I recently had a very interesting conversation with some college friends about their struggles in finding a Mennonite church to attend. My friends were looking for a church where their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered friends would also be welcome. They weren’t having much success in their search.Homosexuality and the church has long been a divisive subject in Christian communities. I have found that many students here at Goshen College are frustrated and disappointed with the Mennonite church and our failure to fully welcome our LGBT sisters and brothers.
Yet I am sure that there are many among us who believe that the church’s traditional position that homosexuality is a sin is the true and faithful response to God’s word as found in the Bible. And there are probably many of us who find ourselves somewhere between these positions.
I have been reflecting on this issue a lot over the past six weeks, in part because of an open letter to Mennonite Church USA that pastors have been invited to sign onto. This letter, from pastors, calls the Mennonite church to a time of confession – a time to confess that the church, through its exclusion of LGBT sisters and brothers, has lost sight of the vision of the body of Christ as a place of radical hospitality and love.
This letter will be published online (www.openlettertoMCUSA.org – not available yet) in a few weeks, and I encourage everyone to take the time to read it and engage with each other in conversation about its content.
I agree with this letter. I believe that our church community has excluded where we should have included, hurt where we should have extended love, remained silent when we should have spoken up and stood in solidarity.
However, I did not, as a licensed Mennonite pastor, sign on to the letter for a variety of reasons that I would be happy to share in conversation. I am concerned that this letter, which is intended to move the conversation on this issue forward, has the potential to cause us to retreat into our existing positions with even more vigor.
I am bringing this letter to your attention because it is my hope that, no matter where you stand on this issue, we at Goshen College – whether you are Mennonite or not – can have honest, vulnerable, risky conversation with one another around this.
If you disagree with me and this letter, I would like to hear from you and seek to learn from you. If you have ideas about how we can engage in this conversation on campus, I would love to hear them as well.
It is my prayer that we can extend the love of Christ to one another even amidst our most radical disagreements.
Tamara Shantz is assistant campus pastor at Goshen College.