“It’s time to study sexuality” might not be everyone’s favorite thing to hear in church. But it could be what Mennonite Church USA needs. And the denomination wouldn’t be alone. Mennonite Church Canada is setting a good example of turning a narrow debate over homosexuality into a wide-ranging experience of seeking guidance in Scripture.
The insight comes from “Between Horizons: Biblical Perspectives on Human Sexuality.” The document is known as BFC5 — the fifth stage of the denomination’s Being a Faithful Church study process. It is on the MC Canada website under “Resource Centre.” After studying it, delegates approved a plan to address three questions about same-sex relationships as the next step.
“Horizons” writers Rudy Baergen, Robert J. Suderman and Willard Metzger show that biblical references to sexuality reveal much more than do’s and don’ts. They teach broad truths about spirituality and God’s relationship to humans.
On one horizon is the Garden of Delight, with male and female created as equals in God’s image, made for relationship with each other and with God. On the other is the New City, the future time when this perfection, now marred by sin, will be restored. In between is where we live now, where “spirituality and sexuality are entwined in their brokenness.”
Sexuality is one of Scripture’s most powerful metaphors. Prophets such as Ezekiel use graphic sexual imagery to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, the grieving bridegroom. When the Israelites worship false gods, the prophets describe the idolatrous relationship as prostitution. In Revelation, the whore of Babylon — “with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication” (17:2) — symbolizes the depravity of the state.
But “Scripture does not give up hope for healthy spirituality and sexuality,” the BFC5 writers say. The prophet Hosea compares God’s covenant with Israel to a loving marriage. In Jeremiah, a heartbroken God pleads, “Return, faithless people, for I am your husband” (3:14). Ephesians uses Christ’s relationship with the church as a model for how a husband and wife should relate to each other (5:21-33). The image of marriage extends to the consummation of history, when we look forward to a great wedding supper (Rev. 19:9).
Studying the biblical connections between healthy sexuality and faithful spirituality can enlarge our vision beyond the current preoccupation with homosexuality. The church must avoid becoming consumed with one issue of sexual ethics. In a culture of distorted sexuality, the church must find its voice to teach fidelity and chastity and to show respect for those who are single.
Within this broader perspective, pressing issues need discernment. The BFC5 writers say church members have told them that “it is time to consider how we can faithfully respond to same-sex attraction and relationships.” That time has come in MC USA as well. Not since the mid-1980s has the denomination, and those that came before it, taken part in a churchwide discernment process on sexuality. Hardly anyone who is under 50 today has had any input on such a process. The voices of all generations deserve to be heard.
In response to recent events, the MC USA Executive Board has resolved to provide resources on sexuality. The MC Canada document provides an excellent model. No one is forced to study sexuality if they believe it would be distracting or divisive. But those who explore Scripture’s broad message linking sexuality and spirituality will find guidance beyond the topic that usually gets all the attention.