Where are we today?
A decade ago, I wrote an article for the Herald on homosexuality, Welcoming and yet not affirming (Nov. 5, 1999), which attempted to assess the impact of this issue in the life of the church and culture, and, if possible, provide some direction to the church as we sought to live faithfully as followers of Christ.
A decade has passed. What has happened in the meantime, and where are we now?
There’s undoubtedly less certainty within Mennonite Brethren and many evangelical circles about the stance we should take toward acceptance of gay or lesbian (and even bisexual) practice.
A weekend conference earlier this winter, entitled Nurturing Healthy Sexuality, and organized under the sponsorship of the MB Church of Manitoba, Mennonite Church Manitoba, the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, Canadian Mennonite University, Genesis House, Voices for Non-Violence (MCC Manitoba), and Recovery of Hope, offered a workshop on same-sex attractions, and not one of the five presenters argued against endorsing intimate same-sex partnerships.
A major essay in the Conrad Grebel Review by former MB pastor David Eagle, now a doctoral candidate at Duke University, argues for a radical re-reading of the biblical texts, using an approach that “spiritualizes” the body and allows us to gain personhood and identity only through Jesus Christ, rather than through some maleness or femaleness that might have been ours through our natural birth. The dismissal of creation and a creation order becomes Eagle’s way of arriving at a very different understanding of same-sex relationships and their acceptance “in Christ.”
All this to say that we’re at a stage where questions around how we respond to the issues raised by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) persons in our midst are significant and will require both courage and compassion, as well as careful thought.
In part, this is the result of a huge shift within culture, where within scarcely more than a generation, we’ve moved from rejection of homosexual practice to acceptance and finally commendation.
After law review commissions began redefining marriage in terms of relationship theory (the intimate union of two persons), it didn’t take long for courts to accept the argument that it should become legal for two men or two women to be married and to give such partnerships the moral equivalence of heterosexual unions. They did so for the first time in an Ontario court in 2001 and, despite a vote in Parliament in 1999 that reaffirmed a traditional understanding of marriage by a majority of 216 to 65, by July 2005, Parliament had reversed itself and declared same-sex unions to be marriages. We were the fourth country in the world to do so. A number of others call them domestic unions.
It should be clear to us that law not only controls our behaviour, it also teaches. Many people believe that what the law approves and applauds is right, true, and even good.
For that reason, I think we need to work at a number of fronts.
Despite the discomfort we might feel, leaders in the church need to find ways to engage in discussion of issues related to sexuality. Many people’s lives are dominated by the struggles they experience in this area, and the church needs to speak to them.
Every church should have at least some people who make it their responsibility to become familiar with the abundant literature available on the kinds of issues that contemporary culture brings to us on the expression of our sexuality. A good place to start might be the book by Jones and Yarhouse, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate. That should also include awareness of ministries that provide help to our church communities.
We should also make it our goal to love people who are sexual strugglers. Because I chair a ministry that relates to people who have lived with same-sex attractions, I know how deep the pain is that many of them have experienced. One of the greatest gifts the church can give to them is not condemnation, but love and acceptance for them as persons. That isn’t the same as affirming their practice.
We must continue to believe that the gospel offers guidance and hope for people who struggle with same-sex attraction or other lifestyles that Scripture urges us to abandon. What comfort those words are that Paul penned in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11: after citing a list of sins, including offending as “homosexuals,” Paul writes, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Same-sex attraction has complex causes; therefore, we should resist the temptation to make glib claims for release. But release there can be. Within the church fellowship, strugglers can find support – and freedom to experience wholeness and joy.