Two calls to heed
Web exclusive opinion pieceby Harold Miller
Persons of conscience within Mennonite Church USA issue two contrasting calls to the church on homosexuality, as Michael King has observed ("Double conversion," Mennonite World Review).
One group dreams of the church moving away from norms of excluding outsiders and marginalized persons, away from "hate-filled aspects of culture that have led to suicide, torture and even killing of some of us deemed today's unclean."
Another group calls us away from idolizing sexual fulfillment, away from "a hedonistic culture [that] is driving an emotional contagion seducing the church down the wrong path."
My prayer is that we as a church will heed both calls.
Essentials for a welcoming church
We will not fulfill the first call until every Mennonite Church USA congregation is a safe and welcoming place for LGBT folks. Our churches must see the image of God in these persons, celebrating the strengths they bring—every nature has strengths and weaknesses.
Further, for the church to be a safe haven we must follow the example of Jesus in John 8 as he related to the woman caught in adultery: Jesus said "Go and sin no more" but not until first declaring "I do not condemn you." The command to stop her natural behavior was preceded by actions and words that courageously protected and valued her.
Many congregations take an additional step in welcoming LGBT persons: they extend a blessing on same-sex eroticism within a covenant relationship.
Yet the example of Jesus shows that we can be a safe haven even while calling persons to stop a behavior. What is essential is not radical inclusion (approving even what we understand to be sin) but radical hospitality, surrounding persons who are drawn to Jesus with love and encouragement as we invite and challenge them to grow in following Jesus.
Unexpected pattern of hedonism
We as a church will not fully carry out the second call until we face and respond to one particular pattern in the LGBT community.
Researchers (virtually all of them gay men) suggest that a decided majority of long-term male couples have a sexually "open" marriage in which the partners agree to outside sexual liaisons. (A great deal of apparent confirmation for this pattern in long-term male couples can be cited).
In contrast, studies that use nationally representative samples find that around four percent of heterosexual married men had extramarital sex during the past year and that 20-25 percent of heterosexual men in the United States engage in extramarital sex at some point in their marriage.
We want to believe that the Christian gay community is different. Yet we in the church too often mirror society around us in our sexual practices. Raising further concern, our church's gay community and the groups who advocate for that community are silent on sexual exclusivity being a moral obligation in same-sex partnerships rather than mere personal preference.
As I have stated publicly in MWR, "I am unaware of any Anabaptist gay leaders who encourage their community toward the principle that genital sexual intimacy is intended to be expressed within a monogamous, life-long covenanted relationship."
Instead I can cite many examples of leaders making comments that keep space for non-monogamy.
It's important to clarify that the focus here is not on individual same-sex relationships, saying that the rightness of a particular couple is determined by whether they are monogamous.
On that basis, many same-sex couples are excellent examples of goodness. The focus here is on the general pattern of non-monogamy in long-term male couples.
Until we as a church stand against this pattern, we are making peace with the oversexed spirit of the age in which we live. This is not the only way that the church falls for this siren call from culture around us, violating our own consensus that "genital sexual intimacy is intended to be expressed within a monogamous, life-long covenanted relationship" [Body & Soul curriculum, MennoMedia 2010]—we must acknowledge the work we need to do in the areas of premarital sex and divorce and pornography.
May we also acknowledge and confront those in our midst who do not see sexual exclusivity as essential to the integrity of a lifelong covenant.
Half way home
This is not a final answer. Our church's deep divisions over homosexuality will not be resolved by us answering a call to welcome LGBT folk and a call to work against a glaring instance of hedonism in our midst.
Mere welcome will not satisfy congregations who want the church to bless same-sex covenant relationships. Mere monogamy will not satisfy congregations who believe the Bible views even monogamous same-sex partnerships as wrong.
Nonetheless, answering those two calls will move our church a step or two closer toward common ground on the matter. It will bring to light those in our church who choose not to love same-sex attracted folk. And reveal those who idolize sexual pleasure. We will be moving in the right direction, perhaps even half way home!
Harold N. Miller is pastor of Trissels Mennonite Church in Broadway, Va.