How should Mennonite churches respond to noncelibate gay or lesbian people? Pressure to accept them without reservation into the fellowship is strong.
My decade and a half with a ministry to people dealing with same-sex issues persuades me to believe the church should embrace a posture of “welcoming but not affirming.”
This is based on what the Bible teaches about the Creator’s design. The story of creation connects maleness and femaleness — differentiated sexuality — to the story of Adam and Eve. These two were to bring into this world the children who would populate the earth. They were to share a bond providing not only sexual intimacy but also the potential for new life and the well-being of society.
The biblical writers could not contemplate any other possibility than two “others” becoming “one flesh.” Only two “others” can bring new life into being. The marriage of two such people assumes a societal function — preparing the next generation for its place in the world. A child ideally will grow up with the presence of two such “others.”
When Jesus was asked about divorce, he is quoted in Mark 10 as saying, “At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. . . . What God has joined together, let man not separate.”
When his disciples asked for more explanation, Jesus answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
No one sets forth the Bible’s teaching more clearly than does Jesus here: Everything that concerns our sexuality needs to be judged in relation to its effect upon the union of a woman and a man. So divorce is an assault on marriage, as are lustful thoughts, violence, unfaithfulness, adultery and homosexual behavior. Each in one way or another represents a challenge to the marriage of a man and a woman, and so is outside the limits for followers of Christ.
To create any equivalence between a homosexual relationship and a heterosexual marriage does an injustice to the institution of marriage. The homosexual relationship is essentially inward, while the heterosexual relationship — though affected by sin — is turned outward and forward and is intended not merely to serve the partner and the possible offspring but society as well. At weddings of heterosexual couples one catches the note of the role they will play in preparing their offspring for their place in the world. The premise is that they serve a social good.
Legal protections are appropriate for those who chose a homosexual way of life. Christians ought to support some of the provisions made by governments and courts in the spirit expressed by Jesus when he said Moses provided for divorce because he recognized what we as men and women are like. But that’s not the same as saying Christians ought to accept their practice within the faithful church.
The church’s message to people dealing with homosexuality ought to be that Jesus Christ is the redeemer and helper who came to heal and release those suffering from the bondage of their condition.
While no one should offer easy answers to why people enter a homosexual life, there is plenty of evidence that very few, if any, are simply born that way. Today’s culture, childhood interests, relationships to parents while growing up and sexual encounters during years of developing sexual identity all play a role.
The church needs to keep on saying that even when we feel inclined to a certain behavior, if Scripture teaches that this is outside the will of God, then we cannot name it as good and permissible.
Someone who is heterosexual and wants to indulge in affairs or spend time in fantasizing has no more permission to do so than someone who wants to live as a noncelibate homosexual. We would have to say to them that we cannot give permission to live thus and still remain in fellowship with the church.
Our response could be expressed in the words of Jesus when he says he came to “proclaim release to the captives . . . to let the oppressed go free.”
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 names a list of people who “will not inherit the kingdom of God” and includes in the list “male prostitutes and sodomites” (along with those living sinful lifestyles of greed or drunkenness) and concludes: “And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
These are words of inclusion, and they are as true today as when Paul wrote them.
We will demonstrate the presence of Christ in our midst by offering the promise of redemption, healing and transformation, not by embracing diverse sexual lifestyles. Christ came to restore the creation to himself, and a church that is faithful to its Lord and Savior must convey that message.
Harold Jantz, of Winnipeg, Man., is a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald and founding editor of ChristianWeek, a Canadian national evangelical newspaper. He is also the retired chair of Living Waters Canada — Central Region, which offers counseling and support to people dealing with sexuality and identity issues, and of the House of Hesed, a care facility that provides a home and support for persons living with HIV/AIDS.