Although John Linscheid works as an office manager at the University of
Pennsylvania’s Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department, his biography
is here because he is a writer, speaker, and an activist in the
Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition of the Christian faith. He and his lover, Ken M.
White (together 20 years as of September 2003), currently are exploring the art
of creating nurturing space for queer and progressive individuals on a journey
toward liberation of the world, the flesh, and the spirit.
John was influential in moving gay biblical interpretation beyond apologetics
to queer-experience centered understandings. He has continually challenged the
Mennonite denomination’s move to institutionalize and harden its official
hostility toward LGBTQ people. John’s steady participation and leadership as a
lay person at Germantown Mennonite Church along with his vigorous advocacy when
the congregation was excommunicated was one element among many that 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 (b.1931). 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
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, 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. His pastoral duties included maintaining strong
ties with the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice and he helped to lead the
coalition in conducting referendum for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze.
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). 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 continued funding. In May 1984, John left Lawrence.
Although John had been approved for ordination (he had been licensed until
then), his coming out brought a cancellation of plans for that step.
About 6 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
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
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, John 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.John and Ken chose to
address aging among gay men by developing a "saging" ritual that honored 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 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 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
LGBTQ Concerns 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 works, 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.
When John moved to Philadelphia, he had joined Germantown Mennonite Church,
the oldest Mennonite congregation in North America. The congregation began
accepting gay and lesbian members about the time he joined in 1986. 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
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 leadership responsibilities in his local
congregation and to preach from time to time.
John and Ken, together with members of their queer family, currently focus
their energies on the development of retreat resources and space for queer and
(This biographical statement provided by John