I was not present at the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly in Kitchener-Waterloo Ontario this past July. However, in hearing a report back I am beginning to wish that I had been. I understand that in the next coming years there will be significant discernment on the matter of sexuality as it relates to the church, the bible, and our world. The obvious ‘white elephant in the room’ when we talk about sexuality and the church at the moment the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Questioning community and it’s interaction and participation within the greater body of Mennonite Church Canada.
Good! It’s about time we roll up our sleeves and talk about this… like really talk about this. Dare I say that I think it is coming about 20 years too late?
Jack Suderman wrote a brilliant paper called “Being a Faithful Church: Testing the Spirits in the Midst of Hermeneutical Ferment”which makes a strong case for the consistent necessity of good ol’ fashion communal believers church discernment on the places and spaces where the Holy Spirit is and moving toward. The dream of believers church discernment would be a community interpreting scripture and it’s own immediate cultural context on a continual basis in an effort to, hopefully, incarnate the hope of the gospel as the Holy Spirit leads. This discussion my friends is one place in which we find the Holy Spirit in Anabaptist/Mennonite theology. The thing is, it’s all grounded in a people gathered in faith. I don’t know about you, but when I think of gathering and Mennonites I think of potlucks.
And I love potlucks. I love going down into the church basement and finding tons of similar looking salads, cold farmer sausage, jello with the fruit in it, and chilli. The even better part about the whole thing is the opportunity to connect with other members of the community who, in an ideal Menno world, brought food too. It’s a beautiful picture seeing a bunch of people, sitting together, partaking in a common meal, who are wholly gathered in the name of the great “I AM.” It’s but one picture of a community incarnating unity. Its a unity grounded in the unifying grandness of a worthy to be worshipped God.
This doesn’t just happen at potlucks.
The beautiful part about this whole discussion is the assumption that the Holy Spirit is present where the few or many are gathered (Matthew 18:20 is an interesting text to take a look at, particularly in light of this discussion… read it here). This includes potlucks and nitty gritty discernment gatherings. It really is a back to the basics moment in Mennonite/Anabaptist praxis. Here is an opportunity before the Anabaptist/Mennonite community to participate with the Holy Spirit in the discernment of a fundamental issue as it relates to something that is incredibly human. It presents an opportunity to strive to be in touch with the active God of the past, the future, and the here and now.
I have been part of discussions on the topic of human sexuality before. Some were positive and others were not. But, even though this communal discernment thing is daunting I take hope in the God of hope. I take hope that it will be done in respect and mutual understanding and being ok to disagree. I hope that a community of people who are united in faith can find room for all
people with various thoughts and wonderings and count them as valuable for the discernment of this topic. But I would also like to see this conversation move into a more tangible reality, rather than the pure talk that can dominate and castrate issues like this. Ultimately making it impossible to move into the practical.
The trick then will be to make this discernment full of respect and understanding. Which means no ‘us’ vs ‘them language.’ If there is some of that language in this post, it is most certainly not intentional. It is a tough road to navigate, however it is also a prime opportunity for a community to discern the Spirits moving. What does the ideal discussion and discernment look like if we are to be in tune with the Holy Spirit? How does the Spirit of God manifest itself in difficult times like this? Other denominations have tackled this conversation and the implications have been mixed. I hope that we can push forward on this without any division, which is a common hope of many. But, before we think of that I can’t help but wonder if the most important elements moving forward with this discernment on human sexuality is connecting wholly and completely with a God who is bigger than that which could divide. Let’s be getting our ‘discernment on’ over a good ol’ fashion Mennonite potluck and talk life and God which would be a back to the basics of Mennonite/Anabaptist praxis. Can you imagine, different people with different points of view, coming from different places and different life experiences gathered together sharing a common meal?
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