all opinions
Opinions posts

Survey results discouraging

1.14. 2015 Written By: Matt Hamsher 4,637 Times read

For evangelical third-way Anabaptists (neither liberal nor conservative), the 2014 credential leaders survey results are disturbing rather than encouraging.

Here’s the bottom line that most people will be most curious about: Over 45 percent of all credentialed leaders in Mennonite Church USA who responded to the survey believe that LGBTQ individuals who are celibate or in monogamous relationships should be eligible for leadership credentials in the denomination. (This includes 19.5 percent who think leadership roles should be open to LGBTQ individuals without any conditions, including the expectation of monogamy, but more on that later.)

I am concerned that this large of a percentage—even if still in the minority—will move many more moderate and conservative congregations to leave Mennonite Church USA rather than stay and work for reform and renewal.

I would be inclined to disagree with the congregations who will exit if it were not for the broken (or perhaps even non-existent) system of authority and accountability within the denomination.

According to the Executive Summary, over 40 percent want area conferences or congregations to be centers of authority (i.e., being free of relational accountability to members of the denomination beyond their own conference or congregation) and over 23 percent responded that the current structure is satisfactory.

If congregations and conferences can make their own decisions regarding credentialing outside the counsel of the wider church and there are no serious consequence (see footnote below) for breaking their relational commitment to the wider church, then there is no possibility for accountability at the denominational level. One cannot work for reform through the structure of the denomination if there is no avenue available to do so.

In addition to these two major outcomes, here are my other observations:

1. Leadership roles without conditions?
Many advocates of same-sex marriage have maintained that no matter what stance one takes on whether the church should bless same sex marriages, we share a common teaching against casual sex and reserving sex for committed monogamous relationships.

However, when almost one in five credentialed leaders (19.5 percent) responded that “LGBTQ individuals should have opportunities to serve in leadership roles without conditions” like being celibate or in a committed monogamous relationship, we can no long make this assumption of shared convictions about monogamy. There is more at stake here than how the church responds to those who experience same-sex attraction.

2. Widening the tent
One of the failures of denominational leadership has been in trying to continually “widen the tent” and include as many people as possible in the denomination. Perhaps we are too insecure and afraid of declining attendance to think of saying “no” to those who have defected to the liberal and fundamentalist camps. Yet, trying to appease the ends of the spectrum has led to a loss of a missional identity, a loss of a clearly articulated sense of who we are and how that is different from either political option (left or right, liberal or fundamentalist) in our current politically and culturally polarized context.

While those in the fundamentalist camp have tended to find reasons to leave over the years, liberals have instead hidden their true commitments or not been held accountable for them and have worked to gain control of communication agencies and educational institutions in the church, leading MC USA to lurch toward cultural accommodation on the left. We are now faced with a choice not between left and right but between left and center.

If denominational leadership wishes to find unity in the church, the survey results actually offer a pretty straightforward way to do so. Only “15.9 percent are willing to support LGBTQ inclusion even if doing so results in membership losses for the denomination.” On the other hand, 43 percent of those who support the current teaching position of the church represented in the 1995 Confession of Faith are willing to do so even if it results in losing members.

This leaves 41 percent who said they “desire to find a way to live in unity within the diversity that exists in the church.” In other words, denominational leaders have a fairly clear choice to keep 57 percent of the church together (by changing the Confession of Faith) or to keep 84 percent of the church together by maintaining the current teaching position of the church, we will see if we really believe in unity or only when calls for unity serve to protect the pursuit of individual and congregational autonomy.

3. Losing young adults?
Another common canard of advocates for LGBTQ inclusion is that the church needs to change its teaching position on human sexuality or risk losing future generations of youth and young adults. If the inevitability of a change in generational attitudes were so certain, one would not expect to find that “the least support for LGBTQ membership is among those between 36 and 45 years of age” (45 percent).

While I would concur that it is not surprising that support for membership for LGBTQ persons is highest among 18-35 year olds (65 percent), given the incredible power and pressure of secular media and secular LGBTQ rights efforts, the fact that the second highest percentage of support comes from those between 56-65 may hold a clue to another reason why this is so. Many of those between the ages of 36 and 45 were educated and mentored into pastoral leadership during a time when a majority of professors and pastors still held (and taught and modeled) the current teaching position of the church.

Many 18-35 year olds, however, have been educated and look to persons in the 56-65 year old category as role models, who are currently teaching and hold positions of influence in the church. Rather than assuming the inevitability of younger persons becoming more and more progressive in their views, the survey results may instead point to the need for greater accountability for those entrusted with the spiritual formation and education of our youth and young adults.

4. People of Color
I was disappointed to see that there were only two short paragraphs included in the Executive Summary describing “Perspectives of People of Color” and nothing in the survey results itself. Very little concrete information is given about the responses collected from the additional interviews conducted with representatives of six Racial/Ethnic constituency groups other than the statement, “in general, their responses regarding affiliation and the future of the denomination paralleled the responses of Group 1 in the earlier analysis of area conferences (those area conferences where less than one-third of leaders supported membership for LGBTQ members)” (Executive Summary). Is there a danger that the voices of people of color are being ignored or minimized when they are not identified or fully reported?

5. Eight conferences
Eight area conferences had at least two-thirds of their leaders opposed to LGBTQ membership. Have all eight of these conferences been represented by conference leaders in organizations like Anabaptist Renewal Circles, which has sought to bring reform and renewal from within MC USA? Are the views of these conferences being represented in wider national conversations with other conference ministers and at Constituency Leaders Council meetings? Should our credentialed leaders be represented by conference leaders who share their views, rather than merely attempting to describe them accurately?

In conclusion, I share the disappointment and sadness of many other evangelical Anabaptists in MC USA in seeing the concrete results of the survey.

The survey results are not good news for the direction of the denomination—“74 percent of active and active-without-charge leaders in the Church Member Profile 2006 stated that homosexual relations were always wrong,” (Final Report) meaning that we have gone from about a 75 percent consensus to an almost 50-50 split in less than a decade.

What will the next ten years hold?

If there is any hope to be found in the survey results, it is that they may serve as a wake-up call to those who value unity but are reticent to exercise accountability. What is at stake is not who can be a part of the church, but whether there is any accountability for leaders and teachers for our common commitments that we hold together.

To continue on the path of pluralism is to accept a definition of unity through human effort rather than Christian unity which can only be found in the Holy Spirit’s leading us to common convictions. To continue to refuse to exercise accountability will only continue to erode our missional identity and water down witness we can offer to one another and the watching world.

Matt Hamsher is the pastor of Longenecker Mennonite Church in Winesburg, Ohio, and formerly served as a regional pastor in Ohio Conference. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Kidron, Ohio. This originally ran as a post on the Evangelical Anabaptist Network website

1. See “Report from the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA” (June 30, 2014) in which the only decisive action taken by the board was to refuse to recognize Theda Good’s credential and not including it in the denominational database (Action 3, p. 2). The other actions merely “call,” “ask,” and “request” actions on the part of Mountain States and other conferences even when the Executive Board clearly recognized that Mountain States “failed to honor the relational covenant that they made with the other area conferences when they joined Mennonite Church USA in 2005” (Action 2, p. 2). The most appropriate use of authority for the Executive Board would have been to temporarily suspend the membership of MSMC until they returned to the covenant they made or until the delegate body had opportunity to take action.

To promote constructive dialogue, the editors of The Mennonite moderate all comments and comments don't appear until approved. Anonymous comments are not accepted. Writers must sign posts or log into Disqus with their first and last name. Read our full comment policy.

28 Responses to “Survey results discouraging”

  1. Sam Adams says:

    Thanks for this opinion piece, Matt. I am struck by your description of the “third way” that Mennonites are supposed to uphold. You seem to be saying that as Mennonites we are to occupy a mediating position between liberal and conservative: a third way that is really a middle way defined by the extremes on both ends. It appears that the ordination of LGBTQ persons is a step too far to the left of the third way and so is not consistent with the orthodoxy of the middle. This is not what I take to be the “third way.” If you are right, that we are “neither liberal nor conservative” then let’s not let these terms define our “third-ness” as a mediating position, but rather a commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over and above all other claims to lordship.

    I may be committed to discipleship under Christ’s Lordship, but still affirm LGBTQ equality. If that is the case, then our conversation should not be about preserving an orthodox middle, defined by contemporary political alternatives, but rather how such claims are consistent with faithful discipleship.

    Christ’s peace,
    Sam

  2. Tim Nafziger says:

    Matt,

    Your claim that Mennonite youth and young adults are becoming more welcoming because of the “incredible power and pressure of secular media and secular LGBTQ rights efforts” ignores the LGBTQ people inside the Mennonite church who have been thoughtfully, lovingly and faithfully working for change for over 40 years.

    This struggle by and for Mennonite LGBTQ people flows out of Jesus’ radical call on their lives and their reading of the bible. Together they form an Anabaptist renewal movement from within that has been going on since you were a child. It changed my life and will continue to transform the lives of thousands in our church.

    Please stop acting like this movement doesn’t exist.

  3. John Bergen says:

    Matt,

    Christ’s peace be with you and greetings from Jerusalem!

    I may be hearing you wrong, but it seems like you’re saying that the Mennonite Church used to have a greater sense of unity in theology and that secularism and young people are tearing that apart. Where did you get that idea? Our current denomination is a unification of two separate denominations, which had different ideas about how authority and accountability should work. Also, local congregational power (based in community discernment and Bible study) has always characterized the Anabaptist movement. In fact, it’s one of the things that defines the Third Way and has attracted many young people to our churches in recent decades. Finally, any theological unity that existed decades ago was built on the agreement that women couldn’t be in leadership, that children should be silent, that engagement in politics was unChristian, and that people of color were at best second-class Mennonites. These arguments for increased hierarchy and maintaining a conservative-but-not-fundamentalist Third Way mirror the arguments made against women in leadership, against Mennonites supporting the Civil Rights Movement, and against voting. The Holy Spirit working to move us into action in those cases is the same that works within our churches to celebrate and include LGBTQ lives and bodies.

    On a smaller note, could you name some undercover liberals in the Mennonite establishment, those who have ‘hidden their true commitments’ to gain power? This is a big accusation with no names or stories attached. Those I know challenging heterosexism, sexism, racism, classism, and settler colonialism in our churches have always been pretty explicit about their Biblical commitments to justice.

  4. JM Johnson says:

    If the Holy Spirit’s goal were uniformity of conviction and practice, s/he has done a piss-poor job given that there are ~41,000 Christian denominations at present. It is a rather haughty position to assume that a group of contemporary Mennonites has the capacity to figure out “the” ONE RIGHT PERFECT HOLY WAY into the gates of Heaven.

  5. Stephanie Krehbiel says:

    I have spent the past six years researching my dissertation on the movement for LGBTQ inclusion in the Mennonite church, and I see no evidence of even basic knowledge of that movement in this piece.

    I am so tired of reading articles in The Mennonite and other church publications that decry the influence of the “secular” as the reason for increased acceptance of LGBTQ people in Mennonite circles. This is just sloppy analysis. First of all, it implies that the “secular” world and the “secular” media is uniformly LGBTQ inclusive, an assumption belied by intolerable rates of suicide, gendered bullying, poverty, homelessness, sexualized violence, and job discrimination that afflict LGBTQ populations in the so-called “secular” world. (The increased legal access to same-sex marriage, while many of us welcome it, is not a panacea for these problems.) It ignores the massively profitable businesses of anti-LGBTQ pseudo-psychology and right-wing media, and their influence on conservative policy makers, making it seem as though those who oppose inclusion are beleaguered martyrs without worldly power or privilege. In fact, this is a world where wealthy, politically powerful white U.S. evangelicals help opportunistic politicians around the world to craft violently homophobic policies and pass them off as “cultural.” The simplistic sacred/secular dichotomy at work in articles such as this one helps contribute to that pernicious and colonizing form of violence.

    Second of all, as Tim Nafziger wrote and as I mentioned above, this article ignores the movement for LGBTQ inclusion that has existed in the Mennonite church since the 1970s. This is not an invasion from the outside. Some of the most fervently committed Anabaptists I have ever met are LGBTQ. It pains me to see how many conservative pastors and columnists seem to take joy in representing LGBTQ-inclusive Mennonites as narcissistic, individualistic, and uniformly privileged, documented, and white. This isn’t true. It is willful ignorance, propagated to serve the interests of particular factions within MCUSA.

    I was unsurprised by the relative conservatism of the 36-45 demographic (which is my own) in the MCUSA survey. MCUSA has done little to make Mennonite ministry a viable option for LGBTQ-inclusive clergy of that generation, considering that its Membership Guidelines essentially codify a threat to their hypothetical jobs. Statistically, within the US more generally, Generations X and Y are in fact overwhelmingly more inclusive than their elders. In the MCUSA, they aren’t well-represented in the body of credentialed leaders for reasons that should be obvious.

    Finally, it’s time for a more universally honest admission that the denominational leaders who crafted the MCUSA’s foundational agreements were naive at best and deceitful at worst in their explanations about what those agreements meant. Anti-LGBTQ conference leaders were told that LGBTQ inclusion was completely off the table, by leaders who should have known that the movement for LGBTQ inclusion was far from dead. Moderates and liberals who favored inclusion were told that the 2001 Membership Guidelines were a “temporary” measure and not meant to last more than a few years. Furthermore, “missional” identity has *never* had a uniform meaning across MCUSA. It has always functioned in this denomination as a somewhat intentional ambiguity, meant to represent hope for a unity that has never truly existed.

  6. Amanda Zimmerman Holley says:

    I’m so offended by so much you’ve said here that I don’t even know where to start.

    I will never understand what is so threatening about LGBTQ inclusion. Yeah, “the world is watching.” And moving from a 75% consensus on discrimination to a 50-50 split in a decade wasn’t fast enough for this 18-35 year old ethnic menno.

    I keep trying to be done involving myself in these discussions because they make me crazy and the incessant homophobia was one of my primary reasons I could not in good conscience remain in MCUSA in the first place, but I can’t help but speak up. LQBTQ people and allies are not a disease. Hate, however, is. And I’m so over people pretending that your opinion is something more palatable and–heaven help us–divinely inspired than straight up hate.

    But I guess I was just corrupted by the media and let down by my parents, right?

  7. Tyler M. Tully says:

    Isn’t it ironic that the crux of your argument deals with the acknowledgement of LGBTQ church members as leaders when you also point out that the existing non-LGBTQ leadership of the church is nonexistent? Seems like a classic case of “pot meet kettle”.

    I also fail to understand how “unity” looks like alienating either this majority or this minority per your argument, when no such compulsion looks like unity at all.

    There seem to be no easy answers here, but there certainly seem to be some nasty ones. Will Anabaptists maintain their tradition of volunteer association or will Anabaptists maintain their tradition of banning ad infinitum?

  8. Elaine Swartzentruber says:

    The thing is, and I’ll keep this short, I – and many, many others like me – came to requiring LGBTQ inclusion from reading The Bible and prayer and, you know, knowing and loving LGBTQ folks who are way better Christians than I am. I keep trying to take Mennonite beliefs and arguments about non-violent love and discipleship seriously and keep ending up being told I’ve missed the point or been unduly influenced by something else. This has happened for years. Makes me tired.

    51 years old and not sure where I fall in your demographic.

  9. Ted Maust says:

    To add anything to the excellent comments above seems superfluous, but to leave this page without registering an “Amen” to these thoughtful responses to the article would be unconscionable.

    Amen, Amen, Amen.

  10. Kristina Everingham says:

    I would like to address a concern that you and I both share: the exclusion of voices of color in this recent survey.

    Over the past ten years I have lived and worked in predominantly Hispanic/Latino communities in the US and in Mexico. In our Latino Mennonite churches I have found that the issue of homosexuality is rarely brought up for two reasons. First, because it is a cultural given that same-sex attraction is unnatural, and second because the topic is of trivial importance in the work of the Church.

    However, I have also met many Latino LGBTQ persons who have been excluded and marginalized from the church. Their pain is very real.

    It is neither necessary nor right for us to allow for the exclusion of one marginalized group in order to be respectful of another. Yet it is necessary for us to hear their voices.

    I do NOT speak on behalf of the Hispanic Anabaptists or their churches. We need to ask their members, as well as those of all others who were not clearly represented here, to add their voices to this conversation. That would include the voices of LGBTQ Mennonites of all ethnicities.

  11. sarah conrad yoder says:

    well i will follow suit with ted maust. other people can say it much better than i can. but so many amens from this corner as well, and thanks to all the lgbtq allies for their thoughtful responses.

  12. Ben Wideman says:

    I’m guessing there were two interpretations of the line, “LGBTQ individuals should have opportunities to serve in leadership roles without conditions”.

    Could some have interpreted this as a statement about conditions within church leadership and not about conditions within sexual practice? The question seems open enough to read “conditions” in a variety of ways – one being conditions on how an LGBTQ individual would be able to serve within a congregation (preaching, teaching, serving without restrictions), the other conditions on how an LGBTQ individual might live out their sexual lives.

  13. Matthew Dean says:

    I’m a little confused. I would think that a centrist 3rd way would create space in the denomination for everyone. It seems to me that if you really wanted to occupy the center between liberal and conservative you might be more inclined to recognize that there are in fact faithful and thoughtful Anabaptists who favor inclusion and that the denomination should have space for them as well as for the conservative churches.

    The 3rd way you suggest leaves little room for progressive Mennonites, and definitely does not leave room in the church for LGBTQ people. It only really leaves room for conservative folks. This suggests that maybe your arguments are not as centered as you think. Reframing conservative arguments in softer language is not a 3rd way, and just because you don’t support conservative churches leaving the denomination does not mean your arguments against the inclusion of LGBTQ people are somehow different or more loving.

    There are plenty of folks who really do occupy the center, holding together liberal and conservative by creating space for both, and while I might not agree with them entirely, I can at least appreciate what they’re doing, because it creates space for those I care about and am called to serve as a pastor. I believe there is room in MCUSA for everyone, but it’s not found in a 3rd way as you define it.

  14. Collin Waltner says:

    If there really is a third way, it will definitely not force entire church communities to choose either the conservative or liberal response.

    I personally don’t choose either response. I choose to love whoever wants to come to church with me.

  15. Charles Bontrager says:

    Matt,

    You say:

    “To continue on the path of pluralism is to accept a definition of unity through human effort rather than Christian unity which can only be found in the Holy Spirit’s leading us to common convictions. To continue to refuse to exercise accountability will only continue to erode our missional identity and water down witness we can offer to one another and the watching world.”

    I believe you have this backward. When we define unity as theological same-ness and we try to enforce that unity with the threat of expulsion that is unity through human effort rather than unity found in the Holy Spirit.

    It is only by widening in the tent, and recognizing and naming our differences that we will be able to find our unity and our identity in Christ.

  16. Menno5 says:

    Tim Nafziger, blogger for The Mennonite, posted on Pink Menno Campaign facebook page “I’d encourage those of you in this group who are committed to ally work to go leave a succinct comment for Matt Hamsher responding to his anti-queer opinion piece.”

  17. Jim Foxvog says:

    It would be a blessing to have a church that remained faithful to the scripture and the historical Mennonite interpretation of it. This does not line up with society’s “liberal” and “conservative.” This means evangelism, peace, justice, and sexual morality. The “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” does this fairly well.

  18. Stephanie Krehbiel says:

    Menno5, Tim did indeed do this. Was your goal in sharing that to undermine our comments, as if they somehow mean less because Pink Menno supporters communicate with each other about harmful pieces in church publications? Many Mennonites who are LGBTQ or have friends and family members who are LGBTQ have spent years reading pieces like Matt Hamsher’s and then feeling both unfairly attacked and isolated in their experience. I think it’s a strength of the LGBTQ-inclusive Mennonite community that they can now solicit these comments, signed by people willing to use their full names.

  19. menno5 says:

    The comment was to point out that responses might not be from typical readers of The Mennonite and possibly not even from people who even attend Mennonite Churches (based on casual review of the dialog and profiles of Pink Menno Campaign members)

    • Herb Reed says:

      Hard to know how to respond to this except to ask:

      1) What exactly does a “typical reader of The Mennonite” look like.

      2) Why does it matter if someone reads The Mennonite regularly or currently attends a Mennonite Church? Is their viewpoint somehow less important on this issue? “Pink Mennos” are obviously people who care about the Mennonite Church. That is credential enough for them to comment on articles regarding LGBTQ inclusion in MCUSA, is it not?

  20. Stephanie Krehbiel says:

    Menno5, what a sad and unkind thing to say. The vast majority of people who identify with Pink Menno attend Mennonite churches. But it’s a nasty move to judge those who don’t or imply that they are interlopers on The Mennonite website. Some have been driven away from the church for being LGBTQ. Some have been abused. Some have left in disgust at the way they or friends and family members have been treated. MCUSA leadership engages in a great deal of public gnashing of teeth over the conservative congregations who have left or who are threatening to leave because LGBTQ people haven’t been unequivocally rejected. The people who leave because the church has been physically, sexually, spiritually and/or emotionally abusive to them or people they love–and many, many people in Pink Menno fall into this category–their departures remain largely unacknowledged by MCUSA leadership, and certainly by columnists like Hamsher. And it’s terribly cheap to discredit those who have left by implying that their departure means their perspectives shouldn’t matter to those who remain.

  21. Leonard Nolt says:

    First I want to thank you, Matt, for writing your letter and telling us how you feel. I think it’s important that we keep communicating with each other whether we agree or disagree. I would like to comment on what you wrote.

    Where did we get the idea that we cannot worship and work with people unless we share identical beliefs? Perhaps the chief characteristic of the Creation is its rich diversity. There are multitudes of different species of various forms of life. There are over 7 billion humans, no two alike. The Creation tells us that God loves diversity. There is no way God would create such an enormously diverse world of human beings, and then choose to spent eternity with only a few representatives of that world, all of whom think alike. It’s just not going to happen. Heaven will be as diverse as the Earth. As churches we should be trying to reflect that diversity. Trying to “widen the tent” as you wrote, and include those who were not welcome in the past is exactly what we should be doing. You wrote about the “Holy Spirit leading us to common convictions,” but is it possible that the Holy Spirit, which we believe leads us in different directions to serve and minister to others with our diverse talents and gifts, might also lead us in ways that enrich and increase the diversity of the church to better reflect and include all of the creation.

    In my own congregation where I’ve worshipped since 1977, I try to see each person who enters the door on Sunday as a gift from God. That is, someone sent to us by God, perhaps to learn from us, but also to teach us something, or maybe just to be with us for a time of worship. If I’m going to make a mistake in this area of sexual orientation and behavior I want it to be on the side of being too welcoming, if that is even possible. I would hate to have to defend my lack of accountability if I exclude, for whatever reason, someone from worship who has the right to be there. For me it’s easy to conclude that resistance to allowing LGBTQ people to worship with us or have an intimate relationship with another human, demonstrates a lack of accountability.

    You claim that we have suffered “a loss of missional identity, a loss of clearly articulated sense of who we are.” I’ve never liked the word “missional” because it seems to obscure rather than clarify. But a church sometimes needs to change its identity. It was necessary in the past to resist and put a stop to slavery and it’s necessary now to put the brakes on the destruction of the environment. The church should be an advocate for the creation and for people who are discriminated against, for whatever reason. That is one of our responsibilities and and sometimes we must change our identity to fulfill that responsibility. The church, in order to be responsive, must be versatile and flexible.

    You seem to be lamenting the lack of a central national authority. There are good reasons why the Mennonite Church does not have a Pope. Authoritative leaders tend to be wealthy white males, and that alone often results in mistaken guidance, regardless of the intentions of those leaders. Having authority resting in conference and congregations guards against those pitfalls. It also recognizes that changes, even necessary changes, take place at different rates in different locations. You imply that the lack of a national authority blocks reform, but reform usually starts with one faithful person or a small group of individuals, and the most powerful leaders are usually the last to join.

    You wrote that “liberals have instead hidden their true commitments, or not been held accountable for them and have worked to gain control of communication agencies and educational institutions in the church, leading MC USA to lurch toward cultural accommodation on the left.” Matt, I would love to see some documentation for that. Who? When? Where? It’s true that the church is made up of people and even the smartest and best people can make dumb mistakes. However the word “lurch” implies an out-of-control change. I haven’t seen any “lurching” in the church.

    I do believe the church needs to change its teaching position on homosexuality and not because we will lose “future generations of youth.” One of the strongest incentives I have for that belief is my experience with my own sexuality. As a 66-year-old heterosexual male, I can report that I’ve never been sexually attracted to males. I didn’t choose that sexuality and I don’t know where it came from. I am not homosexual, attracted to the same sex, or bisexual, equally attracted to both sexes, or asexual, that is attracted to neither sex. But I understand and believe that there are people who fit in those categories. Some of them have been close friends and co-workers. As a heterosexual I didn’t have a choice, so how can I accuse others of having a choice and making the wrong one. Such a response would contradict what I’ve learned from my own experience and I think be a dishonest response.

    Hundreds of years ago Columbus and a few others claimed that the Earth was not flat, that it was, in fact, round. Many laughed at him quoting scripture that talks about the four corners of the Earth, written of course by someone who believed that the Earth was flat. Ir turned out that scripture was being misquoted and Earth actually was round.

    Galileo was silenced by the church because he claimed that the Earth was not the center of the Solar System, that the Sun was in fact the center. The church called that belief heresy and said it violated scripture. Again scripture was being misinterpreted.

    I believe churches that exclude LGBTQ people are making the same mistake. Perhaps someday science will determine where sexual orientation comes from and may even make it possible for parents to determine the orientation of their children, which is a little scary. But until that happens let’s not use our ignorance about this topic as a barrier to exclude LGBTQ people from our churches and from having an intimate relationship with another human being. That’s an extremely harsh restriction to impose on others. Since I wouldn’t want anyone doing that to me, in light of the Golden Rule, I will not do it to anyone else. Thank you.

  22. Ray Elvin Horst says:

    Notably absent from this discussion (the Survey, Matt’s essay, and comments on both) is the question of human need for God’s grace as channeled through the church. We assume that persons of opposite-gender attraction need the church in order to experience God’s saving grace in Christian fellowship. Do we also assume that persons of same-gender attraction either do not have the same need, or must stop being gay before being allowed into the church to experience that grace? If the latter, how should they stop being gay? The once-renowned Exodus International recently abandoned its program of gay-deliverance, and most Christians now recognize that we do not choose our romantic attractions, gay or straight.
    The discussion above seems to focus on possible losses of congregations and/or conferences to the institutional Mennonite Church, with no attention to human needs. The current furor resembles so greatly the 1950’s uproar over divorce and remarriage, in which advocates of grace for needy people clashed with those who insisted on strict adherence to Biblical statements about divorce. Since the church has survived a change of position on that issue, perhaps we can hope for survival on this one as well.

  23. Audrey Roth Kraybill says:

    This isn’t an issue, about unity or church border patrol. There is no “they” or “us” when it comes to being gay, straight, bi-sexual, trans or anything else we identify as.
    We are the church and the church is all of us.
    We are made in the image of God, shaped by the Holy Spirit, held in Christ’s love.
    All of us.
    Each of us.

    Remember me.
    That’s all he said.
    There was no hand stamp at the entrance
    no virtual ticket to scan or
    fandango pre-pay
    to prove admittance.
    No.
    Just an open invitation and wholehearted welcome,
    a blessing on the wine and bread.
    Drink this wine.
    Eat this bread
    and
    remember Me.

  24. While complaining that there are “no serious consequences for breaking relational commitment to the wider church” by supporting the inclusion of LGBTQ persons of faith, we must remember that there are also “no serious consequences for breaking” the lives and shredding the souls of others through sexual abuses of power –a long “tradition” that continues to run rampant in our denomination. As long as little girls and boys are being visited in their beds by incestuous fathers and predator pastors, professors, and theologians are using those under their care and tutelage for their own sexual gratification, we have no business concerning ourselves with grown adults who harm no one and simply ask to be allowed to love whomever they choose to love. This entire discussion is a distraction from something much more evil, insidious, and destructive to the soul of our church.

  25. I object to the way that Matt has described pro-inclusion Mennonites as having some kind of hidden agenda.

    My agenda has been very open from day one. I joined my congregation (and hence became a Mennonite) because the congregation was a voice for peace and a voice for the oppressed. When I discovered that my congregation and denomination wasn’t really living up to this ideal (we were practicing theological/psychological violence against our LGBT sisters and brothers), I started speaking out. I tried my best to be kind and patient, but I neither did I shut up. My cards were always on the table. I believed that the Kingdom of God was too big and too loving to exclude gay followers of Jesus.

    My congregation has come a long way and is today committed to LGBT inclusion. And I pray for the day that Mennonite Church USA will be as well. I am willing to be patient with those who need time to see the ways that LGBT Mennonites are suffering but I also refuse to be silent.

    There is no secret agenda here. I believe in the inclusive love of Jesus and seek to have it embodied in the church.

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

  26. […] Opinion piece by an EVANA founder Matt Hamsher […]

Leave a Reply