We Mennonites love to sing, and the singing was especially good in our Kansas City delegate hall. Often there was tension and disagreement in room and then we would start singing and experience the miracle of instant, warm, vibrant unity.
Many delegates witnessed another miracle of unity too. We were seated around tables and, before a vote, would discuss the matter in that circle. My group was highly diverse; but we listened well, thoroughly enjoyed each other, and grew to understand and respect our different viewpoints.
If only unity of values could come as quickly as unity of voices! If only a table group’s understanding and respect for each other could result in automatic agreement with each other as to which of our beliefs and practices are essential in our faith and life!
Instead we ended our assembly with clear disunity over two resolutions on the same-sex matter, especially one affirming (by a 60% vote) our denomination’s Membership Guidelines which uphold traditional marriage and say that pastors “may not perform a same-sex covenant ceremony” and implicitly say that a person in a same-sex marriage cannot be credentialed as a pastor.
Pink Mennos (persons wearing pink to show support for those in same-sex partnerships) dramatically portrayed this division. For instance, after the vote to affirm the Guidelines they filled a main hallway with long rows (parallel to the traffic flow) of persons in pink. To go down the hallway, one needed to walk between them, like walking a gauntlet. All were conveying deep sadness on their faces: we as delegates had caused pain and suffering by continuing to exclude gays and lesbians from full participation in our church. Then later, during the last delegate session, the moderator thought she was giving permission for one woman to use the open mic. Instead, the woman came with many others. All of them described family members who are lesbian or gay and feeling deep pain over the decision we made to affirm the Guidelines: children who are excluded from being a pastor; siblings who are silenced. They were angry with the delegate vote, even saying that the church was doing violence against LGBTQ+ individuals.
I am one who affirmed the Guidelines. Pink Mennos would indeed have reason to be angry with me if I believe that Scripture is vague and allows me to either include or exclude those in same-sex partnerships and I—out of spite and animus—decided to choose exclusion. But I believe that Scripture is not vague about the rightness or wrongness of such partnerships, and so my vote on the Membership Guidelines was not motivated by meanness but by faithfulness to Scripture. Instead of being angry with me, they should do Bible study with me!
Some progressive leaders in MC USA have shown a bit of Bible study on why they support a more open stance on same-sex partnerships (eg. Ted Grimsrud [2014 blog-part 1] [blog-part 2], Vern Rempel [2014 blog re: Theda Good licensing], Megan Ramer [2012 statement for CDC], Karl Shelly [2014 statement for IMMC]). But it’s never enough for us in the church to find biblical arguments for the stance we like and then stop our study—one can find arguments for almost anything. Out of love and trust in Scripture, we must also weigh the arguments that lead others to support a different stance. But so far progressives have not done this. Not that I have seen [“Listening and responding to voices of inclusion”]. We as a church need more than a list of some possible interpretations of Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, etc. We need Bible study that compares interpretations and weighs probabilities and seeks to identify the most natural reading or readings. Until such Bible study is done, persons do not yet have reason to be angry with those of us who uphold the church’s historic stance.
As Ted Grimsrud notes in his above-mentioned blog, a legitimate reason for excluding persons in covenanted same-sex relationships would be “that God declares such relationships to be sinful.” He and the other scholars who support the Pink Mennos must show the church that their revisionist interpretations are simpler and more straight-forward than the traditional ones—or at least as straight-forward as the traditional ones. Until this is done, none of that group should charge us who are conservatives with exclusion or injustice or lack of hospitality when we vote to uphold the church’s teaching position which views “homosexual, extramarital and premarital sexual activity as sin” (Membership Guidelines). Surely the Pink Mennos would applaud us for following the Bible as we see it. Again, they should not be angry with us and protest against us until they can point to Bible study which examines and then neutralizes the arguments that lead us to take our stance.
[See my study showing how the traditional interpretations of 1 Cor. 6 and Rom. 1 are simpler and more straight-forward than the revisionist ones:
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – A strong understanding
and Romans 1:18-32 – Interpretations I have met ]