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Last updated June 24.

June 24, 2013 issue

Opinion: A right that is wrong

As acceptance of gay partnerships grows, the church holds a different standard

By Harold N. Miller

Mennonite Church USA is largely silent on same-sex partnerships, only reiterating that in the past we said it is sin.

Should a denomination be silent on an issue while members are considering a major shift on it, one that follows the movement of the world around us?

As one voice, I offer several reasons why I view groups within the denomination who are trying to change our teaching position on homosexuality like I would a group trying to overturn our church’s stance on greed or war. I long for others to also make plain the underpinnings or “foundation poles” of their position.

No matter how sure I am on this issue, no individual decides for the church. We search together, all of us. To understand one another and move toward unity in the Spirit, we must first brave a confusion of many conflicting voices.

Several common arguments for same-sex partnerships are nonstarters for me.

  • Many people sense that justice calls our society to grant marriage equality to gays. They further assume that this means our congregations should affirm gay partnerships. Think about this: Justice also calls our society to offer freedom of religion. Does that mean we affirm following Buddha? The fact that people should be given the right to do something does not mean it is the right thing for them to do.
  • Another common argument is that God places a seal of approval on those in same-sex partnerships by giving them the Spirit, empowering and working through them. But what if the Spirit falls on an army officer (Acts 10)? Is that lifestyle thereby holy? Many of us know church leaders who were disciplined for sexual sin. During the time the sin was occurring, the Spirit was ministering through them, yet that did not mean their sexual relations were holy.
  • Many point out that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. But that silence is not necessarily significant: Jesus did not speak out even on the violent sexual sins of incest or rape. He had no need, for his culture stood against them with no dissenting voices.

The witness of Scripture is the main consideration that moves me toward the traditional approach to same-sex relations. I see the Bible giving unbroken testimony against all same-sex behavior.

Here are simple core understandings for three passages on homosexuality:

continued on next page »

Comments

  • Thank you for sharing your wisdom. We need to hear more clear voices like yours.

    - keith (jun 19 at 8:16 a.m.)

  • Mr Miller, I appreciate your call to a conversation. I am a member of Mennonite church USA, but also have many strong relationships and attend worship in conservative Anabaptist churches. In biblical matters I tend to be fairly conservative. I can see that many liberal Mennonite churches have lost some of the blessings (and freedom) that come with the restraints of doctrine. But I see a tendency in the conservative churches to focus too much on the letter and sometimes miss opportunities for grace. I see this especially in the issue of divorce and remarriage and I feel like gay-marriage is very similar. My question is, how many of these Mennonite Church USA folks who are committed in their opposition to gay marriage allow for divorce and remarriage? I know the conservative Anabaptist churches do not and I understand and respect their position, though I personally disagree with it. ( I personally think it tilts too far toward legalism and does not follow the injunction of Paul in Corinthians 13--but I do respect the dissenting view and the high concern the conservative churches have for obedience). Do the Mennonite church USA churches and church members who oppose inclusion of same-sex couples also disallow membership, marriage, and leadership roles to divorced and remarried couples?

    A follow up to this conversation would be about church splits and divisions. Are they necessarily a bad thing? I celebrate the diversity of ways that Mennonites express their love for God and their desire to be obedient. Liberal Mennos wants to extend God's love and grace and be inclusive (something I think is Biblical). More conservative Mennos feel that it is not loving to encourage sin and want to also extend God's love and grace, but with a different emphasis. Mennonite church USA has been deadlocked on this issue now for so long. Would it be such a terrible thing for the churches who feel like they are being faithful by being welcoming and affirming to create a new body of like-minded believers?

    I know these points and questions have already been pondered and discussed, probably ad nauseum. But those are my thoughts in response to your piece.

    - Heather Smith (jun 19 at 9:35 a.m.)

  • Mr. Miller, I believe that the argument from biology is being ignored by the church so homosexuality may be more easily treated as a simple lifestyle choice as opposed to a biologically-based reality that is more complex. I am concerned about the polarization of the subject brought about by willful ignorance of this facet. Have we not left the artificial divisions between religion and science in the 19th Century where they belong?

    Even though our theology is not wholly formed by science, shouldn't our theology be informed by science?

    - Brian Barrier (jun 19 at 10:10 a.m.)

  • I don't think the biological evidence is being ignored. There are many things which are biologically based but still immoral. I am a supporter of same-sex rights, but it's important not to mis-characterize either side. I think there should be churches that follow their desire to be obedient to God in being welcoming and affirming. I also believe that the churches who oppose gay-marriage should be free to follow their conscience. I really believe we should respect one another.

    A couple things Mr Miller says which I am mulling over, is the comparison between the doctrinal question of nonresistance and the doctrinal question of homosexuality. What's the difference? I have some wonderful Christian military folks in my family. They can't be Mennos, but why would they want to be? Being Menno is so tied to nonresistance--it's a definite part of Menno identity. I don't see homosexuality as the same in that regard. I once talked with a Menno pastor in Maine who did not emphasize non-resistance. He felt like it was over-emphasized and was a stumbling block to converts. My question was, why be Mennonite then? Why not Baptist? (This was years ago--I don't think the church is still there.)

    I disagree with Millers assessment that Menno gay rights leaders are not in support of monogamy. He quotes the NY times as evidence that Gays and Lesbians prefer open relationships. But that's not a source for Menno thought on the subject. Maybe he's right that we need to hear from more Gay Menno leadership on this subject of monogamy? Anyone have any source material that refutes this idea that Gay Menno leaders really want to chip away at sexual exclusivity in relationships? If Gay Menno leaders came out with clear statements on monogamy would that make opponents feel better?

    The ideas that Conservatives are ignoring biology or that liberals just want an end to monogamy are the kinds of things that polarize.

    I know several gay Menno couples in long-term monogamous relationships. I also of course, know many divorced and remarried Christians and Mennos.

    - Heather Smith (jun 19 at 10:46 a.m.)

  • Heather, here's a response to your first comment which asked about divorce. You're right to bring up that question. If we accommodate divorce and remarriage which is condemned in Scripture, perhaps we can also accommodate committed same-sex partnerships. It can seem inconsistent for the church to make peace with one sin and not with another.

    There are probably many reasons why the church tends to feel able forgive and get beyond the sin of persons who are divorced and remarried, and not all of them good, I'm sure. Here is one basic reason:

    The church believes that divorce is sin but also generally believes that the remarried couple is not "living in sin" or continually recommitting the sin of adultery. For instance, Howard H. Charles (study paper presented to Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference in 1955) and J.C. Wenger (Dealing Redemptively with Those Involved in Divorce and Remarriage Problems [Herald Press 1965]) taught that the consummation of the second marriage was also an act which destroyed the validity of the first marriage. Deut 24:1-4 clearly shows that after a remarriage the first marriage is not still in effect: it gives an absolute prohibition against resuming the first marriage. So there was an initial sin, breaking the initial marriage; but there is no on-going breaking of God's law. That's a major difference between the homosexual couple and the remarried couple.

    Hopefully my presenting that in a short and simple way doesn't make it come across as legalistic and cut-and-dried. We too often are that way! I think this approach to divorce and remarriage is rather fueled by the church looking for grace everywhere that faithfulness to Scripture can possibly allow it.

    - Harold Miller (jun 19 at 11:01 a.m.)

  • Heather, Mr. Miller leaves out any mention of biology, hence my comment.

    The oversimplification of the subject in an effort to provide answers of convenience rather than struggle with the subject is a good example of what is put forth by many in church leadership who would rather maintain the status quo than deal with the subject seriously.

    This is an issue of social justice, not just a doctrinal one where we can merely agree to disagree. I would argue that the issue of homosexuality mirrors the issue of race that the church has struggled with - and continues to struggle with. Whether or not the church agrees on the subject, there are still couples who cannot enjoy the same rights as others, who are marginalized by society, and who experience violence against them. Why are we responding differently to the issue of homosexuality than we do to race? Both have been on the receiving end of scriptural cherry-picking.

    - Brian Barrier (jun 19 at 11:10 a.m.)

  • Thanks for your thoughtful responses Brian and Harold! It seems like the position on divorce and remarriage "evolved" over time and involved a gradual reinterpretation of scripture--from Jesus' clear condemnation of divorce and remarriage to a more nuanced understanding taking into consideration other scriptures to come to an understanding that seemed to balance law and grace. Same thing with women in the ministry. I support women in the ministry, but we have clearly reinterpreted scripture to make that possible. Is this reinterpretation or new understanding of scripture wrong? I don't think so. I think it's the kind of thing Jesus was talking about when he challenged the law with the Pharisees. He kept saying, yes you follow the letter but you're missing the point.

    Brian, I totally understand the comparison of homosexuality to race as being biologically based. I agree and I agree that the church used to make scriptural arguments that upheld racism. But research is also showing that pedophilia may be biologically based. I AM IN NO WAY EQUATING THE MORALITY OF HOMOSEXUALITY TO PEDOPHILIA. Only saying the mere fact of a biological basis does not make it OK. So to liberals it's like the race question. To many conservatives it's like the pedophilia question.

    As for the social justice angle. Why can't churches agree to disagree on social justice issues? I mean we do it all the time. We have to. We can't force people to agree with us. The very idea of creating a new body of believers committed to following God's call on this social justice issue would be a powerful witness for the importance and commitment to that call and would be doing more to address the marginalization of gay believers than waiting to convince dissenters. Thank you both for your perspectives!

    - Heather Smith (jun 19 at 11:44 a.m.)

  • We certainly agree, Heather, that biological arguments by themselves are insufficient. I guess what I am saying is that the subject is more complex than a lifestyle-alone discussion can encompass. There is plenty to be discussed from the Kinsey report alone, for example.

    I don't think I like agreeing to disagree on social justice issues like this. I am going to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. here as I will not approach his eloquence: "I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

    He could have been talking about Mennonite Church USA.

    - Brian Barrier (jun 19 at 11:55 a.m.)

  • I agree with MLK. So, why not a new Mennonite conference? What a courageous and brave thing it would be for people to step out who felt that calling and that conviction. Is it because of the Anabaptist history of splits and divisions? Do most Mennos feel like this is an unhealthy and even shameful history? Are there scholars or other folks who feel that while splits can often be painful, they don't have to be a bad thing? Without splits we wouldn't have the unique witness of the Hutterites sharing everything in common (Go Hutterites!The rest of us have a different interpretation or understanding of that issue--a potential social justice issue!) We wouldn't have the unique witness of the Dunkards or the River Brethren or the Amish or the New Order Amish or the Pink Mennos out there. All of these groups have gifts. I see splits and divisions as both a curse and a blessing, kind of like the state of being human. Each group has their unique witness. Is there any serious talk of forming a new conference out of this conflict over gay rights in the church? How far has such talk gone? Is the concern over a split more logistical, having to do with member numbers and support for Menno USA institutions?

    I want to be clear--I'm not advocating a lukewarm nonresponse. I'm saying just the opposite.

    But I'm also saying that I REALLY value the witness of more conservative Anabaptists and I do respect their views. They don't feel like it's the same as the race issue. They have good reasons and arguments for that. I think we have to hear each other honestly and then if the positions are irreconcilable, it may be best to part ways. Otherwise you have two choices, either be lukewarm like liberal whites who wanted to keep the peace during the MLK days. Or you have to somehow force others to accept your position. How does that work? Should there be some kind of nonviolent resistance WITHIN the Mennonite church USA? Like gays and lesbians show up at conservative churches across America and sit-in? I'm not being snarky--I'm honestly trying to hear what you are saying. Maybe my two choices are not the only ones?

    This also might tie back in to Two Kingdom theology issues. Deep down I'm not so sure I agree that the only faithful response to social justice issues in general is activist in nature. I don't think one must necessarily apply MLK's words for every social justice issue in order to be earnest and faithful. But again, I appreciate the discussion. I don't usually comment on these things--but I guess I just had some burning questions/thoughts today!

    - Heather Smith (jun 19 at 1:00 p.m.)

  • I would like to believe that as we become more involved in and attuned to the world and communities in which we live we can recognize the needs for ministry and respond redemptively. When Jesus met the sinner, the blind, the lame, the military leader, he responded in a manner to heal the wounds, to lovingly offer redemption, healing, and acceptance. Afterwards,the theological debates ensued. In the meantime, the lame walked, the blind saw, the harlot was blessed.

    I have had the opportunity to know countless gay and lesbian individuals and have heard their stories. I have found inspiration in the wisdom and grace their struggles have nurtured. I know numerous same sex couples, virtually all of whom are more committed to monogamy than many heterosexual couples I know. I have joyously granted adoption to a same sex couple who were some of the most committed foster parents I have ever encountered. They willingly shared that the strength and patience they needed to address the needs of some seriously disturbed children was grounded in prayer.

    If our churches responses to the same sex issues are not grounded in our willingness and experience in truly listening to the people whose lives and love we are talking about, if we insist on fashioning scriptural responses to impose on people we do not know and have not opened our hearts to, then we are guilty of what I call bibliolitry.

    I hope we will first listen to and know those who were created differently and ask how we can best follow Jesus in responding with love, compassion, and acceptance. That, I believe is our call and will be fully supported in scripture.

    - Brad Boyd (jun 19 at 1:07 p.m.)

  • So beautifully written, Brad. And I agree. But how does that ethos translate into the messy politics of a church denomination? Is the problem that we are too institutionalized in the first place? Would more local control be better? That way local congregations could respond to others in a more organic way? seems very Anabaptist to me. Maybe the structure of the Menno USA denomination needs to change to allow for more individual congregational discernment? I bet there's a long history of that discussion too. maybe that is the root problem that needs to be addressed?

    - Heather Smith (jun 19 at 1:43 p.m.)

  • The eventual acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons into the Mennonite church is inevitable. Resistance to that reality is futile. It is going to happen, at some future point. So the question for us at this stage of the game is whether we want to be counted on the right side of history, or the wrong side. Will we be like the early proponents of civil rights in the 1950s-60s, who knew which way the wind was blowing, and advocated for an inclusive church? Or will we be like the bureaucrats and traditionalists (including many Mennonites) who resisted changes in race relations until it became impossible to do so any longer? Once full acceptance of gay Mennonites does happen, we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Further, I predict that gay inclusion will eventually seep into even the most conservative Christian (and Mennonite) circles, just as has happened with inclusion of the races. Harold N. Miller may never get on board the freedom train, but his children and grandchildren will.

    - Charlie Kraybill, Bronx, NYC (jun 19 at 2:09 p.m.)

  • Brad and Charlie here gave words to my outlook much better than I have, Heather. Thanks for your willingness to engage and discuss. We agree much more than disagree on this.

    - Brian Barrier (jun 19 at 2:43 p.m.)

  • Brian, initially I wasn't sure what you meant by the "argument from biology." But your conversation with Heather suggests that you are referring to biological make-up of gays. Perhaps you are saying that for them to reject their same-sex attraction is to reject something they feel God gave them.

    Here are two responses: - Few argue that God wants us to do something just because it is "natural" to us. Consider those who are anxiety-prone or those who are hot-headed; we do not tell them that having a "nature" justifies acting according to that nature's weaknesses as well as its strengths. Every temperament and nature has aspects that one needs to rein in rather than act on.

    • There is a least some difference between race and sexual orientation: all identical twins are the same race, but half the time when one identical twin is gay the other is not. There's genetic influence but not genetic cause or determinism. (There may be prenatal influence or cause as well. But that's not race.)

    Brian, you also mention the "issue of social justice." I agree with you that same-sex couples should have rights to partner benefits, etc., just as I believe in religious rights for Buddhists, etc. I mention that in the article where I say that the right to do something does not mean it is the right thing to do (eg., we have the right to be a Buddhist but that doesn't mean we should be a Buddhist). I would be interested in hearing you interact with that part of the article.

    - Harold Miller (jun 19 at 3:11 p.m.)

  • Heather, to your question, Why don't we go our separate ways?

    Many of us in MC USA who repent of excluding gays and lesbiasns from our congregations nevertheless do not regard sexual orientation and/or preference to be irrelevant, like right or left-handedness.

    And so we persist in holding together the new and the old, because within that tension and conflict lies the path to the light.

    - Berry Friesen (jun 19 at 3:43 p.m.)

  • In your article, Harold you said, "Many point out that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. But that silence is not necessarily significant: Jesus did not speak out even on the violent sexual sins of incest or rape. He had no need, for his culture stood against them with no dissenting voices."

    I disagree with you on this point.

    Jesus did not directly address incest or rape because those sins fall under the second great commandment "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - see Matthew 22:36-40. Committing incest is violating the trust of one's family member, while rape is violating a person's sexual integrity and free will. It is not difficult to say these things are sins because we know that we ourselves would not want to be violated in this way.

    Consensual adult same-sex sexuality doesn't violate anybody. Nobody is being used or abused, hence it is not a sin.

    James M. Branum Minister of Peace & Justice Joy Mennonite Church Oklahoma City, OK

    - James M. Branum (jun 19 at 3:52 p.m.)

  • Heather, in the little conversation on divorce, you refer to "a gradual reinterpretation of scripture--from Jesus' clear condemnation of divorce and remarriage to a more nuanced understanding..." However, include in the picture Jesus' teaching in Matt 5:32 and 19:9 that when there is "marital unfaithfulness" one can divorce without committing additional sin. In other words, Jesus also apparently saw that the marriage bond can be dissolved--that marital unfaithfulness can end the first marriage.

    In other words, this was not a case of the church needing to "correct" Scripture (ie, tone down "Jesus' clear condemnation"). The Gospels show Jesus having what you and I view as the "correct" view -- an understanding that seems, as you say, "to balance law and grace."

    I would say that is also the case with the church's shift on women in ministry. We take a stance of freeing women for ministry, not because we needed to somehow "correct" the Bible or creatively look between the lines as we read it, but because there are Scripture passages that explicitly lead us. I cite many passages that "give examples of women freed for ministry" and that "place women and men on even footing" in one of my web articles.

    - Harold Miller (jun 19 at 3:54 p.m.)

  • Brad writes:

    "...if we insist on fashioning scriptural responses to impose on people we do not know and have not opened our hearts to, then we are guilty of what I call bibliolatry."

    We in the church have often fallen into revering the letter of the law more than spirit (Spirit) behind it. And, yes, we often saddle people with Scripture's instructions without first knowing and opening our hearts to them. You give a needed reminder of those things, Brad. I deeply appreciate the compassionate spirit that came through your comment.

    Nonetheless there is a place for bringing the Bible's teachings to bear on persons, to challenge and confront, speaking God's truth in love. For Jesus, "Scripture says" and "God says" were interchangeable phrases. Part of who were are as Mennonite Church USA is that we are a people committed to submit to the intent or spirit of Scripture’s teaching, a people who see the Bible as “the fully reliable and trustworthy standard for Christian faith and life” (Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 4).

    - Harold Miller (jun 19 at 3:57 p.m.)

  • Mr. Miller, I would like to hear what you have to say about the Kinsey report, specifically about the idea of gradations. These concepts and the theories behind them were in no way understood in the ancient world. The biology of proclivity is not something that the ancients concerned themselves with. What they did, though, was address issues of power that they found in their society.

    For example, I believe that the Corinthian and Roman references to homosexuality were made due to the existence of abusive power structures in relationships between persons at the time in Greco-Roman culture, especially Greek culture. I would like to hear your specific thoughts on the translation of the words and their placement. Scholars disagree on this point, something that I think you gloss quite a bit in your attempted refutation of the same. Who did you read in your examination and to which scholars do you subscribe with your view?

    As to the Leviticus texts, how do we justify taking them out of the context they are given in? At least you do acknowledge the gloss that you apply to them to make them fit your argument. I would be glad to refer you to several friends, one of whom has her Ph.D. from Princeton in Hebrew Bible, who I believe would be glad to talk to you about the misapplication of Leviticus.

    Now as to your assertion of a "consistent message" on homosexuality, I would like to point out that the same may be said of slavery in the Bible. When we attempt to draw too many threads through the thousands of years of texts, we often fall into a habit of prooftexting to create a narrative that just does not exist in the texts. This was done by folks who were against the marriage of white persons and any person of color. It is being done again in a very similar fashion with regard to homosexuality, though admittedly there are even fewer texts with which the new narrative is stitched up.

    The idea that homosexuals are also, categorically, non-monogamous is really the weakest of all. I would like to see the rigorous statistical analysis that backs this assertion and the way in which the same analysis was applied to those identifying as strictly heterosexual. And what of bisexual persons? Where do they fit in to that analysis? You may not be aware of this, but this idea is pretty offensive to all the LGBT-identifying folks I know - all of whom are in monogamous relationships, some for well over 40 years.

    - Brian Barrier (jun 19 at 5:16 p.m.)

  • I would laud Miller for attempting to rejuvenate dialogue on the topic of same-sex relationships, but then, he immediately rejects the arguments he feels are irrelevant or insubstantial. He will dialogue but only on his terms. In a real sense, this is the same reaction of conservatives in Minnesota who called for dialogue only at the last moment as it became clear the dialogue they had refused to join earlier was moving on without them.

    As a body, Mennonites just need to understand that we are a diverse body filled with diverse opinions. Miller commits two egregious errors that have nothing to do with same-sex desire.

    First, he uses the term Mennonite as though it refers to a religion or even a unified religion. Statistically, there are more ethnic Mennonites, even Christian Mennonites, outside of the so-called "Mennonite church," than inside. Whether it is an ethnic or a religious identity, it is no longer an identity tied to the "Mennonite Church".

    Secondly, he finds change in attitudes towards gays and lesbians as unthinkable as changing the church's stance on pacifist non-resistance.

    Where has he been for the last 70 years? In the 1950s, Yoder and school completely revamped traditional norms and understandings of Christian Pacifism and Non-Resistance. While these changes were useful and probably necessary, they were changes.

    Also, since the failure of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference in 1955, the norm has been to understand the peace witness and pacifist calling as an individual understanding left to the individual's own conscience on the matter and not as a doctrine of the Church.

    One simply has to review the major Mennonite church conference statements of belief to see that this is true. Not only have we changed the definition of pacifism, but we have mostly removed it as a core principle and in many our congregations.

    Some conferences, such as the Mennonite Brethren and the now post-ethnic FEBC and FEC, have seamlessly moved from a late-Medieval Christian concept of Non-Resistance to a modern, more Catholic and more Fundamentalist-oriented Just War Theory.

    The doctrine of non-participation in the magistracy, which is largely based on Non-Resistance, is also ignored by most Mennonites today. We openly vote, volunteer for campaigns and even hold public office. This is not a traditional value or practice.

    At the end of the day, one cannot discuss Mennonite history without discussing Pacifism, but the concept is increasingly irrelevant to the contemporary Mennonite identity or even Anabaptist theology.

    The result of Miller's errors is that he refers us back to Idealism and to a mythical Golden Age of Mennonite values and Identity. This is dangerous in that it is not a factual history or a correct understanding of historical theology.

    Miller is thereby attempting to hold those who call for recognition of Christian and Mennonite gays and lesbians within the Church, to a higher idealistic standard than he is holding himself or his own understanding of the church. He is simply not playing fair.

    This dialogue should have happened since 1986. Late dialogue is better than no dialogue, but to be dialogue, it must be open, both sides must be able to speak freely and it must be based on facts, not ideals.

    Miller forgets that late 20th Century Evangelical Mennonites would not consider him to be a Christian in that he practices a Mennonite faith we were taught to perceive as ethnic, idolatrous and based on works, not a personal Salvation.

    It is only now that many of us have learned to open our minds and to create our own personal dialogue with traditional Mennonite-ism and to challenge our pre-conceptions of our fellow Mennonite brothers and sisters.

    But... we have had to OPEN our minds. We had to be open to the idea of DIVERSITY. We have had to learn to engage in a TWO-way dialogue and to be willing to LEARN, not just to dictate terms or even definitions.

    Whether or not gays and lesbians should be church members or allowed to marry is probably a matter of conscience to each true believer, but to be relevant, must be open, honest, diverse and based on the facts, as best we might discern them.

    As for me, if I can join "a church lost in tradition, legalisms and works", I can learn to worship with and welcome my gay brothers and sisters. I might even be convinced to do so in English or Spanish… but small steps… small steps lest I be overwhelmed by change.

    Steve

    - Steve Wall (jun 19 at 5:29 p.m.)

  • James Branum, I can't agree that just because something isn't abusive to another person it is then not sin. Wouldn't that mean that non-monogamous, open relationships were not sinful as long as all parties consented?

    My heart-felt conviction is that it is not consistent to deny membership, leadership, and marriage rights to LGBT Menno USA church members. I really see the scriptural arguments about divorce and remarriage and women in leadership to be creative readings of scripture (sounds spirit-led) which have evolved over time. They are certainly not a part of historic Christian interpretation. They are new understandings (save for a handful of radical sects throughout the centuries). I agree that GLBT inclusion is inevitable, and makes logical sense following these other positions. You can pick up numerous books that lay out the scriptural basis for GLBT rights in the church--looking at David and Jonathan, eunuchs, and of course lots and lots of close examination of Greek and Hebrew words and meanings. Someday people who once objected to GLBT inclusion will be able to explain its acceptance using scripture, just like many folks who used to deny the role of women using scripture now affirm it using scripture.

    My position may be confusing for some people, though, in that I think supporters of GLBT rights should be more respectful of conservatives and I really do love the conservative churches where I fellowship. In those churches the emphasis is not so much on individual convictions but on submitting to the larger body. I respect that a lot.

    I don't consider this lukewarm or weak or just trying to have it both ways or be a mere "peace-keeper". I think God works in our lives where we are at and we all fall short in some way or another. There are people who feel really, really strongly about climate change and might say if we don't all shut off our electricity and ride bikes to work, shame on us, and they're probably right. The care of our planet is just as big an issue as gay rights and one where many of us come up short. It's endless, the opportunities for judgment and shame.

    I think that in many ways it is a cop-out and not very courageous to have a strong conviction for a matter of social justice, remain in a church with a majority who have a dissenting view and then shame the dissenters by saying they are on the wrong side of history or are not being faithful to the spirit. Many people have a strong conviction that GLBT folks should be accepted into our churches. A few have actually followed through and accepted members, gone ahead with marriages etc. and been willing to bear the consequences of their convictions. This could be the beginning of something awesome for those churches. But it's scary, because there is a big loss of financial support-- and In the end I suspect that's what keeps most liberals in the fold.

    My position is that by all means, if you believe in GLBT rights stand up for them. But I don't like the anger directed at those who don't agree. I think that we are called to joy. I think sharing our convictions is great. Be brave and start a new church! Or stay and joyfully witness to your convictions.

    I am only just working through my thoughts here. They could change. I am appreciating hearing other perspectives and working through my own. I really wrestle with this conflict as I have many friends and relationships in the conservative churches and highly value that community.

    - heather smith (jun 19 at 6:07 p.m.)

  • Oh wow, Steve Wall, you rock. You gave me a lot to think about. Great thoughts.

    - Heather Smith (jun 19 at 6:13 p.m.)

  • Thank you, Harold, for writing this article and opening yourself to dialogue. Once again, I appreciate your caring tone. But I have to disagree with your dependence on scripture to guide an understanding of sex in the 21st century. I know Anabaptists have always had a high reverence for the Bible and studied it for straightforward and literal answers and rules, but that’s been a strength AND weakness in the tradition. There are some topics on which the Bible contains little factual information or helpful comment, and many times it has been used to press people into compliance with traditional ideas. Sex is one of those areas. As a result, many in the Anabaptist community (especially among conservative groups) continue to hold simplistic, rigid and repressive ideas about embodiment, gender and sexuality.

    You asked why the gay community doesn’t call for a strict rule of monogamy. I think it’s because we see that the measure of success in a marriage or domestic partnership is not how sexually exclusive it is, but whether the partners/spouses care for one another, their children, and others with faithfulness, loyalty and commitment. Often this commitment leads to sexual exclusivity, but not always.

    I know couples (they happen to be gay men) who find greater relational security and stability when there is freedom for sexual interaction beyond the partnership. This requires trust and goodwill, mutual agreement on standards of safety and conduct that work for the couple, and a commitment to ongoing communication, sensitivity and flexibility. Most important is 1) commitment to the primacy of the partnership over outside sexual or romantic interactions and 2) respect for the relationships and commitments of others. I’m less familiar with how heterosexual couples navigate open relationships, but I imagine it works similarly.

    My understanding is that in open relationships, the ability for sexual intimacy is seen as an asset of one’s humanity, like health, energy, words, time, brain power, skills, life resources (shelter, food, money), etc. These things make us who we are, and we share them with a variety of people depending on the situation, in responsible and uplifting ways. If we are married or partnered, our first concern in the use of any resource, including sexuality, is for the care and well-being of our spouse or partner.

    Thanks again for writing, and I look forward to talking in person when our paths cross.

    - Forrest Moyer (jun 19 at 6:14 p.m.)

  • We can sit around a table and try to figure out how to submit to the intent or spirit of Scripture’s teaching, but unless that is done in the context of fully realizing what impact the decisions have upon those most effected by them I have little patience for the process and less regard for the results. I concur that the Bible is “the fully reliable and trustworthy standard for Christian faith and life” and I would add "as that faith is practiced in our interaction and experience with all God's children and as our life is lived in the city, community, and world God gives us."

    Heather, It seems to me there is more speculation than fact some folks are relying on to support their positions. Some of what has been avowed here simply does not square with what I have come to know from my gay and lesbian friends. I truly wonder how many theological spokespersons have had the opportunity to share the lives and stories and struggles of our LGBT brothers and sisters and understand the hurt and the damage that they have experienced by being relegated to second class status and told they may not have the benefits and joy of a committed loving partner. This is how the church and Christianity is presented to them. As for the "messy politics" within a denomination, I know there are people that probably must work through that. I would hope they can do it without further balkanizing the denomination. I will pray for them. For its size the Mennos seem very balkanized now to me. I have joined another denomination that struggles with the same issues, but which has a basic tenant that church reform, faith reform is both biblically informed and a constant process. I have questioned whether I am still Mennonite, my wife assures me I am. I indeed carry within the values and core beliefs I have as a result of growing up Menno including the 4 years at a Mennonite College. I believe if Mennos will stay true to their roots, they will come out on the right side of history. They have done it before. However, being such a decentralized and fractionated denomination, I expect the Menno voice will have a hard time being heard. Living in a large urban community without much Anababtist history, Mennonites seem to be most recognized by what they do, not what they say.

    Just sayin...

    - Brad Boyd (jun 19 at 6:15 p.m.)

  • James, that's good.

    ...incest or rape ... fall under the second great commandment "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

    I hadn't thought of it before but I guess we could say that Jesus referred to incest or rape, though not specifically. Though that cuts both ways: if you allow non-specific references, then that takes away the argument that Jesus never referred to homosexuality because he condemned porneia (Matt 15:19; Mark 7:21) which would have been understood in his culture to include homoerotic sexual activity.

    - Harold Miller (jun 19 at 8:14 p.m.)

  • As I was reading this article, I was also reading Alan Chambers' (head of Exodus International) apology to those hurt by the practices of his organization. It's on his website and I highly recommend it. My question to Mr. Miller is this: How do you view the growing LGBT-affirming movement in Christian denominations all over the world? Several people here have compared the issue to the church's evolution on racism and gender equality, is there a historical precedent in your mind for a movement this widespread that was NOT eventually embraced by the majority of Christianity? Thank you for opening and continuing this discussion.

    - RebeccaM (jun 19 at 8:53 p.m.)

  • Brother Miller, You asked for people to respond to make their convictions known on this matter, and to state their underpinnings. I agree with you in what you have stated, except I would be hesitant to say there is ambiguity in the Scriptures. I think they can be very clear. I think the teachings from Leviticus prohibit men being involved with other men in intimate sexual relations. I think Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 6 also state that same sex relations are sin, and that just as greed and covetousness will keep a person out of the Kingdom of God, so also will homosexual practices as stated here. Paul is hardly writing about abusive homosexual practices, while excusing homosexual practices that are somehow not abusive. In the same context, he is hardly saying that abusive slander is sin, or abusive thievery is sin, but that there is some kind of non-abusive slander or non-abusive theft. Why is homosexuality called sin? Is it because it is less than the best for people? That may be the case, but sin is first of all something that is committed agains God! Sin is something that denigrates the glory of God. One of the repsonders asked for references to scholars who write about homosexuality as sin. Some come to mind: Thomas Schreiner in "The New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality"; Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice; Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate; John Piper at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/why-is-homosexuality-wrong; Gordon Fee in his commentary on 1 Corinthians (1987 edition)addressing 1 Cor. 6:9; David Malick, "The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9."

    - Daniel Hoopert (jun 19 at 8:58 p.m.)

  • Brad used the word bibliolatry. And that is exactly the problem -- the fact that the Bible has been elevated by the church into some kind of perfect, ultimate authority. Even when a lot of what it says goes against common sense, and scientific knowledge. If the abolitionists had listened to the Bible, they would have never struggled against slavery, because the Bible is PRO-SLAVERY. (I challenge anyone to find a single verse in the entire Bible that speaks against the SIN of human slavery.) If the suffragists had listened to the Bible, they would have never fought for the equality of women, because the Bible is ANTI-WOMAN. (I challenge anyone to find a single verse that supports the full equality of women to men.) If Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., had listened to the Bible, he would have never committed his essential acts of civil disobedience, because the Bible says governments are ordained by God and citizens should obey their laws. It's time to take the Bible down from its pedestal, and recognize it for what it is: a fallible book written by fallible human beings. There's a lot of good stuff in there, but a lot of not-so-good stuff too. And we have to use the brains God gave us to figure out which is which. The abolitionists, the suffragists, and Martin Luther King, Jr., are all considered heroes today. Yet their accomplishments required them to reject the Bible as it was understood in their time. They placed the authority of their God-given common sense over the authority of scripture. And we should do the same.

    - Charlie Kraybill, Bronx, NYC (jun 19 at 11:11 p.m.)

  • Charlie writes:

    If the abolitionists had listened to the Bible, they would have never struggled against slavery, because the Bible is PRO-SLAVERY. (I challenge anyone to find a single verse in the entire Bible that speaks against the SIN of human slavery.) If the suffragists had listened to the Bible, they would have never fought for the equality of women, because the Bible is ANTI-WOMAN. (I challenge anyone to find a single verse that supports the full equality of women to men.)

    My earlier post to Heather mentioned "Scripture passages that explicitly lead us" in freeing women for ministry and placing women and men on even footing. Sorry the link to my article listing the Scriptures is broken. It is http://www.interactingwithjesus.org/bibleconfid.html

    As far as slavery, yes, Paul gave instructions for living within the system of slavery. But it's clear that in Paul's mind slavery was not the way things should be, because other passages show Paul working against slavery: ones about slave-traders (1 Tim. 1:9-10) and about slave and free being one in Christ (1 Cor. 12:13, Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11) and when Paul leaned on his friend Philemon to free Onesimus (Philemon 1:15-17). And finally the church realized (way later than they should have!) that those are the passages the church should let guide us in our situation concerning. We as a church are not to bring straight into our situation Paul's general instructions on slavery for his cultural situation. We rather say: what was Paul's trajectory? where did he want the church to be heading re: slavery. We let that shape us. That's why the anti-slavery movement could be (and was) based on the Bible: not because they rejected Scripture but because they learned to understand it better (to interpret its more restrictive texts in the context of its trajectory, its redemptive movement).

    Willard Swartley says that the Bible shows us that God’s way in relation to slavery, war, and gender relations is "liberating and loving, replacing dominion and self-defensiveness with mutuality and trust.” Therefore, for Swartley, the Bible gives us grounds to challenge long-held Christian practices concerning slavery, war, and sexism. He contrasts that with same-sex practice. He says that the Bible does not give us such grounds to challenge the church's long-held stance on homosexuality, because “homosexual practice is not related to grace-energized behavior in a single text.” (I took that from Ted Grimsrud's summary of Swartley's treatment of this (http://peacetheology.net/2009/02/16/willard-swartley-homosexuality/).

    When we commend or reprove someone, we usually base it on the direction they are moving -- toward or away from the ideal. I guess because I look at the Bible's trajectory, Charlie, I have a much more positive view of it than you.

    By the way, were you at EMU (EMC) in the 1970's? I think I picture you. Good memories!

    - Harold Miller (jun 20 at 11:04 a.m.)

  • Forrest, thank you, thank you for disagreeing with me in a friendly voice! I'm sure if those of us commenting were around a table the tone would be much more open and warm. This format has pluses (convenience; open to all; MC USA hasn't opened up any other format to talk about the issue itself) but its definite minus is that it's all too easy to see one who disagrees as one-dimensional and then paint them with a bad spirit.

    Thanks also for a thoughtful explanation for how non-monogamy can be part of a caring, committed relationship. Would you say that you are giving us part of why the Anabaptist gay community does not insist on monogamy as a standard?

    Maybe we'll see each other at Assembly again.

    - Harold Miller (jun 20 at 11:07 a.m.)

  • For me it comes down to whether we follow our heads or our hearts. Can we truly believe and have faith in the compassion and grace of Spirit moving in our lives and evolving throughout history? What is the essence of Truth and Justice? Is it found in the Bible, Mennonite community, or ultimately a call we must each answer with our hearts? In the end, I believe we will answer these questions: "How have I loved?" "Where did I show compassion?" "Who did I touch with tenderness?" "What grace did I give to others?" "When did I stand on the side of justice?" Perhaps it is easier to quibble over scripture or Mennonite tradition than to answer these questions.

    - Darleen Zimmerman (jun 20 at 11:19 a.m.)

  • Harold, your response on the issue of slavery in the Bible is a lot of weak tea. Here's what Paul said about the subject: "Slaves, Obey Your Masters!" That single statement speaks far louder than all the other references you cite. It's the statement that was used for centuries, by Christians, to justify human enslavement. If the Bible was really inspired and perfect, then the Holy Spirit would have directed Paul to leave "Obey Your Masters" out of his writings, because the Spirit would have known how that verse would be misused down the road. Further, if the Bible was really inspired and perfect, then "You Shall Not Enslave Your Fellow Human Beings" would have been included as one of the 10 Commandments. And Paul would have instructed his followers to release all their slaves immediately, and he would have condemned the entire institution of slavery. The lack of clear and insistent condemnations of slavery in the Bible is the best argument against its inspiration, in my opinion.

    - Charlie Kraybill, Bronx, NYC (jun 20 at 12:10 p.m.)

  • This conversation / dialogue seems to be useful, not for changing anyone's existing stance, but for exemplifying two key observations:

    First, all of the participants seem to see themselves as a part of an active Mennonite church identity. There are those who affirm same-sex natures and those who oppose public affirmation of those natures, all within the same, existing, living Mennonite church. We just need to recognize and admit the Christ in each other's spiritual journeys.

    The church is one and it seems to contain within itself an amazing garden of diversity.

    Second, we have gotten through two days and several pages of dialogue without either side explicitly condemning or banning those with whom they disagree. This seems to indicate that all sides could probably easily coexist within the same congregation, or at least conference, if we really wanted to.

    The questions seem to be whether or not we will place the unity of our faith, in all of its diversity, before our individual needs to be right and if we are willing to return to the active faith dialogue of our forebears in dialoguing on and searching the Scriptures while challenging the Spirit, often agreeing to disagree and learning to tolerate differences of opinion (recognizing that not even Menno Simons was always the best example in this regard).

    This is indeed a hopeful sign.

    Steve

    - Steve Wall (jun 20 at 2:54 p.m.)

  • Thank you Harold for opening this discussion.

    I regret having to comment on this anonymously, but I do not feel comfortable disclosing my name at this time.

    There have been many great “head” comments made on here. I could respond and talk about my view of the scriptures and my interpretation of malakoi and arsenokoitai. But, many of the points that I would have made, already have been made. So, en lieu of that, I’d like to respond with a “heart” comment.

    Personally, I am a Mennonite, I also happen to be gay. Growing up, because of the things that I heard my friends at church, and school, saying about people who are gay I forced myself deeply into the closet. I was afraid. I prayed every night for God to change me, some nights to the point of tears, but to no avail. I thought that God hated me.

    I also believed the verse that says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I couldn't justify seeing myself as being both fearfully and wonderfully made, but also a hated creation. So that began my personal journey of reconciling my faith.

    Fast forward a few years and I have found a wonderful online community and forum, the Gay Christian Network, where I have made countless friends. Meeting people through GCN and also through the Pink Mennonite Campaign has done wonders for me spiritually. As a Mennonite who happens to be gay, I identify more as a Mennonite, or a Christian, than I do as a gay person. My relationship with Jesus is more important to me than who I am attracted to. Finding these communities has given me hope. It has helped me to realize gay people are not all sex-crazed pedophiliac partiers, like I was informed they were in my youth. I was able to come to the conclusion that I am still a beautiful creation of God's and He loves me.

    When I look into my future and see myself with a husband, the parts of that vision that I am most excited for are the companionship, the love, the togetherness, not the sex. I feel as though so often the intimacy is the portion that is focused on by people who are against same-sex unions. But... if something is done out of love, why is that a sin? Just because some people don't like it? Will this small portion of my future hypothetical relationship be what condemns me?

    Personally, I don't want to be a part of an open relationship. While that works for some people, I don't think that it would work for me. I know many straight people who are in open relationships; in fact, more of my straight friends are promiscuous than my gay friends are. Does that mean that we should be against straight relationships because a small percentage of them are promiscuous?

    When it comes down to it, those who are opposed to including people who are gay, I am curious... how many people do you personally know who are gay? Have you had dialogues with us? Have you taken time to get to know us as brothers and sisters? As sons and daughters? As friends? I am looking forward to a time where we Mennonites will be even more so the inclusive community that I grew up loving. The community that I still love being a part of, even though I feel slightly excluded at times.

    But I know that I am a child of God, I am fearfully and wonderfully made, I'm also gay.

    - Anonymous (jun 20 at 3:08 p.m.)

  • Thank you Beloved (Anonymous) for sharing. I keep searching for words that will appropriately honor the gift you gave, but it cheapens the beauty of your heartfelt words. So a simple thank you!

    - Darleen Zimmerman (jun 20 at 4:10 p.m.)

  • Yes, thanks so much for sharing your story, Anonymous. We need a church that is safe for all.

    Part of what makes the church unsafe (and I've experienced this with my own Mennonite relatives) is that fear of the Bible and tradition forces them to judge and reject people who are different, especially if the difference is sexual. Subservience to the printed word and its traditional interpretations really hinders their freedom to embrace and be comfortable with homosexual folks and others. The church must be freed from this slavery to the static text.

    We must look not only to ancient scripture, but also to science, experience, and the living Spirit who shows a new way: "in the past you have heard it said, but I say unto you...." The scripture alone will not suffice.

    The Mennonite Church has its work cut out in the coming decades as they will sooner or later review and revise the confession of faith. I predict they will need to grapple seriously with this issue of dependence on or elevation of the Bible and how it has been divisive in the church.

    Harold, thanks for your note. The comments I made are only my own and do not represent any official opinion of the Mennonite LGBT community. Perhaps the Brethren Mennonite Council would have a statement on the issue of monogamy, but I doubt it. I won't be at Phoenix this summer, but I'm sure we'll see one another again. Peace.

    - Forrest Moyer (jun 20 at 6:26 p.m.)

  • I understand this is an important issue. But while everyone's busy pontificating and making their own personal points, the grandson of a lifelong Chicago Mennonite was shot three times while playing basketball in the park where he plays every evening, on the South side of Chicago; for details see comments to Kennel piece on gun violence in this issue. Kids are dying, people, and we say, basically, "Let them eat cake."

    - Debra Bender (jun 20 at 7:12 p.m.)

  • Debra, we heeded your plea. We -- the whole church, I think -- is with you against gun violence. Thanks for directing us to that blog. I was struck not only by Louis Campbell's pain for his grandson but his distress that the "daily violence Black Americans suffer" is not on the radar screen like the violence of Sandy Hook, a Colorado theater, or a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

    Now after our moments of silence we return to what is, as you say, "an important issue." Because no other topic - involves our church's stance being changed to such a degree (and groups organized to change our church's stand rather than groups organized to uphold our stand), and - threatens to rip the church in two.

    - Harold Miller (jun 22 at 10:16 a.m.)

  • Heather says:

    I disagree with Millers assessment that Menno gay rights leaders are not in support of monogamy. ... Maybe he's right that we need to hear from more Gay Menno leadership on this subject of monogamy? ... I know several gay Menno couples in long-term monogamous relationships.

    And Brad says:

    I know numerous same sex couples, virtually all of whom are more committed to monogamy than many heterosexual couples I know.

    And Brian says:

    The idea that homosexuals are ... non-monogamous is really the weakest of all. ...this idea is pretty offensive to all the LGBT-identifying folks I know - all of whom are in monogamous relationships, some for well over 40 years.

    My guess is that virtually every straight person who wants our church to affirm the holiness of same-sex covenant relations would agree with all of you.

    That was my assumption too, back in 1996 when I was asked by my conference to do research on homosexuality. Then I learned about The Male Couple, a book by David P. McWhirter, M.D., and Andrew M. Mattison, M.S.W., Ph.D. (Prentice-Hall, 1984). The authors -- a gay couple themselves -- reported that two-thirds of the couples in their study began their relationship with the expectation of sexual exclusivity, but that all the couples who had been together at least 5 years had incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity in their relationships. Their work was summarized in the professional volume, Textbook of Homosexuality and Mental Health (American Psychiatric Press, 1996). Since then I've read many other studies. The one I cited in the article (from The NY Times) gives the highest level of monogamy of all the studies I've found. Check out my other citation in the article. (I left quote marks around phrases so you can use Google to take you right to the documents.) And I can summarize other studies if you want, eg., ones in the Family Process (quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal) and in the Washington Blade (oldest LGBT newspaper).

    Realizing that we evangelicals tend to mirror society around us, I knew I could no longer assume monogamy. So I gave our Anabaptist gay community opportunity to reassure us that they are different. Individual Anabaptist gays in long-term partnerships have reassured me of their personal commitment to monogamy (meaning sexual exclusivity and not just social monogamy). But more have indicated that the group is not there.

    It would affect me greatly if some leaders of our Anabaptist gay community would publicly affirm and honor sexual exclusivity (not just as their own personal standard, but as a moral obligation in all same-sex partnerships). As long as they cannot, one begins to wonder whether non-monogamy is not a pretty high percentage in their group. And one wonders whether this community is not precluding themselves from full participation in MC USA. That principle stated in the article that “genital sexual intimacy is intended to be expressed within a monogamous, life-long covenanted relationship” is from the 2010 MennoMedia curriculum, Body & Soul. I think pretty well everybody in MC USA, including the strong pro-gay supporters, is there.

    - Harold Miller (jun 22 at 10:26 a.m.)

  • There's a great danger in me commenting too much! But I (Harold) feel I must comment on the key theme surfacing.

    Brad says:

    "[instead of] fashioning scriptural responses to impose on people we do not know and have not opened our hearts to, ... I hope we will first listen to and know those who were created differently and ask how we can best follow Jesus in responding with love, compassion, and acceptance."

    Heather says:

    "I really see the scriptural arguments [defending] women in leadership to be creative readings of scripture (sounds spirit-led) which have evolved over time. ... Someday people who once objected to GLBT inclusion will be able to explain its acceptance using scripture, just like many folks who used to deny the role of women using scripture now affirm it using scripture."

    Forrest says:

    "Thank you, Harold, for writing this article... But I have to disagree with your dependence on scripture to guide an understanding of sex in the 21st century. I know Anabaptists have always had a high reverence for the Bible and studied it for straightforward and literal answers and rules, but that's been a strength AND weakness in the tradition. There are some topics on which the Bible contains little factual information or helpful comment, and many times it has been used to press people into compliance with traditional ideas."

    Brad says again:

    "We can sit around a table and try to figure out how to submit to the intent or spirit of Scripture's teaching, but unless that is done in the context of fully realizing what impact the decisions have upon those most effected by them I have little patience for the process and less regard for the results. I concur that the Bible is 'the fully reliable and trustworthy standard for Christian faith and life' and I would add 'as that faith is practiced in our interaction and experience with all God's children and as our life is lived in the city, community, and world God gives us.'"

    Darleen says:

    What is the essence of Truth and Justice? Is it found in the Bible, Mennonite community, or ultimately a call we must each answer with our hearts? In the end, I believe we will [find it when we] answer these questions: "How have I loved?" "Where did I show compassion?" "Who did I touch with tenderness?" "What grace did I give to others?" "When did I stand on the side of justice?" Perhaps it is easier to quibble over scripture or Mennonite tradition than to answer these questions."

    Charlie says:

    Harold, your response on the issue of slavery in the Bible is a lot of weak tea. Here's what Paul said about the subject: "Slaves, Obey Your Masters!" That single statement speaks far louder than all the other references you cite. It's the statement that was used for centuries, by Christians, to justify human enslavement. If the Bible was really inspired and perfect, then the Holy Spirit would have directed Paul to leave "Obey Your Masters" out of his writings, because the Spirit would have known how that verse would be misused down the road. ... The lack of clear and insistent condemnations of slavery in the Bible is the best argument against its inspiration, in my opinion.

    Forrest writes again:

    Subservience to the [Bible] and its traditional interpretations really hinders [the church's] freedom to embrace and be comfortable with homosexual folks and others. The church must be freed from this slavery to the static text. We must look not only to ancient scripture, but also to science, experience, and the living Spirit who shows a new way: "in the past you have heard it said, but I say unto you...." The scripture alone will not suffice. The Mennonite Church has its work cut out in the coming decades as they will sooner or later review and revise the confession of faith. I predict they will need to grapple seriously with this issue of dependence on or elevation of the Bible and how it has been divisive in the church.

    There you have it, a consistent and strong theme among you online readers of the article: MC USA tends to be too dependent on the Bible as it decides which behaviors to censure; the Bible failed at things like slavery and women in ministry, and it also is re: homosexuality; we rather discern what is right and good for persons through the Spirit leading us in face-to-face conversations with individuals.

    I empathize with your hesitations about the Bible. I'm fully aware of the sub-gospel character of much of it as God accommodated to the people, relating to them according to what they could receive and could do (something every good parent does). And of the Bible's many "errors" as we read it according to our modern standards of historiography (rather than through the eyes of persons of its day).

    But I nonetheless approach its teachings with humility and joy. The people of God through the centuries have witnessed a Voice in the Bible that lifts their lives in a way that is beyond the power of mere human wisdom. This is so much so that Vishal Mangalwadi can write The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization.

    Once I allow God to accommodate to where people are at (God truly had no other possible choice if God was to partner with humans without violating their wills), then my reading of the Bible is no longer a series of frustrations at all the sub-gospel instances but a series of joy-filled discoveries: beautiful glimpses of God, along with the necessary accommodation, always giving nudges toward the ideal, foretastes of the coming age. (For instance, passages I cited to Charlie that "show Paul working against slavery.") I now have my Bible back (in a second naiveté)!

    So far everything the Spirit has led the church into is also something that Scripture has also led us into (with its seeds of redemptive movement). Yes, it's possible, as Heather suggests, that we who value Scripture in this way are playing games with it to make it look like Scripture was leading us (what she calls "creative readings of scripture"). But it's also possible that the Bible is a record of God saying as much to people as they could hear and bear at the time and that we can delight in seeing humanity being led toward ever increasing health and shalom--as fast and wisely as possible.

    Is this the case as far as homosexuality too?? That's the question. That's why we are dialoguing.

    - Harold Miller (jun 22 at 12:53 p.m.)

  • If MC USA continues in the direction it is going, it won’t be long until the theology between MC USA and the Unitarian denomination will be the same. I doubt if the Unitarians will object if MC USA people will want to sprinkle themselves with Anabaptist holy water before entering the Unitarian service.

    - Dale Welty (jun 22 at 10:01 p.m.)

  • Harold Miller is basically right in that just because the world goes in one direction, the church should not necessarily follow. However, it's sad that every traditionalist feels the need to quote the same tired scriptures, acting like everyone else has never read the Bible, and this would be all brand new information to them. This whole entire issue would be a non-issue but for one thing: If there just weren't Christians who say they are homosexual, or homosexuals who want to be Christians, all this would be a dead topic. But they are, and they do, and so the problem is, what in the world do we do with this? And, some around me have asked, if the divorce rate for heterosexuals is around 50%, and the rate for Christians is worse than the general population, where do heterosexuals think they have the moral high ground to deny marriage to gays? I don't know how to answer that one. Then, back to scripture. It was pointed out to me that all or almost all of the classic scriptures (if you do the proper translation and interpretation) show that yes, the homosexual situations in the Bible are sin; but they are sin because they are abusive, and they would be sin whether they were heterosexual or homosexual--rape, gang rape, pederasty (older man, younger boy), dominant relationships, etc. SO, if such acts are not necessarily sin simply because they are homosexual, does this not throw homosexuality into a whole different light----without discrediting any of the scriptures? When that was pointed out to me, I didn't know what to say. I say go with Acts 15, and look for the evidence of the Spirit. If it's there, how do we deny gays participation in church? If the Spirit is not there, that's another question. And the biggest issue for me is, that we blow this issue up way, way, way out of perspective in relation to its real importance. Our core beliefs are about God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins--things we rarely even bother to talk about because they are so common. Then, in the second ring, Mennonite issues like Discipleship, Peace/Nonviolence, and Brotherhood/Fellowship. Outside of that, there are all the other issues that should be dealt with on a pastoral level. So, somebody has got to tell me why we kick people out of churches, churches out of conferences, and discipline pastors, all about an issue that is a peripheral issue and NOT a core Christian belief? Let's put it in proper perspective and quit listening to the lunatics on the radio.

    - Brian D. Stucky (jun 22 at 11:57 p.m.)

  • Paul instructed us to go on about our work and life not interfering with others but to mind our business while helping others in the process. For me, it is not an issue until someone takes issue with me. I DON"T interfere with the marriages of others and I would appreciate others doing the same with mine.

    - Erika Fels (jun 23 at 4:07 p.m.)

  • Erika, I certainly don't mean to make light of your situation or relationship, but I read this the other day and it tickled me. Then I saw your comment and thought I've got to share it with you - it's a silly little way of saying exactly what you said!

    Claiming that someone else's marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a donut because you're on a diet.

    - Debra Bender (jun 24 at 11:43 p.m.)

  • What ever happened to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and article four of the Confession of Faith that talks about the importance of Scripture to lead and guide us? If we throw away the authority of Scripture, which is God breathed, than you might as well burn your Bible and live like anything goes. We can't pull one verse out that we agree with and void all others. God's Word does not change just because society does. There have been some real interesting civilizations over the centuries, but God's Word and standard superseded them all, even ours. Scripture must be at the center of our dialogue or it just becomes meaningless arguments.

    - Rodger Schmell (jun 25 at 9:33 a.m.)

  • Brian Barrier says:

    "I believe that the Corinthian and Roman references to homosexuality were made due to the existence of abusive power structures in relationships between persons at the time in Greco-Roman culture..."

    Brian D. Stucky says:

    "It was pointed out to me that all or almost all of the classic scriptures (if you do the proper translation and interpretation) show that yes, the homosexual situations in the Bible are sin; but they are sin because they are abusive, and they would be sin whether they were heterosexual or homosexual--rape, gang rape, pederasty (older man, younger boy), dominant relationships, etc."

    It would be interesting to have you trace your exegetical impressions back to the scholarly source that started them. I'm quite sure that all widely-quoted scholars do not claim to prove that those references are to abusive or exploitative or idolatrous same-sex behavior. Rather, they only try to show that the texts are ambiguous, that there is some uncertainty over who Paul was referring to. This is considered a victory: "we’ve shown that the church can not be sure that the Bible condemns all same-sex behavior."

    But here's my point in the article: the ambiguity of all language, especially ancient words, means there is uncertainty surrounding the meaning of every New Testament passage. (Daniel Hoopert hesitates to agree to this. But when we translate an unfamiliar Scripture passage from the original language, it reminds us of the interpretive judgments and assumptions one always needs to make; it's why translations so often differ.) And if all passages have some ambiguity, then the mere fact of ambiguity re: Romans 1 or 1 Cor 6 is no longer significant. The crucial matter is the degree of uncertainty. And we find that "these texts are remarkably clear compared to other contested passages" – clear that they are referring to same-sex eroticism in general, including consensual relationships.

    Willard Swartley (perhaps the most respected living Mennonite scholar) writes:

    ...some people, generally reflecting the Boswell and/or Scroggs arguments, conclude that the seven biblical texts that explicitly speak of same-sex practices (Gen. 19; Judg. 19; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10) do not address the issue of loving homosexual relations. ... Numerous scholarly essays have considered the exegetical work of these contributions [which say that biblical texts do not address the issue of loving homosexual relations] and have found them both flawed and unconvincing. These dozen authors span the Christian communion and cannot be dismissed as grinding a conservative ax. –Homosexuality: Biblical Interpretation and Moral Discernment [Herald Press 2003] p.30-31

    - Harold Miller (jun 26 at 11:26 p.m.)

  • I don't get all this "exegetical . . . scholarly . . . abusive or exploitative or idolatrous . . . ambiguous . . . uncertainty . . . interpretive judgments" stuff; maybe I don't understand "scholarly essays" and "grinding a conservative ax." I do know that, in the arena of CIVIL rights, June 26, 2013 will go down as a happy, happy day in the history of this country and our attempt to live in a society where we're all blessed with the same rights, responsibilities and respect.

    - Debra Bender (jun 27 at 1:37 a.m.)

  • As the Word of God states, "there is neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, for all are one in Christ". Where is the issue for goodness sakes? But now these days some church people are saying," there are heterosexuals and homosexuals, some are slaves (to sin), and some are not, for we are not all one in Christ". Sometimes I get the impression that some people are placing themselves in the place of God and deciding who gets into heaven and who doesn't. Kinda reminds me of the that long standing joke about there being a high wall in heaven that divides Protestants and Catholics. "Why is this wall here?", asks one protestant of God. "Well", replies God, "the Catholics believe they are the only ones who think they have been good enough to get in here and we don't like to hurt their feelings". I thing some heterosexual couples will be surprised at who they meet in heaven. That's if they care to look over the wall which is what they are forgetting to do here on earth. We are all one in Christ, we are made in the image of God. Some say that the Holy Spirit is the nurturing feminine aspect of God.

    Hey Debra, I liked your previous post.

    - Erika Fels (jun 27 at 2:59 a.m.)

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