The Story of the Listening Committee

Melanie Zuercher

« Previous | Next »

The Task and the People

In 1990 the General Boards of the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) and the Mennonite Church (MC) mandated the formation of a Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns. The boards saw this as being a response to the call to remain in “loving dialogue” that was part of human sexuality position statements passed by the two denominations in 1986 and 1987.1 The Listening Committee was given three tasks: to care for gay men and lesbians and their families by “listening to their alienation and pain in the church and society”; to “encourage and facilitate dialogue” between the various perspectives on homosexuality, as well as to “foster continued theological discernment in the church” on homosexuality; and to make recommendations on policy, program, and church life to deal with the hurt and alienation experienced by gay and lesbian people and their families.2 The recommendations were to go to the Commission on Education (COE) of the General Conference Mennonite Church and Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries (MBCM) of the Mennonite Church, under whose joint purview the Listening Committee fell, for final approval by the General Boards.

Eight people were named to the Listening Committee. Sue Goerzen, Harrow, Ontario; Dorothea (Dotty) Janzen, North Newton, Kansas; Earl Loganbill, Newton, Kansas; and Bernie Wiebe, Winnipeg, Manitoba, represented the General Conference. From the Mennonite Church side came Delphine Martin, Waterloo, Ontario; Vern Rempel, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Ann Showalter, Oak Park, Illinois; and Ed Stoltzfus, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Goerzen and Stoltzfus served as committee co-chairs.

Among the group, some were serving as pastors and others had pastoral experience. One was a therapist, one a theologian, one a nurse. Some had gay or lesbian relatives. Committee members determined early on that it was unfair, not to mention a loss of perspective and helpful information, to exclude from their number anyone of same-sex orientation. They soon added Doug Basinger of San Francisco and Ruth Wenger of Philadelphia to the committee.

Although their travel expenses were paid, the committee members volunteered their time over the next two years to be available to listen to people from across the entire spectrum of the Mennonite church, in a number of settings. They met initially in Newton, Kansas, on November 16-17, 1990. They had four pre-assembly sessions before Eugene 91, the General Assembly of the Mennonite Church in Oregon. They met a third time in Philadelphia, June 12-13, 1992, and finally, before Sioux Falls 92, the Triennial Sessions of the General Conference Mennonite Church in South Dakota. At both conventions, Listening Committee members staffed a room where people could come and share their stories, opinions, and beliefs about homosexuality in the Mennonite church.

The Report: “None of Us Is the Same”

The committee presented its final report to COE and MBCM on August 20, 1992. In a summary document, they wrote: “Our journey has been an arduous one which has left none of us totally the same today as we were when we began. … We joined people in our various Mennonite communities and found this issue present wherever we went. Numbers vary, but the excruciating pain and the utter alienation are common.”

The context in which the Listening Committee was asked to work included the statements on human sexuality in the Christian life that were passed by the GC delegate body in Saskatoon in 1986 and by MC delegates in West Lafayette, Indiana, in 1987 (a General Assembly known as Purdue 87). In addition, Mennonite theologians and scholars were already at work on what would be the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, which would be accepted by both Mennonite denominations when they met jointly in Wichita, Kansas, in 1995. The so-called Saskatoon statement said this: “We understand the Bible to teach that sexual intercourse is reserved for a man and woman united in marriage and that violation of this teaching is sin. It is our understanding that this teaching also precludes premarital, extramarital and homosexual sexual activity.”3 The Purdue document’s wording was similar. Both also pledged to “remain in loving dialogue with each other in the body of Christ.”4 The Confession of Faith would eventually contain this statement: “According to Scripture, right sexual union takes place only within the marriage relationship.”5

The Listening Committee recognized that “many of our GC and MC people feel that the Saskatoon and Purdue statements settle the parameters of this dialogue [on homosexuality] and should also settle this issue.”6 In their summary statement, however, committee members offered these observations based on what they had heard over the past two years: “It seemed that-in many cases-the less individuals, families, congregations and conferences had entered into personal dialogue with people affected by [homosexuality], the more convinced they are that the issue hardly exists or else does not need to exist. … It seemed that-in most cases-the more individuals, families, congregations and conferences entered into dialogue with people affected by this issue, the more they became convinced that the previous statements [i.e., Saskatoon and Purdue], while helpful to some, are not adequate treatments of biblical teaching or adequate responses to actual experience.”7

The Listening Committee’s final report was twenty-six pages long, with a four-page appendix detailing the congregational discussion of Waterloo North Mennonite Church in Waterloo, Ontario, on whether or not to exclude gay and lesbian people from membership. The report described the committee’s procedure and then listed a number of observations arising from their experience as a committee over two years. Among these observations:

Our committee listened and observes … that this issue places many conscientious members of our churches at the painful, grinding edge between two cardinal emphases in our theology and practice: unconditional Christian care and love, but particularly for socially marginalized ones, and confrontation with moral judgment on these persons for acts they consider sinful; … that there are homosexuals in our congregations and that there are more who do not reveal their homosexual orientation than who do; … that many in our church are hard pressed with homophobic fears … because our thinking on this subject has been shaped by popular myths [i.e., misconceptions or false impressions] about it; … that both our denominational leaders and our congregations are cautiously involved with several approaches to the questions raised by homosexuality and have openly affirmed homosexuals as members of our congregations.8

The report concluded with recommendations, condensed to five for the summary report. These called for all Mennonites to find and talk to people who were actually being affected by homosexuality, for them to enter into dialogue on homosexuality without having minds made up pro or con, and for Mennonite institutions to more openly assist youth in dealing with issues of homosexuality. The recommendations urged all congregations to include in their ministry pastoral care and counseling for gays and lesbians and their families, and they challenged COE and MBCM to become much more proactive in facilitating congregational study on homosexuality and in making available a wide variety of information on same-sex attraction for congregational use.9

The Outcome

The report went for approval to COE and MBCM. Finally, in early December 1992, Norma J. Johnson, executive secretary of COE, and MBCM executive secretary Everett Thomas wrote to Listening Committee co-chairs Goerzen and Stoltzfus, listing the actions taken by their respective groups. Both COE and the board of MBCM accepted the report “with thanks” and indicated it would be passed on to the two denominational General Boards. “It seems inappropriate to release the final report of your committee to the public before both General Boards have had the opportunity to discuss it,” the letter stated. “Providing for an integrated (GC/MC) response to the Listening Committee’s recommendations is the highest priority for us as we proceed with this task. This means that the recommendations of the Listening Committee will probably not be released in either GC or MC circles until after the responses from both General Boards in March 1993.”10

When the GC General Board met in mid-March 1993, it too accepted the Listening Committee’s report and recommendations “with thanks.” However, the board also stated, through GC general secretary Vern Preheim, that it did not agree with the wording of all the recommendations, particularly the call to each denomination to “intensify its efforts to help churches study homosexuality.” Therefore, the General Board decided that the recommendations would not be made available to churches and that only those congregations that requested the report would receive one. If and when they did, the document would contain the final report (without the recommendations), a copy of the Saskatoon statement on human sexuality, and the General Board’s resolution in response to the final report.

“[General Board] members wanted to be clear that the board is being guided by the 1986 Saskatoon conference resolution on ‘Human Sexuality and the Christian Life,’” Preheim said in a March 19, 1993, General Conference News Service release written by Carla Reimer. “While General Board members appreciated the listening committee recommendations and tried to capture the essence in their action, they feared many would find some of the wording in the listening committee recommendations offensive,” he added.11

The GC General Board’s decision not to release the Listening Committee’s recommendations, echoed by the MC General Board a month later, caused something of a stir in the church. Listening Committee members themselves were upset with the decision, and at least one of them passed a copy of the entire report, with recommendations intact, to Paul Schrag, editor of Mennonite Weekly Review.

In an editorial in the May 6, 1993 issue of Mennonite Weekly Review, Schrag wrote: “The General Boards of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church are attempting to suppress part of a report prepared by the MC/GC Listening Committee for Homosexuality Concerns. This shows a lack of confidence in church members’ ability to make their own decisions about how to respond to homosexuality.” Schrag continued, “Church members should have the opportunity to decide for themselves what they think of the recommendations. The General Boards could have released the recommendations without endorsing them.

“Church members should have a chance to evaluate all of the committee’s work. What some find offensive others might find encouraging. The boards do not need to protect people from being offended. And of course no congregation is forced to pay attention to the report and the recommendations at all.

“The recommendations do not contradict the 1986 and 1987 GC and MC resolutions that say homosexual activity is sin. They suggest ways to fulfill the resolutions’ mandate for the church to study sexuality. … The issue is freedom of information. Let the people decide.”12

Schrag’s challenge notwithstanding, the General Boards’ decision stood. The only way “the people” could decide was to obtain a complete copy of the Listening Committee report with recommendations through unofficial channels. There is no accurate record of how many individuals or congregations actually did so.

One by One: Congregations Expelled

On March 18, 1995, the home missions committee of Northern District Conference (GC) voted to end the conference’s financial support of St. Paul Mennonite Fellowship, stating the “need to uphold the standard of the larger Mennonite church on issues of faith and practice.” The Northern District Conference executive committee affirmed the home missions committee’s action later in the month, and delegates passed it during their 1995 sessions in Freeman, South Dakota. St. Paul was known to be a church that openly accepted non-celibate gays as members.

During their April 7-8, 1995, sessions, delegates of Illinois Conference (MC) voted to place Oak Park Mennonite Church of Oak Park, Illinois, and Maple Avenue Mennonite Church of Waukesha, Wisconsin, on probation because of each congregation’s acceptance of non-celibate gay people as members. At delegate sessions a year later, March 29-30, 1996, a vote to expel the congregations failed by the narrow margin of three delegate votes.

On July 27, 1996, Mennonite Weekly Review published a front-page article focusing on the release by the Supportive Congregations Network (SCN) of a list of the ten Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations affiliated with the group that were willing to describe themselves as “publicly affirming.” The article’s publication coincided with the first SCN conference, “Dancing at the Table: Re-Imagining the Church,” held July 28-30, 1996, in North Manchester, Indiana.13

One of the publicly affirming congregations named in the article was Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kansas. The Mennonite Weekly Review article set in motion a chain of events within South Central Conference (MC) that finally resulted in a ballot vote on expulsion in late October 1997 by South Central Conference delegates. The results of the vote, made public on March 11, 1998, showed a simple majority in favor of expelling the congregation from the conference. The decision took effect March 1, 1999. (Interestingly, at South Central sessions in St. Louis on July 28, 1999, delegates voted on a by-law change that would make votes such as the one on expulsion require a two-thirds majority for passage.)

Earlier, in June 1997, Southside Fellowship of Elkhart, Indiana, and Assembly Mennonite Church of Goshen, Indiana, were informed by letter from the executive committee of Indiana-Michigan Conference (MC) that their conference voting privileges had been suspended for two years.

On October 14, 1997, Franconia Conference (MC) officials made public the results of a ballot vote concerning Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, which had been on associate (nonvoting member) status with the conference for the previous two years. The oldest continuous Mennonite congregation in America was expelled from Franconia Conference effective January 1, 1998.

Southeast Mennonite Conference (MC) delegates voted on December 5, 1998, to put Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship on “non-member participant status” (no conference voting privileges and no members in conference leadership positions). Both Southeast leaders and Atlanta members described the outcome as a “third way”-neither full membership nor expulsion. During delegate meetings of Iowa-Nebraska Conference (MC) on June 24, 1999, a 77 percent majority vote put Faith Mennonite Church of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on “sanctioned member status,” the description of which matched Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship’s position in Southeast Conference.

These congregations joined Ames Mennonite Church of Ames, Iowa, which was put out of Iowa-Nebraska Conference (MC) on November 20, 1987, on the list of those disciplined for publicly stating their willingness to accept non-celibate homosexual persons as full members.

All the congregations except St. Paul Mennonite Fellowship, and including South Calgary Inter-Mennonite Church in Alberta (under fire from Northwest Mennonite Conference [MC] but as of this writing not officially under conference discipline), are dually affiliated with the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church. To date, neither the General Conference Mennonite Church nor any GC area conference has followed suit on discipline imposed by Mennonite Church conferences. What will happen to congregations like these in the new Mennonite Church USA, which is projected to become a legal entity sometime in 2001, was a question on the minds of many delegates at St. Louis 99, the joint convention of the Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. No definite answer or decision resulted from that gathering.

Reflections from Committee Members

During the summer of 1999, three members of the Listening Committee for Homosexuality Concerns, which did its work between 1990 and 1992, looked back and reflected on their service on that committee.

Dorothea Janzen.At the time she was a member of the Listening Committee, Dotty Janzen was an associate pastor at Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas; she is now retired and still lives in North Newton. She represented the General Conference Mennonite Church on the Listening Committee.

On October 11, 1992, Janzen preached a sermon at Bethel College Church that she entitled “In Praise of Inclusive Love,” as part of a three-sermon series on human sexuality. “No topic draws more persons to workshops at our church conferences than this,” she said. “The Mennonite [then the name of the General Conference publication] has printed more letters on this topic than almost any other in its history… . This is not a topic removed from our lives. If the statistics are true, one in ten persons is gay. If we include how that affects their families, then we can say that one in five persons is affected in one way or another. Surely in this room today there are a number of persons whose family has been affected. Just this past April, our family was touched when my gay nephew died of AIDS.”

Whether or not Janzen’s family experience affected her work with the committee, she says unhesitatingly, “It was a powerful experience. The issue was not as simple as I thought. I was more ‘conservative’ at the beginning and sure of where I stood, but after [almost] three years of listening, I wasn’t so sure.”

“I began with more answers and certainty than I have today,” she told her congregation. “Listening has changed me… . As a person who responds to story, people, and relationships, I have been deeply touched and saddened by the pain, suffering, and alienation of our gay brothers and [lesbian] sisters in the church… . There are times that I wish it would go away so we can get on with other kingdom work. But then I recognize that this is kingdom work-for it involves issues of justice, morality, compassion, and holy living.”

Of the Listening Committee process, she says, “The [two denominations] picked people. We first got together to decide how to proceed. The first thing we said was, ‘We can’t do this with no gays or lesbians on the committee.’ So we chose [Doug Basinger and Ruth Wenger]. They were very valuable members-they were probably more sensitive to the constituency than some of the rest of us were getting to be. They didn’t want to hold back, [but] they were not ready to be so militant.”

The committee members were at all sorts of places on the issue of homosexuality, she says. “We began by each giving a paper on our personal position, so we’d each know where the others were. By the end, though, our whole committee was so [close] together; there was a real bond between us.

“We met at [two] major church assemblies [Eugene 91 and Sioux Falls 92]. We had a room for people to come-anyone could come and say anything they wanted on any side of the issue. We were listening to everything-our job was not to give opinions.”

Listening to people at the two conventions deeply affected her, she says. “What caused that was, first, knowing people personally [who were gay and lesbian]. Second was learning more about some of the roots of homosexuality and understanding that it’s not a choice. Third were my own inner meditations about a church that is only judgment and no grace, and coming to the conclusion that mercy triumphs over judgment.”

She was also, she says, struck by the profound grief on all sides of the issue. “We learned that almost everyone is grieving,” she told her congregation. “Gays [and lesbians] are grieving because if they let us know who they really are, they will be alienated and rejected by the church they love, a place where they want to be accepted and embraced for who they are. They are part of a family that they feel has kicked them out. Others are grieving because their beloved family, the church, is perceived to be adrift in a sea of permissiveness, where the edges of a clear, historic position on this topic are being blurred.”

Looking back in 1999, she says, “So many of the stories [the committee heard] were so alike. It struck me that there were similar refrains: the fear of telling family or the church; how people had always felt or known themselves to be different and gradually recognized what the difference was. These people didn’t know each other and couldn’t have collaborated.”

Janzen describes several experiences that made her sense the depth of pain associated with same-sex attraction. “After a workshop at Normal 89 [joint convention in Illinois] on homosexuality, a young man who attended asked later to talk with Heinz [Janzen’s husband, also a pastor] and me. He came out to us, but he said he couldn’t tell anyone else for fear of losing his job. At one [Listening Committee] session, a young man who wasn’t gay but was a supporter got so agitated and emotional-it made me see how deeply this affected people, how they absorbed the pain and injustice.

“I had always been open to individual [stories], but I wasn’t sure the church should be. I had agreed with the Saskatoon statement. I finally began to note the injustice of attaching ‘homosexual’ as a label, identifying people as ‘homosexual’ instead of by what they say or do. We don’t do this with heterosexuals.”

Janzen says that it has been helpful for her to see “consistent, overarching biblical themes like God’s vision of inclusiveness in the kingdom, rather than prooftexting. The theme of inclusion appears over and over again in the Bible. Our enemy is not ‘homosexuals’ but the forces of hate that seek to invade the church and create deep divisions based on gender, sexual orientation, race, theology, or culture.”

Vern Rempel. Another member of the Listening Committee was Vern Rempel, at that time pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (CMCL). He is now pastor at First Mennonite Church of Denver, Colorado.

His experience with the Listening Committee didn’t so much “change the direction of my opinion as it layered it. I met a lot more people [with opinions on homosexuality], including gays and lesbians.

“I had already declared to CMCL my position on inclusion before I was ever asked to be on the committee. Having a more ‘layered’ position makes you more mellow, more firm in a flexible way. I became more confident of my position, and it was less necessary to defend it stridently.”

On the issue of gays and lesbians in the Mennonite church, he says, “I heard more loud argumentation [at various conferences] from Mennonites than I had ever heard in my life, even over women in ministry and church leadership. People were yelling at each other.

“I also witnessed a lot of careful listening, although I’m not sure a Listening Committee is the best way to set up careful listening. We invited people to speak to each other, but it wasn’t really a dialogue. It was more of a chance for them to give their broadside. It would have been interesting to set up a room full of tables with about eight people to a table, making sure there was a mix of opinion at each table.”

Listening changes things, he says, because “when you meet people and [like] them, they seem like good people. Then ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ is no longer a logical category that you’re working with, that [describes a person] you can either accept or reject. You have human beings, a memory of relationships. What it comes down to is, ‘Would I be willing to have so-and-so in the church?’ not ‘How do I interpret the Bible?’ “

Rempel says that he hasn’t been impressed by the “thoughtfulness of [the biblical] arguments against [homosexuality]. What came to the Listening Committee were fairly flat re-workings of standard biblical arguments. The traditional stance has precedence, so [those arguing that homosexual behavior is sin] don’t have to wrestle it down to the nuanced position.

“Once I remember some tall, bearded guy was ranting at us about the [‘biblical position’]. The Listening Committee’s response was active listening-paraphrasing and challenging. We didn’t just sit by passively and neutrally. Working with the rest of the committee made me feel good about the strength of the church. These were good people struggling with the issues, and that impressed me.

“One evening we were all sitting around at a dinner, around the table processing. The group included a gay man and a lesbian, and it struck me that that was a good precursor of the future Mennonite church.”

Sue Goerzen. One of the co-chairs, and one of three Canadian citizens on the Listening Committee, was Sue Goerzen. In 1990, she had just completed an eight-year stint as co-chair of a General Conference committee on human sexuality that helped to draft the position paper “Human Sexuality in the Christian Life,” as well as what she calls “the famous statements at Saskatoon and Purdue.” Also in 1990, she was newly retired as a professor of family studies at the University of Windsor, Ontario. She still lives in Harrow, Ontario.

“After having worked [with issues of sexuality] for eight years and doing a lot of reading, I had already begun to change [my position],” she says. “When you go into something, you [often] have your mind made up, but I’m always willing to learn new things.

“As a member of the earlier [human sexuality] committee, I had already heard [some stories like these], but nothing like when it became a mandate to listen instead of telling how it should be.”

Goerzen says she was appalled at some of the responses the committee received from congregations. “No matter how hard we tried to educate and dispel some of the myths, so many people seemed to feel that homosexuality was a choice and people could change if they wanted to. I was also surprised to learn that…if a person is identified as homosexual, it’s assumed they are sexually active. Celibacy is not seen as a possible option. We don’t assume that about single heterosexuals.”

Goerzen describes a conversation she had at one of the conferences. “A man was there with his parents, and the three of them came up to talk with me and Ed [Stoltzfus, the other Listening Committee co-chair]. He was a nurse, and he was talking about how terrible it was, that how these gay men had sex was affecting their health. I asked him, ‘Do you know how they have sex?’ He had no answer. Then I asked, ‘Have you ever asked your parents how they have sex?’ And they were standing right there! He said, ‘Of course not!’ It’s amazing how people make assumptions.

“Through the listening process, I became very aware of the low tolerance for biblical interpretation and acceptance of diversity, of some people thinking differently than others.”

Not everything she heard was negative or narrow, she adds. “We also heard people say, ‘We need to reach out, to walk with those experiencing gender confusion, and with their parents, to listen to their pain.’ I appreciated hearing things like: ‘We need to be Christ-like and listen’; ‘We need to facilitate dialogue and keep fostering theological discernment’; ‘Maybe we don’t have all the answers.’ “

From gays and lesbians, she says, the thing she noticed most was fear. “One man came and talked to me. He hadn’t told anyone else [that he was gay]. He was afraid of what it would do to his family, friends, and church. He feared for his job. He feared rejection. We just sat down in a corner and he shared with me. It seemed to make him feel better just to have someone listen. I asked him, ‘Do you have a close friend?’ He said, ‘I’m afraid.’ People just don’t understand how hard it is for gays and lesbians.

“One man told me, ‘I know I can’t change the way God made me, but I’ve tried so hard.’ Others have said, ‘Why would I choose something that horrifies my parents, that could cost me my job and could get me killed?’ You can read about pain and fear, but until you have that person in front of you and can see their body language, you really don’t understand.

“[Gays and lesbians] need companionship just like anyone else-far more than any sexual outlet. The ones who shared with me would call promiscuity sinful. They would see ‘homosexual activity’ as good when it happens in a context of love and fidelity.”

Goerzen says that even seven years after the Listening Committee was disbanded, she is still corresponding with a number of gays and lesbians, “urging them to live their Christian life. They have found a friend in me. If the Lord’s going to condemn me someday, I hope it’s for loving too much [rather than judging]. I’ve said this openly in the conference. And I’m totally convinced we need to do more listening.”

Footnotes

  1. See “Resolution on human sexuality,” adopted at the triennial session of the General Conference Mennonite Church, July 1986 (GC General Board, Newton, Kans.) or “A Call to Affirmation, Confession and Covenant Regarding Human Sexuality,” adopted by Mennonite Church General Assembly, July 8, 1987 (MC General Board, Elkhart, Ind.).
  2. See “Final Report: Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns,” August 20, 1992 (Commission on Education of the General Conference Mennonite Church, Newton, Kans.).
  3. See “Resolution on human sexuality,” adopted by the GCMC July 1986.
  4. See “A Call to Affirmation,” adopted by the MC General Assembly July 1986 or “Resolution on human sexuality,” adopted by the GCMC July 1986.
  5. Article 19, “Singleness and Marriage,” Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1995), 72.
  6. See “Final Report: Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns.”
  7. “Summary Report of the MC/GC Joint Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns,” August 1992.
  8. “Observations from the Joint Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns,” excerpted from the report presented to COE and MBCM, August 20, 1992. See Appendix A.
  9. See Appendix B for a full account of the recommendations.
  10. Letter to Sue Goerzen and Ed Stoltzfus from Norma J. Johnson, executive secretary of the Commission on Education of the GCMC, and Everett J. Thomas, executive secretary of Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries of the MC, December 3, 1992.
  11. Margaret Loewen Reimer, “Conference has mixed response to report on homosexual concerns,” Mennonite Reporter, Vol. 23, No. 8 (April 19, 1993):1.
  12. “Entire Homosexuality Report Should Be Public,” Mennonite Weekly Review, Vol. 71, No. 18 (May 6, 1993): 4.
  13. Rich Preheim, “Churches Make Public Their Views on Gays,” Mennonite Weekly Review, Vol. 74, No. 26 (July 27, 1996): 1.
Melanie Zuercher was born in Germany and grew up in a Mennonite home in Mennonite communities in Indiana and Maryland and non-Mennonite settings in North Carolina and Kentucky. She is a graduate of Goshen (Ind.) College and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind. She has used her skills and gifts in writing and editing for Festival Quarterly magazine and Good Books in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; a citizens’ social justice organization in Kentucky; The Mennonite (in its original incarnation as the General Conference Mennonite Church magazine) and GCMC News Service; and numerous freelance projects. She currently lives in Newton, Kansas.

Observations from the [MC/GC] Joint Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns

Excerpted from the report presented to the Commission on Education of the General Conference Mennonite Church and Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries of the Mennonite Church, August 20, 1992

  1. Our committee listened to each other and worked together as a committee.
  2. Our committee listened and observed that the work of our committee is linked to an extensive and convoluted history involving both GC and MC studies on sexuality and homosexuality.
  3. Our committee listened and observed that there are pervasive misunderstandings in the church on the status and mandate of the [current] Listening Committee.
  4. Our committee listened and observed that there is a widespread, apprehensive concern on the subject of homosexuality in our church.
  5. Our committee listened and observed that this issue places many conscientious members of our churches at the painful, grinding edge between two cardinal emphases in our theology and practice: unconditional Christian care and love for persons, but particularly for socially marginalized ones, and confrontation with moral judgment on these persons for acts they consider sinful.
  6. Our committee listened and observed that members of our church are not sure what homosexuality is and do not share a common understanding of important words and ideas used in discussing the subject.
  7. Our committee listened and observed there are strong differences of opinion among us on the sources or causes of homosexuality.
  8. Our committee listened and observed that many in our church are hard pressed with homophobic fears concerning homosexuality because our thinking on this subject has been shaped by popular myths about it. (The word myth is used here in the sense of misconception or false impression concerning homosexuality.)
  9. Our committee listened and observed that there are homosexuals in our congregations and that there are more who do not reveal their homosexual orientation than who do.
  10. Our committee listened and observed that people are asking: “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?”
  11. Our committee listened and observed that our church is trying to figure out whether homosexual orientation is a sin or is not a sin.
  12. Our committee listened and observed that those who accept the condition of homosexual orientation are trying to decide what homosexual behaviors are honorable and good and what behaviors are sinful and wrong.
  13. Our committee listened and observed that both our denominational leaders and our congregations are cautiously involved with several approaches to the questions raised by homosexuality and having openly affirmed homosexuals as members of our congregations.

Recommendations of the Joint Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns

Excerpted from the report presented to MBCM and COE, August 20, 1992

  1. Program Recommendation
    The Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns recommends that the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church intensify its efforts to help congregations study homosexuality in order to discern how homosexuals can relate to the church’s life and ministry. (This recommendation is focused primarily on the congregation but we also urge the study of this issue on all other levels and appropriate settings of church life: in conference district meetings, church agencies and institutions and general assemblies.) …
  2. Enabling Recommendations

    1. The Denominations’ Role
      We recommend that the General Boards’ structurally identify a place and a person in the denominations’ organization (perhaps in COE and MBCM respectively) charged with the responsibility to lead and facilitate dialogue and education in the congregations and throughout the denominations on this subject by [there follow six suggestions including developing resource materials on all aspects of homosexuality and making them available to congregations; creating an information center; planning workshops at national and district assemblies; opening conversations with gay and lesbian Mennonites; opening and maintaining contact with organizations that work with homosexual issues; listening to and focusing on church-wide conversations on homosexuality.
    2. The Institutions’ Role

      1. We recommend that our seminaries (and other church educational institutions assume more aggressive responsibility to study homosexuality-biblical, theological, ethical, scientific-and make their studies and skills available to help congregations and groups become informed on this issue and process it. Further, that they help pastors provide effective pastoral care for individuals impacted by homosexuality.
      2. We suggest that the institutions of the church regularly review their policies to ensure that these policies are not discriminatory with regard to persons of same-sex orientation.
    3. The Pastor and Congregational Leadership’s Role

      1. [Four suggestions, summarized: that leaders consciously and intentionally initiate dialogue with gays and lesbians and their families within the congregation; that pastors and church leaders be open about their own positions but also open to other viewpoints; that pastors make pastoral care available to gays and lesbians and their families regardless of the pastor’s own position; that pastors and congregational leaders work to create a climate where it feels safe for all to tell their stories.]
      2. We recommend that the congregational process…not stop with study and discernment but that it include a summarizing the congregational resolution or views on this issue, and that at the same time continues to learn from and [contribute] to the discussion of other congregations and groups.
« Previous | Next »