Friendly conservative suggestions to progressives

Jun 17, 2015 by

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We in Mennonite Church USA are uneasy about our apparent impasse over same-sex relationships. As Michael King writes in his first “Blogging Toward Kansas City” entry (King plans to offer blog reflections leading up to the national convention June 29-July 5 in Kansas City, Mo.), many in our church insist that we must allow “faithful dissent” on this issue and find “some clean, clear, genuine way to live with diversity of understandings”; yet, this dissent is itself “an ingredient of the impasse” because others in our church insist on “a clarity not muddled by the faithful dissenters.”

I have two suggestions for progressives who would like our church to avoid being fragmented in Kansas City and are open to possible ways of moving beyond the current impasse.

1. Vote for the resolution on the Membership Guidelines at Kansas City if you want to keep in MC USA the conservatives who can tolerate some diversity on the same-sex matter. Our Executive Board, in proposing this resolution on the Membership Guidelines, may have found the best way possible to keep us together the next few years.

The resolution gives openings for “faithful dissent.” The openings may seem minute to you, but they glare at us conservatives. When it talks about area conferences granting ministerial credentials consistent with our formational documents, it “presumes” they will do so “as seems best in their context” — language that suggests fuzzy freedom rather than clear authority. The resolution goes on to call the Constituency Leaders Council to engage in “conference-to-conference peer review when area conferences make decisions that are not aligned with the documents named above.” In other words, it acknowledges that conferences might take actions at variance with our formational documents and only calls for a response of “peer review” when that happens, not automatic discipline or even censure.

I know you want to make a final break with those Guidelines. But if 51 percent of MC USA delegates vote to do so, Evana Network’s ranks will swell. Such a vote would send a message that we as a church have discussed and decided the same-sex matter, and any conservatives who feel like they were not in on the discussion (i.e., all of them, for we have had no churchwide discussion on the issue itself) will feel like they are outsiders. Voices in Lancaster Mennonite Conference calling their conference to “practice unity in diversity” (see MWR’s, “Lancaster District Makes Unity Central“) will be drowned out by voices alarmed at a vote rejecting the Guidelines.

2. Call for Bible study if you want to work at a long-term way through our impasse on same-sex relationships. Not Bible study with the goal of seeing who’s right or with a goal of changing the other. Just Bible study where the goal is to rejoice in Scripture and show that we all take it seriously. That’s the “clarity” that we who are conservatives long for and need. We don’t need everyone to agree on what particular Scripture passages say. As Sam Thomas says about Lancaster Conference in the above mentioned MWR article, we have “a history of allowing diversity to take place and remaining united” on issues like divorce and remarriage and women in ministry. What is essential is not that we agree on same-sex but that we agree on Scripture — that we all “persist and delight” in reading it, that we all trust it (in its spirit and trajectory) as “the fully reliable and trustworthy standard for Christian faith and life” (Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective).

If you want us who are conservatives to feel like we belong together with congregations and conferences who call for full inclusion of LGBT individuals, show us that those parts of the church are loving and honoring Scripture. Is not that an essential value in MC USA? In particular, at each point where conservatives wonder if progressive congregations and conferences are taking the Bible seriously, work to give a thoughtful response showing us that you are. As David Gushee wrote to fellow progressives in Baptist News Global, “How Traditionalists Connect the Biblical Dots,” the “broad themes of liberation, justice or inclusion of the marginalized” do not “invalidate the need to deal with the texts cited on the traditionalist side. . . . [W]hen progressives . . . refuse to engage the real concerns of the other side, they come across as fundamentally unserious about Scripture.”

Leaders in congregations like Community Mennonite in Harrisonburg, Va., Assembly Mennonite, in Goshen, Ind., and First Mennonite in Denver, have written statements on how they see Scripture leading them toward full inclusion. But we have not yet engaged in a careful, thorough-going conversation together. So we who are conservatives still remain unsure that inclusive congregations and conferences are loving and honoring Scripture when they take their actions of “faithful dissent.” (At least this is my perception, as I set forth in my Web article, “Listening and Responding to Voices of Inclusion.”)

We need some sort of purposeful churchwide Bible study on the issue, perhaps involving the creation of wiki-type articles (collaborative, succinct, easily visible) in which all the church can see how those holding the inclusivist stance seriously “engage the real concerns of the other side.” Again, the goal of this Bible study is not that we all end up agreeing, but that we all end up amazed at how passionately all of us love Scripture and take it seriously. The better we do at this, the larger will be the number of conservatives who can say that we all belong in MC USA.

Harold N. Miller is pastor of Trissels Mennonite Church, Broadway, Va.


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  • Berry Friesen

    Thank you, MWR, for publishing this helpful essay. I’ve commended it to the delegates from my congregation and asked them to vote for the resolution on the Membership Guidelines.

    Across the church (including my conference-Lancaster), people have recognized the inadequacy of statements about same-gender sex. What most desire now is relational engagement guided by Scripture.

    So the task of the delegates in Kansas City is to prepare the ground for the Constituency Leaders’
    Council to stick together and forge a new consensus on how the Membership Guideline is to be applied. Harold has helped us understand how this can still happen.

    • Cynthia Singer

      Harold my friend I am very disappointed and hurt by your comments, I feel as if you are saying that inclusionists study of scripture is not as good or less than and if we just would study with you we would see your side of things- I stand with scholars and good writers, Matt Vines, Dr David Gushee , Dr Brownson and Ken Wilson who see this differently. You have said previous articles that you are not convinced by these arguments how will engaging study together help this–it will not. We have discussed this for 40 years.
      I stand with my lgbtq brothers sisters and families. We are convinced that theology and the rule of love points to full inclusion of every one.

      • Harold Miller

        So is there no hope for us, Cindy? Even after years of talking, we — two very dear friends with many bonds of friendship and fellowship linking us together! — will still feel that each holds a stance that violates a value that is essential to our faith? You still feel that the rule of love calls for full inclusion of LGBT persons, and I that Scripture calls same-gender attracted persons to celibacy?

        If that’s the case (two camps, with each feeling that what is at stake is something essential that cannot be compromised), the sooner we acknowledge it the better.

        But I’m not yet ready to say that is the case. And note, I’m not saying I need progressives to “see my side of things” or to convince me to agree with them. They just need to convince us that their responses to our scriptural concerns show that they love and trust Scripture. (In other words, I’m saying that what is essential for conservatives is our view on Scripture, not our view of homosexuality.) Perhaps I should be convinced already, having read Vines, Gushee, et al. But I’m not, as my Web article, “Listening and Responding to Voices of Inclusion,” explains. Perhaps I will never be convinced. But we won’t know until we try.

        • Berry Friesen

          Harold, I’m glad for how you’ve nuanced your standard of persuasion (“show that [progressives] love and trust Scripture”). And though I don’t think of myself as a progressive on this, I’ve been reading your web article, trying to imagine how your nuanced standard might be met.

          Your article does not acknowledge what a slender reed I Cor. 6:9 is and what a huge weight you expect it to bear. It doesn’t acknowledge that Paul’s critical words in Romans 1 described the bisexual lifestyle of the imperial elite. Nor does your article deal adequately with the biblical trajectory of inclusion. For example, it does not discuss Ruth’s repudiation of Deuteronomy’s exclusion of the Moabites from “the assembly of YHWH,” 3rd Isaiah’s repudiation of Ezra’s exclusion of eunuchs and foreigners from YHWH’s “house of prayer,” nor the teaching of Acts that the inclusive prophecies of Amos and Isaiah were fulfilled in Jesus. It does not reflect on how Gushee affirms the authority of the creation accounts, yet also calls us to take seriously the teaching of Genesis 3 that “no one’s sexuality is innocent.”

          I perceive you to be distressed by the fact that the most prominent and vigorously asserted arguments for inclusion in the church are rooted
          not in Scripture but in Western notions of equality. I get that and share your distress. But seriously, we cannot defend our unfaithfulness to Scripture by wagging our fingers at the unscriptural arguments of others, can we? That’s the corner Gushee and Campolo have turned, as I understand them.

          Voices within our church that claim biblical support for categorical exclusion of gay and lesbian individuals and couples are wrong. We need pastors who know better to start opening scripture to explain why they are wrong, even though some within our church are using secular arguments to make the same point.

          • Harold Miller

            What a helpful, constructive comment, Berry. Clarifying some points (eg., that “the most prominent and vigorously asserted arguments for inclusion in the church are rooted not in Scripture but in Western notions of equality”). And challenging me on others.

            Your comments after reading my web article are helping me see how complicated and tedious it might be to create those “wiki-type articles” I mentioned. Some quick responses to those comments:

            – Perhaps 1 Cor 6 is a “slender thread.” But no one has even raised a counter-argument. So it feels like a strong thread!

            – The other week you mentioned the idea of Rom 1 being about “the bisexual lifestyle of the imperial elite.” Few would say that. Is that interpretation so solid and obvious that you can present its basis clearly and simply?

            – As far as the examples of the “biblical trajectory of inclusion,” I see inclusion as one of two main ways the Spirit of God is moving people: 1) The Good News of Jesus leads us to value all people, and 2) The Good News of Jesus deepens our obedience to the spirit of God’s law. Merely giving examples of one does not invalidate the other, does it? Hopefully that simple response is enough. If it feels like it’s not “simple” but rather simplistic, Berry, please push me out on it more!

            Harold

  • John Bekert

    Stay true to the Bible.

    • George M. Melby

      Just make sure all people understand that WHAT the Bible say may not always agree with YOUR mis- or interpretations of same.

      • John Bekert

        Homosexuality is one in a long line of sins. It is filling a need (love, affection, physical closeness) in a way counter to the way God designed humans to relate to Him and each other. The Bible does not say why God ordained marriage and a sexual relationship to stay between one man and one woman, but it is clear that He did. Several times in the Old Testament, God lays down the law concerning homosexuality (Genesis 19:1-3;Leviticus 18:22;20:13)

      • Linda Rosenblum

        Pastor Melby- Do you not see the irony of your two posts? First you present the arguments of John Boswell and Matthew Vines as if they are indisputable fact regarding the fall of Sodom and that homosexuality in the ancient world only consisted of rape, prostitution and pederasty. Then you warn someone not to assume that everyone will agree with his personal interpretation of the Bible. Linda Rosenblum

        • John Bekert

          Well said..

      • Wilbur H Entz

        I see you have a “love rules” flag near your post. Actually it is agape rules. The word love has been overused and bandied about too long. It is used as a noun, adverb, past participle, verb, pronoun and an adjective. Agape is a much better word as agape can only be practiced by God and Christians.

        • Charlie Kraybill

          Agape can only be practiced by God and Christians?!? Oh really. Where’d you read that, Wilbur? I’m sure such an assertion would come as a surprise to decent Greek-speaking heathens everywhere.

  • Matthew Hunsberger

    MCUSA is already “muddled by the faithful dissenters” on the very same article of the Confession of Faith, but not as it pertains to same-sex relationships. I would venture to say that the majority of churches in MCUSA accept into membership and leadership persons who are divorced and remarried which dissents from the clarity of marriage being one man, one woman, for life. As a wise leader recently told me, “if you want a pure church, you can get it…because nobody will be there.” Why most homosexuality be the ONE issue that we not willing to allow faithful dissent? When a church has accepted a divorced and remarried person into membership or leadership, there hasn’t been an article in Mennonite publications, discussion about removing that pastor’s credentials, churchwide conversations about this “impasse”, etc. Have churches been able to continue to be associated with area conferences when they’ve not removed from membership a young man or woman who has decided to join the military? What about when they refused to help the poor? If my presence in MCUSA as a gay man is “muddling” the purity of the church, then I guess I should just leave so the church can once again be pure. Believe me…I’ve thought about it.

    • Harold Miller

      Matt, all of us here would experience great loss if you were not part of our fellowship.

      You raise many heartfelt questions. Do these comments help at all?
      – Those young men/women joining the military and their congregations are not trying to chance MC USA’s stance on the matter. I agree that that does not make it right. But it explains part of why it doesn’t get on the denominational radar.
      – Those leadership persons who are divorced and remarried view their divorce either 1) as a sin they personally committed in the past or 2) as a sin someone committed against them. If it was the first, hopefully things moved toward confession and forgiveness and a new start. If the second, Jesus and Paul apparently leave the door open for remarriage (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor 7:15).

      • Berry Friesen

        Harold, your response to Matt is accurate, but as you seem to acknowledge, it is not adequate. Matt asks: “Have churches been able to continue to be associated with area conferences when they’ve not removed from membership a young man or woman who has decided to join the military? What about when they refused to help the poor?”

        These are important questions. How does Virginia Mennonite Conference answer them?

        As a church, we cannot continue to defend policies and practices that exclude gay and lesbian individuals/couples from the body of Christ because somebody else somewhere else advocated a change in our Confession of Faith. As Matt has pointed out, that stance has no integrity. We can affirm biblical values AND share fellowship with followers of Jesus whose lives do not fully reflect biblical values. Seriously, we do just that all across our church all of the time.

        • Harold Miller

          Thanks, Berry, for helping me ponder Matt’s questions some more.
          My understanding is that Virginia conference would not discipline a congregation who didn’t dis-fellowship a member who joined the military, and also would not discipline a congregation who didn’t dis-fellowship a member who entered a same-sex partnership. Instead, our conference focuses its discipline on what a congregation’s credentialed leaders say and do — not “what are a congregation’s members doing?” but “what direction are the congregational leaders seeking to move those members?”

  • Audrey Roth Kraybill

    Dear Mr. Miller,
    I read your article and I am once again made very clear that you see no place in your church for me or my family. Unfortunately for you, it’s my church too. In my church my family and all people of any and all sexual orientations and gender identities are known and loved and accepted by God. So, yeah… haters gotta hate and lovers gotta love. I choose love.
    I know this sounds snarky, but I’ll be honest, I am tired of me, my family and many others in our church being discussed as if exclusion were up for debate. We are not.We are in the church, always have been and always will be. Our topic needs to change. Let’s be about the hard work of loving each other instead of drawing lines in the sand of who we think is in and who’s out. Jesus simply didn’t operate that way and neither should we. — Audrey Roth Kraybill

    • Conrad Ermle

      I hope you are not suggesting that God endorses sin? Homosexuality is a sin. There is no Scripture to be found that even suggests otherwise. We are a people of the Word. Yes, there is confession, repentance, and salvation for all. Sinners are being delivered all the time. Don’t twist the Word of God by trying to excuse sin. Sexual “orientations” come in two forms, namely male and female “created He them”. Any deviation is a choice, not an orientation. There are thousands among us who made that choice in years gone by and have been delivered and made whole, and walk and live among us in joy and peace. The Gospel is still true whether you like it or not. — Conrad Ermle

  • Michael A. King

    Harold, if you can stand it, I’ll stay out of commenting directly on resolutions for two reasons. First, I’ll be at Kansas City only as part of networking, observing, and learning on behalf of Eastern Mennonite Seminary (and for blog purposes Mennonite World Review) but I’m not a delegate; I won’t personally participate in the key discernment work of the delegates who process the resolutions. Second, I’m not sure I trust my own wisdom enough to comment on the effects of passing or not passing given resolutions or how, say, the resolution on membership may end up interplaying with the resolution on forebearance.

    But I do want to underscore my appreciation for your picking up on my blog and the wrestling with how we can get beyond an impasse in which one person’s non-negotiable is another person’s stumbling block. Often enough you and I don’t see eye to eye, but I value the many years now you’ve invested in staying in the conversation with me and others whether or not you agree. I appreciate your putting right out there your “friendly suggestions” and would love to see more of this type of interaction.

    As the condition of impasse reveals, part of our churchwide challenge is that we can passionately love the Bible yet still hear God’s voice differently. But yes to the importance of “loving and honoring Scripture” as “the fully reliable and trustworthy standard for Christian faith and life.” In an after-sermon conversation recently, someone asked my view of Scripture, I said I love the way the Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective puts it, and quoted the same phrase you do. Seeking to journey on with you, Harold, my brother in Christ.

  • John Bekert

    God does not create a person with homosexual desires. The Bible tells us that people become homosexuals because of sin (Romans 1:24-27) and ultimately because of their own choice. A person may be born with a greater susceptibility to homosexuality, just as some people are born with a tendency to violence and other sins. That does not excuse the person’s choosing to sin by giving in to sinful desires. If a person is born with a greater susceptibility to anger/rage, does that make it right for him to give into those desires? Of course not! The same is true with homosexuality.

    • George M. Melby

      I would beg to differ with your out-dated, out-moded take on things. We have much more theological information today than we did 50-70 years ago. Looking at the bashing Scripture verses, we note that two especially stick out. First, Sodom and Gomorrah were NOT destroyed because of homosexuality, but because of lack of hospitality and greed. Not much has changed since then. Second, prostitution was practiced in the Temple during the Feast of Harvest rituals, which every Christian today condemns also, whether it was homosexual or heterosexual prostitution! I suggest you update your entire thought processes to a more cogent, modern level!
      Pastor George M Melby, M.Div.

      • John Bekert

        May I ask that if you can give one place in the Bible where it says that homosexuality is OK with God?

      • Elaine Fehr

        A “more cogent, modern level” of thought process isn’t necessarily going to bring about an accurate biblical view of why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Sure, homosexuals trying to force themselves onto two male visitors wasn’t the only sin that caused God to destroy the cities, but a study of scripture presents a strong case that it certainly was one of the vile sins that had overtaken the cities.

        David J. Stuart wrote an excellent piece on Sodom and Gommorah on the jesus-is-savior.com website. Here are some excerpts that may help:

        ‘ “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Jude 1:7

        The term “going after strange flesh” is explained to us in Proverbs 7:5 and Romans 1:26-27…

        “That they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the stranger which flattereth with her words.”

        “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.”

        “Going after strange flesh” in the Bible is not necessarily homosexuality, as we are warned about the “strange” adulterous woman in Proverb 5:20; 7:5; but, the context of Jude 1:7 clearly implies homosexuality. “Going after strange flesh” means going after flesh “different” than what is rightfully ours to claim (our spouse’s body -1st Corinthians 7:4). Notice that Jude mentions both “fornication” and “going after strange flesh.” ‘

  • John M. Miller

    Harold, I’ve been debating with myself whether to engage at this point or not. I’ve read the foregoing discussions and studied your web article. I do not intend now to discuss the points I diverge or disagree with your arguments there but will to try to address what I understand to be your primary thrust here. I do appreciate that you here display an irenic spirit and have as your goal finding a way to remain together as a denomination.

    In advocating for a vote in favor of the Membership Guideline, you ask delegates who believe the Bible does not condemn same-sex marriage to vote for a resolution that defines the position of MC USA in a way that violates their understanding of biblical teaching. Though I believe this resolution represents a majority of the denomination, to ask people to vote for statement that violates their understanding of the Bible seems to me to ask too much. Paul Schrag in his excellent editorial in the May 25 MWR advocates for this as a reasonable compromise and the best political solution to what you call our present “impasse.” I wonder if you would be equally willing to vote for a resolution that defines the official position of the denomination in contradiction of your conviction with regard to biblical teaching as a political compromise to maintain unity.

    Would it not be better to honor both parties by stating that there are contradictory understanding of biblical teaching sincerely held within the denomination with regard to same-sex marriage and that both positions will be honored by the national structure. It has already been noted elsewhere that the EB in taking authority with regard to credentialing has usurped a function previously delegated in its polity to the conferences. If the EB would acknowledge this departure from the denominational covenant and reaffirm the authority of the conferences, it could remove itself from tensions over that issue. The political compromise puts the denomination in the position of affirming as authoritative one understanding of biblical teaching and at the same time approving violation (“variance”) of its affirmed biblical teaching. It seems to me this that you advocate pushes in the direction of sanctioning disobedience rather than affirming obedience to different understandings.

    As I read the tea leaves here in Lancaster Conference, those who read the Bible teaching more restrictively have already made up their minds to go the Evana route. It seems to me the Radical Center dynamic of recognizing the differences and affirming that both the more restrictive and the more accepting seek to follow biblical teaching and that we are called to unity in spite of different understandings of what the Bible teaches is a better approach. I wish that the EB had come up with a resolution to affirm that reality rather than asking delegates to vote for a resolution that involves allowing variance from an officially affirmed biblical norm.

    While Paul Schrag supports the course now set for Kansas City because it seems the best political compromise, I desire that we could have a solution that honors the integrity of both conviction. Further, I have doubts as to whether the compromise will work, because as Paul say, “It appears that traditionalists want purity more than progressives expect approval.”

    • Harold Miller

      I think you’re right, John. Wording the resolution the way you suggest would have been looked beautiful (“affirming obedience to different understandings”) whereas the resolution we have looks ugly (affirming only one understanding and then “sanctioning disobedience” to it). However, prudent heads stayed with the ugly, realizing that stating it the ideal way would be too hard for conservatives to swallow, would give energy to those talking of leaving.

      You intrigue me when you say studied my web article. Yes, this is not the place to discuss where you “diverge or disagree.” But I would value hearing from you. The best way that I know to help conservatives not feel conscience-bound to leave is to help them see, as I say in the blog, “how those holding the inclusivist stance seriously engage the real concerns of the other side.” The most helpful way to do this is to work at expressing it succinctly and simply, without redundant or extraneous words (think Wikipedia’s style). If the argument still has power in that simple form, odds are it’s a good one. If the argument doesn’t have power when in a simple form, then its power may rest on its author’s ability to multiply moving words.

      • John M. Miller

        Harold, thanks for your response. I do think that framing this as a matter of “looks” rather than of integrity demeans the significance of my argument. As I have argued in my response to Berry, I don’t think that politically guided actions to give the appearance of holding to a standard while in reality taking official action to indicate that variation from the standard will be sanctioned manifest the kind of integrity required by our commitment to Jesus who said that our “yea” should mean yea and our “nay” should mean nay. Political expediency is not the means of effectiveness as the body of Christ. It’s not a matter of beautiful or ugly, but of honesty with one’s words.

        While I would gladly engage you on issues of interpretation, during and since my MennoLink days I have been reluctant to carry on conversations behind the scenes. I much prefer a public forum. I clicked on the “respond” in your essay and it took me to an email address. If you sense a need for private rather than public conversation, you can find me on Facebook and give me a private explanation. If I find it adequate, I might choose to engage privately. I believe you will find I take the Bible seriously.

    • Berry Friesen

      John, you make an eloquent argument here, but only by decontextualizing our crisis.

      One district conference—the last to join the denomination—exercised its credentialing authority in a shocking way. Controversy ensued. The response of the CLC was tentative and wavering. Confidence in denominational leadership eroded. Prominent congregations started withholding funds from denominational activities. Congregations began talking about jumping ship. The Executive Board concluded Mountain States’ credentialing of Theda Good violated the membership covenant Mountain States had made with the other stakeholders; thus, other district conferences had no obligation to recognize Theda Good’s license. More controversy ensued. The hemorrhaging of trust, confidence and goodwill continued.

      Now what? You say let everyone follow his/her own conscience. That sounds attractive. It may be where MCUSA ends up. If so, it would be a much smaller denomination than today.

      The plan adopted by the Executive Board implies it thinks it premature to give up on being the strong and diverse church MCUSA set out to be 14 years ago. It wants us to make an effort to restore trust and be empowered by the experience. How can we do that?

      First, let’s ask the key stakeholders (the district conferences) to act with “grace, love and forbearance” toward those with whom they disagree. Shall we license a gay pastor? Consider first how that would harm the efforts of conservative districts to hold their congregations within MCUSA. Shall we organize an effort to censure Mountain States Mennonite Conference? Consider first how that would harden its position.

      Second, let’s ask the delegates to support the founding documents by which the 21 stakeholders first came together. Notice that the resolution does not ask delegates whether they like the Membership Guideline on sexuality or whether it conforms to their personal convictions and understandings of Scripture. The resolution only asks the delegates whether it would be wise for the Membership Guideline to “continue to serve MCUSA as the guiding document” on matters related to sexuality. If the delegates say ”yes,” then the stakeholders know the framework within which they begin the difficult work of forging a new consensus, one based on their evolving convictions. If the delegates say “no,” then there is no necessity to forge a new consensus. All that would be left is a collection of district conferences free to ignore the counsel of the others whenever convenient to do so.

      The Executive Board plan is an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging, stabilize the patient, and move toward healing. If the delegates can do that much, the convention will be a success. Then the hard work of forging a new consensus would begin.

      • John M. Miller

        Berry, you have given a cogent argument to support a political maneuver to keep open the possibility of maintaining a viable denominational structure. I see your argument as defense of a compromise of principle in favor of a workable solution in what you understand to be the context of the denominational dynamics. I agree with your analysis of what’s going on. I differ in two regards.

        I do not think it was necessary for the EB to take action not to recognize Theda Good’s credentials and thereby insert itself in a matter not authorized by our denominational covenant. All it would have needed to do was reaffirm that conferences have the authority for credentialing and that other conferences need not recognize Mt. States’ action. This is already the case. Franconia and Lancaster conferences do not automatically recognize credentials from other conferences. At the same time, the EB could have stated its position that MSC had violated the EB’s understanding of the denominational covenant. You argue that it was necessary as a pragmatic solution to keep more conferences and congregations from leaving. My view is that, regardless, it will not be effective with the restrictive conferences and congregations as long as variance is accepted as a possibility.

        My second disagreement is similar. As I understand your argument, you believe that by reaffirming the Membership Guidelines and allowing for variance will provide an adequate basis for congregations with differing convictions to maintain denominational unity. I believe that the position of affirming a standard and then sanctioning disobedience not only lacks the integrity of the position I advocate but will be unworkable. I don’t think those who believe the Bible condemns same-sex love and any sexual expression of that love in marriage are going to be mollified by a position that tolerates departure from what they consider an absolute norm. I think that Evana train has already left the station and the better stance for the denomination is to take a principled stand that honors obedience to the different understandings.

        Yes, this will result in major realignment of the denomination, conferences, and congregations. Do I wish this were not inevitable? Of course. But the dynamics are already in play and even a kindly suggestion that principle be compromised in favor of appeasing the determinedness of those who hold that Scripture requires a restrictive view of same-sex sexuality in my view becomes inoperative. While I respect your advocacy of compromise in the interest of unity, I don’t think it is workable and that the Radical Center view is the right one. It will not satisfy the Evana mindset, but it is based on the reality that our unity depends on a recognition of our oneness in the grace of God manifest in Jesus that we mutually confess as Lord and Savior and of love for each other that transcends our differences.

        • Harold Miller

          John writes that “those who believe the Bible condemns same-sex love and any sexual expression of that love in marriage” may not accept a KC resolution that “tolerates departure from what they consider an absolute norm.”

          There’s more truth to that than is comfortable. Which is why the blog’s second suggestion — a call for Bible study — is needed. The only way that conservatives can tolerate variance from our teaching position on homosexuality (the Guidelines resolution seems to officially allow such variance) is if they see that persons can act at-variance while sincerely longing to be led by Scripture. (I think conservatives can tolerate disagreement on the interpretation of particular passages, but not disagreement on the value of Scripture.)

          But whenever I say that we need to see that the progressives are honoring Scripture, many persons are bothered and even angered: “Harold has already seen many instances of progressives taking the Bible seriously and trusting it. So why is he saying he stills need to see it?” (Cindy and Ted pushed me on this.)

          I’m sorry! I’m just telling you my gut sense: my congregation and others like it need more reassurance here.

          Maybe this will help explain it. We see progressives going to the Bible, yes. But as soon as they find some possible readings that are in line with our culture’s stance on same-sex, they are willing to stop their Bible study. They’ve gotten what they need: scriptural sanction for the view they want to hold. But my plea is, please don’t stop yet! Because we have lots of “real concerns” about those readings (that’s what my web article, Listening and Responding to Voices of Inclusion, is all about). For progressives to not engage those concerns makes us wonder if their position rests on something other than Scripture. Because if they truly felt that Scripture is decisive (has veto-power rather than just one vote among many), then they would want to rigorously examine all the scriptural facets. I’m sure that many progressives are trying to do that. Which puts them in a good position to more quickly show how our “real concerns” (in my web article, for instance) can be answered! And then I can in good conscience tell my congregation that “progressives honor Scripture.”

          Again, I’m sorry to need all this convincing, that I can’t just quickly say that “progressives honor Scripture.” But surely it’s okay to move slowly and to ask for extra thorough convincing when one is considering overturning a couple milleniums of tradition. We are called “conservatives” after all!

          • Berry Friesen

            John and Harold, if I may reply to you together . . .

            Can conservatives abide delegate action that tolerates variance? Come on, let’s be real. Currently there are congregations in many of our district conferences that accept gay and lesbian couples into membership. There
            are congregations who have called gay and lesbian persons into leadership. Nothing the delegates do in Kansas City would bless those actions or cause more of such actions in the future.

            The spiritual core of our diverse denomination is the CLC where 21 district conferences and various other constituency groups meet together. We cannot continue as a denomination unless mutual accountability and trust is restored within that body. The two resolutions, if adopted, will implicitly instruct those area conferences to persevere within their original 2001 agreement, defer to one another’s interests, and discern together what Scripture and the Spirit are telling our church about same-sex individuals and couples. If the district conferences desist for a time from exercising their autonomy in ways that would upset their opponents in this struggle, then we have a chance to transform diversity into strength rather than a liability.

            “Lacking in integrity?” “Political expediency?” Let’s not poison the well with sanctimony here. In the world of business and nonprofit organizations, when two parties are locked in a lose-lose situation, they know that tomorrow will be worse than today and the day after worse still. Out of their brokenness and despair, they begin to defer to each other’s interests, hoping to reverse the downward spiral. It is the most honest and sincere thing in the world, even though neither is pursuing its earlier aspirations.

            Now can 21 parties (not just the two in the more typical case) do that? I don’t know. If even one of them says, “This delegate assembly has attempted to
            coerce our autonomous district into abandoning its deepest moral principles,” and then proceeds to be bold, prophetic and unilateral, well, that will probably be the end of our last chance. Not because bold and prophetic is bad, but because the whole idea here is that the key stakeholders will stop for a time from being unilateral and voluntarily put their bold and prophetic side on
            the back-burner in an attempt to forge a new and stronger unity.

          • John M. Miller

            I find your argument realistic and cogent. I hear you saying my idealistic push for a denominational stance that equally honors both poles of the polarity is not workable and therefore needs to be abandoned in favor of an official position that accommodates to the need of those who cannot accept the duality as a concession to the conviction Harold represents. (An atrocious sentence, but I’m struggling to get it said. :)

            I assume that this will be the outcome at Kansas City. It’s too late for the EB to change its recommendation to the Assembly. Besides, the majority will likely fall with the EB’s recommendation. If the polarity is 80/20 for the LMC Bishop Board and perhaps similar in the constituency, I expect that in the denomination it may be similar, though with the already flight of the “close” group, the balance may shift a bit in the direction of the “open” but they will not be in a majority.

            I expect that regardless, the Evana group will continue to swell, including congregations from LMC. I hope and pray that more will come to accept the position of the Radical Center. If I detect the direction of the winds in my congregation, there will be a push in the Evana direction but there will be important resistance, esp. if the balance in LMC tilts in the direction of the Radical Center. I think that here Paul Schrag’s observations accurately describe the situation and outcomes: “The resolutions bear the marks of a good compromise: It is probable that few will be completely satisfied. Traditionalists get affirmation but not assurance of a “pure” church. Progressives get tolerance but not approval. The result is imperfection, as either group sees it. Traditionalists who believe conformity on this issue is essential will not find it. Progressives who would like the church to affirm their beliefs will be disappointed. But the fact that it is the traditionalists who are leaving MC USA reveals one reason why it is hard to make the compromise work: It appears that traditionalists want purity more than progressives expect approval.”

            In the light of this, I expect to see major realignment ff. Kansas City. Evana will consolidate itself as a denominational entity albeit in its self-definition as a network. MC USA will continue as a smaller and more coherent denomination. I’m intrigued by your definition of the CLC as the “spiritual core” of our diverse denomination. It’s composition will inevitably change. I pray that it may fulfill the role you understand it to play. Only time will reveal the dimensions of this realignment and its fallout for the denominational based institutions.

          • John M. Miller

            Harold, again I thank you for your honesty and effort to find common ground. I think you have laid your finger on a dynamic that is at play at the center of our discussions when you say, “We see progressives going to the Bible, yes. But as soon as they find some possible readings that are in line with our culture’s stance on
            same-sex, they are willing to stop their Bible study.” You then indicate that you have lots of “real concerns” about those readings and link to your web article “Listening and Responding to Voices of Inclusion.” I would be willing to engage in discussion of those concerns openly. I wonder if you would be willing to change the way to discuss from private emails to discussion that is open on the web so that in the spirit of seeking together in the midst of the community of faith we could dialog about those concerns?

            It seems to me that the actual context of the political dynamic going on in MC USA at this point has moved beyond the possibility that reaching the common ground you seek. On the one hand, those who seek space to follow their convictions for inclusion of GLBTQs can no longer wait for acceptance of their position. Thirty-five years of advocacy has not brought acceptance of their position, and as with those who waited long for an end to racial discrimination, delay is intolerable. By the same token, those who see non-approval as central to their faith, esp. with regard to the authority of Scripture as you have framed the issue, feel that the denomination has already moved beyond the pale of faithfulness.

            I again find in the words of the Apostle Paul in that section of Romans where he deals with a way to remain united in spite of serious differences to apply: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” (Rom. 14:4) I wonder if the church will not be healthier if rather than affirming the resolution that affirms the exclusionary position as the teaching of Scripture and casts the inclusionary position as disobedience it would not be healthier to acknowledge that both elements in the church are seeking to be in obedience to different understandings of the teaching of the Bible. I believe that the Evana position and the Radical Middle position are the only viable options that maintain integrity in how we are the faithful church of Jesus Christ.

            I don’t assume that Michael King agrees with my analysis, but I find his post on his blog today, “https://www.google.com/search?q=Blogging+Toward+Kansas+City%2C+Part+4%3A+%27Painholders%27&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8” to be helpful. It seems that if we are to find our way to God’s future for the church, we will need to honor each other in positions that are contradictory and to seek to maintain “the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.”

      • Harold Miller

        Well said, Berry. I think all our denominational leaders, indeed all who are looking for the health of our church as a whole, are cheering you on and thanking you for seeing and stating this.

  • Chuck Friesen

    Harold,
    As I understand your suggestions, you call for a) voting for the Membership Guidelines and b) a call for Bible Study. If you were a delegate to K.C. how would you vote on the Forbearance resolution? You did not address that in your suggestions.

    • Harold Miller

      Chuck, you again ask how I would vote on the Forbearance resolution, as you did on Ted Grimsrud’s blog. Here’s the answer I gave there:

      I will vote for it if it is clearly not a new polity but is viewed as the Executive Board suggests. They say that the Forbearance resolution and the Membership Guidelines resolution “are best considered together” — they form one polity — because the Guidelines resolution is “a statement about polity, and the Forbearance resolution is a statement about how we treat one another in the administration of the polity.” —from their Report to the Delegate Assembly).

      I will not vote for it if it means what its authors say it means (in their June 7 response letter to Ervin Stutzman). They seem to see it as a mandate to free congregations and area conferences to work out their own practices without specific accountability to the formational documents of MC USA.

  • Conrad Ermle

    The Holy Bible, the written Word of God, is the clearest statement there is on this subject. Nothing needs to be added or taken away or re-explained by anybody. What do the Scriptures say? — Conrad Ermle

  • Daniel Hoopert

    1 Corinthians 6:9 is not a slender reed on which to base
    an objection to homosexuality. From
    1:10, Paul has addressed problems at Corinth.
    He comes to a literary peak in 6:9-11, where he tells the Corinthians
    that they need to change. As part of the
    peak, he lists practices of people who are not appropriating God’s grace in
    salvation. He writes that such people
    will not inherit the kingdom of God. The
    list is part of a peak; it is filled with rhetorical underlining; it can be
    thought of as having the power of any punch that Mohammed Ali could throw at an
    opponent. The thrust of the passage is, “Corinthians,
    you need to change; if you do not change, you will enter an eternity that you
    do not want (or even stronger, you will not inherit the kingdom of God).”

    People have called for Bible study. We indeed need that. And it would be good that when someone
    communicates, that person does not mean multiple things in the communication (yes,
    there may be multiple inferences in poetry or apocalyptic literature, but in
    the end, there is likely one meaning).
    It is the same with God’s communication to us in the Scriptures; his
    communication does not have multiple senses (certainly not in hortatory
    literature, such as 1 Corinthians); we therefore need to interpret what he has
    inspired so that we finally arrive at his intended meaning (which might not be
    all that difficult).

    • berryfriesen

      Daniel, you can read the Greek, I cannot. Have you read David Gushee on the term, “arsenokoitai”? The translation into English is highly contested. You have a strong argument–as does Harold Miller–but it is hardly conclusive. As far as I can tell, the term likely describes a combination of sex and coercion, similar perhaps to what “pimp” means in our current speech. As for another Greek term in the same sentence (“malakoi”), it could well mean “self-indulgent” in the sense that readers of the prophet Amos would recognize.

      In my work on If Not Empire, What? A Survey of the Bible, I learned that the prophetic tradition often reached for sexual images to describe and denounce economic injustice and the elevation of commercial pursuits over people. In the current vernacular, we do the same

      My point isn’t to minimize biblical concern with sexual morality, but to caution against jumping too quickly to translations that are narrowly sexual. The prophetic tradition is passionate in its denunciation of economic justice and often uses crude sexual metaphors to communicate its message.

    • Daniel Hoopert

      Hello, Berry. I would say that the terms arsenokoitai and malokos are likely referring to sexual sins. The first term, about which you may be well aware, has not been found in Greek literature prior to Paul’s use of the term in this passage. That leads some people to propose that Paul coined the term. In addition to that, Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees; he was very thoroughly trained in the Hebrew Scriptures. He also uses the Septuagint extensively, so he knew that. If these Hebrew scholars (rabbis) were anything like ones that I have heard of in this age, they knew the Scriptures better than I know anything in English. So, Paul may very well have coined the term from his knowledge of Leviticus 18 and 20. I would also like to suggest something that I have not seen, but something to consider: when Paul uses the terms arsenkoitai and malokos right next to each other (separated by a conjunction), it seems as though he is definitely covering both aspects of the act, similarly to the way we put together cats and dogs, salt and pepper. The analogy is not quite the same, but I think it issomething to consider. In fact, something like this has appeared in print. Gordon Fee writes, “What makes ‘male prostitute’ (in the sense of ‘effeminate call-boy’) [for the term malokos] the best gusess [for rendering in] is that it is immediately followed by a word that does seem to refer to male homosexuality, especially to the active partner” (Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1987:244 ).To argue only from the lexical senses of words may not be enough: Albert Mohler proposes that the case must also be established by using Biblical theology. One use of BT is to trace a theme’s use through all of Scripture. In this case, I think it would be enlightening to note the place of God’s creating the human race as male and female, as complements, and how this can advance God’s glory. But I would not set aside what can be learned from examining the words, statements, paragraphs, sections, and the entirety of each book of the Bible.

      • Berry Friesen

        Thank you, Daniel. Your interpretation seems reasonable to me.

        Part of what makes this all so difficult–and why I characterize your view as not conclusive–is that we find a certain aggressiveness in various sex-related behaviors that could be encompassed by this term, arsenokoitai (e.g., the “male role” in sexual intercourse between men, pimping, those who kidnap and castrate teenage boys and sell them into slavery, etc.)

        I’m not claiming Paul as a supporter of the church blessing same-gender sexual activity. But when I read his words to the assemblies in Corinth, which were so much more libertine than anything we are imagining, and when I follow his reasoning in Romans 1, which focused so much on the futility and destructiveness of the pleasure-driven bisexual activity he saw on constant display among the imperial elite, I see an example that prompts us to discern together how the church can encourage fidelity, love and fruitfulness within covenanted, same-gender couples. Because it is there, and it needs to be supported.

        The compassionate gospel of Jesus (the gospel we see Paul trying to embody) takes much more seriously than we do the ways people are distorted by the structures of deceit. It does not imagine all those distortions will be swept away instantly by repentance; turning from our racism, our sense of economic entitlement, our preoccupation with our sexual virility and attractiveness, our eagerness to believe the rationalizing lies the empire tells us every day, this requires little deaths that we find we must repeat over a lifetime. Thus, the gospel commits itself to working with people in their turning toward the light.

        Paul made that commitment, and we should too.

      • Don Bromley

        The meaning of arsenokoites is fairly straightforward if you keep in mind that Paul and other Jews of the first century read the Old Testament translated into Koine Greek, known as the Septuagint. It was the book they knew best.

        Look at Leviticus 20:13 in the Greek is: kai os an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos bdelugma epoiesan amphoteroi thanatousthosan enocho eisin… (‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable…”

        The key words there are arsenos (man) and koiten (to lie with, sexually). Put those words together… arsenos + koiten = arsenokoites.
        Arsenokoites is referring to two men having sex with one another. And as we know from Leviticus 20:13, *both* of them have done what is wrong, showing that this is referring to consensual activity.

  • Daniel Hoopert

    What is needed is not condemnation of people who identify as gay, but an understanding of God’s intention(s) in creation, and an understanding and acceptance of Christ’s work on the cross to redeem and restore each of us who has been a sinner (that is 100 % of us) through his death on the cross.

  • Daniel Hoopert

    Kevin De Young writes about same-sex attraction very well as a pastor in Appendix 3 of his book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?