Reba Place chooses ‘third way’ on sexuality

May 9, 2016 by and

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Reba Place Fellowship has found it is possible to remain united despite differing views on same-sex marriage.

Members of Reba Place Fellowship gathered in April at 727 Reba Place in Evanston, Ill., where the fellowship first began in 1957. — Reba Place Fellowship

Members of Reba Place Fellowship gathered in April at 727 Reba Place in Evanston, Ill., where the fellowship first began in 1957. — Reba Place Fellowship

Taking “a third-way approach,” the Evanston, Ill., group has opened its long-term covenant membership to “Christians identifying as sexual minorities” who are celibate, or seek to change their sexual orientation, or marry someone of the same gender, or are “still undecided or unwilling to take sides.”

All covenant members are eligible for ministry roles.

After a four-year discernment process, no covenant members have departed because of the decision, according to community leader Sally Schreiner Youngquist.

Reba Place Fellowship is an intentional Christian community begun by Mennonites in 1957 on the north side of Chicago, known for its sharing of living space, finances and decision-making. It is not affiliated with a denomination, but most of its 50 members are members of either Reba Place Church in Evanston or Living Water Community Church in Rogers Park, both Mennonite Church USA congregations.

Youngquist described the process as a slow conversation. In 2011, members acknowledged that differing views on sexuality constituted “an area of contention among us that deserved an open conversation,” she said.

“We had been a community holding the traditional position for quite a long time,” she said. “We had people who were gay in our midst who left because they wanted to be blessed in pursuing marriage.”

Reading another view

After forming a committee to guide the conversation, community members read materials from different viewpoints and shared their stories and convictions in small groups. The initial goal was simply to listen to each other.

“We really encouraged people: If you have a position that you have held, please read something that’s different than that to be open to learn,” said committee member Heather Clark.

Youngquist said: “It really required people making themselves vulnerable and listening without preparing rebuttals. It’s not something people should try to do quickly and in a debate mode.”

Some members shared that they were gay or bisexual.

“If there’s a climate of safety and honesty, you might be surprised at what people’s sense of identity is, because they would feel safe enough to talk about that,” Youngquist said.

They then turned to studying Scripture, bringing in speakers from different viewpoints to present their understandings of biblical teaching.

“We could tell in the early stages that we had deeply held convictions that were contradictory to each other,” said committee member Allan Howe. “I realized that getting unity among believers was a mandate given more frequently in the New Testament than some of the instructions about same-sex behavior.”

The conversation then began about possible proposals for a “third-way compromise.” Members all had the opportunity to restate their views. The final proposal was accepted last July.

“As RPF, we are not taking an official position to endorse either the ‘affirming’ or ‘traditional’ side of this controversial and disputable matter,” the statement reads. “Rather, we seek to create a space where those with differing perspectives can learn to honor, serve and encourage one another in our desire to find and follow God’s will.”

Respect, not consensus

Youngquist said the community still has people with differing views on same-sex marriage.

“People might think this looks like the affirming position, but it’s not,” she said. “We still hold a place for people who might be same-sex attracted who do not believe it’s God’s will for them to pursue a relationship.”

Reba Place Fellowship is not a stranger to controversial issues, having worked through conversations about women in leadership, abortion and remarriage after divorce, Howe said.

“We’ve committed to consensus, and in this case we didn’t end up with consensus, but we have mutual seriousness and respect,” he said.

Youngquist said: “Jesus’ model of footwashing was an important input into the conversation. Jesus washed Judas’ feet even though Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him. We are going to love people even if they wouldn’t take the direction we’re going to take.”


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