Last week I attended the Mennonite Church USA biennial convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thanks to recent articles in The Mennonite and the Mennonite Weekly Review, I found myself in many discussions about the inclusion of sexual minorities in the church. I’d like to highlight three of the lessons I learned (or re-learned) about “the dialogue” last week:
There are more than two positions for people to take.
I heard from a gay man who believes that he must remain celibate to be faithful to scripture. I talked with a gay man who says he is happier than he’s ever been in his life now that he is married to his husband.
I heard from plenty of people who understand biblical teachings on same-sex relationships differently than I do; some of them think that no church should affirm gay marriage; some of them are willing to stay in relationship with churches that are affirming.
I talked with plenty of people who share my views on scripture (at least as it relates to homosexuality); many of them cheered my willingness to officiate a same-sex wedding; a few believe I am obligated to follow the rules of the denomination regardless of whether or not I agree with those rules.
Some of us who want the church to be more inclusive of sexual minorities wore a lot of pink at convention to show our support. Other GLBT activists and allies were less obvious, though not necessarily less sincere, in their support of inclusion.
Some people who are concerned that the church is becoming too tolerant of what they view as sin were quite vocal in large groups and insisted on meetings with the church leadership. Others who are uncomfortable with increasing tolerance chose to have more quiet, private conversations about their views.
Nothing is “clear” or “obvious.”
As an advocate for affirmation and inclusion of sexual minorities in the church, nothing makes me more crazy than when people say (or write), “Scripture is clear about this issue.” Or, “The Bible obviously teaches that homosexual activity is a sin.” I do not believe that Scripture is clear. I do not believe that reading the Bible will lead you to the obvious conclusion that same-sex relationships are sinful. The Bible is an inspired document, yes. It is also a document created by people who lived 2000 plus years ago in cultures very different from ours. It is a document that has been subject to editing and translation. It is fine to disagree with my understandingof Scripture; but it is not fine to dismiss my understanding by claiming that a different reading is clear and obvious.
Likewise, it also seems unhelpful when advocates for affirmation make the argument that Jesus teaches love, and, therefore, the obvious conclusion is that we should fully include GLBT people in the church. It’s clear, we advocates like to claim: “Jesus included everybody, so we should too.” If we’re honest, though, we will admit that real love, Christ-like love, does not mean encouraging behavior that is sinful, that is harmful. As much as I cringe when I hear the phrase, there are times when we must love the sinner while hating the sin. (Think about our Mennonite witness against militarism and racism.) Jesus had harsh words for the sins of the Pharisees, and he told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. It is unfair to suggest that someone is neglecting Christ’s teachings of inclusion and love just because we disagree with them about what is and is not sinful.
It is dishonest and unfair for those who view gay marriage as a sin to claim that they hold the “biblical” position. My position is also biblical.
It is unfair for me to claim that my position is “welcoming” and “inclusive” as if those who disagree with me have bouncers at the church door.
I am grateful to all of my conversation partners this past week. I pray we will all continue to grow in our ability to agree and disagree in love.