John Linscheid, along with his partner (since 1983), Ken M. White, has been a writer, speaker, and activist in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, Christian faith, and in queer spirituality. Now in retirement, they continue to explore the art of creating nurturing space for queer and progressive individuals on a journey toward liberation for the world, the flesh, and the spirit.
John was influential in moving gay biblical interpretation beyond apologetics to queer-experience-centered investigation of the texts. He challenged his own Mennonite and other denomination’s moves to institutionalize official hostility toward LGBTQ people. John and Ken’s steady participation and leadership as lay people at Germantown Mennonite Church along with their vigorous advocacy when the congregation was excommunicated helped prepared the ground for that congregation to become the first in the Mennonite denomination to ordain an openly gay man, David Weaver, in 2001.
John was born in 1953, one of three sons of J. Willard Linscheid (1923-1992) and Ruth Linscheid (1931-2016). He grew up in the rural, ethnically Low German Mennonite town of Goessel, Kansas. At age 18, he was baptized and became a member of the Goessel Mennonite Church. In high school and at Bethel College (North Newton, Kansas), John actively participated in the peace movement, opposing the Vietnam War. He majored in Bible and Religion, graduating with a B.A. in 1975. In 1976, after taking a year to study art, he received a North American Ministerial Fellowship to attend seminary. He studied for two years at The School of Theology at Claremont, California, and then transferred to Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, where he received his M. Div. degree in 1980.
In 1980, he became the first pastor to be hired by the Lawrence [Kansas] Mennonite Fellowship [now Peace Mennonite Church]. The congregation was funded as a church-planting effort by the Western District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church (which later merged with the Mennonite Church to form the Mennonite Church USA and the Mennonite Church Canada). His pastoral duties included maintaining strong ties with the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice and he helped to lead the coalition in conducting a referendum for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze (circa 1983).
John came out as a gay man to his family and a few friends in the late 1970s but remained publicly closeted. In the early 1980s, John wrote a number of pro-gay articles for the Brethren Mennonite Council for Gay Concerns (BMC), now Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests. In 1983, he became one of the first Mennonite pastors in the United States to come out publicly. The congregation, divided on how to respond, decided to retain him as pastor on an interim basis. However, the district conference demanded John’s ouster as a condition for its continued funding of the Lawrence church. In May 1984, John left Lawrence. Although John had been approved for ordination (he had been licensed), his coming out brought a cancellation of plans for that step.
In September 1983, about six months before his ouster, John met Ken White and the two became lovers. In 1985, they moved to Philadelphia. John took a position as an assistant editor at The Other Side magazine, a position he would hold for five years. While at The Other Side, John authored a seminal article "Reading the Bible with Gay Eyes." In that and subsequent articles, John eschewed pleading excuses to answer antigay elements. Instead, he started with LGBTQ experience and asked what keys it might hold to unlocking scripture. Instead of arguing whether it was "okay to be gay," John’s articles uncovered queer dynamics in texts such as creation stories, the destruction of Sodom, and the Gospel of John. In 1990, John left The Other Side to become a staff member in the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Pennsylvania. He eventually became the department office manager and remained there until he retired in 2014.
left: Ken White; right: John LinscheidThroughout the 1980s and 1990s, John and Ken spoke frequently to churches, classes, and conferences about gay spiritual, political, and social experience. In 1994, John and Ken were asked to lead a session for men at the annual Gay, Lesbian, and Christian retreat at Kirkridge Retreat Center near Bangor, Pennsylvania. John and Ken chose to address aging among gay men by developing a "saging" ritual that honored queer pioneer John McNeill as an elder among gay men and gay elders in general. Subsequently, John and Ken led a series of retreats that dealt with gay-male spirituality. "Gay Male Rites of Passage: Moving beyond Coming Out to Being Out" examined unique aspects of gay-male identity development. "Water of Life: Rites of the Gay Male Spirit," explored gay archetypes and the sources of gay spiritual experience. The third and final retreat, "Simply Divine: Rites of the Gay Male Spirit," encouraged participants to appreciate the holiness of the body, sexuality, and gay desire. Also, during the 1990s, John and Ken, along with Ruth Wenger and Norma Beard, reinvigorated the Philadelphia chapter of the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests by sponsoring monthly luncheons. John and Ken also made contact with a number of young gay men and lesbian women who were dealing with homophobia and liberation in their particular contexts. Several Princeton Theological Seminary students found a safe space in their home during the years when that seminary’s president was promulgating the antigay treatise, "A Princeton Declaration," in the Presbyterian Church USA. Additionally, a number of social work students from Temple University’s School of Social Administration, where Ken worked as an advisor and adjunct faculty member, got in touch with queer youth from various Kirkridge events and began to gather at Ken’s and John’s home. John and Ken found themselves the nucleus of an unofficial queer family.
In 1986, John had joined Germantown Mennonite Church, the oldest Mennonite congregation in North America. (Ken joined some years later.) Although one of the congregation’s regional conferences, Franconia Mennonite Conference, was officially hostile to gay and lesbian people, it made a special agreement with the local congregation to permit a more tolerant approach. However, in the early 1990s, the conference, under fire from conservatives, abandoned an early decision to leave membership decisions to the congregation. It demanded the congregation conform to its antigay/antilesbian policies—effectively demanding the excommunication of gay and lesbian members. John was one of several congregational representatives who attempted to negotiate a "third-way" agreement to maintain a window of tolerance in the conference. However, after failing twice to excommunicate the congregation in open conference sessions, denominational leaders put out a mail-in ballot that provided no option to support the Germantown congregation. In 1998, the congregation was excommunicated. The congregation’s final ties to the Mennonite denomination were cut by its other regional conference, Eastern District, when the congregation decided to ordain an openly gay man, David Weaver. John was again among the congregational representatives who attempted to preserve some level of tolerance on the part of the denomination, without success.
In between the time of the initial expulsion by one body and the final expulsion by the second, John’s activities were seriously curtailed. In the late 1990s, Primary Schlerosing Cholangitis, a serious liver disease, took its toll on John’s health. In September 2000, he received a liver transplant. Within a year, he was again able to pick up some lay leadership responsibilities in his local congregation and to preach from time to time. John became actively involved in a regional progressive Mennonite group, Mennoneighbors (which started as a support group for urban pastors and broadened to include lay members working for progressive change within the Mennonite denomination).
But John and Ken, together with members of their queer family, turned their primary focus and energies to nurturing queer spirit as opposed to changing the church. In 2008, John published an essay on his intention to abandon “loving dialog” with a recalcitrant church (“Done with Dialogue, (BMC Outspoken, vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 5, 10) In 2012, John began publishing a blog, Gay Old Souls (www.gayoldsouls.com) to explore queer spiritualty. He continued to publish new articles for the blog until 2018. In 2016, BMC awarded John the inaugural Martin Rock Award “for his dedication to the queer community.”
John and Ken were legally married in 2014. In 2018, they moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, where Ken pursues metal sculpture, John cooks, and they both (stereotypically) dote on Chessie, their little dog.
(This biographical statement provided by John Linscheid).
Biography Date: July, 2003; rev Nov. 2022
“John M. Linscheid | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed December 07, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/john-m-linscheid.