To:
Commission on Education, General Conference Mennonite Church 
Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries, Mennonite Church
From:
Joint Listening Committee For Homosexual Concerns
Date:
August 20, 1992
Subject:
FINAL REPORT: LISTENING COMMITTEE FOR HOMOSEXUAL CONCERNS
"Is there any place for me in the Mennonite Church?" --To the Listening Committee by a lesbian Christian raised Mennonite and wishing to continue to serve in the church. INTRODUCTION

The Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns is a joint committee of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church with its members appointed by the Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries of the Mennonite Church and the Commission on Education of the General Conference Mennonite Church. It served a two-year term from July 1990 through the Triennial Sessions of the General Conference Mennonite Church in July 1992.

A. The Committee assignment, its interpretation of the assignment and this report's response to the assignment.  
1. The "task of the committee" given by the Executive Officers of the appointing agencies (Everett Thomas, Ex. Sec. of MBCM and Norma Johnson, Ex. Sec. of COE), was outlined as follows:   1) "To care for gay and lesbian persons and their families in the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church by listening to their alienation and pain in the church and society;   2) To encourage and facilitate dialogue between persons of various perspectives concerning homosexuality and to foster continued theological discernment in the church on this issue;   3) To make recommendations to MBCM and COE regarding policy, program and church life in order to deal with alienation and hurt."   2. The committee interpreted this assignment essentially as fo11ows.   a. It was to listen to the general church (point 2), to gay and lesbian persons in our congregations (those who wish to share) and their families (point 3) on any and all matters they wish to discuss with us concerning homosexuality. This listening was to take place chiefly at the general assemblies, but not be limited to those occasions.   b. It was to foster continued biblical and theological discussion and discernment on this issue in our church. This work began through seminar assignments on the Bible and homosexuality at the general assemblies of the two bodies, th[r]ough sharing written materials on the subject and through contributions in regional and congregational discussions on this subject.   c. Make recommendations regarding policy, program and church life concerning this issue.   3. This report of the committee   This report first reviews the history of discussions of homosexuality in our denominations and locates our present listening committee in relation to this history.   The committee's work with assignment (1) is a major part of this report. It summarizes what we have heard in our denominations on this issue. While doing this the report also tries to bring a greater awareness and increased understanding of homosexuality as a physical, social and religious phenomena.

In connection with assignment (2) we have tried to understand how Mennonites are interpreting the Bible on homosexuality and how we are reflecting theologically and ethically on the subject. This report includes some of our observations on these items.

  In connection with assignment (3) we have examined and outlined perspectives and positions various congregations have taken or are taking on homosexuality. However, we have backed away from definitive biblical and theological interpretations or policy and program resolutions on this issue for our churches at this time. Why? Were we intimidated by the intense feelings or wide-ranging pluralism of positions we encountered? Perhaps we should have been more aggressive in outlining biblical and theological perspectives as well as "policy and program" concerning homosexuality for the church. In the totality of our work we may infer or imply certain directions the denominations may take in working with this issue, but we have not interpreted our mandate to set down those directions into recommendations. We do make a modest "program" recommendation along with several enabling recommendations at the end of this report.   One appendix is attached to illustrate how one congregation has studied this issue.
B. Committee procedure Our committee carried out its assignment the following ways.
  1. We engaged in a committee and individual education process on this subject by:
2. We listened to individuals and groups who wished to shire with us on this subject for two years from July 1990 through the MC General Assembly, July 1991 and the GC Triennial Assembly at Sioux Fall, South Dakota, July 1992.   3. We attended several meetings of groups working with homosexual issues.   4. We carried on extensive correspondence with interested persons.   5. We served as consultants or speakers in Conferences and congregational study processes.   6. We developed our views concerning homosexuality: causes of it, Biblical and theological perspectives on it and the relation of homosexuals to the Christian confession and Mennonite church life.   7. We prepared two reports: a two-page summary which provides a brief overview of our work and this report which gathers together our listenings, observations and recommendations.   Funding was made available for expenses for two committee meetings and attendance by the committee members at the two assemblies (MC in 1991 and GCMC in 1992). No funds were available for any research, surveys, hearings and field work, attendance at specialized meetings, writing or staff time.   1. Our committee listened to each other and worked together as a committee. Here is a review of our committee work.
  a. Our committee met first Nov. 16 and 17, 1990, at Newton, Kansas, in four sessions for orientation (getting acquainted, sharing experiences, understandings and perspectives on homosexuality and reviewing the history of this issue in our Conferences). We studied the committeeÿús mandate, prepared recommendations for three seminars for the MC Oregon General Assembly and began to plan our committee's procedure to do its work at the Assembly. We listened to a lesbian's personal experience story, began plans for a committee self-education program at pre-Assembly committee sessions at Oregon, discussed our relationships with the Brethren/Mennonite Council for Gay and Lesbian Concerns and requested that MBCM approve the addition of two members of that organization to our Committee.

b. Our committee met a second time in four pre-assembly sessions at Eugene, Oregon, July 28-29, 1991. We shared (written and oral) studies from each member on "Our Understandings of Homosexuality", entered a committee process designed to help each member gain a heightened awareness of our personal sexuality, reviewed recent reactions in our churches (including written materials in the church press) on the homosexuality question, noted recent activities of committee members in this area, took note of various approaches congregations are developing to work with homosexuality in their congregations and set up plans for our work as a listening group (both in structured sessions and informal contacts) at the Assembly.

c. During the Mennonite Church's General Assembly our committee was very busy. We held two-hour open discussion periods each day (except Thursday) to hear individuals and groups (including a two hour session with the Students and Young Adults group at the Assembly) discuss their comments and concerns about homosexuality. We met privately with all groups and individuals seeking contact with one or more members of the committee. All committee members (when possible) attended the three seminars on this subject at the Assembly and the two public meetings planned by the BMC representation. The committee also held several committee planning and processing sessions during the week.

We did not hear as many personal experience stories from gays and lesbians or from family members in committee listening sessions at this assembly as we expected. Perhaps the public character of our committee work made it unsafe to share personal stories. We heard debate on whether, and how, the church should relate to homosexuality and the homosexuals among us.

  d. Our committee had a third two-day meeting, June 12-13, 1992 at Germantown Mennonite Church, Philadelphia, during which we reviewed the activities of committee members over the past year (in listening to persons and groups involved in homosexuality issues, in sharing in retreats, lectures, workshops and seminars on this issue), worked with plans for participation in the GC triennial sessions and worked at discovering our committee mind for our final report.

e. Our fourth meeting was in connection with the Triennial sessions of the General Conference, July 1992. We met in two closed Committee sessions to make plans for our work during the triennial sessions, reviewed the individual work of committee members, interviewed AMBS President, Marlin Miller and AMBS Board Chairman, Darrell Fast, concerning recent actions of the Seminary with a homosexual student to understand their rationale for their action, planned our "listening" processes during the sessions, worked on recommendations of the committee to our appointing agencies and worked with the committee's final report. Committee members were available during the days in a designated room for conversation with interested persons. Members also shared in other planned meetings discussing homosexual concerns.

 
2. Our committee listened and observes that the work of our committee is linked to an extensive and convoluted history involving both GC and MC studies on sexuality and homosexuality.

We lay out some of this history here in order for you to see how our committee and its assignment fits into the shape and direction of previous discussions on homosexuality in our church. Here are some high points in that history.
 

A. A study on Human Sexuality was commissioned in 1980 by the GCMC, joined by the MC in 1981. Its goals were to: 1) "develop guiding principles which can help persons struggling with a broad range of sexual concerns; 2) speak forthrightly the mind of Christ (on this issue] in the midst of the sexual revolution ... in North American society; 3) clarify our position of God-given sexuality with regard to premarital and extramarital intercourse and homosexual behavior...." (p. 11., A WORKING DOCUMENT FOR STUDY AND DIALOGUE: HUMAN SEXUALITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE). The committee considered its final report "a document for study and dialogue (in our congregations) ... to assist the church in looking at our attitudes toward human sexuality" (p.13, DOCUMENT). The study developed its materials to serve as an educational piece for use by study groups in the congregations. It did not prepare its report to serve as a definitive statement by the denominations on human sexuality.

B. The final report of the Sexuality study aroused spirited discussion among the delegate bodies of both commissioning groups (GC in 1986 and MC in 1987) and precipitated a resolution including the following (GC) sentences passed (with slight modifications) by both bodies. "We understand the Bible to teach that sexual ("genital", [MC]) intercourse is reserved for a man and a woman united in marriage ("covenant..." [MC]) and that violation of this teaching (GC)., ("even within this relationship, i.e., wife battering", [MC]) is a sin. It is our understanding that this teaching also precludes premarital, extramarital, and homosexual sexual activity". They also recommended the study of the SEXUALITY in the congregations.

C. These assemblies' resolutions affirmed but confused several points:

1. They received the Sexuality Committee's Report and encouraged congregations to study it. 2. They summarized certain positions concerning sexuality and homosexuality beyond the suggestions of the Sexuality Study itself, defining certain acts for both heterosexuals (premarital and extramarital sexual intercourse ["genital" and "wife battering", MC] and homosexual "sexual activity") as sin. 3. The assemblies furthermore seemed to project their resolutions as official positions for the denominations (an approach implied again by the "summary statement" passed by the MC General Board, July 29, 1991). But in what sense are the assembly resolutions, or the MC General Board's statement, denominational statements? Some interpret them as "official" denominational positions, others interpret them as "guides" to positions commended to congregations for consideration. This difference of interpretation on the authority of assembly statements vis-à-vis congregational (and conference) authority has caused some confusion.

4. When the assemblies accepted the sexuality committee's report and recommended its study in the congregations but nevertheless passed resolutions concerning homosexuality not in that report, a popular confusion emerged on whether the assemblies really wanted congregations to study the SEXUALITY committee's report on homosexuality or not for, as some have told us, "there is nothing to study, the assemblies have spoken". This confusion persists to the present time.

D. On the MC side specific questions concerning the relation of homosexuality to Christian faith and life and to church membership and participation arose in 1983 when Christian homosexuals, members of the Mennonite Church (associated with the Brethren-Mennonite Homosexual Council) who had publicly owned their homosexual preference and continued to claim Mennonite identity, actively sought recognition and discussion of the issue in the church. Homosexual Listening Committees were appointed first by the Executive Committee of Region V (now dissolved) and later by the MC General Board. This group "listened" at Assemblies at Bethlehem (1983), Ames (1985), Purdue (1987) and Normal (1989) and submitted a Report in 1989 detailing their learnings and giving their recommendations to the General Board. The Board received this Report, discussed at various times aspects of it but did not follow through with its recommendations. Rather it lodged further work on the homosexuality issue with MBCM and that Board appointed this committee with the mandate outlined above. The General Conference, in a somewhat similar process lodged responsibility with their Commission on Education.

E. Through the years at least seven MC groups have become involved in the "homosexual issue": The General Board, the General Assembly, the Council on Faith and Life, the Board of Congregational Ministries, the Sexuality Study Committee and at least two different Listening Committees for Homosexual Concerns. A somewhat similar multiplicity of processes occurred in the GC, though fewer groups were involved in work with the issue. Important comments on the subject of homosexuality have been made by these groups but the lines of communication, responsibilities and relationships among these groups tended to be confused, mandates unclear and overridden and recommendations ignored or passed by.

3. Our committee listened and observes there are pervasive misunderstandings in the church on the status and mandate of the present Listening Committee.

The Listening Committee was to be "totally objective and impartial on the issue of [homosexuality] ... it is not, it is biased ... and has not been helpful". --from a letter to a co-chairman of the committee.

I ... recommend ... measures that would ... dissolv[e] ... the Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns...." --from a letter to the Council of Faith, Life and Strategy of the Mennonite Church.

The Listening Committee shall "... foster continued Biblical and theological discernment in our church concerning this issue.... [and] make recommendations regarding policy, program and church life concerning this issue. Assignment to Listening Committee July 1990.

The misunderstanding of the role of the listening committee has many linkages. It is linked to a misunderstanding of the status of the Sexuality study committee's final report ("Is it an official position of the denominations"?), to a particular interpretation of the resolutions of the GC and MC delegate bodies concerning the sexuality study ("Do they also condemn homosexual orientation as sin or only homosexual sexual acts?"), to the role of the General Boards in continuing studies of homosexuality ("Are they saying and doing more or less than the delegate bodies intended for them to do?"), to the relationship of the present Listening Committee to the prior MC Listening Committees ("why is there another Listening Committee?"), to the relation of the present Listening Committee to the content of the Sexuality report on homosexuality (some think that the Sexuality study committee developed a definitive position on homosexuality. It did not. It recommended continuing study of the issue), to the implication of the committee's title "listening" (it implies "neutrality"), to the mandate, personnel and process of the present listening committee (from "Why has the committee not supplied literature and helped the church work through this issue in our congregations?" to "You are undermining the church's historic stand against homosexuality by your presence as a committee"; or, from "The committee must develop a definitive position on homosexuality for our church" to "The committee should be abolished").

 

It seems that the presence of a "listening" committee which has "listened" to the same issue for eight years gives several distinctly different impressions to our constituencies. Here are four of them we have heard.
 

1. The group's purpose is as a lightning protection system: just as a good system receives and disseminates negative or positive electronic charges from either the earth to the sky or the clouds to the earth so that a building is not struck with lightning, so the committee receives and disseminates heated charges from all sides concerning the homosexuality issue so that the church does not burst into flame from this issue. It has no other function than this one.

2. A "listening" committee is to be a neutral group: theologically, ethically and therapeutically. It should have no positions of any type.

3. The Listening Committee listens but must develop and project a perspective and positions on this subject and help the church meet this issue.

4. The Listening Committee is a dishonest title. It appears as a neutral identification but it masks the intention of the leadership of the church to change the church's historic position opposing homosexuality. The committee should be dissolved because both the denominations' leadership and the committee are acting deceitfully on this question.

Our committee's attitude toward these evaluations of our identity was to hear these interpretations but continue working with our mandate without trying to defend ourselves in relation to them.
 

4. Our committee listened and observes there is a widespread, apprehensive concern on the subject of homosexuality in our church.

"... some topics are truly too hot to handle. In the Mennonite Church today homosexuality is one of these". Gospel Herald editorial, Nov. 5, 1991.

We see this apprehension among members who are gay or lesbian. We see it in their families, in our congregations, in pastors, in various denominational bureaucracies and in individuals and groups who carry a particular position toward the issue. Some of this interest is expressed publicly and a few describe it as a critical "flashpoint" issue in denominational life but more of this apprehension is tucked nervously and uncomfortably just beneath the surface of public discussion. Of course, this aroused interest goes beyond the specific subject of homosexuality. It awakens personal fears (subconscious and conscious) associated with our total sexuality.

Not all of this aroused interest is joined with a desire or willingness to work with the issue. Some among us strenuously reject the idea that a conversation on homosexuality should be opened or continued in the church. Others grieve because it is going on. Generally speaking these persons are certain that discussing homosexuality minimizes its (inferred) sinfulness or undercuts the social institutions of marriage and family life or confuses sexual ethical standards or stimulates unfortunate tension and strife in the church. But others grieve that so little work is being done or so little leadership is being given on this subject in our church.

When discussions are opened reactions range from almost total ignorance of the issues to reflective and informed opinions in opposition to or in advocacy of the homosexual; from generalized, inarticulate nervousness to panicky, irrational and passionate outrage against or in defense of the homosexual; from rejection of both the homosexual person and his or her position to acceptance and moral support of both. Earlier, only the homosexuals themselves tried to open a discussion of homosexuality. Now other persons are beginning to share in the discussion and develop their views on it.

It appears however that many of our people, though uncertain, are cautiously willing to discuss this issue but are reluctant to do so because they fear rejection or censure from church members and leaders. They are asking our church leaders to lead them in it. There is reason to believe that this present nervous interest concerning homosexuality can be metamorphosed into constructive dialogue within and for the church.

5. Our committee listened and observes that this issue places many conscientious members of our churches at the painful, grinding edge between two cardinal emphases in our theology and practice: unconditional Christian care and love for persons, but particularly for socially marginalized ones and confrontation with moral judgment on these persons for acts they consider sinful.

"A young man in our congregation returned home. He has aids. He is a homosexual. Our congregation has not talked to the young man or his family. What do we say? What do we do? I believe homosexuality is sin.... What do I do?" From a man in his sixties to the listening committee.

We use a metaphor from our planet earth to illustrate this point. We are told there are massive, slowly moving plates under the earth's outer crust and, when they collide with each other, there are earthquakes and volcanoes on the earth's surface along the plates' grinding fault lines. Many of our people feel they are on the edge of two fundamental theological principles underlying Mennonite theology and practice as these relate to homosexuality. The first is the Christian conviction that God comes and loves and cares for the marginalized, the misunderstood, the abused and oppressed persons of society irrespective of their situation. The second is a strong discipleship theology and tradition which carries an acute ethical sense, a strong moral judgment on what is right and wrong. This ethical sensitivity calls for rigorous action: to commend what is right, and to condemn what is wrong. Many feel pulled to love and condemn the homosexual at the same time. Some begin thinking on this issue from relational experiences with the homosexual as a person, others begin from rational--biblical, theological or ethical--perspectives. Some declare their opinions concerning homosexual orientation and homosexual behaviors quickly, some pause for more extended reflection. But certainly most Mennonites feel these two theological emphases bumping and grinding against each other in their minds on this subject and they feel uncertain even bewildered by this experience.

This complex theological and ethical dilemma provides a good setting for some individuals to proclaim that "the church is adrift, it has no position on this issue" and to demand the church accept their particular solution to the homosexuality issue by everyone else in the church.

6. Our committee listened and observes that members of our church are not sure what homosexuality is and do not share a common understanding of important words and ideas used in discussing the subject.

These different understandings cause confusion in our conversations. We are referring particularly to meanings for the terms "sexuality", "sex", "homosexual", "gay" and "lesbian" and the phrases "homosexual orientation" and "homosexual addiction".

It is not necessary to review all the definitions which appear among Mennonites for each of these terms, but it is important to review some and to state our own understandings for them so that both we and the readers of this report are clear how we use them.

Sexuality stands for the totality of what we mean by femaleness and maleness. It gathers up the constellation of feelings, self-perceptions, responses and actions which cause each individual to think of herself-himself as a female or male human being. This sexual quality of life is stamped on and intertwined with the fundamental reality of shared human identity underlying both maleness and femaleness.

Sex is understood biologically as those bodily organs which distinguish male and female gender and behaviorally as expressed in sexual intercourse.

A homosexual is a person who is attracted primarily to persons of the same sex rather than to the opposite sex.

However, the use of the title "homosexual" among us is more varied than the above definition suggests because it has gathered inferences from the causes of homosexuality (see point 7) and from popular speech involving homosexuals and sexual activities which give it additional connotations. For example. some use the word homosexual to stand only for those who experience same-sex sexual arousal. For others, homosexual stands for a person practicing same-sex genital sex; for them, all homosexuals are "that way". Some use the term in a descriptive sense without moral inferences, others use it with moral connotations only, usually condemnatory.

In more recent times the term homosexual orientation is being used to refer to a condition of self-identity which arises from genetic, biological or psychosocial causes and appears in an individual usually apart from that individual' 5 intention or personal choice. Homosexual orientation therefore is the psychosexual condition or trait of homosexuality and is distinguished, for purposes of definition, from homosexual behaviors. Our committee uses the term primarily to stand for this sexual condition of human self-identity and not for any particular actions associated with it.

Homosexual addiction is used by some people to stand for all forms of homosexuality. They believe the very presence of homosexual attraction is sexual addiction. Others use the term (homosexual) addiction to refer only to those persons who exhibit compulsive same-sex sexual behaviors. We prefer to reserve use of the term for the second sense, just as we would use the term "addiction" for heterosexuals who are similarly self-absorbed in compulsive heterosexual sexual relations.

Gay and lesbian are terms frequently used by homosexual men and women to refer to themselves. Sometimes "gay" is used to refer to both men and women homosexuals; but because of issues raised by contemporary sexism and from different life experiences, many choose to use "gay" for homosexual men and "lesbian" for homosexual women.

We should try to understand how these terms are being used in our speech and understand each other's use of them in order to avoid misunderstanding or talking past each other on this subject.

7. Our committee listened and observes there are strong differences of opinion among us on the sources or causes of homosexuality.

The definitive causes for homosexuality have not been pinpointed by scientific research. At least six theories about its cause are proposed.

One theory is that homosexuality comes from a genetic "accident" taking place within the genetic processes. This accident causes homosexual orientation or a predisposition toward homosexuality.

A second theory is that homosexuality arises from hormonal accidents. For unknown reasons chemical irregularities occur in the developing zygote or fetus in the early stages of pregnancy and result in an abnormal release of hormones, estrogen or testosterone, for example. This accidental exposure triggers the condition, homosexual orientation.

The presumed evidence for this view comes from studies of persons born with other physical irregularities such as downs syndrome, dyslexia, mental retardation and physical handicaps such as blindness, deafness, etc. as well as with other sexual irregularities. The uncommon development or these persons, whether mental, physical or sexual, appears to arise during prenatal development. Also, in tests with laboratory animals, it has been demonstrated that overdoses or certain hormones at crucial developmental periods produced opposite sexual responses later in biological males and females from the responses normally expected.

Recent physiological research has discovered that a tiny node on the hypothalamus, a part of the brain known to be involved in regulating sexual activity, is nearly three times larger in heterosexual males than in homosexual men. No implications of the significance of this organic difference has been proven.

A third theory for the cause of homosexuality is that it is acquired through defective socialization relationships between the child and parents. This theory arises from classic psychoanalytic Freudian theory and proceeds something like this: if a boy has a father who is distant, unavailable or rejecting and a mother who is overly warm, smothering and controlling, the boy's desire to identify with the father is frustrated and transferred to a female, yet he longs for closeness with another male. The son has a stunted and dysfunctional psychological development. He chooses, whether by unconscious psychological reflexive response or choice or both, to find affectional fulfillment in same-sex relationships, and he never "matures into" normal same-sex attractions. It can, of course, be a similar process for a girl. And the "mix" of socialization factors with other individuals can be different. The evidence for this theory is inconclusive, at least as the cause for all types of homosexuality.

A fourth cause for homosexuality is situational. That is, some homosexuals emerge from enforced same-sex physical relationships, in prisons or in the army, for example, where the only human and sexual relationships are with same-sex associations. In these contexts there may emerge for some persons, not only a behavioral conditioning toward same-sex behaviors but a form of same-sex orientation.

A fifth theory for homosexuality is that it is totally volitional and intentional. All homosexuals choose homosexual attraction and behaviors. There is no such reality as unintentional homosexual orientation.

A sixth theory for the cause of homosexuality incorporates causes from the previous ones. In different persons their homosexuality may arise from genetic irregularity or from chemical influences on the fetus or from dysfunctional psychosocial relationships of early childhood, or from their enforced situations. This view suggests there are several possible causes for homosexuality and not just one cause.

An important implication arising from this discussion of causes for homosexuality is this: if some causes of homosexuality are from genetic or prenatal causes totally disconnected from the choice of a person, and are intertwined with one's essential identity as a human being, then it needs to be acknowledged and received by Christians as "an act of God" in birth, similar to the way other birth irregularities are interpreted. Also, for homosexuals who have not chosen their sexual preference, the acknowledgment and acceptance of this identity is one essential step for growth into human (and Christian) wholeness. But if. on the other hand9 one considers other types of homosexuality to be acquired by choice or from behavioral conditioning or by the raising of psychological defense responses (voluntarily or involuntarily given) to relational experiences, then homosexuality is, at least in some of those instances, a psychosexual aberration which one must confront in order to come to fullness of life, psychologically and spiritually.

It appears clear there are several precipitating causes for homosexuality and to attribute all types of homosexuality to one cause is inadequate to account for the complexity of homosexual reality. Probably also there are different intensities of homosexual feelings just as there are different intensities of heterosexual ones. If these observations are correct it means the church needs to be open to more than one source or cause for homosexuality and therefore open to more than one path for homosexuals to find fullness of life. The limitation to one approach only for working with homosexuals is inadequate.

8. Our committee listened and observes that many in our church are hard pressed with homophobic fears concerning homosexuality because our thinking on this subject has been shaped by popular myths about it. (The word myth is used here in the sense of a misconception or false impression concerning homosexuality.)

  Here are some of these myths.

a. Myth one. There are few gays and lesbians in the general population and a minuscule number in our churches. Some research now indicates that between 6% and 10% of the population is homosexually inclined, whether individuals recognize themselves or identify themselves as such or not. These persons are spread among all ethnic backgrounds, religious persuasions, age groups and levels of educational experience. They live in the country, in small towns and large cities.

b. Myth two. Homosexuals choose to be "that way", and they are happy about it. The truth is just the opposite for most homosexuals, they did not choose to be homosexual. Rather the dawning awareness of their same-sex attraction was a difficult and painful personal journey. So difficult that persons do not "come out" or acknowledge their sexual orientation either in general society or in the Mennonite community because of fear of the consequences: rejection by their families and friends, loss of their jobs, social ostracism or even violent attacks from "straight" members of society.

c. Myth three. Gay men hate women; lesbians hate men. This is patently untrue. Homosexuals develop genuine friendships with persons of the other gender. Indeed these friendships can become particularly enriching because of the absence of pressure to become sexually involved.

d. Myth four. Homosexuals are mentally ill. Earlier the psychiatric association had defined the "condition" of homosexuality as a form of emotional illness. More recently it has rejected that definition. Research studies have not found a greater incidence of mental illness among gays and lesbians as compared to heterosexuals.

e. Myth five. Gays and lesbians "recruit" by molesting children. On the contrary, child molestation occurs, according to statistics, disproportionately more among heterosexuals. Sexual orientation, whether established by genetic predisposition, congenital action or intentional choice is not transferred to children by their friendship associations with either gender.

f. Myth six. The only thing gays and lesbians think about is sex. There is no evidence that all homosexuals are sexually addicted persons. They, like heterosexuals, hold sex as important to their human experience, but they also, like heterosexuals, devote committed attention to other aspects of life such as vocational obligations, personal friendships, recreation, education and religious commitments. There are some persons--both homosexuals and heterosexuals--who fixate on the genital expression of sex and this obsessive addiction requires special therapy for healing, both spiritual and psychiatric.

g. Myth seven. Transvestites and transsexuals are examples of gay and lesbian life. Transvestism is practiced primarily by heterosexual men who derive erotic pleasure by dressing as women. Some gay men, as heterosexual men, may at times dress as women in frivolous activities for one reason or another. Transsexuals are women or men who are convinced they were born in the "wrong" gender; they may seek psychiatric counseling or "sex change" operations. Neither of these behavior patterns can be regarded as uniquely representative of gay or lesbian life.

h. Myth eight. All gays and lesbians can be "re-oriented" into heterosexual orientation and life style. Some counselors and organizations have developed counseling procedures and programs to reorient and reprogram homosexuals from homosexual affections and behaviors to heterosexual ones. And there is evidence that some types of homosexuals who chose a homosexual lifestyle and then wish to change can experience behavior modification by religious experiences and psychiatric counseling, but there is little evidence that such programs change the basic orientation of all homosexuals.

i. Myth nine. The Bible speaks to and totally condemns all aspects of homosexuality as we perceive that reality today. It does speak to homosexual behaviors and condemns abusive and promiscuous sexual ones, whether committed by heterosexuals or homosexuals, but it does not address the problem of homosexual orientation nor give direction on appropriate Christian homosexual behaviors beyond the appeal that all Christians model their lives after the image, mind and spirit of Jesus.
 
 

9. Our committee listened and observes there are homosexuals in our congregations and that there are more who do not reveal their homosexual orientation than who do.

If the percentage of homosexually inclined persons appears in our Mennonite MC and GCMC population as is present in the general population, then a conservative estimate of adult, homosexually inclined persons in our congregations approaches 10,000 persons.

These persons are located at all places along a line from secrecy about their sexual orientation to an open public acknowledgment of it; from fear, grief and anger about their homosexuality to an acceptance of it as God's mysterious creative activity with them; from rejection, isolation, and anger by family, former friends and the church community about this to a forgiving and loving spirit to these same people along with a love for Christ and a longing to work fully as his ministering servants in the church.

A relatively small number of same-sex oriented persons have "come out" and publicly acknowledged their orientation in our denomination. Those who have and who try to continue relationship with our church community have found it takes a great amount of spiritual and psychological energy to discuss and represent their position again and again.

10. Our committee listened and observes that people are asking: "What does the Bible say about homosexuality"?

"Homosexuality is a sin, the Bible is clear. Scripture is infallible. What is happening to the Mennonite Church [in discussing homosexuality]? If the Mennonite Church does not hold firm on this issue, I'll have to leave it." --A "straight" young man in his early twenties to the listening committee.

Our people look to the Bible as one source for guidance in working with all difficult issues concerning Christian faith and life. They are looking to the Bible for help in working with this issue too, but in doing so they are discovering there is complexity in interpreting the Bible on this issue and there are different interpretation by equally honest and committed interpreters.

As a preliminary observation on this point we have observed that our people are surprised when they pay close attention to sexual relationships in the Bible for they see different accepted patterns of relationships than is our customary modern one. For example, there are several models of heterosexual relationships--polygamy, concubinage, levirate marriage, plural marriages in the royal court and monogamy--assumed and practiced throughout the Old Testament, some protected by Mosaic law. In the New Testament the first four models are not embraced, only the fifth appears with celibacy added. Jesus himself blesses monogamy (Matt. 19:3-12) but he teaches, "not everyone can receive this precept, only those to whom it is given." He then identifies some persons for whom heterosexual union is not possible, some because of birth defects, others because they were made eunuchs, and still others for the kingdom of God's sake. Jesus did not prescribe heterosexual marriage for every person. He himself was unmarried.

Additionally too, our people can notice a diversity of understandings and teachings on sexual matters within the Bible itself. For example, Genesis 1 and 2 affirm the created goodness of sexuality, the desired harmony of gender relations and the goodness of monogamy while Proverbs warns against the dangers of sexual enticement and relations. The Song of Songs celebrates the joys of sexual passion while Paul in I Corinthians regards sexual passion as a spiritual burden and recommends celibacy rather than marriage. This ambivalence about sexual attraction and marriage characterizes most of Christian history.

We also notice there are different approaches to interpreting the Bible's references to homosexuality developing among us.

One approach is to find specific passages where homosexuality seems to be mentioned. Texts such as Gen. 19:1-27, Lev. 18:22 and 20:13; Rom. 1:25-27; I Cor. 6:9-10 and parallels are frequently chosen as such passages. Next these texts are read, observations are made, conclusions reached and, taught as God's will. These teachings may or may not be synchronized with other understandings of the Bible's message.

But a very perplexing thing happens with proof-text interpretative approach. Two opposite conclusions concerning homosexuality are declared by equally honest and sincere interpreters. One group says the Bible clearly teaches that all homosexuality is sin, both orientation and acts. A second group, using the identical proof-texts, concludes the Bible does not teach that homosexual orientation or that all homosexual acts are sin.

A second approach is to begin with the broad and overarching themes of the Biblical message and interpret texts with homosexual inferences in relation to those themes. Examples of central themes utilized for this interpretative process are: the "orders of creation" as they relate to sexuality and sexual acts; God's grace and his judging, saving and forgiving acts; covenant theology and relationships which are based on covenant; the kingdom of God or the character of life patterned after "the mind of Christ". Specific stories and teachings in the Bible both are used to understand these broad themes and are interpreted in the light of these themes.

But here again, two opposite conclusions concerning homosexuality are arrived at by equally honest and sincere persons using this broad themes approach. One group says, for example, that sexual relationships are based on the order of creation, that humans are created heterosexually and that fullness of life is found in heterosexual relationships. Any deviation from that order in homosexuality is sin. But a second group says, for example, that the order of sex in creation though important, is a subordinate one. The primary "order" in creation is the fact of human createdness by God. Fullness of human life is given through faith and obedience to God and sin is the violation of that relationship with God and with fellow humans. Homosexuality, as such, is not a violation of relationships, though homosexual actions which violate relationships are sin.

This results in four lines of interpretation of the Bible on this subject in our church--two interpretations from the proof-text approach and two from the broad themes approach--with modifications in each and the interweaving of all four over and around each other.

Why does all this variety of interpretation occur? The answer to this question is too complex for us to try to answer here. But it apparently has something to do with the interpreter' 5 ability to recognize and integrate a number of components into the interpretative process. These components presumably include (among other things) such things as knowledge of and respect for the words, meanings and intention of Biblical texts, respect for the diversity of teachings in the Bible along with an attempt to see these diversities oriented and subordinated to the Bible's great unifying themes, informed awareness of' the social context of the times in which the Bible was written and to which its message is addressed, knowledge of one's own beliefs, limitations, experiences and prejudices which one brings to the interpretative process and some self-conscious awareness concerning the social structures of modern culture and church life which shape one's thinking.

Whatever the reasons, the fact of the matter is: there are opposite conclusions in interpreting the Bible on this subject in our midst. This accounts for the distressing bewilderment, even anger, many feel as they discuss the Bible's teaching on homosexuality. Does this mean we should stop studying the Bible on this subject? No. Rather, our committee believes we must continue to study the Biblical materials on sexuality and homosexuality in our congregations much more than we have in the past, and trust God to lead us to greater consensus in interpreting its message for us.

11. Our committee listened and observes that our church is trying to figure out whether homosexual orientation is a sin or is not a sin.

"I experienced sexual attraction for women. With God's help in counseling with a therapist I pulled out of this 'pit'. I have compassion for other gays or lesbians but the Bible says they will not inherit the kingdom of God. I do not want to kick them out of the church, but I would not extend the right hand of fellowship to them either. I am just starting to read and talk about these things...." Comments to the Listening Committee.

One view among us is that homosexual orientation (and all homosexual behaviors) is sin. This position rejects the idea that there are any genetic or chemical-hormonal causes for homosexuality. Homosexuality is always a moral issue; it is never, from any cause or in any form, a normal or amoral psycho-physical condition. Some persons holding this view do not deny there can be congenital, acquired or relational factors involved with homosexual attraction, but same-sex attraction is not a fixed psychosexual trait, condition or orientation. The presence of homosexual attractions is not necessarily sin, but the acceptance of them as normal is sin. For God created all humans to heterosexual attraction.

In this view homosexuality is integrated with the theological idea called "total depravity" or "original sin" which says that humans universally share in an historical state and process infected by the pervasive reality of evil. This universal social, spiritual and psychological reality is expressed in the broken incompleteness of all aspects of human and created life. All forms of homosexuality are a part of that sinful depravity.

Salvation in Christ will give redemption from homosexuality. When persons tempted with homosexual attraction acknowledge and confess that attraction as sin they can experience forgiveness and receive the transforming power of the Spirit of Christ. That power will take away homosexual attraction and actions motivated from those attractions, though a converted homosexual may occasionally fail just as do most Christians fail in their conflict with other sins. Nevertheless one of the fruits of victorious Christian living is to triumph over homosexual feelings and become heterosexual or at least celibate.

In summary, this view holds homosexual orientation is a sin and it is morally wrong to accept as a Christian a homosexual who accepts his or her homosexual orientation as a continuing reality in his or her life.

A second view among us is that homosexual orientation is not morally sinful but homosexual sexual activities are sin. In this view homosexuality which comes from prenatal causes and have no connection with the individual's choice should not be interpreted as sin. From a theological perspective this sexual attraction belongs within the providential mystery of God's creative activity, and must be acknowledged and worked with from that perspective.

An extension of this view by some among us includes the idea that even homosexuality precipitated by defective and dysfunctional family and social systems is not sin because it appears as the result of a child's innocent and immature involvement in the complex web of relational forces which resulted in homosexuality.

Important questions arise here. If homosexual attraction emerges from nonchoice factors as a result of genetic or prenatal ones or from failed relationships when does its sin activated by choice appear? Does its sin appear on the basis of one's reactions to the presence of homosexual feelings or when one allows those feelings to shape one's relationships or when one engages in same-sex sexual acts or when one abandons oneself to lascivious and promiscuous sexual acts? Or to ask this question another way, if the sin of homosexuality emerges from choice, is the sin in the choice to think, feel and act as a homosexual, or is the sin in enjoying same-sex friendships or engaging in same-sex sexual relationships or in engaging in lascivious passions and promiscuous sexual behaviors?

This view understands homosexual orientation as a biological condition stamped into the psycho-social-physical self-identity of some individuals. This condition may be transformed and channeled into heterosexuality in some individuals but it may not be so transformed in others.

To recap, this view holds that homosexual orientation is not a sin but homosexual sexual acts are sins. The route to Christian sexuality is to live as a celibate or live in heterosexual marriage (even though it may not include a totally honest sexual relationship with one's spouse).

A third view is that neither homosexual orientation nor homosexual sexual acts are sin if there is a covenant commitment to fidelity and love for the partner. Homosexuals can be Christians as sexual partners. Homosexuals, as heterosexuals, are responsible to nurture their Christian life. including the disciplines necessary to manage their sexuality and sexual practices. Homosexual actions, including homosexual genital sex, is sin when it is abusive and promiscuous.

12. Our committee listened and observes that those who accept the condition of homosexual orientation are trying to decide what homosexual behaviors are honorable and good and what behaviors are sinful and wrong.

If the fact of homosexual orientation is not sin, then the challenge to both Christian homosexuals and the heterosexual Christian community is to develop ethical standards for homosexual relationships just as the church has developed for heterosexual ones. The church has a long history of making ethical judgments concerning acceptable and unacceptable heterosexual relationships, but it has not worked equally hard to create Christian ethical standards for various homosexual relationships.

These moral judgments would need to be developed all across the line of homosexual relationships: for homosexual social friendships, homosexual responses to erotic attraction, homosexual sexual acts and homosexual sexual addiction and promiscuity.

This is what we have observed on this question.

First, we should note again, some of our people cannot accept either homosexual orientation or moral distinctions among homosexual behaviors because the idea of a homosexual orientation is false and unfaithful to Christian truth and all homosexual behaviors are innately sinful. Therefore, in this view accepting anything about homosexuality is a Christian deception.

Second, some of our people would consider personal friendships between homosexuals as potentially good, just as are friendships among heterosexuals. Such human relationships are necessary for human identity and maturity. Of course too, vicious and hurtful relationships are sinful, just as in heterosexual relationships, and should be avoided, or confronted and healed.

Third, some of our people would consider the assent to homosexual erotic attraction as sinful. Homosexual erotic attraction is not sinful itself any more than is heterosexual erotic attraction sinful in itself. But responses to erotic attraction, whether homosexual or heterosexual, become sinful when they are overwhelmed with lust. Jesus called wanton lascivious thoughts sinful ones (Matt. 5:28). Both heterosexuals and homosexuals need to bring disciplined moral judgment and action to their erotic responses.

Fourth, some of our people would say that homosexual sex is not sinful when shared in the bonds of love and fidelity. Of course to claim that love and fidelity make sexual expression good is to ask a further and more difficult question. What is authentic love and genuine fidelity? But irrespective or how that question is answered probably most of our people would call same-sex sexual relations sinful because they believe it is sinful to share sexual acts between same-sex partners. This is the position of the resolution or the GC and MC delegate bodies though the resolutions do not state why these acts are sinful.

And fifth, all of our people, heterosexuals and homosexuals, would call promiscuity sinful.

13. Our committee listened and observes that both our denominational leaders and our congregations are cautiously involved with several approaches to the questions raised by homosexuality and having openly affirmed homosexuals as members of our congregations.

"I know this is an issue the church must deal with, yet if I mention homosexuality, I'll lose my job." --A pastor's comments in a listening committee session....

This is going to be emotional.... As a straight male, I need the church to accept gay and lesbian persons ... to be open ... I need the church to be for me." --From a young man who sobbed and cried aloud ending with his arms outstretched to all in the room in a listening committee session.

A. The Approach of the Denominations' Leadership Denominational leaders led assemblies to an ethically definitive statement declaring that homosexual genital acts are sinful (1980 and 1981) following the report of the SEXUALITY study, which included one section on homosexuality, but at the same time continued a Listening Committee to hear what the church was saying and to continue dialogue on the subject. (Probably our leaders were a bit surprised that homosexuality became a focal issue out of this study, though more recently sexist and gender abuse issues have gained attention.) In the GCMC neither its General Board nor COE officially commented further. In the MC its General Board issued Summary Statements (July 29, 1991) to clarify its "stance ... on homosexuality". In those statements, it deplored "homophobic" reactions, supported "ministries which assist persons who desire a change in sexual orientation" (thereby acknowledging the idea of a homosexual "orientation"), urged "members to avail themselves of these ministries" and called on conferences and congregations to "provide pastoral leadership in clarifying understandings and responding redemptively to homosexual people". MBCM has not commented further on these statements.

Probably our denominational leadership has made both a definitive statement and called for further study on this issue because:
 

1. They are not absolutely sure how to respond to this difficult, volatile and explosive subject. On the one hand they affirmed a traditional position probably hoping thereby to settle the issue; yet on the other hand they acknowledged the phenomena of homosexual "orientation" and authorized continued study and dialogue, intuitively acknowledging thereby that their resolutions did not close the issue.   2. Our members and congregations are divided (sometimes radically) in their understandings and responses to homosexuality as Christians. No commonly shared conviction, no "common mind", has emerged among our people on this subject arising out of our present biblical, theological and ethical studies and discussions on the subject. A few congregations and several conferences have begun or are beginning processes to study the question further.
B. Congregational Approaches At the present time we think we are seeing at least five approaches to homosexual persons present among our congregations.
  1. This first approach we may call the traditional one. This view sees the homosexual orientation/condition--relationships and sexual expressions--as sinful and prohibited by God. It is not a subject which needs more discussion congregationally. On a personal basis members reflect reactions to homosexuality which appear in our North American society. Many are repulsed by the issue or tend to reject both the openly confessed homosexual and homosexual relationships of any kind. (Occasionally among us a distinction is recognized between a homosexually oriented person who lives a life of ordinary human friendships excluding genital sexual acts and a homosexual who engages in genital relationships; Or between a homosexual couple which relates to each other as partners in fidelity of love and commitment, and homosexuals who do not do so. Most often however, these distinctions are not recognized or made. The terms "homosexual lifestyle", "homosexual practices" or just "homosexual" come to stand for homosexual sexual activities and every homosexual is considered "this way". The recent church member profile of five Mennonite denominations reports that the percent of Mennonites who believe homosexual acts ("acts" are undefined) are "always wrong" has grown from 86 percent in 1972 to 92 percent in 1989 (The Mennonite Mosaic: Identity and Modernization by Leo Driedger and J. Howard Kauffman). The implication of this information may be that the question was too obscure or imprecise to be helpful, or that there is a hardening of resistance to homosexuals9 who have publicly identified themselves as fellow-Christians and members of the church.

2. Some Mennonite congregations are approaching homosexuals following the lead of such organizations as Exodus International.

  "I recognized as a teen-ager that my sexual orientation was homosexual. I emerged from adolescence unable to muster up any heterosexual feelings no matter how hard I tried. For years I vacillated between wishing I could freely participate in homosexual relationships and fearing that I would. Fear, frustration ... self-condemnation kept me bound for years. The last five years have been a time of growth and ... healing for me.... I have not arrived but I'm certainly experiencing new freedom.... [My] hope ... is ... for individuals to be set free from homosexuality.... God's plan is for sexual relations to be in a monogamous heterosexual marriage." --Letter and conversation with a currently active Mennonite pastor.   This approach acknowledges the reality of homosexual attraction and of persons who call themselves homosexuals. It considers all types of homosexuals and all forms of homosexuality sinful and calls for repentance from both the condition of homosexuality and feelings and behaviors of it. Some may consider homosexual orientation from biological or psycho-social origins as not sinful in itself, but any expression of it is sinful. The cure is to acknowledge and repent of its presence and its expressions and reorient one's affections to heterosexual affectional attraction and marriage. It is believed a cure of homosexuality (or at least expressions of it) will be achieved by a genuine Christian conversion with spiritual disciplines assisted by participation in a group support program and, as necessary, by appropriate psychiatric counseling. The congregation should aggressively reach out towards homosexuals, love and care for them as with all other sinners and, upon repentance and changed life patterns, welcome them as full participating members in the congregation.   Several local organizations which take this approach are functioning in Mennonite communities and help shape congregational responses along these lines.   3. Some congregations are approaching homosexuals by viewing homosexual orientation as a morally neutral condition. The sin of homosexuality is located in lustful eroticism and homosexual genital sex. Such persons are called to repent and renounce such sins, to respond in faith in Christ and grow in Christian character and witness as any other persons. Furthermore, they must commit themselves to either celibacy or heterosexual marriage it they wish to be received as Christians and church members. This appears to be the position of those advocating and supporting the General Boards' resolutions.   4. Some congregations are working with homosexuals by using several approaches.   They believe there can be several authentic Christian approaches to homosexuality in our congregations because there are several causes of homosexuality. Some homosexuals, oriented to their condition from congenital causes (and perhaps from some acquired ones), need to be accepted as homosexuals and allowed to shape a Christian lifestyle in their homosexual situation.   Other homosexuals (some who may be oriented to homosexuality from acquired psychological conditioning or have turned to same sex relationships from intentional choice because of sinful reactionary impulses) must find the path to personal wholeness only through confession, renewed Christian experience and helpful counseling processes. This Christian renewal may involve a rejection of their homosexuality with reorientation to heterosexuality.   This more nuanced approach will call for a high level of spiritual depth, personal and emotional sensitivity, intellectual clarity and pastoral care in our midst in order to accept and work with these several understandings.   5. A final approach emerging in a few of our congregations is that Christian homosexuals can live in covenanted, monogamous sexual relationships and be full participating members of the church. This approach calls for the same level of commitment and fidelity from homosexual as from heterosexual unions.   The following chart may help to focus these congregational alternatives.
 
CONGREGATIONAL ALTERNATIVES
PROCEDURE
OUTCOME
1. Reject the homosexual person as a homosexual Reject for membership or excommunicate from membership in the church Homosexual remains in secret if already a member or leaves the church if homosexuality is acknowledged
2. Declare homosexual orientation and relational friendships as sin but be open to confession Acknowledge homosexuality as sin; accept upon confession of that sin and evidence of changed life patterns Welcome into membership and church fellowship. Expect celibacy or change to heterosexual lifestyle
3. Accept reality of homosexual orientation and affectional friendships, but reject sexual relations Accept fact of homosexual orientation and friendships by church member Accept as Christian and full member of church. Demand celibacy.
4. Acknowledge different causes of homosexuality Relate to each homosexual as an individual on the basis of their understandings of their homosexuality Acceptance--for some as a congenital condition, for others after repentance and change
5. Accept homosexual orientation, friendships, monogamous homosexual sexual union Acceptance Acceptance of union and full participation in and Church fellowship
Posted by Loren L. Johns, Academic Dean, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana.
Send email to LJOHNS@AMBS.EDU
Last updated: 25 July 2000.