‘We are in a heap of trouble’

Same-sex event grapples with key passages, deep divisions

Will Braun, Senior Writer

Two hundred people spent a sunny Saturday at Morden Mennonite Church in southern Manitoba to look squarely at how the church can deal with its same-sex crisis.

“Biblical marriage texts clearly envision marriage as a relationship between man and woman. Some of us believe . . . we must embrace such texts in a straightforward way,” read the booklet prepared for the Sept. 26, 2015, event.

“Some of us believe these convictions reflect the culture of ancient times,” the booklet continued, “and that therefore we need not be bound by them.”

Unlike the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) process, which has not directly addressed the primary passages about same-sex matters, Michael Pahl, Morden Mennonite’s pastor, went through them in detail, digging into the original languages and contexts. Dan Epp-Tiessen, professor at Canadian Mennonite University, and John H. Neufeld, former pastor and former president of Canadian Mennonite Bible College, also made presentations.

The event was organized by Mennonite Church Manitoba at the suggestion of Winkler Bergthaler Mennonite Church, which has put its funding to MC Manitoba and MC Canada “on hold.” The Plum Coulee Bergthaler Mennonite Church withdrew from area and national churches last November based on its traditional view of marriage.

The format of the day was not debate, but rather examination of biblical teachings on marriage, the role of the Bible and how to deal with division.

“We are in a heap of trouble,” Neufeld said of the current tensions in the church, “so what are we going to do about it?” He said the trouble has roots that go back to Jesus’ decision to include an almost impossibly diverse group of people among his disciples. For instance, one was a Roman tax collector and another a Zealot committed to battling the Romans. Later, Peter and Paul threw the doors open to the Gentiles, introducing a whole other layer of messy, beautiful diversity.

Epp-Tiessen looked at how the Bible is interpreted, exploring ways that human reason and experience sometimes take people beyond where biblical writers left off. For example, from Old Testament to New, slavery is considered a legitimate institution, yet the church chose to contradict that po-sition. Epp-Tiessen also pointed out that the biblical understanding of marriage evolved from Old Testament times, when polygamy and “concubinage” were considered appropriate. Should current understandings of marriage now expand to include committed same-sex relationships or would that be a rebellion against God? he asked.

Pahl—who has a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Birmingham in the U.K. and has published three books of theology—looked at the primary passages that address same-sex activity, spelling out traditional views, affirming views and some of the ambiguities that exist in the original languages.

The day also included worship, discussion around tables and reporting back to the larger group. Both publicly and privately, some participants expressed a concern that not enough emphasis was given to the traditional biblical view. One person noted and lamented the absence of gay voices.

About 20 people from Winkler Bergthaler attended, although church leaders declined to offer any public comment.

In the final presentation, Neufeld highlighted the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians about the divisions within them. Paul said these showed that the church was still “of the flesh.” Neufeld looked at three images Paul uses as a corrective: the garden (a range of plants all doing their thing), the body (different parts that need each other), and the table (a place of welcome for a wide range of people).

“These images show us the way beyond agreement and disagreement,” Neufeld said, adding that people on all sides are called to repent in light of Paul’s three metaphors. We need each other. We are interdependent. We need to stay at the table.

In an interview, Ken Warkentin, MC Manitoba’s executive director, said the church’s position, as discerned collectively through the BFC process, is captured in the latest BFC document, which affirms the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective with its traditional view of marriage, while also appealing for space to test alternative understandings.

In a later interview, a rural pastor said that his congregation includes people with a considerable range of views on same-sex relationships and that those views are respectively discussed among the group. While this creates a degree of tension, he said it simply isn’t a “deal breaker” for anyone. They remain together in healthy fellowship. Perhaps that model best captures the wish of area church leaders. Unanimity is unrealistic, but can we all remain at the table?

When asked if he thinks that is possible, Warkentin said, “That is my prayer. . . . I love Winkler Bergthaler Church.”

For videos of the three presentations and concise written summaries of the Epp-Tiessen and Pahl presentations, visit http://bit.ly/1O8jL3i.

See also: Winkler church leaves as conference continues balancing act 

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Comments

Yes, the church is in a heap of trouble. Walking away from Scripture will do that. Discussing whether or not a church should uphold what God has said about human sexuality as over and against what the unbelieving culture is saying can only lead to trouble.
Read Kings and Chronicles. What brought about Israel's trouble? Jettisoning the word of God always did and running back to God's word, without reservation, always sorted the trouble out.

Unless we are willing to turn our backs on the ethics of the godless world, what will we have to offer them? "Hey, look at us! We're just like you! Come over here to us, we can offer you...well...nothing really...we're the same as you." Is that the message of the gospel? Is that the division Christ promised to bring? Is that the sword he promised? Or is it simply a way to avoid that sword, to avoid the hatred of the world?

Mr Little's comment starts off with the premise that anyone willing to look at again redefining marriage (yes, again. In the history of faith, plural marriage and concubinage lasted longer than 1 woman-1 man marriage) is automatically leaving the Bible behind. I am sorry you feel that way but won't own that label. In our heritage Biblical interpretation has resided in community--not tradition or academia. This grappling with real people in the real world means we can't ignore gays anymore then Jesus couldn't ignore Zealots, women (gasp!) or Gentiles. We are called to be more than traditionalists or radicals. We are called to be faithful. If you disagree with the premise of homosexuality as a created state then you either must face your decision to absolutely judge or, accept difference of interpretation and call for faithfulness in committed relationship under God. To abandon Gay Christians to unconsecrated marriages is to push them back into the World without fellowship. Some Mennonites may be OK with that. I am not.

Ken, there's no such thing as a "gay Christian," if by that term you mean a "Christian" who is also a practicing homosexual. The New Testament teaches that in Christ believers are positionally righteous, and that their lifestyle in the Holy Spirit should grow to reflect their in-Christ status.

But of course there's no biblical basis for improper discrimination here, either. When I say "improper," I mean the type of discrimination that would incline a professing Christian to show love for heterosexuals but not for gays. No, homosexuals must be called to Christ, the same as we'd call any other "type" of sinner. ALL sinners, regardless of their preferred or favourite sin(s), are called to abandon their sin and bow to the lordship of Jesus.

Anyone who isn't willing to accept that biblical truth - be they hetero- or homosexual - is lost for eternity.

Now you can go ahead and judge me for judging.

That's an interesting take to be sure, to say that the plain teaching of Scripture can be overturned by "biblical interpretation" that resides in community.

But what happens when that community interprets Scripture to teach that Christ didn't die on the cross? Or that there are many ways to God outside of Christ and His work?

This is not a hypothetical question. Many "faith communities" have come to that very conclusion.

No, Scripture says what it says, and it says precisely the same thing now as it did 1500 years ago (or whatever time period you like). Further, your local church, my local church, are not isolated communities which have the right to overturn Scripture based on a community-based hermeneutic. We are part of the great community of Christ down through the ages. The voices of saints long dead cannot be ignored while interpreting Scripture.
As many wise men have said, if you come up with an interpretation that the historical church has not found, you're wrong.

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