It’s more than one issue
Disagreement about appropriate sexual activity is based upon differing approaches to several elements of the church and to ethics that signify contrasting sets of core convictions
This letter was signed by 32 Mennonite Church USA pastors, leaders, teachers and individuals concerned for the denomination.
How should we understand the different approaches in Mennonite Church USA to sexual relationships? A much discussed article [signed by six people, including five pastors] in the Nov. 28 Mennonite Weekly Review takes a look at this question by asking, “Should one issue define us?” The article argues that what it treats as the single issue of same-sex relationships should not define the identity of contemporary Anabaptists. But does this account for the depth or complexity of conviction among those who disagree about the appropriate expressions of sexuality for Christians?
Among followers of Jesus, disagreements about sexual relationships can cover some predictable ground. Discussions usually address the Bible and its interpretation, the criteria of justice, the quality of love, the place of freedom, the determination of truth, the character of grace, the place of accountability, the problem of self-righteousness, and the nature of the church and its documents. We can all agree that the physical expression of human love is a profound and beautiful gift from God, and that those who care about Jesus should care also about justice, freedom, truth, grace, Scripture and the church in ways that affect how we understand this gift.
Our understandings of the propriety of sexual relationships reside in the deep places of our souls. This is why disagreements about this question are often deeply felt, why discussions and arguments rarely lead to changes in points of view, and why each side feels that there comes a time when views cannot be compromised without compromising those who hold them. Even those who compromise in one way (the article sides with those it describes as able to tolerate differences in understanding and practice) will not compromise in another (the writers’ disagreement with the denomination will continue as their conscience compels them). Convictions that are compromised do not remain convictions.
The article describes those who disagree as doing so out of conscience and based upon certain understandings of biblical discernment, prayer, God’s Spirit and the interpretation of church documents. These are drivers of the disagreement, so when the disagreement is strongly felt the distinctions among these drivers will be sharp as well.
Since these and other drivers — how we read the Bible, how we pray, how we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, how we interpret what the church has said and how we think of conscience, justice, freedom, truth and grace — are key components of conviction for Anabaptist followers of Jesus, the article itself shows that disagreement in MC USA about appropriate sexual activity for Mennonites is not really about one issue.
The disagreement about the propriety of premarital, extramarital and homosexual sexual activity for Anabaptist Christians is based upon differing approaches to several elements of the church and to ethics that signify contrasting sets of core convictions among those who disagree.
We agree that it is time to be honest about this disagreement and its cost to the denomination. We do not think that the denomination would be well served by more years of painful discussion. We hope that in fairness to all and out of a concern for its own witness and integrity, MC USA will in one way or another bring to a close its decades of discernment regarding the sexual activity it deems appropriate for its members. We believe this would give clear guidance to those who are a part of the denomination now and to those who may wish to join it in the future.
Signers: Pastor Kent Beck, Pastor Nehemiah Chigoji, Rev. Olufemi Fatunmbi, Pastor Esdras Ferreras, Associate Pastor David Fry, Pastor Carl Geissinger, Associate Conference Minister Dave Gerbrandt, Pastor Makmur Halim, Pastor Buddy Hananto, Pastor Virgo Handojo, Pastor Darwin Hartman, Associate Pastor Jeff High, Pastor Marc Hochstetler, Bishop Lloyd Hoover, Pastor Beny Krisbianto, Pastor Rina Kusuma, Pastor Sunoko Lin, Pastor Jeff Linthicum, Pastor Madeline Maldonado, Mark Thiessen Nation, Pastor Chuwang Pam, Grace Pam, Pastor Jack Scandrett, Pastor Rodger Schmell, Jewel Showalter, Richard Showalter, Pastor Aldo Siahaan, Pastor Bob Sprunger, Pastor Dave Stratton, Pastor Eugene Thieszen, Douglas Yoder, Christopher Yuan.
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