punishment –– lashing.

I used to be a porn reviewer. That’s right. In the 1990s I earned money –– and got tons of free videos –– to separate the meat from the chaff for the readers of Inches magazine. It was great for a while, but by the fifth year I could no longer even glance in porn’s direction without feeling both bored and nauseated, so I quit the gig and –– with very few exceptions –– never watched another porn video again.

But now there’s a TV show that serves an essentially pornographic function for me. I’m referring to NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.” Good grief, Charlie Brown –– those guys are hot! They’re men at peak physical condition. They’ve got much better muscles than the Speedoed boys of the Fire Island Pines, and they show them off without any of the distracting prancing that’s endemic at gay beaches and gyms. They’re at ease with their perfection. And they work damn hard to earn it.

I’m riveted by “American Ninja Warrior” in the way I used to be attracted to porn before I became desensitized to it –– before the moment when I realized that I’d rather vomit blood than witness yet another shaved asshole. The head of Falcon once tried to get me fired for mocking the supposedly tough “biker” star of one video. In addition to his ridiculous shaved pucker, the guy had a bikini brief tan line, for god’s sake. A biker! My editor saved my job by pointing out to the rattled Inches publisher, who’d gotten an earful from Falcon’s outraged owner, that I had a PhD in film studies and therefore knew what I was talking about. No shit. I knew that degree would come in handy some day.

Unlike that notorious Falcon fraud, the competitors on “American Ninja Warrior” are real men with real jobs and families. They fight their way through an obstacle course designed to push them to –– and sometimes past –– their limits. They mesmerize me. And there’s nothing else in contemporary popular culture that matches the electrifying moment when, standing atop the platform leading to another fiendishly devised obstacle, the lithe but rock hard contestant pulls his sweaty shirt over his head and tosses it to the crowd, basking in his own David-like beauty.

My only suggestion to the show’s producers is to automatically disqualify any man who shaves his armpits. “American Ninja Warrior” is great sports porn. It’s by far the hottest show on television.

Follow @edsikov on Twitter.