Churches that cut and run because they do not agree with the direction Mennonite Church USA is going are practicing social violence. Families are torn apart. I know a family with a gay child that had to leave the church because the church would not accept the child. Isn’t this social and religious violence?
The New Testament church went through much greater turmoil and change than we are experiencing. Christ led the way in revolutionary change from the laws of purity to the values of openness. Paul helped abolish the God-given law of circumcision so that the church could accept Gentiles. Peter’s vision taught him to change so that the Gentiles could be accepted without meeting the demands of kosher laws.
The Old Testament laws had become so imbedded in Jewish thought that they became ideologies. Tradition and ideology squeezed faith so badly that when Peter and Paul pushed for a new faith in Christ, great change was necessary. The church became inclusive of Gentiles, eunuchs, lepers, the poor, prostitutes and tax gatherers. This was not a movement toward exclusive purity.
Maybe Pope Francis has something to tell us. In the Arizona Republic, Michael Gerson writes that Francis stands in contrast to those who want to “shore up the certainties of an institution under siege. Francis begins from a different point: a pastoral passion to meet people where they are — to recognize some good, even in their brokenness, and to call them to something better. That something better is not membership in a stable institution or even in the comforts of ethical religion. It is a relationship to Jesus, from which all else follows.”
Of the temptation to turn faith into ideology, Francis has said: “Ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideology there is not Jesus: his tenderness, his love, his meekness. Ideologies are rigid . . . [and] close the door with many requirements.”
Can there be a new vision for the church? Should there be less ideology, which pushes for purity, and more love and acceptance of diversity, which Christ, Paul and Peter pushed for in the New Testament church?
I’ve experienced a Mennonite congregation that recently had six study-and-discussion sessions on issues related to homosexuality. The feeling after these discussions seemed to be that though we have a diversity of opinions, the greater value to pursue is unity in the midst of diversity — to stay together, open to those who are ostracized and hurting, even to the gay people who are born that way.