Envisioning the Future

Vernon Keith Rempel

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Give Up Control

One sun-drenched humid morning some years ago, I found myself sitting at a sidewalk cafe sipping very good coffee with four men. We were all attending a Mennonite denominational convention. But these were not four Mennonite ministers or four program committee members re-checking their notes. I was breakfasting with four gay men.

As we conversed, I became aware of the character of these men. They were alert to movements of life and spirit in the church. They knew what was going on in the church and held informed, passionate, and thoughtful opinions about it. They cared about their home congregations. They knew people’s names, people’s families, people’s children. They could play the ‘Mennonite game’ with ease and enjoyed doing it. Their sense of identity as people who cared for justice and peace was thoroughly based in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. And they sought and lived in faithful loving relationships with friends and partners.

What dawned on me in that sidewalk cafe that morning was that these gay men, as much as anyone, were bearers of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23a). Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control were as much in evidence in the company I was keeping as in any Mennonite quilting club. It is possible that there was even more joy and less gossip in evidence than in most Mennonite meetings! The gay men had a good spirit about them. It seemed to me to be the Spirit of Christ.

But by saying that these gay men seemed to me to give evidence of the Spirit of Christ, I do not mean to imply that who they are is okay because they fit into my image of human fitness. I do not mean to hold my perception of the Spirit of Christ as a measuring stick by which to discern who is okay and who is not. The Spirit of Christ is her own evidence. She is a transforming, life-giving presence, always. And she is a great mystery. The Spirit gives life on her conditions only, never on ours. But her conditions are the conditions of life itself. So from the gospel of John: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

In his Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis gives the Spirit of Christ the name of ‘Aslan’ the lion. About Aslan, Lewis is fond of writing, ‘He’s not a tame lion.’1 The ultimate conflict of the Chronicles is precipitated when an ape contrives to gain power by taming Aslan. He fakes divine access, giving out canned thoughts and orders of Aslan right and left. The plot is uncovered, but great evil enters Narnia because of it.

Lewis’s parable gives the first condition for a church transformed by the presence of gay and lesbian folk: that we fall in love again, for our day and age, with a Spirit of Christ who is not tame. The story of the church has been, on the one hand, to be continually seduced by the temptation to tame the Spirit by codifying, regulating, rationalizing, and systematizing the divine presence. This is an understandable temptation. It provides comfort and reliability, which we all need in our lives in some measure. The problem is that in every taming of the Spirit, members of the human race, daughters and sons of God’s creative work, have been shunned by those who supposedly mediate Christ’s Spirit. A tame Spirit has always been a divisive spirit.

Fortunately, on the other hand the story of the church has been one of continual renewal by a Spirit that ultimately refuses to be tamed, refuses to become the tool of division. In the church’s story, the power of the Spirit flames out again and again from under the bushel where it has been hidden (the better to control it). In his letter to the Galatians at the very beginning of the church’s story, Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28 NRSV). Such a theological rhapsody sets the tone early on. And throughout the life of the church, the truth of it has been reasserted. Will the church honor slavery? Slavery is challenged. Will the church find women to be the “less equal” sex? Such sexism is finally unmasked and transformed. Will the church abhor the love of gay and lesbian people? Here too, and in our day, this false taming of the Spirit will fall away.

Paul’s theology is not pulled out of the deep blue sky. In his sense of the amazing action of the Spirit in dissolving old divisions, Paul is deeply grounded in his own Hebrew history. The actions of a God who is not tame run throughout the Bible, always for the sake of liberation in the face of some human encrustation and hardening. This gives the biblical stories a give-and-take movement between taming the divine Spirit and freeing the divine Spirit.

Thus, at the beginning of the story of the Exodus, Moses stands on holy ground by the burning bush. He is being called to be an agent of liberation by a mysterious divine presence who says, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’-Moses’ own Hebrew ancestors. But the whole thing feels a bit wild. And so Moses wants a name, an imprimatur that will give him authority when he speaks with the enslaved people of Israel in Egypt. It seems like God is going to comply with a name. But the only name God gives is the emphatically free ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And then the Spirit of God in the burning bush reiterates the naming of the ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In other words, what Moses got in the first place is all he’s going to get. God will not be pinned down to some name that Moses can evoke like a magic talisman of authority when he goes before the people. He will go with signs of power, yes. He will go with signs of the presence of God. But he will go with nothing that indicates that he has an angle on God, that God is his. Rather, he is God’s. That is the only premise the one free God will accept.

This call is in fact very like the call of Moses’ ancestor Abraham. Abraham also receives a call to go, without divine taming: ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’ No guidebook, not even a clear articulation of destination. Only the divine call to go. If Abraham needed a controlled, tame God, he would not have moved. So it goes in all the stories of the Patriarchs. When Isaac and Rebekah’s sons are born, Jacob has a grip on Esau’s heel. And eventually Jacob, the younger son, in conspiracy with his mother, overturns expectation and grabs the elder Esau’s inheritance as well. Then Jacob, in the divine economy, ends up with two wives and their two maids, who collectively become the four mothers of [one woman and] the twelve men who are ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel.

No systematic theologian or church bureaucrat would come up with such incredible scenarios for carrying on the divine providence down through the generations. But God is not to be tamed. Other stories follow. Ruth, a Moabitess, becomes the great-grandmother of the celebrated King David. Strange in his own way, David is a shepherd king from unlikely Bethlehem. God forgives Ninevah their sins even though God’s own prophet Jonah would have preferred their destruction. And a Hebrew prophet, Micah, foretells that again, out of little Bethlehem, will come God’s own ruler. These stories are a concatenation of God’s untamed acts.

Crowning the biblical stories are the stories of Jesus as written in the four Gospels. Misrecognized, difficult for people to understand, and an offense to established religious sensibility, Jesus is a powerful preacher and wonder worker. He has the marks of the Messiah-the lame walk, the blind see, and the poor have good news preached to them. Messiah was to make all things right, to redeem the age, to end evil. But with Jesus, the world with all its evil and brokenness persists. Ultimately, this one-who-is-like-messiah dies on a cross, apparently beaten and humiliated. Instead of a grand fix of the human problem, the Messiah’s story starts small.

But again the biblical story takes an unexpected turn. By great grace, the church witnesses a living Spirit in this One who has died. Out of this final intolerable divine surprise-the Messiah dying a death of shame and humiliation-comes transforming life! So this is how God was working. It is strange. But it is also like the old Hebrew stories. The God of the Hebrews and of Jesus is not a tame God, working in expected ways.

The church today is confronted with no stranger a challenge if we agree that this is the occasion for the first time in history (perhaps?) that gay and lesbian people are bearers of the Spirit of Christ. This is the untamed God’s strangeness for us. It is something no one had thought of before. But we have a chance to recognize and embrace this act of the free God if we meditate sufficiently on God’s free acts among our faith ancestors. Then we can say, ‘Yes, this is the Spirit of God.’

So often in reading the Bible and in understanding the movement of the history of the church, leaders and teachers have rushed in to reassure, comfort, and standardize the Spirit of Christ in the world. The difficult text is smoothed over with honeyed, pious words. Conflicting stories are massaged until they seamlessly run together. Doubt is met with abiding affirmations. But ultimately, the living Spirit of Christ will not have it. Particularly when there are those who are marginalized, shunned, and violated by such ecclesial palliatives.

Barbara Kingsolver writes, “If there is a fatal notion on this earth, it’s the notion that wider horizons will be fatal. Difficult, troublesome, scary-yes, all that.” But not fatal.2 The constant story of faith is that the Spirit of God has wider horizons for those who will receive them. To invite such a Spirit to act in one’s life takes faith and trust. “O the places you’ll go,” as Dr. Suess puts it. But there is this: they will never be places of false division and death. They will always be places of the Spirit. And those are always places of life.

Strengthen Definitions

The theologian Max Stackhouse once said, “If you’ve heard one too many sermons on the freedom of God, you’d better hang onto your wallet and/or your spouse.” It is a useful warning. In a similar vein, a friend writes me and says, “[Y]our approach to the Bible and ethics seems to weaken Biblical authority.” Quite the opposite, I want to say. My goal is to strengthen definitions. My desire is to firm up an irresolute commitment to life. But I am aware that especially for some Mennonite readers, this may not seem to be the case. In the radical freedom of an untame God, how may we construct strong life-giving definitions?

John Stoner began his article (See booklet #3) with a number of clear and forceful definitions that can be summarized as “power for change, arising from truth and love.” He writes concretely about the expanding circle of salvation-about justice, peace, and love. He writes especially about dedication to truth. Nowhere in this series of booklets will you find a wishy-washy commitment to truth.

And this series is written from the midst of a particular social base. It is all about at last doing right by our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. These are people who have historically suffered, not at the hands of strong definitions of truth, but rather because of powerful distortions of truth. To reject the distortion is not to reject the impulse for strong definition. It is to put one’s hand to moving forward with a better understanding, so much as the Spirit gives us grace to understand rightly.

I once had the opportunity to witness a union ceremony between two gay men. The ceremony had all the appearances of any contemporary outdoor wedding. The garden was gorgeous with flowers. The leaves of mature trees rustled overhead in a gentle breeze. June warmth beaded sweat underneath the casual dress of the day. Only this was different-two *men*were plighting their troth.

As I waited for the ceremony to begin, I overheard two young children discussing what was about to happen. The older brother asked in a loud whisper, “What are they going to do when they come in, play ‘Here comes the bride’?” The younger sister hissed back with younger-sister definitiveness, “Of course not, Sam; there are two husbands!”

The definitive factualness of there being two husbands was only the beginning of the strong definitions in that ceremony. Faithfulness, honesty, and care were pledged. Remarkably, parents were present to give their statements of blessing. A gay minister officiated over the vows, mediating with ministerial grace the firm and clear intentions of the couple, offered to each other in the Spirit of Christ. And all of this was done in front of a crowd of people. There was nothing of the weak formlessness of secret and shameful behavior at all.

Ephesians 5:10-14a says, ‘Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.’ Light can also be called truth and openness to truth. Racism, sexism, abuse, greed-all these thrive in secrecy and shrink from truth. But honest and open love will never be damaged by being open to truth. Such love is shown to be strong and definitive when held up to the light of truth. So it was for the love these two men shared.

This union ceremony of two gay men offers us a second condition for a church transformed by the presence of gay and lesbian folk: strong biblical definitions that are characterized less by exclusion and violence and more by love of truth.

Michael Lerner suggests that all through the biblical text, there are two voices vying for attention: the voice of pain and distortion, and the voice of healing and transformation.3 The voice of pain and distortion arises out of experiences of fear and injury, and results in exclusion and violence. For example, in the Hebrew Midrash is the story of Abraham’s father, Terah, an abusive seller of idols. Abraham is horribly ill-used. But he, in his turn, very nearly kills his son Isaac, supposedly at the command of God. What kind of experience would make a person believe God was ordering him to kill his son? The effects of abuse are carried from generation to generation. Despite all this, Abraham does not do the deed, and in fact he becomes the vessel for God’s blessing. But it is a near thing, and a simplistic reading of the text makes it look as if willingness to kill one’s children is faith! This is the voice of pain and distortion.

This voice in the Bible is expressed as exclusion and violence. It is present in the ethnic cleansing of Jericho-‘Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old’- by the invading Israelites, carrying the wounds of slavery on their backs like so many bundles of straw (Joshua 6). It is present when the Levite cuts the body of his concubine into twelve pieces in order to bring justice for her against those who abused and killed her (Judges 19). It is present when the scribe Ezra ordained that Israelite men must send away their foreign wives and children, a mass divorcing and removal of social and economic dependents (Ezra 10).

This voice of exclusion is present when the apostle Paul says that sexual contact is secondary at best, but as a concession to avoid immorality, he permits sex between men and women in marriage (1 Corinthians 7). It is present when Paul apparently attempts to restrict the life and ministry of women, suggesting that men are the head of their wives, as Christ is the head of the man, setting up a neat hierarchy of the sexes (1 Corinthians 11). It is present when Titus exhorts slaves to be submissive to their masters and not talk back (Titus 2). The overt and/or implied story in all these texts is of exclusion and violence. It is a thread of distortion that runs through the entire Bible.

Some biblical texts reflect such distortions, but they do not exist in the collection of biblical writings in and of themselves. They are the excess clay that is cast off as the true pot takes shape. They are the old clotted blood of a life fluid that is beginning to run liquid and free. They are the textual chaff out of which is harvested a nourishing biblical grain: stories of healing and transformation! Hagar, Sarah’s maid with whom Abraham fathered Ishmael, is protected by Yahweh when Abraham and Sarah turn her out (Genesis 16). And the new practice of the freed slaves in Israel is to celebrate God’s bounty with the Levites, aliens, orphans, and widows (Deuteronomy 26). In this way, they are transformed from the distortions of slavery into a new community of care and inclusion. Powerful and murderous King David repents when confronted by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12). Even the powerful respond to God’s challenge sometimes. This is transformation.

In the wake of the tremendous wave of healing and transformation flowing from Jesus, Paul plants new inclusive communities. ‘In the renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all in all!’ he exults (Col. 3:11). Scythians were a particularly hated and ‘dirty’ people for Paul’s community. No longer are they outcast. This is the voice of transformation.

Much of church practice for too long has been to accept biblical definitions that are leavened with pain and distortion, with the ‘yeast of the Pharisees,’ the practice of exclusion and violence. In many places throughout church history, people who value exclusion and violence have pressed the biblical story into their service. It is time for us in our day to free ourselves, as much as we are given grace, from these voices of pain and distortion. It is time for the church to awaken to the dawn of a day rededicated to the ways of healing and transformation.

There will always be powerful church-based movements based on the reaffirmation of old exclusions. Phrases like ‘strong spiritual leadership,’ ‘inspiration of Holy Scripture,’ and ‘family values’ may be positive and full of renewal. But too often they are used to define reaction to transformation. The church has often been distracted back into old exclusions. Old exclusions are even readopted for the sake of ‘restoring the power of the gospel.’ But they are nothing more than replications of old pain and old distortion.

If the church wants true strength and vitality, we will instead embrace the voice of healing and transformation. We will allow it to speak out from the biblical text. This means adopting a way of reading the Bible that practices discernment. It means being willing to let old biblical distortions wither. It means being willing to differentiate and lift up biblical texts of transformation.

This is a different approach to the Bible than has often been taken by Mennonites. We have a tradition of careful Bible reading. But our care has often been to try to make of the entire Bible something good, that somehow every bit of text in and of itself reflects in some measure the will of God. We become apologists for a unified text that is in fact not unified, that is rather a collection of tremendous tales and human experience through which emerge strong stories of the grace, justice, and peace of God.

The need for this approach to the Bible has been brought home again and again in discussions with gay and lesbian sisters and brothers. The Bible has been thrown at them over and over, as if the book on its own as an indivisible unit somehow wants to reject them and keep them out, branding them as evil, idolatrous, and subject only to conversion. But to paraphrase the National Rifle Association, the Bible does not reject people, people reject people. In fact, such use of the Bible is yet another brand of ethical passivity. ‘I just do what the Bible tells me,’ people say, as if there is some unmediated, singular biblical voice that overrides our need to think and decide.

But we can decide, and in fact we do decide. No one is not deciding. Therefore, when we respond to gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, we will acknowledge that we are deciding. It is not ‘the Bible tells me so’ but rather ‘Here’s what I think the Bible tells me.’ There is nothing about the Bible that requires people of faith to reject same-sex attracted people out of hand. It is in our hands; our hands are not being forced by an unstoppable text. We read the Bible, and then, informed by the Bible, we choose.

The lives of gay and lesbian people are today the test of the church’s ability to respond out of the biblical voice of healing and transformation. Instead of the exclusion and social violence of pious abhorrence or ethical superiority (often coded as ‘loving the sinner; hating the sin’) and attempts at conversion, the church may become an agent of genuine engagement and inclusion. If we do, we will not be weaker, but rather stronger. We will have done our part to pull the rotten tooth of pain and distortion out of our reading of the Bible and out of our church life. We will gain some measure of freedom to get on with the mission of love, peace, justice, and holiness.

If we are able to respond wholeheartedly in this manner, we will become more moral and spiritual, more God-centered, more respectful of the wider world, more committed to social justice, more fully engaged in interesting and creative thinking, more free to pray. And we will gain unimaginable joy because of the wonders of the presence of so many good people who until this day have been driven down and out by a distorted gospel.

Encounter a “Cross-road”

We need strong definitions. But they will not be the usual definitions if we welcome gay and lesbian folk as part of our religious communities, because these people have been excluded by the traditional definitions. Welcoming gay and lesbian people into churches creates a social crisis and opportunity that becomes the occasion for new definitions. But from where will we take our direction in establishing these definitions? For this, I would like to turn to the cross of Jesus Christ.

I had the privilege recently of speaking at a Lenten service in a local Roman Catholic church. The beginning of the worship service included a procession to the front. First came a woman with an incense bowl. Then a second woman followed holding up a large Bible. I was third in line, holding my sermon notes. And bringing up the rear was the presider of the service, a young man. All in the procession were robed except me. I was willing to put on a robe, but the organizers explained that I should not, in respect for the usual practice of my tradition.

This was all very well, except that I had a strange moment while walking up the aisle amidst my robed sisters and brother. Suddenly I saw myself as a sixteenth-century Anabaptist, walking in chains surrounded by clergy. For a moment, I was the one to be tried and probably executed, rather than the respected visiting clergy person. For a moment, the peaceful dignity of the procession felt like captivity and exclusion.

We may ask ourselves in the Mennonite church how the “peaceful processions” of our worshiping life have felt like captivity and exclusion to gay and lesbian people. I can only imagine the experience of gay and lesbian people in the midst of our holy worship as they have been named “those people”-sinners, perverts, objects of someone else’s conversion projects at best, and objects of abject disgust at worst. Truly, in many cases they must experience such worship services as what Peter Berger has called “the noise of solemn assemblies.”

Fortunately, the destination of the liturgical procession was not my trial but rather an inclusive worship service. The worship service was led by both women and men. Present in the congregation were gay and lesbian men and women, Hispanic and Anglo folks, young and elderly people. The Hispanic priest of the parish was dressed in ordinary clothing and joined in the worship with all the rest. And the Anabaptist went to the pulpit instead of the stake!

In liturgical co-celebration, this group of different people came together. Those who were formerly and even currently enemies were being made “one in Christ.” But what does it mean to be “made one in Christ”?

Consider once again the “inclusion hymn” of Paul, found in Galatians 3:26-28: “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV). These words may have been part of a liturgy to be spoken or read at the ritual of baptism.

But how can it be that these huge differences-the difference between an enslaved person and one who is not, between a man and a woman, and between the ancient identity of the Jew over against the non-Jew (here called “Greek” but also known as “gentiles” or “the nations”)-no longer stand in the way of “being made one?”

The Croatian-American theologian Miroslav Volf suggests in his book Exclusion and Embrace that “one in Christ Jesus” is not just a bright idea of Paul’s (some happy abstraction like “Let’s all be one” or “Let’s all agree”).4

Nor is it an arbitrary obliteration of old identities (“Let’s break down all the walls and learn tolerance”). Rather it is a particular person and a particular event in that person’s life that create the immediate conditions for becoming “one in Christ Jesus.” Namely, Jesus, and Jesus who died on the cross, lies behind Paul’s expression of new-found unity.

The context of “one in Christ Jesus” in this passage is the ritual of water baptism. And for Paul, baptism is plainly a sign of participation in the cross of Jesus Christ for followers of Jesus (e.g., Romans 6:3, 4). But what does one do to “participate in the cross”? And the prior question to that is “What is the cross”?

“What is the cross” is of course an enormous theological question. So the definition offered here is admittedly partial and one among many. With that understood, I offer this: The cross of Jesus created a shift in human identity that opens up the conditions for a new unity among people who have previously been apart. The shift occurred when Jesus refused to make enemies even of those who would kill him. Jesus spent his ministry refusing to treat people as enemies. He associated with women, Samaritans, and tax gatherers. Such association was officially defiling according to the religious leaders of the day. But then Jesus walked, amid palm branches waving, right into Jerusalem in the midst of the holy days of Passover. In so doing, he effectively handed the religious leaders an ultimate challenge. Would they repent and accept renewal? Instead they orchestrated his execution. And at this point, Jesus again refused to treat people as enemies. Instead of fighting back or accepting escape or rescue, Jesus allowed himself to be publicly executed. In so doing, he ultimately rejected enemy making, even with those in power.

What is our participation in this “cross of Christ”? We all, in our individual selves and in our cultures, have identities that include enemy making. These include people of the opposite sex, people with other skin colors, people of other religions. And very frequently, these enemies include people who are gay and lesbian. Ideally, we would only reject behaviors and not persons. But this is seldom the case. Instead, others become enemies. Mary Douglas suggests they become like “dirt” to us. Our impulse is to get clean by excluding them.5 With gay and lesbian people, this rejection is often most powerful.As Douglas writes “The body ‚Ķprovides a basic scheme for all symbolism. There is hardly any pollution which does not have some primary physiological reference.”6 Gay and lesbian people categorically violate the dominant symbolism of pollution by “wrong” use of their bodies.

Our participation, then, is that like Jesus, who refused to make enemies, we also move away from our own enemy making. As Volf says: in the way of the cross, we choose to “distance ourselves from ourselves and our cultures in order to create a space for the other.”7 Through gaining this distance, a space in the self is opened up. The self loses its imperial self-righteousness and in effect stands open before the Spirit of God. And in this openness there is room for the other. This then is a third condition for a church transformed by the presence of gay and lesbian folk: to find renewal again as a “church of the cross.”

Refusing enemy making, however, does not mean we should adopt the weak virtue of tolerance. Tolerance as an end in itself leads to namelessness and chaos. With mere tolerance, nothing can be discerned, judged, or decided. I have already argued above that a new welcome to gay and lesbian people means stronger definitions. Tolerance does not generate such definitions.

What we may learn to do, if we follow in the way of Jesus, is to both rename falsely labeled sins and remake actual sin.8 Jesus emphatically rejected the idea that contacts with Samaritans and with women were defiling. He held a pleasant, extended discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7ff). In so doing, he rejected two false distinctions. But Jesus also did not leave sinners in their sin. He offered forgiveness and freedom from sin, not tolerance of sin. The dialogue at the well resulted in transformation for the woman, apparently from some possibly self-destructive pattern of relationships with men.

But this brings us then to our existential moment of decision in response to gay and lesbian people among us. When in all humility we consider Christ of the cross and the new community that Paul envisioned growing out of a cross-like water baptism, and knowing full well our painful history of biases and prejudices in the church, we must then make a decision. We must then decide whether we are faced, in our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, with a false distinction that we now reject for the first time or a genuine sin that awaits transformation. Are same-sex sexual relations intrinsically sinful or not? Neither case admits hatred and disgust as Christ-like responses. Neither case is obvious or a foregone conclusion from careful Bible study. What does the cross of Christ ask of us?

The liturgy mentioned earlier that I had participated in with the Roman Catholic congregation took place in the presence of the image of the cross on the wall and with people seated according to the cruciform pattern of the cathedral. The affirmations and confessions included an understanding that all have sinned and also that some of the greatest sins committed in the history of the church have been sins of false distinction. In this Roman Catholic church a woman lifted the Bible in worship leadership, a gay man bowed his head in reverence, and an Anabaptist was the preacher. So many old distinctions were thrown over.

My perception is that the Spirit of the Christ of the cross also rejects as false the distinction we have made between gay and lesbian people and the heterosexual majority. There is too much that is good and gifted-that is not damaged but is rather lifted up by the people of what to many may seem to be a strange and different love. If this is true, then one day we will see in the Mennonite church something as strange and wonderful as an Anabaptist in a Catholic pulpit. We will receive the ministry of a gay man or a lesbian woman. And the Spirit of Christ will shine forth, as is the way of the Spirit who makes all things new.


  1. C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Collier, 1970), 72.

  2. Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 53.

  3. Michael Lerner, Jewish Renewal (New York: Grosset/Putnam, 1994).

  4. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996).

  5. For a groundbreaking study of clean and unclean, see Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (Boston: Routledge, 1966).

  6. Douglas, Purity and Danger, 165.

  7. Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 30.

  8. Ibid., 73.

Vern Rempel is a Mennonite pastor of fifteen years, currently serving the First Mennonite congregation in Denver, Colorado. He received the Master of Divinity degree from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in 1986. He plays with ?The blues brethren and women,? an amateur blues and jazz ensemble of mostly Mennonites, and enjoys integrating jazz and all forms of music into worship. He serves on the Denver Area Interfaith/Intercultural board and is a member of the Denver Area Interfaith Clergy Coalition. He is an avid student of family systems theory, including work with Ed Friedman, author of Generation to Generation. In addition to playing jazz piano, Vern’s hobbies include reading/writing, bicycling, skiing, and Tae Kwon Do. Vern has been married to Marilyn (Miller) Rempel for twenty years. They have two children, Jess, 15, and Diana, 11.
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