Historical Perspectives, Booklet #2 in the Welcome to Dialogue series, documents the pilgrimage of the Mennonite Church as it has faced the reality of sexual minorities among its membership and within member families. The church has not yet resolved the issues related to “who is in and who is out” as it seeks to be faithful to God’s mandate to teach the faith stories, follow the commandments of Christ, and thus “pass on the faith.” As the two articles in this booklet document, the church, since 1970, has become increasingly aware of the sexual minorities present in its midst (and in its families). Struggles, rather than opportunity, surround church membership. Questions related to boundaries and to being an invitational missional church faithful to Jesus’ command (Matt. 28: 18-20) have multiplied.
In response to this growing awareness and struggle, the General Boards of the General Conference Mennonite (GC) and the Mennonite (MC) Church established a Listening Committee in 1990. Melanie Zuercher, in a challenging article presents the story of that committee and the committee’s work. She also includes the response of the General Boards when they received the committee’s excellent report along with several committee recommendations. Moreover, Melanie includes comments by three members of the original committee as they, in 1999, reflected on their experiences as committee members.
Lin Garber, in his well-documented article “Mennonites and the ‘Homosexual’ Issue: A Recent History,” sets the story of the Listening Committee in a broader context. He begins with the trauma experienced when the oldest Mennonite Congregation in North America was expelled by a district conference. With broad strokes he then reveals similar turmoil in other faith communities. Returning to a focus on Mennonites, he documents attitudes expressed and actions taken between 1969 and the end of the century.
To both Melanie and Lin we owe a debt of gratitude for their significant and historical work. Both articles reveal misperceptions and prejudices; many, if not all, continue to exist within our beloved church. Lin provides extended insight into the terms “homosexual/homosexuality.” A few BMC resources are highlighted. Several persistent myths are noted.