RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE LISTENING COMMITTEE FOR HOMOSEXUAL CONCERNS

"I am fearful for our church on this question of homosexuality.... It could split our church. We have two roots for our present patterns of biblical interpretation and our theological reflections: the broad themes approach of Anabaptism and the prepositional rules approach of Fundamentalism. No one has found good ways to dialogue across this chasm. When I work with congregations an such issues, it seems we can only agree to disagree." --Comments at a dinner discussion group of 30 persons by a professional Mennonite mediator.

We must find ways to study homosexuality in our congregations if we are going to be faithful to our vision of what church is all about and if we care at all for homosexuals in our congregations." --From a conversation with an older church member.

A. Program Recommendation   The Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns recommends that the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church intensify its efforts to help congregations study homosexuality in order to discern how homosexuals can relate to the church's life and ministry.   (This recommendation is focused primarily on the congregation but we also urge the study of this issue on all other levels and appropriate settings of church life: in conference district meetings, church agencies and institutions and general assemblies.)   The Rationale   1. There is much diversity of opinion an homosexuality among us on such subjects as: the interpretation of scriptures on the subject, the causes of homosexuality, the appropriate ethical standards for homosexuals, and effective congregational approaches for working with homosexuals. The church needs to seek and achieve a more unified Christian resolution to these different opinions and convictions. We believe more intentional and structured discussions will help develop informed opinions and a greater common mind on the subject.   2. The general assemblies of the General Conference (1986) and Mennonite Church (1987) and the 1985 Human Sexuality study each urged continuing dialogue and discernment on the subjects of sexuality and homosexuality in our congregations.   3. The agonizing feeling of alienation and rejection now being experienced by homosexuals in our congregations, the confused pain of family members and friends, and the alarmed anxiety of persons who resist this subject--all these reactions cry out for more careful, sustained and disciplined study of this issue in our congregations. Since it is God's will that the church pursues peace and just relationships for all in the church, we believe pastors and congregational leaders (and church leaders on all levels of church life) must assume more responsibility to lead the church in working with homosexuality.   4. Our people are beginning to want to discuss this issue. There is much (sometimes intense) interest in this subject--even as there are efforts to ignore it or hide it under the table. We see indications of this interest in responses to our committee's activities, in the church press when it opens the subject and in the large attendance at seminars on this subject in both the MC Assembly at Oregon, 1991, and the GC Triennial Sessions at Sioux Falls 1992.   5. Our denominations have carried forward discussions of this subject on the General assemblies level for the past decade because this is where the issues were first focused. This has been a dramatic place to open discussion on the issue but it is not the best place to carry on sustained ones. It is time to move the dialogue on this issue to the congregation.    B. Enabling Recommendations 1. The Denominations' Role   We recommend that the General Boards structurally identify a place and a person in the denominations' organization (perhaps in COE and MBCM respectively) charged with responsibility to lead and facilitate dialogue and education in the congregations and throughout the denominations on this subject by:   a. developing resource materials on all aspects on this subject (biblical, theological, ethical, scientific, pastoral) and making them available for the use of congregations and other study groups.   b. creating an information center where congregations and groups can find help in planning their own study processes and can learn or existing networks and structures which can help them in their studies.   c. planning for workshops on this subject at national and district assemblies.   d. opening conversations with Mennonite homosexual persons to hear their stories and elicit their contributions.   e. opening and maintaining contact with organizations working in this area and impacting our people and congregations with their viewpoints and materials.   f. listening to and focusing the church-wide conversation about homosexuality.   2. The Institutions' Role   a. We recommend that our seminaries (and other church educational institutions) assume more aggressive responsibility to study homosexuality--biblical, theological, ethical, scientific--and make their studies and skills available to help congregations and groups become informed on this issue and process it. Further, that they help pastors provide effective pastoral care for individuals impacted by homosexuality.   b. We suggest that the institutions of the church regularly review their policies to ensure that these policies are not discriminatory with regard to persons of same-sex orientation.   3. The Pastor and Congregational Leadership's Role   a. We recognize that most pastors or church councils do not want to propose or lead study processes on this issue, particularly if there is no congregational agitation to do so. The subject is too sensitive. Therefore we offer some initiating and processing suggestions. We suggest:   1. that our congregational leaders consciously and intentionally initiate contact and open themselves to homosexually oriented persons and their families in their congregations, hear their stories as homosexuals and gain sensitivity to their situations as fellow human beings and Christians. The purpose of this initiative is primarily to gain a greater understanding of the homosexual as a person but also to use these learnings to sensitize the congregation to the personal dimensions or homosexuality, to correct misunderstandings of homophobic rears and reduce cruel comments and unloving attitudes expressed about homosexuals in our congregations and society.   2. that pastors and church leaders in our congregations (but also on denominational and conference levels) enter and lead this discussion with an upfront acknowledgment of their own biblical and ethical convictions they already hold on the subject but also commit themselves to a spirit and a process of openness, humility and patience to other viewpoints. Above all, we urge leaders to hold firmly to the assured conviction that the Spirit of Christ will lead us in discussing and seeking consensus on this issue.   3. that pastors make available sustained, sensitive and caring pastoral services to gay and lesbian persons in the congregation without neglecting similar services for all other persons irrespective of the biblical or ethical positions they hold toward homosexuality.   4. that our pastors and congregational leaders work to develop a congregational climate and gathered context where persons are free to tell their stories of same-sex identity or involvement with homosexuals and share their thoughts, pain, fears, disgust, anxiety, prejudices and convictions they have on this issue, whatever they are.   b. We recommend that the congregational process does not stop with study and discernment but that it include a summarizing their congregational resolution or views on this issue and at the same time continue to learn from and contributing to the discussions of other congregations and groups.
Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries
Commission on Education
Joint Listening Committee on Homosexual Concerns
August 20, 1992
Created and maintained by Loren Johns. Email me at LJOHNS@AMBS.EDU
Last updated 25 July 2000.