Mennonite Church Canada is encouraging its constituent congregations to engage the topic of sexual orientation in the hope that a consensus can be reached in the future. I commend the national church leadership for that. Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church in Winnipeg is engaging this challenging issue as well.
Central to our discussion is our use or misuse of the Bible. This is of critical importance. We need to look much deeper than how we interpret a given biblical text or passage.
Revered and very famous theologians and philosophers of the past have sent the “Christian train” on the wrong track because they interpreted the Bible in such a way that allowed the church not only to participate in—but also perpetrate—unspeakable violence itself. This has, in no small way, contributed to the fact that we now live in a post-Christendom era. “If Christians, who profess to serve a God of love, can be so violent, who wants anything to do with such a God?” the world asks.
“What is the Bible?” The short answer that people spout off unthinkingly is, “It is God’s Word.” And yet we do not take every command in the Bible literally. We comfortably ignore the dietary and dress instructions in Leviticus, not to mention the explicit instructions to annihilate Israel‘s enemies. We need to ask ourselves how and by whom is it decided which passage of Scripture is appropriate as “the Word of God” that requires no interpretation?
It sounds very pious and good. But it’s a very problematic proposition, in my opinion, because it fosters an attitude and understanding that when a particular verse is a quote from God, then there is no way to question it because who can take issue with God? It gives me the feeling that if I believe this verse, then God is on my side. This strikes me as an exceedingly dangerous proposition. This is exactly what people often do when they talk about sexual orientation.
So what is the Bible? It is what people at a particular point in history, in a particular culture and in a particular geographic location, wrote down what they heard God say. It was the challenge of those people to ascertain if what they heard was God speaking. This has remained the challenge for all people throughout history, and is ours today.
Even if we could be sure that the people at the time the Bible was written had interpreted God’s word correctly, we cannot photocopy God’s will at that time and apply it directly to our situation, because we have to apply it to our culture, time and place, not theirs.
As for myself, I have to look at what my basic assumptions are as to who God is and who it is that is speaking to me. I cannot prove my assumptions. Nobody can prove or disprove the existence of God. But I live for and by these assumptions, and hopefully would be willing to die for them if need be. Here they are:
• God is.
• God creates.
• God is love, which is more than “God loves.”
• Christ is, through his life, death and teaching, God’s revelation as to who God is and how we ought to live.
I believe that these tenets are biblical. If anything, including a passage of Scripture, contradicts any one of these tenets, then we should not construe them to be God speaking. If we did this, we would soon discover that our faith would be radically changed. The challenge of sexual orientation would pale in comparison to the other changes that we would need to come to terms with.
But we are addressing sexual orientation today. We assume that God is in the equation. It is God who creates at God’s discretion. God created most human beings with a heterosexual orientation. Does that preclude the creation of any other orientation? Can I construe my personal preference or a society’s norm to be God’s?
There is strong scientific and indisputable anecdotal evidence that some people are born with a homosexual disposition. So if it is God who creates, and if this God is, at the core, love, showing us through Christ that we should build each other up, who am I or who are we to deny homosexuals the dignity and respect that we want for ourselves? It is insufficient to say we love “the sinner but not the sin.” To do so is to condemn another for having the feelings of love we cherish and celebrate in our own lives.
Our society and, in many cases, the church makes life for homosexuals and often their families very difficult. This suffering is clear when one learns how frequently homosexual individuals consider or commit suicide out of despair. Such treatment can never square with the four principles outlined above.
I hope that we can all agree up to this point. We now have the difficult task to unlearn what we have been taught in the past.
Gerhard Neufeld is a member of Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church, Winnipeg. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his congregation or Mennonite Church Canada.
--Posted Jan. 30, 2014