The largest Mennonite group in the United States, Mennonite Church USA, is trying to come to terms with limited or full inclusion of sexual minorities. The discussion has to do with the hiring practices of Mennonite institutions, ministerial credentialing, clergy performing same-sex ceremonies, and general acceptance of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) folks.
Some things to consider (gleanings from various sources):
- Hate and homophobia are pervasive in American culture. School kids call each other “fags” and insult people by calling them “gay.” Bullies of all ages beat up gay and lesbian people. A decidedly secular fear and lack of knowledge about homosexuality shapes many of the negative Christian attitudes about our brothers and sisters who are LGBTQ.
- Families disown their gay and lesbian children, a key factor in the alarmingly higher rates of homelessness and suicide in these kids.
- Science tells us that homosexuality is not a choice; it is a biological fact. God creates (maybe ten percent) of people with diverse sexual orientations. People are born gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender.
- Homosexuality is not the same thing as being sexually ‘loose’ or permissive. Heterosexuals in our community often fail to respect their own bodies and those of their partners. Sexual integrity is a separate issue. Mennonites should continue to support a culture of sexual integrity for both heterosexuals and homosexuals, as we live in a world that teaches us to abuse others and ourselves.
- It is because of my faith, not in spite of it, that I believe Mennonite Church USA and institutions should accept all people – including those with a LGBTQ identity. Many Mennonites can trace their roots 500 years back to ancestors in Switzerland who opposed the Church hierarchy and challenged all to follow the radical way of Jesus at all costs.
- Some church leaders, like their Anabaptist ancestors, are taking great risks to follow Jesus’ Way of Love. When they advocate for dialogue or discussion they received hate mail, belligerent phone calls from colleagues and ostracization. The most important part of our dialogue is the tone it sets on how we deal with differences in our community. Can we practice the skills detailed in the Mennonite Church USA’s statement, “Disagreeing in Love,” or is our pacifism only a theological position?
- Mennonite teachings understand the Bible as a call to the Law of Love and to practice radical inclusion. Mennonites learn not to water down the Bible, but to read the Bible alongside its culture and history. Mennonite learn not to stand on a selective reading of the Bible’s convenient passages, but to more fully understand that Jesus’ teachings can help human beings live in an increasingly chaotic world.
- The Bible’s primary message is about acceptance, inclusion and an embrace of diversity. Jesus spent most of his time with people that the Jewish leaders of the day called “sinners.” Jesus embraced everyone, no matter who they were or what they had done. Jesus never practiced exclusion. He welcomed all people to the table. Jesus defended the humanity of all people, even society’s outcasts.
- The Biblical passages on homosexuality overwhelmingly refer to male slave owners who abusively sodomized their male slaves, often boys. The Bible refers to male rape as sin. Rape is always wrong. Rape is prevalent in our culture. But rape is completely different from homosexuality. Rape is a crime of power and domination. Homosexuality is not the same as rape. The Bible does not provide any comment on a loving relationship between two people of the same sex.
- Jesus does not command us to judge our neighbors or form an exclusive church for those without sin. Jesus does the opposite. He tells us to focus on the “log in our own eyes rather than the speck of dust in our neighbor’s eye.” Jesus repeatedly warns people against judging others. Perhaps the very arrogance of judging another is the highest form of sin, as feeling entitled to judge places us apart from God and divides the human community.
- Even if we read the Gospel without understanding its cultural context, Jesus mentions many different types of sinning or brokenness. Mennonites sin in many ways. Who would dare cast the first stone against another’s sins? If we agree with Jesus that it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through an eye of a needle, why are we silent about our addiction to wealth? There are too many Biblical passages on the sin of gluttony to mention and too many delicious Mennonite recipes for any of us to point fingers at the extra inches on our waists. Are any of us without sin? Or do we want to start ranking some sins as worse than others?
- Where is the Biblical precedent for a policy of exclusion of any type of people? Would Jesus have turned away anyone seeking to learn how to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?
- In the past, the Mennonite church has closed its doors to African Americans. The Church has been wrong in the past. Christians twisted Biblical passages to make it seem that slavery was acceptable. At times, the Church has been judgmental and racist. It took the leadership of courageous Mennonite women and men to insist on the full humanity of African Americans to eventually change the church to welcome people of all colors. In the footsteps of these women, we must stand beside our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
- How will the world know that the Mennonite church is a home for spiritual growth? They will know we are Christians by our love, by our tolerance for diversity, for the way we care and respect each other even in the midst of our differences. No one will know we are Christians by our homophobic policies of exclusion and judgment.
- I hope we will continue in the Anabaptist tradition of following Jesus’ radical love for and inclusion of all people, no matter the financial or institutional costs.