While topics regarding sexuality have dominated the mainstream headlines in the past several weeks, Mennonite Church Canada and area church leaders have made a move that points to a shift in values regarding sexuality within the denomination.
On May 14, MC Canada general secretary Willard Metzger and chief operating officer Vic Thiessen, and Ken Warkentin, executive director of MC Manitoba, met with members of Harmony: Mennonites for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) Inclusion. The grassroots initiative within MC Canada desires to create open and loving spaces for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in congregations and area church bodies. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a motion Harmony plans to present at the MC Canada assembly in Waterloo, Ont., in early July.
This motion will ask MC Canada to 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; and
- That all Christians have a legitimate place in God’s kingdom generally, and in the church specifically.
The motion also calls on MC Canada to:
- 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 their non-heterosexual members, adherents and neighbours; and
- Be encouraged to expedite the present “Being a Faithful Church” process, especially as regards to education and discernment on matters of sexuality.
The timing of this motion is especially important to Harmony, since it was 25 years ago that a motion on sexuality—known as the Saskatoon Resolution—was presented and adopted at a national assembly.
That resolution reads in part: “We understand the Bible to teach that sexual intercourse is reserved for a man and a woman united in marriage, and that violation of this teaching is a sin. It is our understanding that this teaching also precludes premarital, extramarital and homosexual sexual activity.”
“In the past, the Saskatoon Resolution has been used as a tool to make non-heterosexual people feel excluded,” said Ben Borne, a coordinator of Harmony and the incoming student council president at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg. “It is certainly outdated, because of the language and the wording used.” He said the Harmony motion is meant to do what the Saskatoon Resolution could not: include non-heterosexuals in the church.
“This is a resolution to call on congregations to embrace their [non-heterosexual] brothers and sisters,” said Erwin Warkentin, a member of both Harmony and Bethel Mennonite Church, Winnipeg.
Harmony believes that the Saskatoon Resolution, through its outdated language, has led to a deep struggle with unspoken pain, resulting in silence for individuals, their families and communities, and has led to schisms, withdrawals and expulsions of individuals, their families and supporting congregations within MC Canada.
For Borne, being able to meet with senior Mennonite church representatives symbolizes the relationship Harmony hopes to build with the national church. “It shows that Mennonite Church Canada is interested in what their own members are doing,” he said.
According to Metzger, putting forward this motion that would hold the church accountable for “loving dialogue, is a message we always need to hear.”
Looking ahead, Metzger is prepared for difficult discussions regarding sexuality at the conference. (See his From Our Leaders column, “Others are watching closely,”)
“The General Board is committed to walk towards difficult conversations, confident that when God’s people gather, the Spirit of God is in the midst,” he said.
The Harmony motion is scheduled to go through the Resolutions Committee on July 7 at the assembly. It will be given a 20- minute time slot.
“That’s more time than any other resolution,” Thiessen noted.