Known by our love?
No one will know we are Christians by our exclusion and judgment
Here are 10 points to consider as Mennonite Church USA and other Mennonite institutions discuss inclusivity:
1. Hate and homophobia are pervasive in American culture. School kids call each other “fags” and insult people by calling them “gay.” Bullies of all ages beat up gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, from the New York alley to the Kansas highway. Families disown their gay and lesbian children. But Jesus defended the humanity of society’s outcasts. A decidedly secular fear of, and lack of knowledge about, homosexuality shapes many of the negative Christian attitudes about our brothers and sisters who are LGBT.
2. For many Mennonites, it is because of our faith, not in spite of it, that we believe the church and its institutions should accept all people, including those with an LGBT identity. Mennonite institutions have taught me to understand the Bible as a call to the law of love and to practice radical inclusion. I learned not to water down the Bible but to read it alongside its culture and history. I learned not a selective reading of the Bible’s convenient passages but to more fully understand that Jesus’ teachings can help us live in a chaotic world. The Bible’s primary message is about acceptance, inclusion and the embrace of diversity. Jesus spent most of his time with people the Jewish leaders called sinners. Jesus never practiced exclusion.
3. Science tells us homosexuality is not a choice but a biological fact. God creates 10 percent to 30 percent of people with diverse sexual orientations.
4. Biblical passages on homosexuality overwhelmingly refer to male slave owners who abusively sodomized their male slaves, often boys. The Bible refers to male rape as sin. Rape is always wrong. Rape is prevalent in our culture. But rape is completely different from homosexuality. The Bible does not provide any comment on a loving relationship between two people of the same sex.
5. Homosexuality is not the same thing as being sexually permissive. Heterosexuals often fail to respect their own bodies and those of their partners. Sexual integrity is a separate issue. Mennonite institutions should continue to support a culture of sexual integrity for all, as we live in a world that teaches us to abuse others and ourselves.
Perils of judging
6. Jesus does not command us to judge our neighbors or form an exclusive church for those without sin. Jesus does the opposite. He tells us to focus on the log in our own eye rather than the speck of dust in our neighbor’s. He warns against judging others. Perhaps the very arrogance of judging another is the highest form of sin. It places us apart from God and divides the human community.
7. Even if we read the gospel without understanding its cultural context, Jesus mentions many types of sin or brokenness. Who would dare cast the first stone against another’s sins in the church? Would Jesus have turned away anyone seeking to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?
8. The church is not always biblical. In the past, Mennonite institutions closed their doors to African-Americans. Christians twisted biblical passages to make it seem that slavery was acceptable. It took the leadership of courageous Mennonite women insisting on the full humanity of African-Americans to eventually change church policy to welcome people of all colors. In the footsteps of these women, we must defend our right to learn from and with LGBT people in the church.
Taking great risks
9. Some Mennonite leaders are taking great risks to stand against official church teaching on sexuality. When I started leading campus dialogues on homosexuality at Eastern Mennonite University in 1997, I began getting hate mail. Other faculty shouted into the phone to me that I was a sinner for facilitating such dialogue. To this day, one EMU neighbor will not greet me as I pass by her home. It leaves me wondering how people concerned with biblical teaching can be so hateful to those with a different biblical understanding of homosexuality. Do we also disagree about what it means to love your enemies? Can we practice the skills detailed in MC USA’s statement “Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love,” or is our pacifism only a theological position against state violence?
10. How will the world know Mennonites are followers of Jesus? They will know it by our love, by our tolerance for diversity, by the way we care for and respect each other. No one will know we are Christians by our homophobic exclusion and judgment. I hope MC USA will continue in the Anabaptist tradition of following Jesus’ radical love for and inclusion of all people, no matter the financial or institutional costs.
Lisa Schirch is director of human security at the Alliance for Peacebuilding and a research professor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.
Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.