With a name and leaders, Evana group moves ahead

Apr 20, 2015 by and

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Evana Network will be the name of a new Anabaptist group of churches set to launch in September.

Troyer

Troyer

Evana announced its name — a combination of “evangelical” and “Anabaptist” — along with a transitional leadership team, a vision and a set of common values, at evananetwork.org on April 13.

Congregations that join Evana can continue to be part of Mennonite Church USA or any other group.

“We do not seek to prevent congregations from having other affiliations, but we do require a commitment to our common values,” the site says.

John Troyer of Goshen, Ind., will serve as the transitional administrator and only paid staff person on a leadership team of seven.

“My goal is to do everything needed to build a community of churches that are ready to work together in September,” said Troyer, who from 2007 until this spring worked with his wife, Sheila Troyer, as youth pastors at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church near Goshen.

He will communicate the vision, raise funds and take care of administrative details.

No churches or groups are members yet. Most of the interest so far comes from churches that are currently or were once part of MC USA.

“This is the first opportunity these groups have had to know about the name, vision and values,” Troyer said.

Affiliations

According to its website, Evana affirms the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, a 1995 document that MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada use.

However, MC USA and Evana are entirely separate, Troyer said.

“We are not focusing on the ways we are different from MC USA but want to simply declare our vision and values,” he said. “That may be confusing for some, but we’ve also encountered many who have appreciated the approach we have taken.”

The website states that Evana is also separate from Anabaptist Renewal Circles, a revitalization group that helped Evana organize initially. Evana plans to support ARC’s mission of renewal.

“We anticipate giving time and space to congregations to work out their relationships with other entities,” Troyer said. “We don’t yet know how that will work, as we have only identified the broader aspects of our identity.”

Four Cs

Evana is in the final stages of gaining 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

evanalogoweb2It intends to credential leaders but won’t be considered a denomination, according to the website.

A document of Evana’s vision and values cites “four Cs” as its anchors: confession, commission, community and covenant.

Seven core values are: Jesus-centered identity, biblical authority, Anabaptist theology, evangelistic energy, covenanted accountability, gospel community and Spirit-empowered ministry.

“Congregations have been asking for a focused evangelical Anabaptist vision and a way of being accountable to it, and this network is working at filling that need,” Troyer said.

Leadership

About 170 people met in January in Hart­ville, Ohio, to consider what a new network would look like. Feedback from the consultation informed the selection of a leadership team.

The team includes: Matt Hamsher, pastor of Longenecker Mennonite Church in Holmes County, Ohio; Tyler Hartford, lead pastor of Pleasant View Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.; Virginia Leichty, associate pastor of Burr Oak Mennonite Church near Rensselaer, Ind.; Samuel Lopez, administrator of the Spanish Mennonite Council of Churches in New Holland, Pa.; Larissa Moore, pastor of Victory Community Church in Solon, Ohio; and Keith Weaver, moderator of MC USA’s Lancas­ter Mennonite Conference.

“They seek to ensure we are moving in the right direction, determine the best strategies for getting there, and providing accountability and oversight to me and to our finances,” Troyer said.

Team members who were asked to comment for this article either deferred to Troyer or did not respond.

Troyer hopes churches that share Evana’s vision will be strengthened by its mission.

“I believe the vibrancy and health of the Anabaptist movement around the world is also happening here in North America,” he said. “Evana wants to be a partner and resource in strengthening that.”

According to the website, the January consultation demonstrated “a desire for a sense of home, for empowered and accountable leadership, and for renewed focus on the centrality of Jesus Christ and the Great Commission which defined the early Anabaptists.”

A focus of conversation at the consultation included the question of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender membership and participation.

Evana’s website includes no mention of homosexuality but states: “As we respond to today’s conflicts, we are committed to being advocates for God’s shalom in the areas of peace and nonviolence, in caring for the poor and the marginalized, in marriage and in caring for the unborn. . . . We look to the Bible and the Confession of Faith to shape our response to changing cultural values rather than changing our values to fit the culture.”


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  • Dirk Schmidt

    “We look to the Bible and the Confession of Faith to shape our response to changing cultural values rather than changing our values to fit the culture.” So this is the typically passive-aggressive, non-confrontational Mennonite version of Westboro Baptists?

    I understand everyone is uncomfortable with change. But the Abolitionists also struggled with Biblical endorsement of slavery. This is the problem with “looking to the Bible” outside of a cultural context. There are some very strange, specific things that no longer fit our culture, like certain dietary and clothing prohibitions (not to mention verses like Leviticus 19:20, which basically says that you can rape a slave girl so long as you offer up a ram as a sacrifice afterward, or Deuteronomy 22:28-29, where you should marry any virgin you get caught raping).

    I’d be curious to ask Evana if these parts of the Bible, along with two or three vague verses that allude to homosexuality, shapes their response to changing cultural values, too? If not, why not?

    Saying that you are being true to your own values and refuse to change really means just picking and choosing what already “matches” your value set from the Bible (and as non-middle easterners, our cultural value set is not really much related to the Bible to begin with), and disregarding whatever doesn’t. So it’s just a giant exercise in confirmation bias.

    That seems like a pretty useless version of faith and spirituality, IMO.

    – Dirk Schmidt

    • Harold Miller

      Dirk, some comments on whether conservatives are just “picking and choosing” which verses they will disregard and which they let shape their stance.

      I would say it is for good reason that we treat some passages differently than other passages. They are apples and oranges.

      We disregard the texts on slavery and exclusion of women from ministry because there is a clear grace-energized trajectory within Scripture toward inclusion of the marginalized, viewing all persons — slave and free, women and men — as valued in Christ. We see, for instance, Paul calling Philemon to view Onesimus as his brother and not his slave, and Paul writing of many women who are co-workers and leaders in the church. However, there is no such gospel trajectory leading us away from sexual mores. Instead, the New Testament teaching on marriage and sexual sin is consistently prohibitive and radical (eg., “don’t even look at a woman with lust”). So we today let its restrictive teaching on sexuality still stand even though we don’t let its restrictive teaching on slavery and women still stand. Those teachings are apples and oranges rather than something we equate and treat the same.

      • Dirk Schmidt

        Harold,

        Thanks for the response. But I’m still a bit fuzzy on how “a clear trajectory toward the inclusion of the marginalized” still leads to… well, exclusion of the marginalized. And what I’m absolutely, totally fuzzy on is why “sexual mores” have anything to do with it. We’re talking about adults in loving and committed relationships (sex is a pretty small part of one of those; if you didn’t know, you may have heard ;) ).

        As you say, in the NT (ref: Matthew 5:28, I’m guessing) even looking at a woman in lust is sinful. Yet there are no new networks being formed for churches who want to exclude “men who have checked woman out” from their congregations.

        I wonder why?

        Since Jesus and his followers weren’t ancient Israelites, there were some outdated laws that needed to be addressed a few hundred years later. Since we aren’t Middle-Eastern Jews from the first century CE, it isn’t wild to think things may have changed a bit more over the passed two THOUSAND years, in the transmission of the religion to an entirely new cultural context (first Europe, now the Americas).

        As you say, there is a trajectory toward grace, and this ought to be extended throughout our communities, to foster the transformation from “sin” to “salvation” for all humanity, with the humble perspective that we don’t REALLY know what either of those words mean (“sin” OR “salvation”)…

        I (personally) don’t see how a church that pre-emptively excludes its brothers and sisters, and the marginalized of its community, can do that.

        With respect,

        Dirk Schmidt

        • Harold Miller

          Dirk, I appreciate the conversation — honest questions, good tone.

          Yes, it does seem odd that “a clear trajectory toward the inclusion of the marginalized” would still lead “to… well, exclusion of the marginalized.” It would be more than odd, it would be an obvious mistake if the “trajectory toward inclusion” was the only theme of Scripture or even a centrally-defining theme that trumps all others. But that’s not the case. Rather, in the Bible, acts of giving grace and hospitality to the marginalized are preceded by and followed by calls to love God and be faithful to God’s commands. The one who said “I do not condemn you” to the vulnerable woman in John 8 also in the same conversation insisted, “Go and sin no more.” As we read through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, every nudge toward welcome and inclusion appears with multiple calls to radical, costly obedience.

          Ted Grimsrud (EMU prof working for full LGBT inclusion) said it well in 2009 in a dialogue with Mark Thiessen Nation: “If there is indeed something inherently wrong or sinful about same-sex relationships, we would then have reason to override this benefit of the doubt toward inclusion. Jesus’ message of welcome is not based on ignoring the call to faithful living.” So we together search the Spirit and the Word for whether there is “something inherently wrong or sinful about same-sex relationships.”

          You also wonder why so much attention is on homosexuality, even though divorce and premarital sex and porn are more pervasive behaviors in the church. A main factor is that only with same-sex behavior are persons and groups wanting the church to change its stance.

          • David Jost

            I appreciate the tone of you guys’ conversation, too. Good modeling.

            The command to “sin no more” notwithstanding Jesus’ protection of the prostitute is at least one occasion of a trajectory towards tolerance on sexual mores. Jesus and the unclean woman and passages on circumcision (at least in part) also seem like they are sexual mores and show an inclusive arc. I don’t think this resolves anything, but just responding to your earlier thoughts on sexual mores; it is there, to an extent at least.

            Jesus’ stance on divorce is strictly prohibitive, while of course, the contemporary MCUSA community lacks a viable stance to even change on the subject (though we could apply our confession literally there as you suggest we should for the gays and require that marriage be for life; I doubt almost anyone would support such a motion). Presumably a truly consistent sexual policy that acknowledged divorce would bleed us dry and be politically unpalatable. One sin does not excuse another, of course, but how we take potentially difficult scriptures (on divorce, women, slavery, head covering, singleness rather than marriage as the ideal state, etc.) is a useful guide for how we should interpret this area. I find it difficult to relate to those who would condemn many of my friends to a life of sexually unwholesome singleness while ignoring mass divorce.

            Ultimately, I think this is clearly not an issue of the Gospels. Many of my gay friends are fabulous Christians. I’m not willing to resign them to a single lifestyle choice because of their orientation, and I don’t think you’d resign aforementioned problem groups to literalist solutions either, so I hope you can at least recognize this as an issue of interpretation and not off-the-deep-end liberal madness.

            David Jost

          • Joshua Rodd

            Mennoknight, a question is if you think a lifetime of singleness is a bad thing. I don’t think Christians are called to personal fulfilment and a lifetime of happiness. The message I see in both history and in the gospel is quite different.

            Divorce in the mainstream evangelical church in America is a pretty big deal (bigger than LGBT issues in my opinion), and you are correct to point it out.

          • David Jost

            That’s a great question. I think a life of singleness and service to the church could be a great thing. I find the idea of gay people becoming a caste that is called to that while marriage remains the obvious norm for straight people to be really, really troubling, though, and I’m implicitly and explicitly heard such a norm suggested.

            I don’t think that rigid acceptance of all Pauline teachings (or even Jesus’ teachings on divorce) is a good idea, I do think that homosexuality is natural and can result in perfectly healthy families and parentage, and I don’t believe it’s our place to tell other people they can’t have a lifetime of personal fulfillment and happiness. Certainly I think we should redefine those from our typical cultural understandings to be more rooted in following God’s call. I certainly want to celebrate and encourage the choice to live a life of celibacy and mission. If someone told my children they had to do that because they were born one way, I’d be unhappy about it.

            Best,
            David Jost

          • Herbert Reed

            Harold, of course the stance on divorce has changed. So has the stance on premarital sex. MCUSA congregations for the most part do not exclude from membership or the clergy people who are divorced and remarried. As for premarital sex, it appears to me that we mostly just look the other way or it is in fact accepted at least for people in what appear to be committed relationships.

    • Conrad Ermle

      I think you better re-read your Bible. There are NOT “two or three ague verses that allude to homosexuality”. Are you serious. These verses are the Word of God on the subject. They “allude” to nothing. They are straight forward. I’m amazed that you would try to twist these verses. It’s not working.

      — Conrad Ermle

      • Dirk Schmidt

        Conrad, please refer to the various interpretations of these verses in this article, which sums it up nicely: http://peacetheology.net/homosexuality/the-logic-of-the-mennonite-church-usa-teaching-position-on-homosexuality/

        They are not nearly as straightforward as you may believe. Furthermore, when the NT defines marriage as between “one man and ONE woman”, this is in contradistinction to how the OT defined marriage: between “one man and MANY women”. It had nothing to do with LGBTQ issues.

        Feel free to let me know what your thoughts are on the article I’ve cited.

        All the best,

        Dirk Schmidt

        • Harold Miller

          Yes, in the article you link for us, Dirk, Ted Grimsrud does make a case that the handful of verses on homosexuality are vague.

          If you want a succinct summary for why those verses might be clear enough (no language is totally clear unless you pay a lawyer!), refer to this article on the MC USA Executive Board’s list of resources, updated here: interactingwithjesus.org/inclusion. (The link takes you to the section “On the biblical witness concerning same-sex sex”.)

          • Conrad Ermle

            Harold, I think you know better than this. The Scriptures are clear. Nothing is vague on this one. Even it nothing was said in the Scriptures, nature itself would tell you something about common sense on this one. I suppose you can pick and chose if you want to, but for those of us who still trust the Word of God there no wiggle room on this one, and you know it too.

          • Drew Weber

            Ha, what exact part of nature are you referring to here Ermle? You won’t find any backing for your beliefs in the natural world.

        • John Luther Barnhart

          Polygamy is not plural or group marriage. The bible allows for a man to be involved in multiple marriages. Each marriage is between one man and one woman. If the man divorces one of the women, it does not involve the other women.

          Jesus stated that the law of Moses allowed for some things that were not the perfect will of God. They were his permissive will. Because of the hardness of man’s heart, the law of Moses allowed divorce. Because of imperfect situations in the world, God allows polygamy. But he would rather it not happen.

          Homosexual marriage is not even the permissive will of God.

          • Charlie Kraybill

            John, in your words, gay marriage is “not even the permissive will of God.” But it is soon going to be the law of the land. And churches will have to deal with that reality. Of course no one will force a congregation to hold a gay marriage if they’re opposed to doing so. But congregations that continue to promote anti-gay policies are going to become increasingly irrelevant as time goes on. Today’s young people have no time for that sort of bigotry. We are seeing that it takes the action of the secular government to move society into an open and inclusive environment for LGBT persons. Just as it took the action of the secular government in the 1960s to move society (including those who believed integration was not the will of God) into an open and inclusive environment for persons of color. And once again, the church will be at the tail end of society’s movement towards realizing the kingdom of God. Ironically, the church has become the enemy of God’s justice.

          • Conrad Ermle

            Charlie. Charlie. Charlie. The law of the land and the will of God are many times not the same, and at perpetual odds with one another. That is why thousands of Anabaptists paid with their lives. The Church is not the voice of the secular government, certainly not in an Anabaptist perspective. I’m ashamed that you would try to equate something like gay marriage and the “integration” movement. There is no comparison. I am a veteran of that movement. I walked with King as a young person. What you are suggesting is simply ridiculous. Go back and study the Movement and you’ll see what I mean. Stop this nonsense of degrading the multitudes who paid the price for “integration” (some with their lives) equating the will of God in that movement with gay marriage, which cannot be substantiated in Scripture or Anabaptist and Christian history. It’s hard to believe you would even try to make that stretch, especially if you claim any knowledge of the Anabaptist message and the Word of God. In case you haven’t noticed those congregations who oppose gay marriage are the ones that are losing people and those who stand with Holy Scripture are growing by leaps and bounds. There is something wrong with you analysis. I wonder what you are really trying to say. Nonetheless, I wish you God’s best for your life. I simply cannot let you get away with such a ruthless misrepresentation of the civil right movement. Too much blood has been shed by those who paid the highest price of all. — Conrad Ermle

    • David Morris

      Comparing Evana with Westboro is really out of line.
      The story with abolition and scripture is complicated by the fact that many abolitionists were out and out evangelicals. William Wilbeforce, for example. We often think of the past as being uniformly more religious, but that’s just not true for, say C18th England. Wilbeforce’s work, e.g. “A practical view” makes this clear.

  • Conrad Ermle

    Do we really need another group like this? Something doesn’t quite add up. After all is it even possible to be an Anabaptist and not be evangelical??? I think not. — Conrad Ermle

    • Charlie Kraybill

      Yes, Conrad Ermle (whoever you are), there are anabaptists who are not evangelical, who believe that the assimilation of Mennonites into 21st-century American evangelicalism is the worst thing that has ever happened to the anabaptist movement, who believe that religious diversity and cultural diversity are beautiful things and that it would be a shame if all members of other religions were converted to christianity. We are out there and we are growing, at about the same rate as the institutional Mennonite church is diminishing.

      • Ermle

        When did you stop being a Mennonite, Charlie (whoever you are)? You seem to have little knowledge of the Anabaptist beginnings or the movement as it developed as a beacon to the Christian world. Your concept of “diversity” is very non-Anabaptist. The Anabaptist vision has always been totally inclusive, open to all who repent and grow together in community because of the new birth and our headship in Jesus, the Christ. What a beautiful life. Anything else is a diversion and has no precedent in Anabaptism. We come from every race, tongue, tribe and nation under Heaven. We have left the old life behind and found eternal life in Jesus. You appear to have chosen a divergent path. — Conrad Ermle

      • J.M. Branum

        The word “evangelical” is pretty loaded with multiple definitions, but if you use the term as it is commonly used in American religious life, then I am very much not an “evangelical” but I do aspire to be an Anabaptist.”

        But if you are using the term evangelical to refer to “those who bring the good news,” then yes I am an evangelical.

        Or to say it more precisely… I don’t see Jesus as a blood sacrifice to appease an angry God, but rather as an example of how to live and die for others, and as a bringer of a new way of living and being. The good news of Jesus is that a new world is coming and is even present now, and that is transcends and even explodes the empires of this world. That is real good news, and not the “pie in the sky by and by” that is preached by most who call themselves Evangelical in America today.

        • Joshua Rodd

          Well, I don’t see Jesus as just a good example of how to live a life of perfect works and be a good person.

          I see Jesus as someone who has supernatural power to give any person who asks deliverance from the experience of sin and walking in darkness.

      • Joshua Rodd

        Charlie, it is not accurate to say that universalist movements are growing and flourishing. They have been around in significant numbers since the 19th century and are currently experiencing numerical decline.

        Existing mainline Protestant denominations that embraced universalism (which I see expressed in your belief that “it would be a shame of members of all other religions were converted to Christianity”) have experienced sharp decline. The Episcopal Church in America, the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are just a few examples.

        The worldwide movements aren’t in decline. Anglicanism and United Methodism in the Third World are growing quickly, even as they continue to embrace their own orthodoxy and reject universalism.

        • Charlie Kraybill

          Joshua, I am not talking about “Universalism” as a movement or religious denomination, nor am I talking about any christian institutions. All religious institutions are man-made, and now in sharp decline. The sooner they disappear the better. The universalism to which I refer is the belief (outside of any official religious group) that God will eventually draw all her creatures to herself, that there is no divine condemnation, only mercy and compassion. This is a belief that is increasing in the hearts and minds of individual human beings around the world, from all cultures and religious backgrounds.

          • Phil Schroeder

            Charley. The mercy and compassion that you refer to are indeed there for those that accept and honor Christ as savoir and lord. It is God’s will that all come to him. Unfortunately many chose to go their own way following the delusion that a loving God will ignore their rebellion.

            “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. Matthew 7:13

            27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28 (many not all and for those that are waiting for him)

            6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. Revelation 21:6-8
            Be careful what you are espousing to other people. The serpent said, “did God really say?”, and Jesus said, “it is written”. God’s word is eternal, man’s philosophy will crumble along with his rebellion.

          • Charlie Kraybill

            Phil, your assertion that God’s mercy and compassion are only for those who “accept Christ as savior” is precisely the kind of religious arrogance and spiritual superiority complex that turn people off to church. Good luck with your exclusionism and your church bubble. Some day you’re going to look around and wonder where everybody went.

          • Phil Schroeder

            Charlie, you are probably right about wondering where everybody went.

            3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3

            Your focus was on what people want to hear. I see no comments on the scripture verses quoted in my previous post.

  • P. Gregory Springer

    There has been a bottom line on this question for some time, even decades, and yet the vain repetitions of arguments continue. The bottom line? Gay people do not choose to be gay; each of us is how God made us and how we are expected to express our love. On the other hand, we readers of the Bible do indeed choose how to interpret the Bible. Witness the endless debate, even in these comments, as to the meanings of verses. Harold Miller says we need a lawyer to understand words. In truth, the meanings of words change over time (and rapidly!), so that readers of the words “intercourse” and “ejaculation” 100 years ago would believe they were reading about social speech and abrupt shouting, not the sex and climax we immediately think of today. Take words through multiple translations of many languages and thousands of years of changing social mores (we no longer accept polygamy and slavery) and you clearly have debatable wording in the Bible. What is not debatable is that hundreds of thousands of gay people want to share love and companionship and worship the God of their heritage without being shamed or damned or reduced to second-class status. Gay people cannot change the fact that they are gay; people seeking understanding of God’s will can search the Scriptures and always seek new understanding and, yes, change. That may require some humbling sacrifice, a reduction of pride and willingness to accept others as they are. And, without any doubt, that is what is happening today, gay people are finally being accepted as people, not as problems, despite concentrated oppositions such as Evana, the name which – given the deliberate disingenuousness of its stated reasons for being – should forever signify “evasiveness.” I predict and pray for a short life for Evana.

    • John Gingrich

      Who is rejecting who? Who is being shamed and damned? Who’s convictions are being scorned? Who is wishing for a short life for the “other”? Who might just conclude they are not welcomed? Who might decide to leave, assuming everyone will be happier?

      • I think I understand what you are trying to say, John Gingrich. Evana was formed by people who consider themselves victims, pressured to accept gay Christians as equal to themselves, something they find unacceptable. While forming a network to exclude gay people, Evana decided not to mention this intrinsic basic reason, hiding true intentions behind other “vision and values” (that are virtually identical to those of MCUSA). Without the rejection of gay people, Evana has little to distinguish itself, other than what I presume you are saying: it allows those in the network to pride themselves in being oppressed, when the reality is the exact opposite. It’s understandable why you would be reluctant to admit this, but very few will not be able to see clearly through the deception and the illusion Evana attempts to create. We all know Evana equals anti-gay.

        • Ermle

          You are trying to make something of this which is simply not true, and I think you know it. I have yet to meet a born again Anabaptist Christian who even suggests that they are “pressured to accept gay Christians as equal to themselves”. ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God. This is why ALL are lost and ALL are sinners. Most of these sins we have chosen (perhaps all of them), and we ALL need deliverance, and that deliverance is provided for all who will repent and believe. The church is made up of people who have made bad choices but have found new life in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He is what Christianity is all about. None who repent are rejected by anybody in the family of God. Those still in darkness are shown love and compassion and pointed with loving care to the Lord Jesus Christ who is their Saviour. There is no case to difficult for Him. Quite simply, there are believers and there are nonbelievers. All must believe or they will (according to Jesus) “die in their sins”. May I be so bold as to suggest I think He knew what He was talking about. — Conrad Ermle

    • Conrad Ermle

      Absolutely “gays” do chose to be gay. God created humans, male and female “created he them”. What in the world are you trying to pass off here, and why. People sin because they chose to sin. We’re not talking about character flaws here, which are common to all. We are talking about sin and the sacrifice that was paid to deliver us all. You regard for Scriptural interpretation seems very non-Anabaptist and more like our evangelical and mainline cousins who seem to feel the Word is of “private” interpretation, not necessarily by discernment by the Holy Spirit. The Word is forever settled in Heaven, and we need the discernment of the Holy Spirit to enjoy the “revelation” of the Word of God. People can twist and turn and wiggle all they want, but we simply are not at liberty to pick and chose. Sorry if that goes against your theology. (So much for theology!) Neither can we add to the Word or take away. Otherwise we could each write our own Bible. I don’t believe in division, but you are even “pray”ing for a “short life for Evana”. We need to be more mature than that. — Conrad Ermle

      • David Jost

        What about transgendered people? What about gay animals? Your understanding is wholly inconsistent with the world we obviously see around us. It’s just biology.

        Your claim that your scriptural interpretation is of the Holy Spirit and those who disagree on a given question are somehow inherently more “private” is problematic. You’ll find you have disagreements with whoever you wind up denominationally. In fact, I think that any plausible reading of scripture would suggest that other things we could argue about are more problematic. Affluence poses terrible problems to followers of Jesus. If you’re going to take Paul so literally, I think we have difficult questions to answer about our lack of a teaching in favor of voluntary singleness, and the role of women in leadership. I still find it mind blowing that it seems to not occur to people that Jesus taught explicitly against divorce (except for adultery), and yet our churches (including our conservative churches) remarry our divorcees all the time. Will you refuse to enter denominational relationship with churches that remarry divorcees? I’m yet to get a straight answer on that from anyone.

        David Jost

        • Conrad Ermle

          What “conservative” churches are you talking about? I don’t know of any that will remarry divorcees as long as their first spouse is still living. In fact some of the conservative Anabaptists, not all, still insist that a convert who is divorced and remarried must leave the second wife/husband as they are not considered as validly married. You must not get around very much, certainly not among conservative Anabaptists, who are by far the majority in the world of Menno, Amman, and Hutter. — Conrad Ermle

          • David Jost

            I was not discussing Old Order or Conservative Mennonites. I used a lowercase c, and referred in different contexts to conservative Christians in the U.S. generally, or referred to MCUSA congregations with conservative stances on this and other issues. Among both groups, divorce is endemic. As the circles that I “get around much” in are predominantly MCUSA or rooted in other denominations, I’ll refrain from discussing Conservative Mennonites much. I’m very pleased with the Old Orders that I’ve bought produce from and collaborated with in projects that support MCC, which I’m glad we can all celebrate and support. I’m certain that for myself and my brothers and sisters in MCUSA, the Conservative Mennonite way isn’t best, and from there, I’m concerned with groups that exclude gays but ignore divorce. That would, I would bet, include virtually all or all MCUSA churches with more than 100 members.

            David Jost

        • Bruce Leichty

          There is no dispositive evidence that “biology” is responsible for same-sex attraction just as there is insufficient evidence that all “gays” choose their orientation. Both extremes embrace politics at the expense of science. Regarding David’s need for a straight answer on why conservative churches marry those who are divorced, the answers are also probably manifold, and some churches may not be very articulate on this — some may even be inconsistent — but the instincts of many are still in the right place. The most faithful churches are those that do not make blanket judgments about human error, that act in love (which is not always permissive), and that do not bless acts against nature and in particular object to normalizing an orientation which is often associated with childhood abuse or boundary-crossing. These conservative churches conserve the teachings and spirit of Jesus, and the wisdom of the elders, without worshipping the biblical writings that are but attestations to the supervening Kingdom of God as known in the person and work of Jesus. That kind of conservatism would sometimes allow the remarriage of divorced persons (and I am not unbiased on this issue since out of my brokenness I am one whose remarriage was performed by a pastor licensed by one of the more conservative Mennonite conferences) — but it would preclude same-sex marriages. It would also require relating to those persons who experience same-sex attraction as Jesus would relate to them, in grace and truth.

          • David Jost

            I’m not sure how I can address you on the biological question, beyond a few pieces of evidence at the bottom that is unlikely to be read. Overwhelming consensus among biologists is that this is at least massively a biological phenomena (albeit with a social component, granted). There are gay animals. There are gay people in every culture. Privately, people look for gay pornography at very comparable levels across different demographic and cultural groups. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just acknowledge that it’s biological; you could still say that it’s sinful. Plenty of biological inclinations are sinful.

            Do I understand right that conservative churches all over the United States can disregard the literal commands of Jesus and allow roughly 20% of their marriages to end in divorce (a very conservative estimate, from what I understand) because the arc of scripture bends towards sympathy, but gay marriage is absolutely forbidden because of a few Pauline passages that can easily be interpreted to pertain to abusive practices of the time?

            The 20% (at minimum) divorce rate among American Christians just can’t possibly be entirely divorces from pre-Christian errors. The Christian right reeks of hypocrisy, and critical thinking skills rebel against it. I don’t think you would want to be treated the way you’re treating gays, and I observe that few with gay family members share these prejudices.

            Considering that the stricter, more literal commands of Paul are generally more restrictive than we understand the grace of God to ultimately be, I’ll lean on the side of letting LGBTQ have fulfilling marriage relationships. I think the hypocrisy and inconsistency of the church on this issue is doing terrible damage by driving away thoughtful critical thinkers than you know. We’re also driving away droves of people who need Christian witness that monogamy and purity are important.

            http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/10443/20141118/homosexuality-genetic-strongest-evidence.htm

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biology_and_sexual_orientation

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animals_displaying_homosexual_behavior

            http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/06/biological_basis_for_homosexuality_the_fraternal_birth_order_explanation.html

            http://www.theatlantic.com/past/issues/97jun/burr2.htm

          • Joshua Rodd

            David, you may want to clarify a bit what you mean by “conservative churches”. Conservative Mennonite churches do not accept divorce & remarriage amongst their members, period.

            I agree with you that there is an inconsistency in a position which tolerates divorce and remarriage but draws a line against same-sex marriage. I disagree with you that the words of Paul are not God’s word to us for today, just like the words of Jesus are.

            I also disagree that the push for LGBT inclusion is a push for “Christian witness the monogamy and purity are important”. The vanguards of this movement, such as Rachel Held Evans, teach that the Bible doesn’t teach a sex ethic. An executive director at Christian Peacemaker Teams, Sarah Thompson, recently spoke against monogamy: “Heterosexism targets the queer community. It is a paradigm that places greater moral value on monogamous, heterosexual, married people, their relationships, and their well-being … CPT is committed to building partnerships to transform violence and oppression. As an organization, we continue to name and challenge heterosexism and transphobia as part of that commitment.”

          • David Jost

            Hi Joshua,

            I’ve used “conservative” (lowercase c) to refer to conservatives within the spectrum of U.S. social/religious/political identity (conservative Christians) and to refer to churches within MCUSA that have conservative positions on this (and likely other) issues. You’re absolutely right, this is an important thing to clarify, that others would interpret this conversation to be about Conservative Mennonites (who I usually refer to as Old Order Mennonites) hadn’t occurred to me.

            I never said that Paul’s words aren’t God’s word for us today. I believe the whole Bible is God’s word for us today. That doesn’t mean that I take it wholly literally. I don’t and no one else does either.

            I didn’t know of either Rachel Evans or her stance, or Sarah Thompson’s stance. Google is availing me of further answers in a timely enough fashion for my needs, but I note that in your quote, Sarah didn’t condemn monogamy, she said she wanted to name and challenge heterosexism and transphobia. Her statement does not criticize marriage or monogamy. Perhaps Sarah has made other statements that scorn traditional marriage or monogamy, in which case I’d have to look at them closely, and quite likely find myself in disagreement.

            In any case, my experience of the movement is consistent with what I’ve said about the push being for monogamous, committed relationships. In Harrisonburg and in Goshen, the cities where I’ve lived, worked, and interacted, I’ve heard of support solely for monogamous relationships. I’m aware that sexual promiscuity is a major issue today, and I doubt that it is limited to or even significantly more serious in progressive Mennonite communities. Evangelical Christians have sex (and children) outside of marriage all the time.

            I’m aware that in the 2014 survey of credentialed leaders, a seemingly troubling percent of ministers seemed to support inclusion of LGBTQ personnel, regardless of preconditions of monogamy. I doubt that the survey reflects anything real, though. For people involved in church and educational bureaucracies, litmus tests for candidate relationships are a very difficult thing. What counts as leadership? What constitutes being or not being in a committed relationship? What counts as evidence that someone ISN’T in a committed relationship anymore? Who judges? Reservations about litmus tests suggest suggest integrity and strong critical thinking skills, not weak values.

            http://mennoniteusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/MCUSA_2014Survey_ExecSummary_Dec17.pdf

          • Berry Friesen

            David, when you say same-sex attraction is “biological,” do you mean fixed by prenatal biology? Please elaborate on how this may differ from person to person among those who identify as gay or lesbian. Also, is bisexuality biological as well, in your view?

            I notice that many advocates for inclusion speak of sexual desire as if it is clearly defined and fixed in regard to who and what is desired. In contrast, the Apostle Paul spoke of sexual desire as dynamic and malleable in regard to who and what is desired, perhaps not within every individual, but certainly within a broad demographic group

            This difference in perspective strikes me as an important aspect of this debate.

          • Charlie Kraybill

            Isn’t it clear that Paul wrestled with his own gayness? How different things could have been had he come to terms with it and declared himself out and proud.

          • Berry Friesen

            Charlie, it hasn’t been “clear” to me, but given Paul’s astonishing life, lifestyle and history, it would not surprise me to have you make it so.

            The thing is, Paul clearly didn’t subscribe to a static view of sexuality, a view your comment suggests by pasting a label (“gayness”) on his sexuality. For Paul, sexual desire was dynamic and malleable; our desires have been, are and can be shaped.

            Now I’m convinced that Paul’s dynamic view doesn’t fit the reality of people on either end of the sexuality continuum. But such a view does fit the reality of the people in the middle. What number shall we use to quantify that middle? 60 percent? 70 percent? 80 percent?

            My point is that it is a big number and that Paul’s understanding of sexual desire remains accurate for the majority of us today in the 21st century. It is obviously highly relevant to MC USA discussions of sexuality.

            But to date, almost all of the discussion in the church has focused on the 5-10 percent who find opposite sex attraction unimaginable. How is it righteous to assign such persons a life of permanent solitude and celibacy?

            Certainly, the church’s discernment also must include the majority whose sexual desires are dynamic and malleable. What is the word of wisdom and justice to them (most of us)?

          • Charlie Kraybill

            “So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. … So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

            “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

            “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”

            “And last of all [Jesus] appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

            Are these not the words of someone wracked by guilt and pain because of sexual desires that he feels are wrong?

          • John Gingrich

            Charlie, you know your Bible and you know that the end of Romans 7 is making a connection to gnosticism and/or platonism. The immediate following 16 verses make it totally clear what Paul believes, that we are not slaves to that sinful nature in a life through the Spirit. Also, use the context for the quote from 1 Cor 15. Paul is listing the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and in that context the word that can mean aborted or abnormal most logically is a reference to his birth on the road to Damascus. But thanks for challenging us with your thoughts

          • Charlie Kraybill

            John, I totally reserve the right to take texts out of context and give them the interpretation that I find most appropriate, because it is upon that age-old practice that the entire Christian edifice has been built.

          • Berry Friesen

            Charlie, he might have been talking about disconcerting sexual fantasies and desires; that seems reasonable given his apparent celibacy. Yet several references are to actions, which could be distinguished from desires. Those references may fit better with an aspect of his personal struggle that was behavioral; some think Paul was bipolar, for example.

            Generally, his writings don’t indicate that he was wracked by guilt, or that he feared the wrath of God.

            As fun as it is to speculate, the text from Romans 7 also can be read simply as the experience of a man who often felt disappointment in himself, which is hardly a remarkable experience, right? And as a hyperbolic riff to disparage critics in Rome (and back in Jerusalem) who insisted the Mosaic system of blessings and curses was a superior form of justice to Jesus, who Paul said is God’s justice revealed (3:21).

          • Charlie Kraybill

            Berry, any “disconcerting sexual fantasies” Paul may have had were not likely to have been about women. Again, I quote Paul here, from 1 Corinthians 7:1: “It is good for a man to not have sexual relations with a woman.” He was anti-marriage, and anti-hetero sex. The truth is glaring us right in the face, if we’re open to seeing it.

          • John M. Miller

            Barry, I wonder if you would expand on you statement, “For Paul, sexual desire was dynamic and malleable.” For me this is a new exegetical claim and I wonder on what you base it.

            Your statement, “our desires have been, are and can be shaped” makes a scientific claim, and again I wonder about your evidence. Particularly in this context when it seems that your claim would have reference to the issue of sexual identity. Would you provide the supporting evidence, please.

          • Berry Friesen

            Hi John; good to see you back in these pages.

            Paul did not know the categories of desire in which we have been schooled (straight, gay, bisexual). His categories related to how desire is expressed (natural use of the sex organs or unnatural—see Romans 1:26-27). Behind “unnatural” sex acts Paul saw misplaced worship and confused thinking (1:21) and distorted desire (1:24).

            This dynamic progression functioned for Paul at a social or cultural level. We know this from the way he frames his argument with references to “the justice of God” (1:17), “the suppression of truth” (1:18) and “the creation of the world” (1:20).

            So sexual desire is part of the created order, a river running through all of us. Like all of our desires (that’s important to note), this particular desire is shaped by the worldview of the society in which we live. I’m not asserting that completely describes Paul’s view, but it is a significant part of his understanding.

            I don’t have research summaries at the ready to answer your second question. My assumption is that most contemporary research focuses on
            what Paul left out: the fact that some individuals have pronounced desires for same-sex coupling even though their acculturation tells them not to have such desires.

            Generally, I have been taught that science establishes sexual desire to be a continuum. Most of us are toward the middle of that continuum; the content of our desires and the nature of our sexual behaviors will depend on the kind of sexual experiences we have had and on what our social milieu eroticizes.

          • John M. Miller

            Thanks for your response. I understand that for Paul, sexual desire was controllable, e.g., “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have
            nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.
            Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the
            things of this world.” Col. 3:5 (NLT) I don’t see that as quite the same thing as “dynamic and malleable” if by those word you refer to sexual orientation. I understand that recently at Stumptown—I was not there but it was so reported—the claim was made that sexual orientation is fluid and can be changed. My understanding is that reparative therapy has been discredited.

            “So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is a range of dangerous and discredited
            practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or
            gender identity or expression. Such practices have been rejected by
            every mainstream medical and mental health organization of decades, but
            due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBT people,
            some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy. Minors are
            especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression,
            anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.”

            Yes, I have a friend who claims that through his prayer ministry persons have been delivered from their homosexuality and I have no basis to question the truth of his claim. However, I think there is abundant evidence that this does not work for everyone. My stance is that we need to recognize the experience of our Christian fellow disciples whose experience does not point to malleability.

            While I don’t fully understand your explanation how Paul views human sexuality as dynamic and malleable—though I do understand the cultural dimensions—I don’t find in your response evidence for your claim that “our desires have been, are and can be shaped.” That’s an empirical claim and you must have evidence. Don’t you?

          • Berry Friesen

            John, you are talking about individuals at either end of the sexuality continuum, and I am talking about people in the middle. I did not intend to address conversion therapy in my comment.

            How many of us are bisexual? It’s not an identity I claim, but with a different sexual history and a sexual milieu that encouraged bisexuality, I might have been bisexual, just as the Roman elite were during Paul’s time.

            That’s what I mean when I describe sexual desire as dynamic and malleable. And no, it’s not that way for everyone, but perhaps for the majority.

          • John M. Miller

            O.k. I think I understand. I agree that there are persons in the middle who can choose to go either way. Some go both ways, and I question the integrity of that. Probably results in promiscuity. Seems to me the issue of malleability is a bit dangerous at this point become some are using it to promote the idea that all can be shaped as heterosexual. That’s my concern.

          • Charlie Kraybill

            John, you question the integrity of those who were born bisexual and created that way by God? You believe the bisexual orientation results in promiscuity? You are not as enlightened as you think you are, John. These statements are insulting to all bisexual persons. If you don’t get that, I urge you to look up some bisexual Mennonites there in Lancaster County and talk with them about it. Yes, they do exist. I’m sure the folks at Community Mennonite could point you in the right direction.

          • John M. Miller

            Charlie, I don’t understand the basis for your saying that I “believe the bisexual orientation results in promiscuity.” As I understand, “promiscuity” refer to “having sexual relations with a number of partners on a casual basis.” Being bisexual would not per se indicate promiscuity unless the person sought to fulfill inherent tendencies in both directions. I think you too glibly accuse me of ignorance.

          • Charlie Kraybill

            John, Two weeks ago you wrote the following: “I agree that there are persons in the middle who can choose to go either way. Some go both ways, and I question the integrity of that. Probably results in promiscuity.” If I understand your words correctly, you’re saying that you believe bisexuals are more prone to promiscuous behavior due to the fact that they are attracted to both sexes. I believe this is a fallacious assumption on your part. It is also unfair and prejudicial to bisexual persons.

          • John M. Miller

            Charlie, you’ve deduced conclusion that I did not intend nor imply. I have no reason to believe that bisexuals will give in to their impulses any more than straights or gays. I expect all are tempted to experimentation. All I said is that any bis who choose to indulge both attractions would in my understanding violate the moral standard of chastity in singleness. The same would apply to straights and gays who chose to indulge their singular attraction.

          • David Jost

            Hi Berry,

            My understanding is that some sense that there is likely a significant genetic component to sexuality. My understanding is different animal species form homosexual relationships without evidence of unique socialization experiences that could account for it. My readings suggest that many experience homosexual feelings even in highly heteronormal societies, even in societies that don’t remotely acknowledge homosexuality or educate their youth for it. My anecdotal experiences suggest that those who grow up in conservative (small-c conservative, by which I mean people from MCUSA congregations with conservative stances on this and many other issues) families are also prone to detect homosexual inclinations in themselves.

            I think sexuality is genetic, and also dynamic and malleable. But I think that homosexuality is natural and not a wholly depraved social creation is a worthwhile consideration.

            David Jost

    • Charles Yoder

      ” each of us is how God made us ”
      Wrong. God created Adam and Eve the way He wanted humans to be. No human has met that standard since sin entered the world. God is not responsible for any imperfections in us. He would never make anything that is less than perfect. To claim otherwise is to insult Him.

  • Conrad Ermle

    The Mennonite Church and Anabaptist Movement from the beginning has been totally inclusive. Ours is a “believers church”, welcoming and totally inclusive of all who are born again, of all who have repented of their sins and received Jesus into their hearts. Nonetheless, all sex outside of the one woman/one man marriage relationship is sin. Simple as that. This is what biblical Christians have always believed, the Anabaptist movement believed, and the Mennonites Church believes. With repentance comes a whole new way of living. Old things are left behind, and excuses are not made for sin. Conversion is real. It’s the new birth. The Word of God is settled. The door is open to all who will believe, repent of their sins, and enter into the gift of God, which is eternal life. That’s as inclusive as you can get. To water down the Gospel or look for loop holes is deceitful. There is freedom and victory in Jesus.

  • P. Gregory Springer

    Nothing is as “simple as that,” Conrad Ermle, especially your statement that “The Word of God is settled.” But let’s leave that familiar rhetoric behind for a moment and please consider this. Gay people exist. What would you have LGBT people do? Changing orientation is not an option, as the 20-year ministry of Christian “change” organization Exodus has shown (as well as science). Certainly, the left-handed person could be forced to use his right hand, but why? In effect, you have nothing to offer gay people but extermination. That is your demand, whether you realize it or not. Others, not bound by nonviolent Anabaptist convictions, willingly take up the cause of extermination of gay people, who are jailed and tortured and exiled and executed throughout the world. You would have it that LGBT people do not exist upon the earth. You have nothing else to offer. Your insistence that LGBT people are unrepentant sinners is fuel to the fire and you may think you wash your hands of the blood that results, but it remains a stain on your “settled” reading of the Bible. You need to unharden your heart and open your ears to the voices of gay Christians.

  • Martin Franke

    to P Gregory Springer: It intrigues me how Satan works: he deceives, then convinces his dupes to go and likewise deceive. A good example is the story of mankind’s fall in creation-first Eve was deceived, she then went on to deceive Adam. This moldy argument that “gay people did not choose to be gay” has all the hallmarks of Satan’s deceit. It is partially true; just enough so that it lures people to investigate further–and then be deceived. By the same argument, one could just as well defend a drunkard in persisting to drink-alcoholics did not choose their affliction, but those I know that have really dealt with it understand that the only way to beat the problem is to leave drink entirely. And so forth and so on-do we exonerate murderers and leave them to continue to murder because “God made them that way”? The issue with humanity is sin, and the cure for sin is not to excuse it, but by the Grace of God to be saved from it and turn from it. The same with homosexuality, just as in ALL sin. To understand this issue differently is to make naught of Christ’s sacrifice for each of us in whatever sin we find ourselves. Perhaps rather than praying for failure for Christians making an honest attempt at staying firm to God’s Word and Will, you should be praying that you yourself might be freed from Satan’s deceit!

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