A difficult debate

January 14, 2015 | Editorial | Volume 19 Issue 2
Barb Draper | Interim Co-editor

Since the 1980s, the Mennonite church has been debating how it should relate to those who are same-sex attracted. It has been a long and difficult debate, and it isn’t over yet. Since 2009, Mennonite Church Canada has been working on how to deal with this contentious issue through the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) process. The BFC task force reported in July 2014 that Mennonites in Canada do not agree on how to interpret the Bible on this issue. All sides take the Bible seriously, but they interpret it differently. And so this passionate discussion continues.

Our feature article on page 4, “A biblical and better way,” by Ron Sider, was specifically requested by readers from different parts of the country. While not all readers will agree with Sider’s point of view, he presents a well-articulated argument that we have not carried in these pages recently. Meanwhile, this issue of the magazine also has a story of the first same-sex couple to be publicly married by MC Canada clergy (see page 13).

As the debate stretches on, many of us have heard arguments on both sides from people we respect. One side says that Jesus was welcoming and loving, and so should we be. If we exclude those who are same-sex attracted, we are guilty of injustice. The other side frames the issue in ethical terms. If sexual intimacy outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage was a sin for so many centuries, how can we with integrity declare it is no longer sinful?

It seems there are many of us who don’t know what to think and wish a compromise would be possible. The BFC task force reported that most congregations responding to BFC 5, “Biblical perspectives on human sexuality,” affirmed the church’s traditional position, but at the same time wanted to be more welcoming. Our majority position seems to be that we don’t want to be exclusionary, but neither do we want to abandon long-standing sexual ethics.

MC U.S.A. is having a similar discussion. A significant number of congregations chose to leave MC U.S.A. in 2014 after one of its conferences licensed a pastor living in a same-sex relationship. Whole conferences have debated withdrawing from MC U.S.A. A survey of U.S. Mennonite pastors in 2014 shows that younger people and those living in larger cities are more apt to be inclusive. Probably the same is true in Canada.

This is a difficult discussion, but it isn’t going to go away. MC Canada congregations have been asked for further discernment through BFC 6, with reports due by Feb. 28. Fortunately, the BFC 6 document includes more resources for this discussion, including a video, “Discerning What the Spirit is Saying to the Churches,” by Loren Johns, professor of New Testament at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. The text &nbsp of the video is also available for those who want to study it closely.

Call for volunteers

After looking at various biblical texts that relate to homosexuality, and explaining how they can be interpreted differently, Johns asks whether there are precedents in the Bible for a major theological shift like the one we are facing. He refers to two such shifts in the New Testament. Acts 10 recounts the story of Peter’s vision in which God tells Peter in a dream to eat animals that are forbidden according to Leviticus 11. The message of the dream was confirmed when shortly afterward the Gentiles in Caesarea received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The other theological shift in the early church related to the question of whether Christians needed to be circumcised. A study of Acts 15 shows that the church considered not only Scripture, but also experience, reason, tradition and the voice of the Holy Spirit in its discernment.

Johns does not take a position on whether the church should shift its theology on this issue, but points out the importance of loving each other in the midst of the discussion. He says, “So when knowledge and listening to the Spirit leave us short of the uniformity of perspective for which we had hoped—and it sometimes will, according to Paul in I Corinthians 13—faith, hope and love can still get us through.”

As the church continues its discernment, may we all continue to pray for guidance, while exercising all the humility, patience and love we can muster.

See also:

"For discussion: A biblical and better way"

Mennonite Church Canada releases BFC video with seminary professor

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Comments

So you're a gnostic and not a Christian.

Fair enough. Sadly, the Mennonite Church is becoming a cultural/ethnic organization (much like modern-day Judaism) and leaving Christianity behind.
Slowly, of course, many many many Mennonite Churches remain committed to Scripture and truth.

But your comment, John, is pure gnostic heresy.

Where did Scripture come from?
2 Timothy 3:16 is plain. It was breathed out by God.
2 Peter 1:21 is equally plain. Speaking of Scripture it says "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

No John, Scripture did not come from the natural, created world. It came from the very mind of God himself.
Yes, darkness has never understood or even threatened light, but the only light we have is the light of God.

Sadly, if your comments are any indication, you do not live in the light and do not understand it, nor, I fear, are you willing to submit to it. And who can blame you? Why submit to something that has it's origins in the natural world, a world of which we all are a part?

Repent John. Repent of your sin and be saved.

And likewise the MCC and it's affiliates need to repent of even entertaining the idea the homosexuality can be accepted, in any way, as normative and something that is not far outside of God's moral decree.

Regardless of where scripture came from, it was written down by, translated by, read by, and understood by living, breathing, imperfect humans. I think it is extremely dangerous to assume that any human can have a perfect understanding of what scripture says. To me, that is building oneself up as god, or limiting what God can say or do, neither of which are really great ideas. So I'd appreciate if you would trust that those of us who disagree with you have read the same scriptures as you, prayed as hard as you, and sought out the truth just as you do. Accusations of heresy didn't serve the early Anabaptist church very well, and they won't help us now either.

Yes, we are all imperfect human beings.

That said, the topic on this thread, being homosexuality, is hardly one on which the Bible could be said to be, in any way, unclear.

Further, what was being espoused by John Gascho IS heresy, pure and simply. It serves no one to fail to acknowledge that reality, least of all those who need to repent of their sin.

A church that will not stand on what is clear in Scripture, cannot claim ambiguity on another subject as a defense. Nor can such a church stand as a church for long.

We are so close Daryl.I believe the main distinction between you and I is that your aim to divide,and my aim is to restore. Life is very much about division and restoration. We see it everywhere.
Let God seduce you. Become completely vulnerable as Jesus was hanging on the tree. God's breath is everywhere. It is as much a part of the natural world as the trees and the rocks and the birds.
Recognize that there are many simple truths that draw
attention to God. All we need to do is learn to see.
The mind of God is in everything we know and everything we don't know.
Allow your ego a rest, and make room for love.

I'm laughing John.

So sweet, so kind. "...my aim is to restore."

No John, restoration cannot happen by setting aside the truth. And that's the point of a church having a "conversation" about homosexuality.

Restoration cannot happen without recognizing the division and repentance cannot happen without recognizing sin.
And so...in attempting to be sweet, kind and inoffensive (a typically Mennonite attitude) we want to sweep aside the commands of God, who will not finally be sweet, kind and inoffensive to His enemies on that great day.

In love, we must say, as I have, that homosexuality is a sin. The is no confusion on this matter in Scripture. So to see a middle ground with gay "Christians" is to condemn them to a life of non-repentance and final condemnation in eternal hell.

Where is the love in that?

Daryl,you know the greatest commandment!
Whether my neighbor is friend or foe,I am commanded to love as I love myself.
Sadly there are many who don't love them shelves and can't seem to find the strength to release their sorrow to God .Instead they direct their pain at others insisting that others conform to their ideologies. Why be so selfish as to assume what truth is.learn to trust Daryl.Don't be afraid.
I sense fear in everything you are saying.
Just let it go.

Wow. Just wow.

Shades of "Use the force Luke" "there is no try, only do, or do not."

Yes, by God's grace you sense fear. The fear of God.

Who is assuming here? I stand on the very Words of the Living God. You stand on what? The "breath of God that is as much part of nature as blah blah blah"?

No one doesn't love themselves. In fact, Peter tells us that "in the last days men will be lovers of themselves" and in so doing they are condemned.

How do you love YOUR neighbour John? By condemning them to hell by insisting they have nothing to repent of? By insisting that we cannot know what God has said?

But I have forgotten that you want to believe that "god can change god's mind", in direct contradiction to Scripture.

Why is it that you provide no Scripture except "love" and you insist on defining love in a way that the authors of Scripture wouldn't recognize.

As I say, you are correct in this at least, I am afraid.

My fear is the fear that comes from knowing that God is completely other than me, completely holy, completely uncreated, completely answerable to no one, completely sovereign over all the affairs of men and completely unwilling to compromise his holiness in order to allow any sin in His presence.

And fearful as I am, I stand on His word.

On what do you stand?

We cannot let the ritual laws of the Old Testament that are fulfilled in Christ (ie. circumcision, clean and unclean foods) change the moral laws of the Old Testament (Christ came to fulfil, not abolish the law). Sin is still sin, whether it be homosexual behaviour, lust (in any form), greed, unholy anger, drunkenness, adultery, fornication, witchcraft, murder etc. (the list goes on and on). As Christians we should know that, and know how to bring people to this knowledge, so that they too can experience the saving power of God's grace by accepting the forgiveness offered at the cross. Would we still be having this discussion if it was about murder? I think not, it doesn't change the fact that a murderer can have a saving faith in God after he has committed a heinous crime. It doesn't change the cross; there is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus! It is by God's grace that we are saved, and that means that we do not deserve it. Yes, God did create everything, but even that was framed by the Word of God. There has been a lack of reverence for the Creator, and too often Jesus is treated like a puppet rather than a King in our churches. We need to learn to love God, and then love our neighbor; loving God first will definitely change how we love our neighbour! How is that for "being a faithful church"?

I would like to apologize to Daryl Little for comments I directed towards him that were offensive and callous.I would also like to apologize to the Canadian Mennonite for those comments.
I am passionate about my belief's,yet this does not give me license to be so insensitive.
I pray for reconcilliation.

It is not a difficult debate if both sides accept the truth.

The "fear of the Lord" is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7); God is love (1 John 4:16) while simultaneously hating sin (Psa. 97:10 and Col. 3:5-6). God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33), and becoming lukewarm is sin (Rev. 3:16).

Why are we making excuses on either side of these arguments? Why are we in any stage of denial that all the scriptural prophesies about immorality, lukewarmness and apostasy are actually occurring? Why would anyone try to change God and or the Bible and or the truth? Is it because permanent, universal truth is no longer relevant?

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