Sex and sexuality seemed to dominate the headlines this week, not only in North America but around the world,
signalling a cultural shift long in the works but now coming forcefully to the fore.
The story drawing the most attention from religious folks was the historic vote by the Presbyterian Church USA to allow the ordination of gays after a decade of debate and the exit of some 100 congregations out of 11,000 during the past five years.
A majority of the 173 regions, or presbyteries, supported the long-debated change in the constitution of the 2.3-million member communion that will permit gay candidates to be ordained clergy, elders and deacons, church sources told Reuters.
The move eliminates a requirement in the constitution that clergy live "in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." The 87th, and deciding, vote was cast on Tuesday by the liberal Minneapolis-St. Paul presbytery. Already, 19 presbyteries that voted against a similar amendment two years ago had switched sides.
"They're making this change amid a larger cultural change. General public opinion on gay rights is trending pretty dramatically in the liberal direction," said Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University.
Meanwhile in Canada, a Slutwalk followed in a few days by an anti-abortion march on Parliament Hill formed a juxtaposition on sexuality that couldn’t be more in contrast. Slutwalk, triggered by a report in a University of Guelph campus paper that a police officer advised York University law students to “not dress like a slut” to reduce the chances of assault, has inspired plans for similar protests in more than 60 cities around the world and setting off a debate among feminists about using loaded language even if it brings huge attention to their cause.
As if in a different universe, organizers of Thursday’s National March for Life said it is far too soon to say how many new members in Parliament’s Conservative majority government will back their cause, or their numbers will make up for some high-profile departures, including cabinet ministers Stockwell Day and Chuck Strahl and fellow B.C. Tory MP John Cummins, according to the Globe and Mail.
Around the globe, Uganda’s parliament appeared Wednesday to have dropped plans to debate a controversial anti-gay bill after a global outcry from U.S. leaders, rights groups and an Internet campaign, according to theGlobe and Mail.
The anti-gay bill was first proposed in 2009 but wasn’t debated until last Friday. The bill had been scheduled to be debated before the full parliament on Wednesday but was dropped from the schedule. The future of the bill remained murky. Wednesday was parliament’s last scheduled day of session, and President Yoweri Museveni was scheduled on Thursday to be sworn in after his February re-election.
It wasn’t clear if the bill could be carried forward to the next session or if the bill’s author would have to offer a new bill, which he has said he will do if needed. The original bill would mandate a death sentence in some cases, part of the reason it attracted global attention. The bill’s author, David Bahati, has said a new version of the bill would not contain the death penalty, but no amended version has been released publicly.
In another African country, a new study finds that nearly 2 million women have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the Global Post. The study, published online Thursday by The American Journal of Public Health, found that women are raped at 26 times the rate previously reported by the United Nations, the Daily Beast reports.
It shows that the problem of rape in Congo, long considered a serious situation, is actually even bigger and more pervasive than previously known. The study finds that women are reportedly raped not only in the war-torn eastern part of the country, but also in the capital and far away provinces.
“I was overwhelmed, but I wasn’t shocked,” Lisa Shannon, founder of Run for Congo Women and A Thousand Sisters, told the Daily Beast. “We’ve known for a long time that the numbers coming out of Congo were vastly underreported.”
Congo has faced a brutal war for the past 15 years as rebel groups have terrorized civilians as they have fought over the country's rich minerals. More than 5 million people have died, and rape and sexual violence have been used as weapons of war.
And closer home for Mennonites, a group of Goshen (Ind.) College students recently released an open letter asking for inclusion of openly gay faculty, according to Sheldon Good, writing for the Mennonite Weekly Review.
The letter went live April 15, he writes, at www.geopenletter.org, allowing current students to sign it. Goshen college alumni were invited to sign it starting April 17. At press time, 316 students and 727 alumni had signed on.
“We affirm the Goshen College community’s desire to make school a safe and welcoming place for all people, including students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer-questioning,” or GLBTQ, the letter said.
And on Saturday, May 14, a group in Winnipeg calling itself the Harmony Group prepared a statement that it will present at Mennonite Church Canada’s July assembly.
Among the proposals it will ask that MC Canada:
- Acknowledge that there are non-heterosexual individuals who are struggling within its congregations, whether or not those individuals have publicly acknowledged their orientation, and whether or not they are in a relationship with another person;
- Further acknowledge that all Christians have a legitimate place in God’s Kingdom generally, and in the Church specifically;
- Urge its area churches and congregations to take seriously the call to continue in loving dialogue, and to fully embrace by inviting and welcoming into their midst, all persons including non-heterosexual members, adherents and neighbours; and
- Expedite the present “Being a Faithful Church” process, especially as regards to education and discernment on matters of sexuality.
All of which is to point to rapidly-changing values in the church in the context of a larger societal cultural shift.
--updated May 18, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: In the interest of healthy debate on the matter of sexuality, we ask that persons limit their responses to one per person. If it becomes apparent that one person is responding multiple times, their responses, after the first one, will be deleted. We also discourage responding anonymously. In the interest of transparency and the courage to be identified with your convictions, we ask that you identify yourself with a name in your email. Thank you.
Thanks Dick for bringing all those events together to put some perspective on it. One might almost think the church should be saying and doing something about it!
The six (or seven) stories on sex referred to as dominating the headlines are just the tip of the iceberg. I am intrigued but not surprised, however, that the reactions and comments tend to focus on Mennonites and homosexuality. And I am very thankful for the guidelines on comments which the editor has posted.
As a participant in the Harmony Group referred to in the article, my main concern is that the Church be allowed to be the Church. The topic of sexuality has been given short shrift by MC Canada and its predecessor conferences, and needs to be explored in much greater depth. And I'm talking about sexuality in all its forms and dynamics - homosexuality is but a very small part of the topic.
As with any topic of interest in the Church, there must be conversation, dialogue, and discernment. MC Canada is working on the "discernment" part in a structured plan to address the topic in a few years time, but the conversation that has been happening for some time within its congregations must be endorsed and encouraged now - and should become much broader and more visible all across Canada.
The name of the Harmony Group was chosen with care. Not all voices sing the same tune, and they do not all sing the melody. Nonetheless beautiful music happens! Similarly, the richness and diversity of our experiences as Mennonites in Canada can lead to deep spiritual insights and a closer connection to God - even in matters of sexuality! But we have to talk about them. To say that the discussion is closed does a huge injustice to many people (not just the LGBTQ folks in our midst), and a huge disservice to the Mennonite Church.
So I join in the thoughts of gratitude that have already been expressed here, that the Canadian Mennonite is offering a forum for just such a discussion.
Jesus did invite all to the table. He also told people who were sinning to sin no more. It says in my Bilbe that one man and one woman makes a union, not man and man or waman and woman.
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