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Religious Tolerance logo

Homosexuality and bisexuality in the Mennonite churches

About the Mennonite Church. Statements
on the lesbian & gay issue: 1988 to 1998

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A number of statements and resolutions have been made by the various main Mennonite churches in North America: 1

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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1990-JUL:
The Joint Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns was created as a joint committee of the GC and MC. Part way through their deliberations, two members were added to the committee from the Brethren/Mennonite Council for Gay and Lesbian Concerns. Its task was to:

bulletListen to the "alienation and pain" of gays and lesbians within the church and in the rest of society
bulletEncourage dialog among persons with differing views on homosexuality
bulletMake recommendations to their two denominations.

1991-JUL:
The MC's General Board adopted a series of statements on homosexuality. They

bulletSupported the 1987 Call to Affirmation...
bulletRecognized that homosexual orientation is not chosen; this is a major development for a conservative Christian group.
bulletInvited gays and lesbians to remain celibate
bulletDeplored the "harsh and unloving attitudes" towards homosexuals within the church and the rest of society
bulletAsked that congregations welcome those gays and lesbians who are celibate. By implication they expect congregations to reject as members those homosexuals in committed relationships, or who are otherwise sexually active.
bulletRecognized that there is not a unanimity of belief within the denomination about homosexuality. That also is a major development for any conservative Christian group.
bulletSupport the Mennonite ministries that attempt to change the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians. By implication, they
bulletReject those ministries that support and accept homosexuality as normal and natural.
bulletBelieve that sexual orientation can be changed.

1992-AUG:
The Joint Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns submitted their report. They concluded:

bulletMany Mennonites had conflicting views as to the mandate of the Committee. Some felt that discussion about homosexuality should be terminated.
bulletThere was a "widespread, apprehensive concern on the subject of homosexuality in the church."
bulletMany church members feel a theological conflict between:
bullet"Unconditional Christian care and love for persons, but particularly for socially marginalized ones and
bulletConfrontation with moral judgment on these persons for acts they consider sinful."
bulletThey observed massive confusion about the precise meaning of sexual terms.
bulletThere is no consensus on the origin/cause of sexual orientation.
bulletThere is little evidence that therapy programs can change sexual orientation.
bulletThere are more closeted gays in Mennonite congregations than there are openly gay people. Together, they total almost 10,000 members.
bulletSincere, intelligent students of the Bible reach mutually exclusive beliefs about sexually behavior and the Bible's teachings on homosexuality.

They recommended that the MC and GC "intensify its [sic] efforts to help congregations study homosexuality in order to discern how homosexuals can relate to the church's life and ministry." They recommended specific actions for the denomination, seminaries, pastors and other congregational leaders.

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1993-APR:
The MC General Board rejected the recommendations of the Listening Committee. They:

bulletAffirmed that the 1987 "Call" represents the denomination's position on homosexuality - i.e. that all homosexual activities are inherently sinful.
bulletMade the report of the Listening Committee generally available, but with the committee recommendations deleted.

1995-NOV:
The MC's Council of Faith, Life and Strategy confirmed that the 1987 "A Call to Affirmation, Confession and Covenant Regarding Human Sexuality" document "is the position of the Mennonite Church." The position of the church has been resolved and is fixed. The term "remaining in loving dialogue" refers to supporting homosexuals and their families, admonishing them to remain celibate, and sponsoring ministries which attempt to change gays and lesbians into heterosexuals.

1998-JUL-15: 
The Mennonite Central Committee U.S. signed a letter, along with many Protestant church agencies and denominational offices. It was sent to members of the federal House, and urged the rejection of an amendment initiated by Joel Hefley (R-CO) to HR 4104 - The Treasury Postal Appropriations Bill. It would have legalized discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation. This was the first time that the MCC U.S. went on record in support of gays and lesbians. 2 It said, in part: 

"We recognize that there are theological differences of belief on the issue of homosexuality among people of faith. Such differences exist between and even within our many denominations. Yet we must also recognize the God-given worth and dignity of every individual. Like the majority of Americans, most people of faith still believe that, notwithstanding differences in our theological views, discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation is wrong. 

We are clearly of one voice in opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in federal civilian employment. The Hefley amendment, plain and simple, attempts to make that discrimination legal. It is our belief that employees should be judged on their job performance, not their sexual orientation. 

We believe in fairness. Indeed, our faith calls us to fairness. All of us are diminished when individuals are prevented from contributing the full measure of their talent and ability to society. We urge you to vote NO on the Hefley amendment as a matter of basic fairness." 

1998 (Month unknown):

The CMC issued a "Resolution on the issue of homosexuality." They said, in part:

"The CMC recognizes an issue that is causing division among us. Some congregations understand that God has called them to invite and include gay and lesbian believers into church membership, whereas other congregations understand that God has called them to resist the acceptance of homosexuality within its churches and in society. ... As we discern God’s will for the community of faith, we say “yes” to procedures that promote redemption, restoration and peace, and we say “no” to procedures that demonstrate condemnation and rejection. "

They accept the GC's 1986 "Resolution on Human Sexuality" that condemns all homosexual activity -- even within a loving, committed relationship -- as sinful. They are opposed to the exclusion of persons with a homosexual orientation as members, but expect them to remain celibate. 3

1998-NOV:
Recently, the three Mennonite groups (MC, GC, CMC) have been involved in merger talks aimed at creating a single Mennonite denomination across the U.S. and Canada. Differences in belief and policy concerning homosexuality have "threatened to derail the" merger discussions. 4

The first joint gathering of general boards of the three denominations was held at Winnipeg, starting 1998-NOV-19. They concentrated heavily on the "homosexual issue." "At least five MC area conferences have intimated or stated outright that they will not go along with integration [of the three denominations] if denominational membership guidelines allow for including congregations that accept non-celibate homosexuals as members."  Ruth Martin of the CMC General board commented: "The membership issue is critically important. It feels like integration will come apart if we don't deal with this issue."

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References used:

  1. Texts of Mennonite Church Conferences, Boards and Committees on Homosexuality at: http://www.ambs.edu/
  2. Letter to members of the House, 1998-JUL-15, at: http://www.ambs.edu/ljohns/Hefley.htm
  3. "Resolution on the issue of homosexuality," CMC, 1998, at: http://www.ambs.edu/
  4. "General boards approve consultation to address membership, homosexuality before St. Louis 99" The Mennonite, 1998-DEC-8, Lead news story.

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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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