I reflect on Jesus’ crucifixion and how this death stands for life in my March 27, 2011 sermon—the thirteenth in my series on Luke’s Gospel.
One of the big and challenging questions for Christians is the simple question: why did Jesus die? One way to approach this question is to look at the big story the Bible tells. In the story, right away with Abel we learn that sometimes being faithful to God might actually be the reason a person dies. The Old Testament later on sets out two types of conflict as central in the struggle for faithfulness among God’s people—the external conflict between the faith community and the empires of the world and the internal conflict between oppressive leaders inside the community and the prophetic voices of dissent.
The gospels then place Jesus right in the middle of this big story—and recount how his life involves the same two types of conflict as he bumps up against both the religious institutions and the political institutions of his day. Jesus got into trouble because of his double commitment to challenge oppressors and to welcome the oppressed. And he does so nonviolently.
The sermon may be found here: it’s called “Life in Death.” The other sermons in the series may be found here.
North American Mennonites are typical of Christian denominations in struggling with whether and how to be welcoming of gay and lesbian Christians in their midst. This struggle promises to be on the table at the Mennonite Church USA’s General Assembly in Pittsburgh this summer.
The citing of MC USA’s stated “teaching position” on this issue, especially by denominational leaders, both reflects the history of this struggle over the past several decades and plays an important role in present dynamics. But what exactly is this “teaching position”? Where did it come from and what is it based on?
I have an article, “The Logic of the Mennonite Church USA ‘Teaching Position’ on Homosexuality,” that was be published Spring 2011 in Brethren Life and Thought (volume 55.1-2, dated Winter/Spring 2010) and attempts to respond to these questions about the “teaching position.”
I argue that this “official stance” is based on shaky premises (for example, one key element is an assertion that the Mennonite Confession of Faith takes a restrictive position regarding homosexuality, an assertion I show to be unfounded). This “teaching position” is all too often used to stifle conversation on these issues. I conclude that the only way through for MC USA as a denomination and for MC USA congregations and other organizations is to welcome open discussion and decentralized, congregation-centered discernment.
Along the way, I also discuss the significance of how many restrictive advocates use the term “homosexual practice” (singular) rather than “homosexual practices” (plural). This usage then has the effect of actually reducing the important of the actual content of biblical materials that relate to the broader issues related to homosexuality in the community of faith. I also reflect on the role that “natural law” seems to play in this discussion, even for self-affirming biblicists.