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Homosexuality and bisexuality in the Mennonite churches

About the Mennonite Church. Statements
on the lesbian & gay issue: 1980 to 19

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About the Mennonite Church:

A Mennonite is:

"A member of one of the Christian groups derived from the Anabaptist movement, stressing discipleship, community, and an ethic of love and nonresistance. Mennonites are historically distinctive in North America for simplicity of life and the rejection of military service, public office, and oaths." 1

The term "Anabaptist" comes from the Latin word "anabaptista" which means "one who is rebaptized." i.e. a person who was baptized first as an infant and later as an adult. In today's world, it is a misnomer, because Anabaptists do not baptize infants and do not recognize the validity of such a baptism. Baptisms are only performed later in life after the individual is sufficiently mature and has trusted Jesus as her or his Lord and Savior.

"Anabaptist" was originally a term of derision; but the name stuck. They have been traditionally opposed to war; some of their members refuse to register for the draft or choose alternative service. They oppose the taking of oaths, believing that a person's word is sufficient. They observe a life of simplicity.

Some Anabaptist faith groups have survived to the present day, including: Amish, Beachy and Brethren groups, Dunkards, Hutterites, Landmark Baptists, and Mennonites. Anabaptists were viciously persecuted during and following the Reformation in the 16th century CE. Many migrated to Poland and the Ukraine. Today they are mainly concentrated in Germany, France and North America. 3 They now total over 300,000 in the U.S. and Canada.

Mennonites are theologically conservative. They have always laid great stress on fundamental human rights. The latter factor has caused them to exhibit some movement on the "homosexual issue" earlier than almost all other conservative Christian denominations.

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Mennonite statements on the gay/lesbian Issue - 1980 to 1997:

Mennonite congregations are theoretically autonomous. However, some regional conferences have constitutions that permit them to expel or suspend local churches. Some have been expelled in recent years for taking an excessively liberal stance on the homosexual issue.

A number of statements have been issued and resolutions passed by the three main Mennonite churches that were active in the 1980s and 1990s in North America:

bulletMennonite Church (MC)
bulletGeneral Conference Mennonite Church (GC), and
bulletConference of Mennonites in Canada. (Now called the Mennonite Church Canada, a.k.a MC Canada)

The MC and GC eventually merged to become the Mennonite Church USA (a.k.a. MC USA) in the year 2000.

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The GC commissioned a study in human sexuality. The MC joined the committee in 1981. Their final report did not condemn homosexual behavior as sinful. It was intended as a document to help local Mennonite congregations discuss human sexuality. It recommended further study of homosexuality.

The GC examined the results of the human sexuality study and adopted a "Resolution on Human Sexuality" at its triennial session at Saskatoon SK. It affirmed that heterosexuality "is a good and beautiful gift of God, a gift of identity and a way of being in the world as male and female." They formally repented for the lack of compassion towards those who have failed to live up to what they see as the Biblical standard of sexuality, and towards those of minority sexual orientations -- bisexuality and homosexuality. They also repented for their "lack of compassion" for the struggle of those with minority sexual orientations "to find a place in society and in the church." They linked all homosexual activity together with premarital and extramarital opposite-sex behavior, as inherently sinful. 4 The Resolution went well beyond the findings of the sexuality study; it was interpreted by many Mennonite individuals and congregations as the GC's definitive statement on human sexuality. Many felt that there was no need to examine the original study.

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The MC also reviewed the human sexuality study and adopted "A Call to Affirmation, Confession and Covenant Regarding Human Sexuality" at their General Assembly at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. 8 It used much of the same wording as the 1986 GC resolution. They repented of their "judgmental attitudes and our slowness to forgive each other when we fail or when our sexual values differ from those of other Christians." They confessed their fear and repented of their "absence of love toward those with a different sexual orientation and of our lack of understanding for their struggle to find a place in society and in the church." They also linked all homosexual genital activity together -- irrespective of the nature of the relationship -- with premarital and extramarital heterosexual genital activity. All were considered sinful. Again, the Call seemed to negate the importance of the original sexuality study.

The MC adopted a policy which prohibits congregations from accepting non-celibate homosexuals as members. Since any gay or lesbian in a committed relationship cannot become a member, he/she would be ineligible for any post within the denomination, including that of pastor.

The General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) passed a similar resolution at its 1986 Saskatoon conference.

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References used:

  1. "Mennonite Information Center" http://www.prairienet.org/
  2. "What is an Anabaptist?" at: http://www.anabaptists.org/
  3. Texts of Mennonite Church Conferences, Boards and Committees on Homosexuality at: http://www.ambs.edu/
  4. Text of the MC's Purdue statement on sexuality "A Call to Affirmation, Confession and Covenant Regarding Human Sexuality"

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Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2010-JAN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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