Ready to repent

Apr 24, 2017 by

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I am amazed at God’s faithfulness to his people as seen in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Three remnants travel from Babylon to the Promised Land. The people go back with the goal of rebuilding their land and their cities. I do not think they realized they were also going back to rebuild their relationship with God.

For hundreds of years previous, judges and prophets had called the people to repentance. By the end of the book of Nehemiah, the people come to their leaders and say, “We have sinned.” There are still 400 years between Nehemiah and Matthew, but God is working in the hearts of his people to call them to himself.

The question that haunts

At the end of July 2016, my wife and I attended both the U.S. Mennonite Brethren Pastors Conference and the National Convention in Denver, Colo. During the Pastors Conference, the presidents of Fresno Pacific University and Tabor College hosted a forum intended to increase understanding between the churches and schools about the issues each face regarding same-sex relationships. The presentation was clear and concise. The discussion was sensitive and appropriate.

At the time, I did not ask the question that continues to haunt me: Do we bear responsibility for the hostility felt this past summer due to proposed legislation in California where we have a number of Mennonite Brethren churches and more generally for the lack of a relationship between the lesbian and gay community and the U.S. Mennonite Brethren Church?

I believe the answer is yes. I have been judgmental toward gay and lesbian individuals when I should have offered grace. I have been hateful when I should have offered love. I have caused pain when I should have offered healing. I have excluded when I should have included.

For Mennonite Brethren churches, I also believe the answer is yes. I know that not all MB churches exclude gay and lesbian individuals. Not everyone within an MB church that has excluded has done the same. It’s messy. We can rationalize that we are doing a much better job now to not be exclusive. But, at the very least, we have acted like we are better than the lesbian and gay community, and for that we are wrong.

The call to repent

There are USMB congregations in 18 states, and gays and lesbians living in these states — and, for that matter, in all of the United States — have every right to be angry and disappointed with the Mennonite Brethren Church because of its treatment of lesbian and gay individuals. Just think about the things we write on Twitter, the articles we post on Facebook, the jokes we tell in secret and the “us/them” language we use in conversations. By not acting in grace, we have put state governments in a position to defend lesbian and gay individuals.

God is calling me to repent. God is calling us to repent.

I am pretty sure I am about to lose two groups of readers right now. One group reading this is saying, “You go, Brad. Tell them how gay/lesbian intimacy is not a sin.” I may lose you because I do not agree with you.

I believe that the act of homosexuality is a sin. The Bible does not define every sexual sin. I believe it does define marriage. Scripture repeats three times (Moses in Gen. 2:24; Jesus in Matt. 19:5; Paul in Eph. 5:31) that marriage is between a man and woman.

I believe all human beings in their sinful natures are born with desires that lead to sin against the institution of marriage (lust, fantasy, porn, affairs, homosexuality, divorce, etc.) And to be clear, desires — temptation — is not sin; acting on the desires is sin.

Forced to move

The other group I may lose are those of you who agree that we have not done everything right, but you do not think we need to repent. I might lose you because I think we do need to repent. This group of readers is caught in zugzwang, German for “compulsion to move.”

Zugzwang is a situation found in chess and other games wherein one player is put at a disadvantage because they must make a move when they would prefer to pass or not move.

I have been in this situation; you may have, too. My child disobeys. I get angry. I say or do something I should not. I am in zugzwang. I know I should repent of my anger, but I also do not want my child to think what he or she did is acceptable.

One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn as a parent is that until I humble myself and repent for my sin, I really do not have any ground to work on in dealing with my child’s disobedience. God’s Word never called us to consider how repentance might be interpreted as a condition for acceptance. God simply calls us to repent.

It would appear that the Mennonite Brethren community is in zugzwang and that we think it is to our disadvantage to make the next move toward lesbians and gays and to repent.

So we’ve passed. And we’ve passed. And we’ve passed.

Stop passing

Our Confession of Faith, specifically Article 13: Love, Peacemaking and Reconciliation, calls us to humble ourselves and repent. But we do not repent. It is hard to humble oneself. And the biggie: What if the lesbian and gay communities interpret repentance as approval?

From Genesis to Nehemiah to Matthew to Revelation, God has been at work to redeem his people. Are we willing to repent?

In his book The Integrity Crisis, Warren Wiersbe writes about the crisis facing the evangelical church: “For centuries, the church has been telling the world to admit its sins, repent and believe the gospel. Today the world is telling the church to face up to her sins, repent and start being the true church of that gospel. We Christians boast that we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but perhaps the gospel of Christ is ashamed of us. For some reason, our ministry doesn’t match our message.”

What is God calling you to do?

What is he calling us to do?

Stop passing.

If we need someone to go first, let it be me. I have had thoughts, said words, felt hate, made jokes that are insensitive and acted like the sins of the lesbian and gay communities are greater than mine. In general, I have acted like I am better. That is not the person God has called me to be.

I am sorry. Please forgive me. It is my desire to accept, know and love all those created in God’s image. I realize I have hurt and offended lesbian and gay individuals by my actions and attitudes.

Brad Burkholder is lead pastor of Hesston (Kan.) Mennonite Brethren Church. This article originally appeared in Christian Leader.


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