I finally saw Avatar for the first time last week. I avoided purchasing one of the movie’s 75-million North American theatre tickets, and chose to watch it on Blu-ray instead. I really didn’t want to wear those silly 3D glasses!
But, looking back, I’m sorry I didn’t get the full Avatar experience, in all its cinematographic and three-dimensional wonder. I discovered that coloured lenses can make a huge difference in how we see things.
Through which lenses do we view the topic of homosexuality? Do we simply see it as a black-and-white theological issue for the church to stand firm on? A political hobby horse? Does our vision shift when we add the colour and complexity of human relationships into the mix – when someone close to us says they struggle with same-sex attraction? Or have we, in the Mennonite Brethren denomination, closed our eyes to the issue?
This isn’t the first time the Herald has explored the topic of homosexuality, but a lot has changed since November 1999, both within the church and broader culture. The Canadian government now officially recognizes same-sex marriages. Homosexual issues are a mandatory part of B.C.’s school curricula. Eight parishes in the Anglican Church of Canada’s diocese of New Westminster bless same-sex unions, and dean Peter Elliott of that diocese is a gay man in a committed relationship.
Even evangelical Christians seem more ambivalent about the subject today than they were a decade ago. In his answer to the question, “What was the decade’s biggest change in Christianity?” John Stackhouse, professor of theology from Regent College, said, “[It’s] the collapse of Christian consensus against homosexual marriage in North America. This touches many issues: theological method; authority of tradition; individualism and self-determination; and the impotence of ecclesiastical authorities and theologians to affect the tide.”
In a recent interview with Christianity Today, Christian recording artist Jennifer Knapp – who, in late 2009, publicly admitted she was gay – said, “The heartbreaking thing to me is that we’re all hopelessly deceived if we don’t think that there are people within our churches, within our communities, who want to hold on to the person they love, whatever sex that may be, and hold on to their faith. It’s a hard notion.”
No matter how we feel about these monumental shifts, it’s impossible to avoid the subject – and naïve to think it hasn’t impacted people sitting next to us in the pews. When homosexuality takes on a human countenance (sometimes appearing on the face of someone we know and love), our questions quickly shift from biblical ones to pastoral ones. We’re forced to consider how all sin causes brokenness, alienation, angst, turmoil, and confusion. Suddenly, the issue seems a bit less distant, more familiar.
Traditionally, Mennonite Brethren have urged the local church to be a place “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27). At times, we’ve demonstrated very little tolerance for brokenness or imperfection of any kind.
But there’s been a shift here, too. MBs are talking more about grace and about the fallenness of all people. (Why? Perhaps because we’re finding ourselves in places such as the inner city, where it’s more difficult to insulate ourselves from messy, everyday spirituality.) We’re learning to be, in the words of writer Mark Galli, both “prophets and penitents.” We’re learning to listen before we speak.
Sometimes, this is a bigger challenge than the issue of homosexuality itself. Can we engage the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community before we formulate or shape our theology of homosexuality – or, at least, before we announce our theology to the world? Can our churches be places where we call all Christians to experience the transforming power of Jesus, while also being places of refuge for those who struggle with same-gender attraction, and safe havens for conversation and dialogue?
These will be our tasks in the years to come, as the issue of homosexuality is sure to come to the foreground in the MB denomination as it has in so many others. May we all put on the lenses of God’s wisdom and love as we move forward.
And, as always, we welcome online reader feedback to this month’s feature articles at www.mbherald.com.