The most talked about and the most controversial of the resolutions at the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly is no doubt the Being a Faithful Church [BFC] resolution about same sex marriage. The last time we had a resolution on human sexuality was also in Saskatoon exactly thirty years ago. Many of us—meaning individuals, congregations, and area churches—have failed to keep this part of the 1986 covenant on sexuality.
We covenant with each other to mutually bear the burden of remaining in loving dialogue with each other in the body of Christ, recognizing that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that the Holy Spirit may lead us to further truth and repentance. We covenant compassion and prayer for each other that distrustful, broken, and sinful relationships may experience God’s healing.
Some individuals and churches have disengaged from the larger body and have ceased dialogue of any kind and those who have continued dialogue have not always done so lovingly and graciously. Thus, to being with, some confession and repentance might be in order.
While we’re confessing, the confession made in 1986 is also still relevant: We confess our fear and repent of our rejection of those of us with a different sexual orientation and of our lack of compassion for their struggle to find a place in society and in the church. I dare say that many of us are still in the process of collective and individual repentance from our fear and rejection of those of us with a different sexual orientation. We have some basic “catch-up” work to do before even entertaining our new resolution in 2016.
I applaud the task force as well as denominational and congregational leaders who have worked so hard on developing, coordinating, and collecting responses to the seven installments of the BFC process. The patience and thoroughness of the process was sensitive and appropriate. It seems to me that the recommendation reflects the difficult diversity in the MC Canada constituency and I’m sure it was no small task to attempt to reflect the variety of voices in the final recommendation.
The first two recommendations—to keep [i.e. make no changes] the confession of faith as our unifying guide [specifically article 19 on the definition of marriage]; and, at the same time to “acknowledge those among us whose careful study of the Scripture and prayerful journey of discernment lead them to a different understanding on committed same-sex relationships” [than stated in article 19]—invite us to accept the present reality in our denomination.
The third and fourth recommendations commit us to continuing dialogue regarding the theological issue, but since this is primarily about people’s lives I wonder if a recommendation about pastoral practice might be more appropriate. In other words, instead of “creating space for alternative understandings” could we recommend that we “create space for a variety of pastoral practices” in congregations? All congregations will continue to welcome LGBT people into fellowship and membership [in order to be faithful to a few other articles] but some will call them to celibacy according to the confession and others will bless them with marital unions according to different understandings. Pastors and congregations would make decisions about which betrothed couples they get involved with as has been practiced in the past. Different pastoral practices need not offend someone in another congregation or area church or cause disunity in our national fellowship.
It seems to me that the third and fourth recommendations assume that we must keep discerning until we all agree on the one correct understanding of Scripture on this. I’m not convinced this is possible in our generation or advisable for our denomination at this time. Is it possible that the Spirit has led congregations in the same denomination to different understandings of this since it is not one of the essentials of Anabaptist faith? I will write more about unity in my next post.
P.S. Let me end this post with the concluding paragraphs to an essay I wrote a few years ago after surveying how Christian colleges responded to LGBT students on campus [See “published articles” for the entire essay].
Evangelical heterosexuals are far guiltier than the homosexual community of making an idol of sexual orientation. Some individuals and churches have become so obsessed about the issue of homosexuality that it seems to have become the litmus test of orthodoxy. Surely, we are off-base in this… Let us focus on what is most important.
The most important thing is not self-actualization or personal fulfillment, but to find ourselves in the community of Christ—the church—of which colleges are a small arm. We are to embody the great commandment of love of God and neighbor. Although a number of colleges mentioned that they would search the Scriptures with students about the issue of homosexuality, especially around the issues of morality and behavior, only one mentioned the importance of Christian identity. “We must not define people by their sexual desires. Our true identities are based on being created in the image of God and on the basis of Christ’s redemption; we are God’s adopted children. This is the foundation of our self-identity and our behaviour is simply a reflection of this high and noble status.” The most important thing we can do for students on our campuses is to teach and model that our primary identity is as children of God and participants in God’s reign of justice and peace. “Identity is found in Christ, not sexual orientation.” When this is clear we can begin to help students explore and embrace other aspects of identity, including sexual orientation.
 Andrew Marin. Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009]. The title and objective of this book point us in this direction.
 This line appears on the cover of Prism Magazine [November/December, 2012].