Dear church: Be a place that embraces

Sep 2, 2015 by

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I entered Elizabethtown (Pa.) Mennonite Church on Aug. 27 with trepidation, unsure of how the “Listening and Vision Casting” meeting process would unfold or how comfortable I would feel speaking to the question of whether Lancaster Mennonite Conference should leave Mennonite Church USA over the “issue” of homosexuality. Looking around the packed sanctuary to see a sea of white faces, gray hair and a smattering of coverings, I felt out of my element.

As we began, however, I was surprised and impressed with the process for the listening session — the care taken to split several hundred people into small groups for discussion, and the sincere desire to get feedback from each person in attendance. I was the only woman in my group and definitely the youngest, and yet I was again surprised by the diversity of opinions shared. There were things that I agreed with and things that I did not, but it was an honest and respectful conversation, which I had not anticipated.

As each group leader went up to the mic to report on what was said, I was struck by a number of things. There was not at all a clear consensus — in fact, it seemed almost evenly split between those who wanted to leave and those who wanted to stay. However, I heard nearly everyone echo a commitment to biblical values — code for defining “homosexuality” as a sin — which was the underlying assumption of those gathered. So it was not this most fundamental question that was being addressed, but rather the question of what Lancaster Conference should do to best uphold this particular biblical understanding.

Listening to all of this, what it seemed to come down to was that those wanting to leave saw this “issue” in black and white, and felt a moral imperative to separate themselves from what they saw as a slippery slope leading them to accepting “sin.” Whereas those who wanted to stay, while having this same biblical understanding, also recognized that we will never agree on everything and in fact diversity and differences of opinion are a positive thing. They were willing to live in the tensions, and felt that there is value in holding onto unity amidst differences — focusing on what brings us together rather than what separates us.

On the question at hand — to leave or not to leave — I would fall in the latter category. I am all about living in the tensions and seeing shades of gray. And as I’ve heard my own pastor articulate many times, harmony in the midst of differences is truly a powerful thing for a church to embody. But to be honest, I don’t know what the best direction for Lancaster Conference is, because I take issue with the fundamental assumption that everyone in that room was operating on.

My vision for Church — not just Lancaster Conference or MC USA, but the Body of Christ — is to be a place that is openly accepting and affirming of LGBTQ people, that rejects a reading of Scripture which labels the identities people are born with as “sin,” and instead holds to a biblical understanding which embraces people of all sexual orientations and gender identities as created by God and equal in every way.

I would venture to say that all of us long to be seen and embraced for who we are. If there is any place where that should be true, it is church. My pastor often says that “confession” is naming who we are and what we bring. None of us want to be defined solely by any one of our identities — we want to be seen as whole people. Yet neither do we want to feel that we must hide any piece of ourselves out of fear that we might be rejected. So please, Church, be the place where we can bring our whole selves — and be loved and embraced for all of who we are.

Amanda Arbour lives in Harrisburg, Pa., where she attends New Hope Community Church. This first appeared on her blog, Along Cracked Sidewalks.

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