Viewpoints: Calls for understanding and repentance

December 7, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 24

These are two responses to Will Braun’s ‘Understanding opponents of LGBTQ inclusion’ column.

No. 1: Seeking ways to move forward

By Lois Epp

I agree with Will that circumstances surrounding the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) vote at this past summer’s Mennonite Church Canada assembly leave open questions. The majority at the assembly supported the resolution, but low participation may indicate that many and diverse churches and congregants were not in support. Did some churches previously give up on MC Canada?

Ways forward in treating each other well

In my opinion the church could demonstrate how to manage pervasive disagreement in a healthier way than the all-or-nothing polarization that afflicts some countries. Let’s avoid assigning a host of unproven negatives to people who believe differently. Let’s avoid erroneously referring to extremes of behaviour, no matter how proven, as applying to everyone on the other “side.”

People and churches that were for and against the resolution have much in common. For example, most people and churches on both sides of the BFC resolution want to welcome all seekers and believers. Suggesting otherwise ignores the reality that some people will not like your church either. Allowing the reality of common purposes to surface above rhetoric will enhance understanding of others.

Could the church decline to cooperate with chilling political correctness by focussing on intent and behaviour, as opposed to words? Just a note about words. Using positive language like “Education will change your mind,” does not remove the underlying insult that you have not educated yourself. Can people stop presuming each other’s emotions? MC Canada noted that people of goodwill can consider the same information and come to different conclusions. That’s a sobering thought.

Ways forward after the vote

The example of the gay Catholic church worker in Will’s article, who sticks with the church despite its official rejection of him, illustrates a fact of life. The worker may feel more congruent with his church than excluded. Let’s recognize that some seekers and believers are going to feel more at home in some churches than others, and choices are based on more than even the most personal factors.

Perspective is important. Remember when diversity of ethnic backgrounds was considered evidence of inclusion? A few years later, and our church freely ignored the pronounced absence of many and diverse people from Assembly 2016! Causes get displaced. Shouldn’t the church be seeking more consistent justice, even when people do not agree on what justice looks like?

The church has an opportunity to claim and demonstrate something rare and good. Freedom of thought and conscience, in the context of everyone living freely, is so rare internationally. Churches claim conscience freedoms by supporting both popular and unpopular faith positions.

Why not ask the event organizers to equally risk misinterpretation and reply to Will’s article? Bias decreases trust and encourages the divisions that the article decries.

Maybe a new denomination will emerge and do well. Elsewhere, newer churches flourish while older mainline churches decline. Other Mennonite denominations will carry Anabaptist faith into the future with or without MC Canada. No one knows the future. Our faith is that God will be present whether MC Canada declines or not.

Lois Epp is a member of Trinity Mennonite Church in Calgary and of Canadian Mennonite Publishing Service’s board, but her thoughts are not meant to represent either of these organizations.


No. 2: Conference leaders called to repent

By Jake Doell

(Note: In this response the term “conference” is used for both the national church and the area church.)

Thank you to Will for his expressed concern about some of the procedures of the Becoming a Faithful Church (BFC) process.

Winkler Bergthaler Mennonite Church’s first direct exposure to the process was at the general conference in Winnipeg in July 2014. We listened to the speakers speak to the issue of same-sex relationships and same-sex unions. It seemed to all seven of our delegates that there was an obvious leaning in favour of no longer making LGBTQ people feeling guilty by referring to their lifestyles as sinful. True guilt should always bring us to the foot of the cross in repentance that leads us to true freedom. God has delivered many same-sex people from their confused gender identity. (Google: “Testimonies of people who have been delivered from a gay lifestyle.”)

When the Wiens/Friesen wedding was officiated in a conference church by conference ministers (see “It felt like a big deal . . . it was so powerful,” Jan. 19, page 13), we became deeply concerned and asked to have a meeting with Ken Warkentin  and Willard Metzger, executive directors of Mennonite Church Manitoba and MC Canada, respectively.

Examining Scripture

They came to Winkler Bergthaler on March 6, 2015, and we held a serious discussion about what the Bible says about the homosexual lifestyle (Romans 1 and I Corinthians 6:9-10) and several other scriptures. It is quite clear that the Word of God clearly refers to it as a sinful lifestyle alongside adultery and fornication. We began to realize that human opinion was seemingly the driving force behind the evolving conference position on this matter.

We asked for a study conference to be held with conference churches on “What does the Bible say about the homosexual lifestyle?” We hoped for some input into the key presenters for the event, but both were chosen by conference leadership and were both affirmative on the issue. We felt that we had been betrayed because Winkler Bergthaler was not willing to compromise on the biblical position on marriage being for one man and one woman for life, and the conference seemed to be strongly in favour of going with the popular opinion of our culture. (See ‘We are in a heap of trouble’.)

There was room to respond in the public forum for just 10 minutes just before lunch. The afternoon roundtable sessions were open to discussion, but the biblical stand on the issue seemingly was not seen by many as valid as public opinion.

A differing stance

In November 2015, we held our membership meeting and the vote was taken on whether to stay or leave the conference. The vote was almost unanimous to leave the conference.

MC Canada’s assembly this past summer has confirmed our fears. We are deeply saddened by the compromise the conference has taken on the definition of marriage and is now willing to condone and to bless same-sex unions. We continue to pray that conference leaders will realize that they have allowed themselves to be deceived, that they will repent and take their stand on God’s Word and not human opinion.

We do not exclude anybody from our church services, but when it comes to membership and leadership we ask that people confess their sins and with God’s help turn from them to live a life that gives a clear testimony of God’s power to deliver us from the power of sin over them/us (Romans 7-8).

Heterosexual people struggle with the temptation to go outside the boundaries that God set for healthy sexual expression as much as people who struggle with same-sex tendencies. Rationalizing our sins only takes us further out of fellowship with Christ, who lives in us by his Holy Spirit.

God can only forgive us for what we are willing to confess as sin, but he does not forgive excuses that come from rationalization. What the Bible clearly calls sin, we must accept that as the verdict of a Holy God who provided forgiveness for sin and also gave us the power to overcome sin’s power.

Jake Doell is the pastor Winkler (Man.) Bergthaler Mennonite Church. There is more about this congregation’s position at “More study on homosexuality and the Bible sought” and “Winkler church leaves as conference continues balancing act.”

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Mr Doell seems to require that LGBTQ people undergo a God-given transformation in sexual orientation before they can be considered for church membership. When Jesus was tempted to show God-given miracles to prove God's power and faithfulness, he responded "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." (Matthew 4) Have we cast this lesson aside?

I suggest that we should not be teaching that God is present with us only when we receive what we ask for in prayer, even if we are asking for something that we believe is God's will. This is the foundation of a kind of feel-good faith; one that works as long as we get what we want, but will surely leave us feeling that God has abandoned us when we face life's greatest troubles. How would this view of faith have served Job, for example?

We should ground ourselves in humility in this discussion and refrain from labeling any of our own human opinions as God's will - or God's Word.

This is in response to Mr. Froese's comment. I believe Mr. Doell is not requiring anything and to imply that he is, is simply a red herring. What he is advocating is that we believe that what the Bible calls sin is in reality, sin. We are all sinners, saved by grace, however this grace comes at a high cost. The greatest miracle ever recorded will again soon be celebrated. God loved us so much he sent his Son to earth that he might shed His blood to reconcile us to His Kingdom. If there was no sin, why did Christ need to die? I agree with Mr. Froese that we should not put God to the test, however what are we doing when we will not accept His word?
The second paragraph is very profound. I believe it is something all of us need to seriously consider. Let us all remember we will all stand before a righteous God on that great day. Luke:21-33 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

In reply to Mr. Gerber's comment - it's possible that I have misunderstood Mr. Doell's intent. I've found that one of the challenges in this discussion is that people often use similar language for vastly different understandings sexual orientation, sin, and salvation. The top results for the suggested Google search suggest an understanding that homosexuality is created by childhood sexual abuse or a lack of loving parental relationships, from which someone can be healed by salvation in Christ. Others using similar language of turning from sin take very different views, perhaps that homosexual attraction could be innate, but might believe that gay people are called to resist that attraction and be celibate, for example. Progressive views are similarly diverse when using similar language.

I fear that some of the diverse views presented as defending a traditional view of marriage are not really all that traditional. For example, some parts of the church have picked up the view mentioned above that homosexuality stems from childhood sexual abuse or unloving parental relationships, but you'll have a hard time finding this notion in the Bible. In contrast, this is quite a modern idea - it was proposed by Freud as part of a medical view of sexual behaviour, but the notion is no longer held by modern therapists and psychiatrists. Wrapping this idea together with the language of salvation might sneak it into a church door, but doesn't mean it came from God, and sets a fragile foundation for faith.

I am not sure what Mr. Froese is trying to say in his latest comment. If he is referring to the long-held historical view of the church and its leaders, that homosexual behavior is sin, as being diverse, I do not understand. Is the "new" understanding of homosexual behavior in effect saying the church and its leaders have been wrong all along ? We are in trouble if we look to Google searches, modern therapists and psychiatrists as a foundation for our faith. Further, I do not understand what he means by " wrapping this idea together with the language of salvation might sneak it into a church door." Who is trying to "sneak" what into a church door ? The original sin occurred when Satan showed up and asked, "Did God really say that." I see a similar questioning of God's word today. Once again, I believe we are all born in sin and each of us has our own "cross" to bear. I can think of no better foundation for our faith than God's own word.

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