This booklet, #7 in Welcome to Dialogue series was inspired by the Mennonite Church USA convention theme for Atlanta 03 “God’s Table, Y’All Come.” The theme was inspired by a story Jonathan Larson, pastor of Berea Mennonite Church in Atlanta, Georgia, told during an early Planning Committee meeting. The events of the story occurred during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. A volunteer who had come from Calgary, Alberta, employed his carpentry skills in the evening to create a large table. Half of the table was dark mahogany; half light maple. People would sit down at the table to eat with others, to talk, to rest from all the turmoil, police dogs, water hoses, abuse, and jail time. They’d come to get away from the conflict and deep feelings these events stirred up within them, Larson said. “Somehow this table in this household nourished and strengthened them, helping them to understand that when the whole family was gathered around the table, then they would all be whole.”
The purpose of this booklet and of the preceding six booklets in the “Welcome to Dialogue” series is to intercede with the Mennonite Church for those in the family who are not yet welcome to gather around the table, thus preventing the wholeness that Christ invites the church to experience. This is in accord with the Saskatoon (adopted by the General Conference Mennonite Church, 1986)and Purdue (adopted by Mennonite Church General Assembly, 1987) statements:
We confess our fear and repent of our rejection of those of us with a different sexual orientation and of our lack of compassion for their struggle to find a place in society and in the church…We covenant with each other to study the Bible together and expand our insight into the biblical teachings relating to sexuality. … We covenant with each other to mutually bear the burden of remaining in loving dialogue with each other in the body of Christ. … We covenant compassion and prayer for each other that distrustful, broken and sinful relationships may experience God’s healing. We covenant with each other to take part in the ongoing search for discernment and for openness to each other. …Finally, we covenant with God that as we discern his will for our lives and our fellow-ship we will seek to obey it, through his grace and strength. (excerpt from Saskatoon statement)
In the first article Ted Grimsrud invites each of us to reflect on principles of inclusion/exclusion as he explores the question “Is every type of relationship that involves sexual intimacy between two people of the same sex by definition sinful?” Christians, says Grimsrud, are bound to take the biblical writings seriously and, in this article, he focuses on the question “Does the Bible condemn same-sex intimacy as sin?” Grimsrud sees the church as currently “stuck in the middle of a rapid stream…with no choice but to work to move ahead or risk being totally overwhelmed by the current.” This article is his attempt to aid the “process of discernment and conversation in an attempt to further our efforts to find more resolution on [this] issue.”
Anne Breckbill, too, explores the issues of inclusion/exclusion in her insightful article “God’s Table and Churchland Security.” She reflects on the climate of fear being fed and exploited by our government to build a “foundation for war, imperialism, obscene excesses and abuses.” In light of this ballooning fear, what, she asks, is the witness of the Mennonite Church? Have we as a church adopted the fear for survival and suspicion of the “other” that dominates our culture? “Are we living ‘a true faith that casts out all fear’…or…a true fear that casts out all variance?”
Using a story for illustration Anneli Braul continues the theme of inclusion/exclusion. Braul is co-pastor of Calgary Inter-Mennonite (CIM) Church. One of the congregation’s earliest principles is “that we will welcome whomever God sends through our doors.” For making this proclamation public and acting accordingly CIM was excommunicated from two Mennonite conferences and is marginalized from Mennonite Church, Alberta.
For some the understanding that same sex sexual activity is sin focuses on words Paul uses in his letter to the Romans. In this letter Paul speaks of “natural relations” being exchanged for “unnatural relations” (1:26-7). Carl Keenerexplores the question of whether same sex attraction is “natural” or a perversion of nature. Keener does this by updating an article that appears in the Welcome to Dialogue series, Booklet #5. That article, written by himself and Douglas Swartzendruber, explored research dealing with the biological basis of “homosexuality.” In Keener’s opinion the best evidence for a biological basis comes from animal studies. New research continues to be done and documented. Keener makes information from his extensive study of this research available for us.
-Ruth Conrad Liechty, series editor