So a few weeks ago I participated in my denomination's biannual gathering. Over 500 of us gathered in a big gymnasium and worshiped and listened and discussed etc. All the good kinds of things that many of us would equate with a large denominational gathering. And in the process, I found myself mulling one particular question over and over in my mind.
Are we trying to find a consensus 'position' on the 'question' of homosexuality? For all kinds of reasons, just typing that statement made me feel a little ill. Not in small part because it seems to speak as though people who identify as LGBTQ are not part of the 'we', or are an 'issue' that can be discussed and decided upon. But also because of the consensus part. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about consensus, even in small gatherings. I certainly value hearing all voices, and working together to develop common understanding. That's a huge part of what I love about Mennonite congregational polity. But even in quite small Mennonite churches, consensus takes a whole lot of different shapes. And at a denominational level, it's not even possible, not really (my opinion).
It's not like I hear a lot of people insisting that we come to consensus, but what I hear is a ton of conversation around how we can manage to stick together if we can't agree. How can we be the faithful church if we are in such complete disagreement, having such vastly different understandings? This seems to imply that we need common understanding in order to maintain our unity. So this is where I feel a bit stuck.Why is it that we feel we must have a common understanding about sexuality, when we really don't share common understanding, or have a consensus perspective, on pretty much anything else? Yes, I know that's perhaps slightly overstated, but bear with me.
During the weekend I was gifted with a table discussion group that was particularly diverse, spanning language, geographical
location, and theology. Our conversation during sessions on being in communion with LGBTQ folks (in our
denomination called Being a Faithful Church) was a little uncomfortable
and tense at times. We were in clear disagreement on scriptural interpretation as well as contemporary understandings of science and experience. But in those conversations, and others, I realized that our table group would not have agreed upon a host of other topics either. I think about how we understand
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, or how we are called to handle
money, or the role of women in family and church, or the spiritual life
of children, or how we worship, or the conflict in Israel/Palestine or
pretty much any topic you could produce. And yet we are in community. We
are still drawn together by our love for God, our love for the church,
and by our common story. We are unified in much the same way that a
family is unified, bound together by our common story, and pulled at the
seams a bit by our own individual identities and convictions.
This, it seems to me, is one of the beautiful gifts of a congregational polity. That we can, in small congregational groups, gather to discern together. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we listen to God's call in our unique contexts and through the lens' of scripture, experience, contemporary learning, and Christian tradition, we figure out how we are to be God's faithful people in a particular time and place. This means that as the larger church gathers we will hold a vast diversity of perspectives. It means that we will have insights we wish to share with one another through testimony of our own journeys of faith, personally, and congregationally. It means that we will have rich conversations that are at times fruitful, and filled with learning, but that are also at times, tense and filled with opportunities to practice patience and grace. It means that we won't agree. And that's okay, I think.
With all these other topics (the one's listed above, and dozens more), we generally agree that congregations will discern together. And as a gathering of congregations, we trust (though maybe not always) that each church has done their own work of listening and responding to God's call. So I'm left wondering what makes sexuality different. Is it necessary for us to come to common understanding as a national body (not that I'm saying that this is the goal of the Being a Faithful Church Task Force, it's just the general impulse I sense)? Or, can we trust that each congregation will respond faithfully to the call that God has placed before them in a particular time and place?