“Enough already.” I can already hear groans of despair as we, once again, open up the conversation about sexuality in all of its manifestations. In a search of our database, our managing editor, Ross W. Muir, discovered that this publication and its predecessor, the Mennonite Reporter, have carried a total of 232 articles on the subject, ranging from sexual abuse, child sex tourism, same and safe sex, to sex offenders, sex change, sexual abstinence, sexual misconduct and sexual boundaries. The list goes on.
Will we ever get enough? And what is the point of again launching into these controversial waters where no one wins, no one seems to change his or her mind, where the two sides accuse the other of unfaithfulness, of being misguided—or wrong—all the while proof-texting the Bible to win the argument?
It is my sense, as one of the denominational gatekeepers, that while wearisome and probably troublesome, as a steward of one of our public forums, we must continue this conversation, albeit with new guidelines, for two reasons:
- First, as Mennonite Church Canada continues its Being a Faithful Church discernment process, the issue of sexuality is one of the primary components. I must clarify, however, that MC Canada officials are hesitant to open this topic up at this time; they did not request, or even encourage, our bringing it to the fore.
- Second, it is time we reframe the debate with new guidelines of discourse, a time to covenant together that we will choose our words carefully, without judgment and rancour, to take a broad and thoughtful look at the subject and not confine it to the flash points of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, to deconstruct the old framework of using inclusion/exclusion of church members as a dividing line within our faith community.
In simple, straightforward terms, we, with Brian McLaren in his new book, A New Kind of Christianity, ask the question: “Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it? . . . Can we move beyond paralyzing polarization into constructive dialogue about the whole range of challenges we face regarding human sexuality?”
McLaren includes sexuality in a line-up of 10 major issues the church has to address if it is to listen to the Spirit moving across denominations and around the world, along with understanding the Bible as narrative and its authority in our lives, violence, a new look at the teachings of Jesus and what the church has done with them, pluralism and eschatology.
None of these issues can be trivialized or swept under the rug simply because we can’t agree on them. They are the nerve centre of our faith, the life-blood to our survival as a church. Therefore, we must engage, not dodge.With this issue, we are attempting to model this new framework for discussion. Keith Graber Miller’s feature, “Unwrapping sexuality,” on page 4, provides context, presenting readers with a broad view of the subject, not just the aspects that have tended to bog us down. Keep in mind that this was originally an address to university students who are the members of our faith community most wanting a thoughtful discussion, not a duel of warring factions. We owe them no less.
The first of a three-part series of “Letters to my Sister,” page 12, is a more intimate discussion between accomplished 80-year-old twins who, with their lifetime of experience, find themselves on opposite sides of the homosexual issue, but who respect each other and carry on a thoughtful debate in letters.
We hope this gives clear guidance for those of you who will surely respond with your own reflections. In that regard, let me clearly state what will—and will not—make the letters column or online postings of this publication:
- Only those who add some new insight or information to the subject will be considered. We will not rehash old arguments and well-known talking points used in the old frame of this ongoing conversation, or countenance judgmental language either of individuals or organized groups.
- Resist the temptation to use proof-texting of the biblical narrative to support any of your points. To quote McLaren again: “In a time when religious extremists constantly use sacred texts to justify violence, many of us feel a moral obligation to question the ways the Bible has been used in the past to defend the indefensible and promote the unacceptable.”