Discerning a way forward together
“This is a kairos moment!” We’re rather fond of this phrase in evangelical circles. Kairos is a Greek word meaning “right” or “opportune.” When we use the term, we’re saying the moment is God-ordained, special. It carries more weight than regular, chronological time.
Next month’s study conference on human sexuality has the potential to be a kairos moment in the life of the Mennonite Brethren denomination. The board of faith and life are providing space for us to engage in honest conversation around a topic that’s creating a tipping point in North American culture.
For some participants, the conversation will centre around our confession of faith. For others, it will be about justice and hospitality. For many, it will be deeply personal and even painful.
The topic of human sexuality is broad and the study conference will only be able to skim the surface of much of it. However, the matter of same-sex relationships will receive pointed attention. Within the North American Christian community, several significant ministries have revolutionized the way they function in regard to this subject. Gone are the days of religious tirades against homosexuality. Enter a new era of generosity, grace, and reconciliation.
Apologies and new directions
Gay reparative therapy – the idea that homosexuality can be “cured,” and sexual orientation can be changed through religious ministry or therapy – has come under intense public scrutiny. The American Psychological Association says that “such efforts have serious potential to harm young people because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder.”
In June 2013, Exodus International, an interdenominational ministry and leading proponent of reparative therapy, closed its doors.
President Alan Chambers issued an apology: “I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.”
New Direction Ministries of Canada, led by Wendy Gritter, also experienced significant change. In 2010, it moved from being an ex-gay ministry to a bridge-builder in the midst of diversity around faith and sexuality.
“Our theological and ethical positions are important,” states New Direction’s website, “but if they are held without love, we are nothing but a clanging gong and resounding cymbal.”
New Direction now embraces a philosophy of “generous spaciousness,” encouraging people to engage in a non-anxious manner “with robust faith that God can be trusted with one another’s lives.” New Direction promotes safe conversation in order to deepen Christian faith, unity, and witness. The ministry openly brands itself as an advocate for those outside the heterosexual mainstream.
Even Focus on the Family, known for its strong stance against homosexual behaviour, has nuanced its message.
“We’ve created an animosity,” says president Jim Daly in a March 2013 New York Times article. “We’ve said we hate the sin and love the sinner. But when you peel it back, sometimes we hated the sinner, too. And that’s not the gospel.”
“Sexual sin is not the ‘worst’ sin there is,” writes Focus on the Family’s Bob Wilson, director of Emmaus Ministries, a ministry for those struggling with homosexuality. “First and foremost, a person practicing homosexuality is a person. He or she is a human being with feelings, intelligence, hopes and fears, abilities, strengths and weaknesses, just like you. And, more importantly, this individual was created by God and is dearly loved by him.”
A positive message
All this points to an effort by the church to invite broader dialogue and interaction. And it brings us back to October’s study conference, where the board of faith and life is encouraging dialogue around the Bible and human sexuality.
It will be a kairos moment for us, as Scripture, culture, and community meet.
In the end, we will be reminded that sex – in all its complexity and controversy – is a good thing. In the words of Anne Krabill Hershberger and Willard S. Krabill: “The church should have a truly Christian attitude in educating about sexuality, in our witness to the world, and in our practice. Of all people, we as believers ought to have the most positive attitude toward our bodies and toward our sexuality. We are the ones who know the God who made them. We who know God should best reflect the true nature of human sexuality.