This is reprinted from http://www.themennonite.org/issues/16-10/articles/Follow_Jesus_example_and_spirit_not_rules. This is my first post on the YAR site and I look forward to more, as well as getting to know some of you over the web and hopefully someday in person. I’m involved in a young adult network with Religions for Peace and hope to post on that soon and to see if people in YAR are interested in participating. You can learn a little about me and the others in the group here: http://www.rfpusa.org/what-our-young-adults-have-to-say-to-worlds-religious-leaders/
Harold Miller’s article “Membership Guidelines Allow Conversation” (February) is a great step forward in openness and dialogue on homosexuality. However, even a friendly discussion about homosexuality can be painful and draining for a homosexual person, since it involves defending their personal views, actions and beliefs.
It’s far easier to advocate patience and give a measured response when not having your way of life called into question. While not homosexual myself, I have been criticized about some of my views on sexuality, showing me how painful this subject can be for homosexuals. Additionally, key aspects of our theology and Jesus’ example are often left out in this conversation.
Many young adults won’t go anywhere near a church because of its views on homosexuality or because they’d be judged for living together with a committed partner before marriage. People outside the church believe the church’s teachings on sexuality are not true or complete. The church would do itself and the world a favor by figuring out what’s really important and what’s not when it comes to ethical and spiritual considerations about sexuality.
Struggle, disagreement and hurt feelings are a part of life; Jesus says the truth divides. But even nuanced, modest statements like, “our church’s teaching on sexuality is our best human understanding of God’s way” need exploration.
What happens if our best human understanding is wrong and needlessly causes suffering, alienation and drives away people earnestly searching for God or trying to walk Jesus’ path? Jesus is much harder on those who commit this sin of “shutting the door of the kingdom” than other sins.
One of Jesus’ biggest criticisms of the Pharisees is that they put their rules and interpretations ahead of God’s priority of justice and mercy—the things that really matter in day-to-day life and in loving one’s neighbor as oneself.
Is it not possible that the church’s teachings on homosexuality and sexuality shut the door of the kingdom on others? Yes, sexuality can be destructive, shallow or manipulative but not when genuine love between two people is the focus.
Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, and this is important because Anabaptists believe he’s the clearest revelation of God and God’s motivations—the principles, reasoning and spirit behind the rules. He said that before, it was like people had a slave or servant relationship to God. Who shares their inner workings, thoughts or secrets with mere slaves? Jesus said that now we are heirs and good friends of God, to whom secrets, inner understandings and motivations are shared.
This means it’s our responsibility and privilege to know the hows and whys of any rules we hold and to make sure they mesh with practical, moral issues and the fruit they bear.
Jesus questioned the accepted religious rules, yet we often prefer the status quo to searching and knocking. If we want to be true to Jesus, we also have to question and focus on lasting values, ethics and wisdom.
A 2009 Gallup poll shows a strong link between people’s views on homosexuality and whether or not they know a homosexual person well. This leads me to think that some lack of understanding or fear may be involved, even if on an unconscious level.
Jesus went out of his way to know and understand people not accepted by the religious majority. Furthermore, biblical scholarship reveals that homosexual acts or relationships in the Bible may have been strictly abusive or drastically unequal in power or age, a vast difference from issues of homosexual marriage and church membership discussed today.
Anabaptism came about because people questioned and searched the Bible for its meaning, relevance and transformational power. Anabaptists emphasized the ability of each person and small community to engage and interpret the Scriptures, experiencing the Spirit as revealing an inner, permanent, lasting truth.
We need to keep the spirit of Anabaptism alive by continuing to question Scripture and focusing on Jesus’ example and spirit. We need to make sure we emphasize issues that truly matter without shutting the door to the kingdom in the faces of those who are searching and trying to enter. This requires looking to and understanding criticism of dominant Christian views on sexuality from both the outside and the inside.
Jesus said that only God judges, and with the measure we judge others, we will be judged. God is love, love is above all, and when two people love each other—regardless of their gender or orientation—it is special. The church should focus on helping people love one another better, not telling them their love is an abomination.