A study conference on human sexuality held last fall by the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches was intended to reinforce the denomination’s Confession of Faith, yet conversations and questions led some participants to come away with doubts.
The CCMBC Board of Faith and Life provides spiritual guidance and theological resources to MB pastors. It planned the Oct. 21-23 study conference at Westwood Community Church in Winnipeg, Man.
The conference was intended to be in line with the Confession and Scripture, and speakers were expected to ground their presentations in the Confession. Yet, the idea of needing to study human sexuality prompted some questions about the denomination’s commitment to the Confession.
“The BFL’s intention was to produce greater clarity about pastoral approaches in relation to human sexuality and apologizes for the confusion these comments and questions may have caused,” the board wrote in the December issue of Mennonite Brethren Herald.
“The BFL is committed to having clear and redemptive conversations that are in keeping with the theological commitments of the denomination.”
In its report, the BFL called MB members to remain faithful to the teaching that “marriage is a covenant relationship intended to unite a man and woman for life” and that “singleness is honored equally with marriage.”
Truth vs. community?
One presentation respondent raised a question about whether same-sex marriage might be supported by Scripture — not to suggest that is the case but to frame contemporary issues in scriptural terms. The BFL said such discourse “ran counter” to their expectations.
Another statement prompted some to question if “truth” must be relinquished in the pursuit of community.
“Though there were individuals present who welcomed some of the tension created by parts of the conversation, we recognize that this has also created a perception that the BFL is sacrificing confessional commitments for good theological discussion,” the BFL wrote.
MB Herald associate editor Karla Braun reported that some participants called for open conversation on same-sex marriage and that delegates noted the conference has made concessions around divorce, but “the BFL firmly upheld the Confession of Faith.”
Braun reported that the BFL “censured” plenary respondent and River East Mennonite Brethren Church Pastor Mary Anne Isaak’s suggestion “that 1 Samuel 8 could be an analogue for God affirming something different than his stated intent ‘in response to the heart of the people.’ ”
Many presentations focused on God’s intent for people to live vulnerably in supportive communities — not just as autonomous individuals. This can be accomplished with or without marriage. A recurring theme emerged that singleness is also a state the church should celebrate.
Workshops showed the need to talk about sex honestly and vulnerably in the church rather than avoiding it as an “area of shame.”
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