The goal of dialogue

Author hopes conversation on sexuality issues will not decrease church diversity

November 6, 2013 | Young Voices
Tyler Voth |

When I grew up in a conservative, non-denominational church, the issue of homosexuality was never discussed, but it was regarded as “sin.” It was not until a friend came out to me at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg that I had a direct experience with someone who is homosexual. My strong friendship with this person let me see her humanity, rather than just a sexual orientation.

One morning as I met my friend and her girlfriend, she said that coming out was a very “fearful” experience due to the “risk of rejection.” This fear was not only for herself, but for her family as well. “They’re coming out with me,” she said .

Together, they expressed the need to “talk about the Bible,” our “stories” and the need to “humanize” the subject. Both women emphasized the importance of their sexuality as only “one part of [their] being” and how “limiting” it can be to have a part of yourself “you’re not honest with.”

I have explored lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer (LGBTQ) issues and realize the importance of an open and honest dialogue that gives voice to the voiceless. Rejection from either side of a topic transforms dialogue into a lecture, rather than a balanced discussion.

One Mennonite church pastor explained the “long history” the church has with the LGBTQ community and how he hopes to move towards a policy of “no secrets.” He wants the church to be “affirming and accepting,” but without forcing people to “accept” any one viewpoint. “We don’t see the issue being settled simply by having a Bible study,” he said as he pointed out the importance of “stories” within the dialogue.

The desire for dialogue has resulted in groups like Harmony, which has a website that identifies the group as “Mennonites for LGBT Inclusion.” The group’s website states that it “desires to create open and loving spaces, affirming people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Officially, Mennonite Church Canada hopes to “mutually bear the burden of remaining in loving dialogue with each other” on LGBTQ topics.

However, the trials of simply discussing an issue can be seen in the Sommerfeld Church’s resignation from Mennonite Central Committee late last year. In a Canadian Mennonite article, “Sommerfeld Church pulls out of MCC,” Jan. 7, page 26, the Sommerfeld church cited “MCC’s co-sponsorship of a 2009 Nurturing Healthy Sexuality conference” as one of its reasons for leaving, feeling that the discussion was “too biased in favour of accepting homosexuality.”

The goal of dialogue is not division, but an attempt at understanding and charity towards varying viewpoints. I hope the diversity of the Mennonite church will not be lost.

This is the final Voice of the Voiceless article written for Canadian Mennonite University’s Journalism: Practices and Principles course during the Winter 2013 semester. Teacher Carl DeGurse is vice-chair of Canadian Mennonite’s board of directors and assistant city editor of the Winnipeg Free Press.

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