It’s been over a month since the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly was held in my new/old hometown of Winnipeg, but I for one am still thinking about everything I heard there. I didn’t go as a delegate (being between churches makes that difficult!), but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) discussions. As some of my previous posts suggest, our Mennonite theologies of sexuality are of particular interest to me, so I wanted to share a few of my highlights of that aspect of the Assembly.
Firstly, I really appreciated David Driedger’s insightful and tough but fair response to BFC document 5, “Between Horizons: Biblical Perspectives on Human Sexuality” (see video above). His challenge was to see faith as openness to the unknown rather than as possessing a superior truth, which is especially important when it comes to sexuality. He talked about being uncomfortable with the way the BFC 5 document upheld the “other-worldly ideals” of sexuality in the Garden of Eden (Adam and Eve) and Revelation (Christ the Lamb and the New Jerusalem), which “loom over us,” since everyone falls short of these ideals. The choice of re-entrenching these heterosexual ideals in combination with the absence of any lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer (LGBTQ) voices in the document conveyed, according to David, that when it comes to sexuality, we “think we know the truth prior to any relationship with the ‘other,’” an attitude which supports “those in power.” His creative reinterpretation of the two creation stories in Genesis as God “redesigning” or engaging in ongoing acts of “de-creation and recreation” was really intriguing for me, and speaks to being open to how God is moving among us as well as open to one another in all our “otherness.” (A video of David’s talk is posted here: http://home.mennonitechurch.ca/events/Winnipeg2014/video)
Secondly, I was delighted to find that I had a really thoughtful group of people at my assigned table! Our discussions covered how to move forward knowing that congregations are in disagreement over same-sex marriage, and the idea that it’s very “Anabaptist” of us to continue talking and to emphasize continuing to discern together rather than an end result. We also discussed the fact that it’s a paradigm shift for many to go from truth being something clear and abstract to truth as relationship or being loved by God and each other. At one point, we were asked to talk about the responses to BFC 5 in BFC document 5.1 (all BFC documents can be found here: http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/ResourceView/5/13465), which includes the common call “to be more compassionate and welcoming” toward LGBTQ people. Our table wondered whether those terms were too ambiguous or too condescending. I added that they were too suggestive of an us-and-them dynamic, assuming that heterosexual “insiders” are welcoming LGBTQ “outsiders” into the church, when really LGBTQ people are integrated, active, and faithful church members already. Our table ended up suggesting “radical love” as an alternative to the terms “compassion” and “welcome,” which we felt affirmed our radical tradition and the idea of leaving judgment to God. An example of this radical love was for a congregation to hold a baby shower for a same-sex couple expecting a baby.
After all the BFC sessions and discussions were over, I was struck by how many personal stories I had heard, a lot of them painful. One pastor talked about how a number of people in her congregation were simply unable to participate in the BFC discernment process at their church because of their own experiences with sexual abuse, some of them ongoing. This meant that these discussions were far from abstract or theoretical for them, but costly and difficult – something which I would add is true for many LGBTQ people as well. At least two different parents of LGBTQ people also spoke up with frustration at how slow the church has been at providing relevant resources and support for families of LGBTQ people, who may struggle with how to best support their family member of a different sexual identity. Again, I know Mennonite LGBTQ people who have struggled with self-acceptance, too, and the broader church isn’t offering them many resources either. This is the fifth year of BFC discernment, and given these personal stories, I’m left wondering, whom is the BFC process serving, pastorally, if LGBTQ people, their families, and people who are victims and survivors of sexual abuse have not yet been addressed? Aren’t these the people whom this process should be listening to and providing resources for? So far, David is right that we’re still oriented toward the powerful in this process: heterosexuals who feel uncomfortable with those who don’t fit that norm. It’s time, I think, to turn our attention to the neglected personal stories and as someone suggested, have a kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so that these less powerful voices can be heard and inform our discernment as we move forward together.