Welcoming But Not Affirming: The Logic of MC USA’s “Teaching Position” on Homosexuality
Ted Grimsrud—July 2010
[Author’s note: This essay was drafted shortly after I taught my Introduction to Theology class, which included a unit on homosexuality. I wanted to get some of my thoughts onto paper while they were fresh. I have not yet been able to develop the argument in this essay as thoroughly as I hope to. However, due to other commitments it may be some time before I can return to fleshing out my thoughts. Especially, the paper’s final section needs significant expansion. In the meantime, I am posting the essay here on Peace Theology in hopes that some may find it helpful—and that I may receive constructive criticism that will help me when I return to the essay. For a pdf version of this paper go here: Mennonites and Homosexuality. A slightly revised version of this article was published as “The Logic of the Mennonite Church USA Teaching Position on Homosexuality” in Brethren Life and Thought 55.1-2 (Winter 2010), 10-23.]
Numerous times over the past twenty-five years I have entered into conversations concerning issues related to our churches’ response to the presence in our midst of gay Christians. These conversations remain as challenging and seemingly unresolvable as ever. But they also remain as interesting as ever. And I keep learning as I engage in such conversations—about my own views and deep-seated values, about the dynamics of the conversation, and about the perspectives of my conversation partners (especially those with whom I disagree).
Certainly the conversations are complex and viewpoints are almost infinitely varied. We all bring a mixture of motivations, ethical resources, political agendas, social locations, levels of education, personal experiences, and so much more. However, as a trained ethicist, my tendencies run toward trying to provide some kind of conceptual order in analyzing these conversations. This leads me to suggest various ordering categories—not (heaven forbid!) as stable slots into which to fit various actors (so I will avoid the word “type” and instead use terms such as “tendency,” “way of arguing,” and “inclination”)—as aids for growing in understanding (the proverbial “heuristic devices” as artificial categories that have educational value but must be held lightly).
The first set of categories I will use is meant to give us reasonably neutral terms for the two sides in the debate, focusing on issues centered in the churches. These terms are “inclusive” and “restrictive.” These two terms focus on the specific question of whether a church participant’s “gayness” per se should play a role in the level of involvement this participant will be allowed.
The term “inclusive” conveys an approach that would not limit the involvement due to whether the people are gay or not (this view could easily hold that the church should restrict the involvement of all people who are involved in sinful relationships, heterosexual or homosexual—the point being, though, that heterosexual couples and homosexual couples are held to the same standards).
The term “restrictive” conveys an approach that would limit the involvement of people who are presently in intimate same-sex relationships (or perhaps also those who are open to entering into such relationships). The degree of restrictiveness might vary greatly among different churches, but in all cases the basis for restriction is the gayness of the participants. Continue reading