Monday, May 29, 2023

Mennonite Brethren family with trans child reflects on sharing their story

Earlier in May, I posted a story about a Mennonite Brethren family with a trans child that didn't feel welcome in the denomination. They shared the following after seeing some responses to their story.

Reading responses to our family’s story, the thought that struck me was that people often feel very alone when walking through difficult times like this. By sharing our story, I think we let people in our situation know they are, in fact, not alone.

Also, although our story is different from others, there really are a lot more commonalities in people’s lives and stories than we realize!

One thing I was also reminded of was how, in the midst of a story, we often don’t have the full perspective. That’s true for us. As a family, we are still in the midst of our story. We are walking the path of figuring out ourselves and don’t yet know where this path will lead.

One thing that has changed as a result of our story is our home has become a place where ALL are truly welcome. Not that they weren’t before, but now with a much more intentional welcoming and awareness that we just didn’t have before. We didn’t see the gift of this at the beginning of our journey, but we are seeing it now.

When we read comments people left on places where our story has been shared, we felt supported, loved, and encouraged. I am buoyed by the fact that there are corners in the church community where other people are having these experiences and conversations, places where we can walk alongside each other well.

We’re thankful people are finding comfort in our story. It continues to be our hope and dream that this conversation can be had in more places and be helpful to others in the middle of their stories, too.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches planning a resource on gender identity

The National Faith and Life Team (NFLT) of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (CCMBC) is planning to develop a position and resource on gender identity.

That’s the word from Ken Esau, who directs the NFLT.

“Since its approval of the ‘Loving Well Our LGBTQ+ Family, Friends, and Neighbours’ document, the NFLT has planned to produce a resource on the important questions of sexual identity and gender identity,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, this resource is not even in draft stage yet, but is near the top of our ‘to do’ list with a hopeful completion date in the next 12-18 months.”

Friday, May 19, 2023

River East Church in Winnipeg formally suspended by the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba

River East Church in Winnipeg has been formally suspended by the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba (MBCM). 

The suspension took effect on May 3.

It follows a notice of suspension sent to the church in March and follows a meeting between the MBCM board and River East leadership.

On May 10, MBCM sent a letter to all Mennonite Brethren churches in Manitoba announcing the suspension. The letter is below.

This letter is a follow-up to the March 1 2023 communication you received from us regarding River East Church.

The MBCM Board recognizes that LGBTQ+ persons, along with their friends and families, have experienced exclusion and rejection in churches. While this is not everyone’s story, we understand that it is the story of many. We are committed to a future where better stories are experienced. Each MBCM church is invited to join in this journey, where LGBTQ+ persons and their families experience inclusion and care.

As well, we recognize that some of the implications of working to include and care for LGBTQ+ persons can bump up against our convictions and practices. The MBCM board continues to affirm our shared confession, in all of its aspects.

The MBCM board is moving River East Church’s membership in MBCM to a status of suspended, as of May 3, 2023. This suspension involves a change in River East’s ability to serve and provide representation. 

Members of River East Church will be unable to hold a representative position within MBCM or CCMBC structures and affiliations while this suspension is active. This does not include REC members who are employed by institutions of said structures and affiliations. Additionally, River East Church members will be ineligible to vote on decisions or resolutions considered by the Assembly of MBCM churches.

As per the process outlined in MBCM’s constitution, the MBCM Provincial Faith and Life Team will conduct a review of the circumstances that have led to this suspension. They will report their findings to the MBCM board.

The desire of the MBCM board is to work toward the restoration of REC membership in MBCM. Should this intention find success, the board will then resolve to reinstate River East Church upon the board’s satisfaction that the concerns have been adequately rectified.

Should those efforts prove ineffective, the board will provide recommendation to the Assembly of MBCM churches for removal of membership.

We invite you to be in prayer for all involved as we journey through this process. May God work in and through us as we seek to be faithful in following him.

On behalf of the MBCM board, Dave Ens MBCM Board Moderator

Monday, May 15, 2023

"In our hearts, we are still Mennonite Brethren . . . but it doesn’t seem like it is open to us and our family now." Family shares journey with trans child

The parents reached out to me. They wanted to tell their story about their journey with a trans child. 

They are long time members of a Mennonite Brethren church in Canada. They requested anonymity; they still aren’t sure who they can tell, or how their church will respond to them. 

So let’s call them Barb and Thomas. I’ll call their child Sam. 

Sam is in their early 20s, a young adult, the eldest of four children in the family. Since about the age of 14, Sam knew something felt off—they didn’t feel like the female gender they had been born into. (Sam prefers neutral pronouns.)

They kept quiet for a long time, not telling anyone, not even their parents. Then, a few years ago, they went to their parents to tell their story. 

“Sam came into the room one night to talk to us,” said Barb. “’I need to tell you something,” they said. “’I’m trans.’” 

While taken by surprise, Barb and Thomas assured Sam they loved them. “We had decided years ago there was nothing our children would do that would end our love for them,” Barb said. “Including this.” 

Barb remembers praying that night after Sam broke the news. 

“I told God I didn’t know what to do with this. I told God I loved my child and I loved God. I said if it’s a phase, help us all get through it well. If it isn’t, help me make sense of it, since it goes against everything I have been taught at church. I asked God to give me wisdom and clarity. And that I was always willing to learn and be open to new things.” 

For Thomas, it was hard at first to process what Sam had said. 

“I wasn’t sure what it meant,” he said. “Maybe it was just a phase they were going through and things would go back to way the way things were before. But it was not to be.” 

As it turned out, Sam had given it a lot of thought before announcing it to their parents. 

“They didn’t see themself as fitting with who they saw themselves to be as a female,” Thomas said. “The girl’s name we had given them didn’t fit, either.” 

“That was not my lived experience, so it wasn’t easy for me to identify with Sam,” Thomas said. “But I could identify with their pain.” 

Sam wanted to talk about surgery to remove their breasts, but Barb and Thomas asked them to slow down a bit. Ultimately, they agreed it was best, as was the process of officially changing their name from a female name to a male name. 

While happy for Sam, Thomas admits he also “grieved the end of my daughter.” Yet he and Barb constantly told Same “we loved them, that there was nothing they could do that would change that love for them.” 

Thinking back on the experience, Barb now realizes Sam was in pain for a long time before they told their parents. 

“I’m sorry they didn’t feel they could tell us earlier,” she said. 

But she understands how hard it was for Sam, not knowing if their parents might reject them. 

That was partly due to the family being part of a Mennonite Brethren church where conversations about sexual identity were never held and likely not permitted, and where something like being trans was considered disordered or even sinful. 

“Now I know how incredibly hard it is for LGBTQ+ or trans kids in Mennonite Brethren churches to come out.”  

“Now I know how incredibly hard it is for LGBTQ+ or trans kids in Mennonite Brethren churches to come out,” she said. 

The next challenge was what to say to friends and family. 

“At first we could hardly tell anyone,” Barb said. “We had to make sure it was safe.” 

Most who they have told have been open and accepting. But some have struggled. “Some have a different perspective,” she said. 

Barb and Thomas have come to peace about it, although he admits it’s still a challenge for him theologically. 

“Things aren’t black and white as before, but I still have some questions,” he said. “I still believe God created us and loves us, and wants to be in a relationship with us—and that means all of us, including Sam.” 

“This isn’t a salvation issue. There is lots of room for grace and acceptance.

One thing he is sure of is “this isn’t a salvation issue. There is lots of room for grace and acceptance. In the midst of this, God is still very present and real.” 

For Barb, who is in leadership in her church as a volunteer, the next step is what she can tell her pastor and others. 

“I want to be honest, but I don’t know what the reaction will be,” she says. This could include being asked to step down from her leadership position—which she is OK with, if it comes to that. 

If Barb and Thomas have to leave their church because of it—because of what the Confession says—that will be hard. “But increasingly we just don’t feel we fit in the Mennonite Brethren conference anymore,” she said. 

That last bit is a sticking point for the couple. 

"In our hearts, we are still Mennonite Brethren . . . but it doesn’t seem like it is open to us and our family now.” 

“We’ve visited other affirming churches, and they are fine,” Barb said. “But in our hearts, we are still Mennonite Brethren. That’s the tradition where we feel most connected. But it doesn’t seem like it [the Conference] is open to us and our family now.” 

Ironically, she added, she and Thomas feel more at home with non-church people talking about their experience. 

“They are so much more accepting and helpful to talk to. And that’s a shame, since I wish we could talk about it in the Mennonite Brethren conference. But leadership of the Conference seems scared to permit that conversation.” 

As for why she and Thomas are sharing their story, it’s because “we want anyone else having this experience to know they aren’t alone.” 

Sam’s Side of Things 

And what about Sam? How are they processing all of this? 

Looking back, they said they had a good upbringing in a loving family. As for faith, that was always a given—just the “stuff that surrounded me.” 

It was between the ages of 14 to 16 they began to feel something was off. “It took awhile to figure out what was going on,” they said. 

Once Sam was certain about who they really were, they went to their parents. 

“It was the most awkward conversation of anyone’s life,” they said, adding they appreciated how their parents reacted. 

"I didn’t think I could raise it with my youth leaders. I didn’t know how they would react.”

After coming out to family, Sam wondered where they fit into church. “I was wrestling with my faith. I knew from research that there were LGBTQ+ Christians. But I didn’t think I could raise it with my youth leaders. I didn’t know how they would react.” 

One incident that left a strong impression was when the pastor talked about the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith one Sunday. 

“I didn’t know much about the Confession, but when I came to the part about marriage, I knew that this church wasn’t a place for me,” Sam said. 

Sam remembers feeling terrible after reading it. 

“If this is so important to them they have to put it in the Confession, right alongside what they believe about Jesus, then I knew I couldn’t talk to anyone at church about this,” they said. 

Sam didn’t want to give up on faith, so they started connecting with queer Christians, locally and online, and then found a church that was affirming.

“I knew I needed a church, a place where I could be accepted for who I am."

Not going to church wasn’t an option. “I knew I needed a church, a place where I could be accepted for who I am, where people would celebrate joys with me like my new birth certificate, or how happy I was after my top surgery,” Sam said. 

“Those were fantastic days, and I wanted to share those things with my church.” 

Being part of an affirming church brings Sam a lot of joy. “When I saw my name in the directory, my new name, it made me so happy,” Sam said. “That’s me!” 

When asked what churches can do to support people like Sam, they said: “I just needed someone to talk to, someone to listen to me, to hear what I was going through, to hear where my pain was, where my joy was,” they said. 

When asked what they would say to people who believe what they did was wrong, Sam said: “Who are you to put limits on the love of God? How do you know where God’s love ends? Everyone is loved by God. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Including me.” 

Sam knows some cite Genesis, where it says God made a male and a female, as a reason why being trans is wrong. 

But, Sam notes, Genesis also says God made light and dark, earth and water. “Does that mean dusk and dawn are wrong because they are in between light and dark?” Sam asked. “Or a marshland because it is both land and water? That argument doesn’t work for me.” 

At the end of it all, Sam just feels good. “Being a teenager is hard on most people, but my mental health is so much better now,” they said. “Being called by my chosen name and pronoun has taken a lot of weight off. I no longer feel like I am drowning, like how I felt before.”

Thursday, May 4, 2023

"There's Life on the Other Side." Former Cedar Park Church leaders share about Estuary, their new fully welcoming and affirming congregation


Just over a year ago, I wrote about how the British Columbia Mennonite Brethren Conference tookover the Cedar Park Mennonite Brethren Church in Ladner, B.C. over that congregation’s desire to explore LGBTQ+ welcome and inclusion.


All three pastor’s resigned as a result, and about two-thirds of the congregation left.


The lead pastor, Lee Kosa, was accused of being a “false teacher” and stripped of his ministry credential.


Today, two of those three pastors have started a new church called Estuary—a church that is fully open, welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ+ people.


I had a chance to ask them how things are going a year later. Their answer? “There’s life on the other side.”


Read more about how Estuary is doing at Anabaptist World.


Friday, April 14, 2023

What happens to a church's property if it is removed from a provincial Mennonite Brethren conference?

What happens to a church’s property when it is removed from membership in a provincial Mennonite Brethren conference? 

That was the question I was asked after Southridge and Freechurch were expelled from the Ontario Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (ONMB). 

I didn’t know the answer. So I reached out to Michelle Knowles, Chair of the Board of ONMB. 

She replied: “In Ontario, our Conference does not hold titles to any local church property or assets. The only exception may be a short-term arrangement to support a new church. So, in the case of FreeChurch and Southridge, property remains with each of the churches. 

I reached out to the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba (MBCM) with the same question. I received no response. 

A check of MBCM’s constitution shows the “real property of all congregations shall be registered in the name of THE MENNONITE BRETHREN CHURCH OF MANITOBA.” 

It goes on to say that “upon disassociation of any local member church from the Manitoba Conference, legal and equitable ownership in all real and personal property of such church shall immediately vest in The Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba, subject to any recommendations by the Leadership Board to the Manitoba Conference and any decision of the Manitoba Conference relating to the same.” 

When MBCM holds its assemblies, those assemblies “shall be entitled to deal with all property of the congregations as such Assemblies of Congregations may deem advisable, subject only to the provisions of any trust under which such property may be held.” 

In B.C., the British Columbia Mennonite Brethren Conference (BCMB) also holds title to all church property. 

As its constitution states: “Title to all property, whether real or personal, at Recognized Church sites, is held by the Society (BCMB), except for such other arrangements as may be made by the Executive Board and ratified by the Society.” 

It goes on: "Upon dissociation of any Recognized Church from the Society, ownership in all real and personal property of such Recognized Church shall remain in the Society, subject to such recommendations of the Management Committee as may be accepted by the Executive Board.” 

(Update: It was noted that a growing number of Mennonite Brethren churches in B.C. have taken titled to their properties, the result of a decision made some decades ago to give churches in that province that option.)

I was not able to find out how this works in Alberta of Saskatchewan. Anyone have any information on that?

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Comments and responses to Brian Cooper's article about theology trumping family when it comes to LGBTQ+ welcome and affirmation (plus a response from Brian)


A number of comments were made on the post about Brian Cooper's article in the April MB Herald Digest about theology trumping family and relationships when it comes to LGBTQ+ welcome and affirmation. Some came on this blog, some came on Facebook when I posted a link to the article. Find the responses below. 

Brian has published a response to these comments on his blog. Find it here. 

Comments on the blog 

Michael Young. While it (the article) is discussing church family, this logic will be applied to some MB households. Our queer kids will pay for this. 

Mardell Neufeld. I appreciated Brian Cooper's recent article, "All In The Family?" It reminded me of a book, Messy Truth by Caleb Kaltenbach that I recently read. With the wisdom of personal experience (being raised by 3 gay parents), the author shows the reader how to love and to listen well to others despite our differences while still maintaining our convictions.

With that in mind, I have a few questions to ask. How is it that those of us who are staying faithful to our convictions and yet still desire to show empathy to the LGBTQ community and beyond are being denounced for not affirming same-sex marriage? If I don't affirm someone's lifestyle (no matter what kind it is) does it mean that I don't love them or care about them enough to walk alongside them, no matter what it looks like or what kind of journey they are going through?

Will the people within the MB conference who affirm same-sex marriage and the gay lifestyle still respect me for my views and beliefs on this matter? I am thankful for our MB conference leaders and stand behind them wholeheartedly on this issue. I believe we need to respect them for their beliefs and convictions. It's not about being kicked out of the denomination if you don't agree with the MB Confession of Faith. Perhaps for those who are pushing an agenda and approach to same-sex marriage that is contradictory to conference beliefs, maybe it IS best to gracefully part ways. Isn't that how it is with any organization? Why the fight? Can a house divided still stand?

I believe this could be a wake up call for all of us as an MB denomination as well as the broader Church. Could it be, perhaps that God is calling us all to repentance for how we have mistreated people and have not listened well. Can we extend grace and forgiveness, and show love and respect for others who we don't necessarily agree with? May God help us!

Anonymous. Matthew 10:34-36 could be seen as a prescriptive to exclude those who disagree with us theologically (as in Brian Cooper’s interpretation?) or this passage could be seen as descriptive of what happens when “we are deprived of sacrificial safeguards” (Rene Girard). Jesus is not intending to bring separation within families (close relationships), but Jesus is describing what will happen unless we choose to not separate from each other - a choice can be made. 

Anonymous. Years ago I walked with a mother who, together with her husband, acting on the advice they received from a church elder, had decided to have nothing to do with their gay son. Her heart was broken. Every birthday, Easter, Christmas, was agony. I constantly tried to encourage her to get in touch with him. Toward the end of her life she did that. Both of their lives could have been so different had they tried to understand each other, reach out to talk, to listen, come to some kind of agreement rather than cutting the ties that bind! 

David Wiebe. Brian Cooper's article reminds me of Maximus the Confessor, an interesting case from church history. The Bishop of Constantinople and Maximus stood on different sides of an issue concerning Jesus' identity: did Jesus have one or two natures? The inscrutability of this issue is relevant; how many centuries did it take the church to work on this and "land" on a conclusion? 

The two men battled it out in public. Maximus was a terrific orator and seemed to gain the upper hand. So the Bishop imprisoned him. But people came to the prison to hear Maximus - so the Bishop cut off his tongue. Maximus then put his erudite thoughts to paper and people collected his writings. So the Bishop cut off his hand. Ultimately the Bishop determined that Maximus was a heretic and exiled him to present-day Georgia where he died. Only 20 years later a major church council reviewed his case and declared him "not a heretic but a saint"!

The current CCMBC leadership, as expressed in Cooper's article, seems happy to declare pro-inclusion Mennonite Brethren people "heretics" – i.e. worthy of excommunication, though "we'll still talk to you as the black sheep of the family." This on a far less important matter than Jesus' identity! Note that "heretic" has the same etymology as "cohere". So a "heretic" isn't coherent with the group. This is about unity and the effort to maintain the "unity of the Holy Spirit".

Based on Cooper's argument, and my experience in recent years, I think CCMBC leadership are too "trigger happy" and don't desire to put the effort needed into figuring out "coherence" on this complex issue. The Equip Conference with David Fitch was all about taking the time to work through the major issues that confront us. Cooper, CCMBC and the National Faith and Life Team don't seem at all interested in adhering to the valuable insights of Fitch on this.

I also submit CCMBC has not been consistent in its application of the Confession of Faith to the challenge of "being family." In the past on at least 2 Confessional matters we have given a great deal of time and room for churches to innovate outside the confessional bounds. For about 20 years in the 1970-80s churches permitted non-baptized Christians to take the Lord's Supper (This was aimed at newcomers as a way to help them feel like they belonged). This breach of the Confession never brought on dismissals of churches or pastors' credentials.

In the early 1990s the Conference changed the Confession to accommodate, recognizing we were breaking with not only our 100 year old tradition but the 2,000 year tradition of the church! In the 1990s and early 2000s churches were baptizing people with the option of membership—also a breach of the Confession. Article 8 was rewritten to accommodate that quite recently.

Throughout these scenarios, the "family" metaphor surely prevailed, but in an unspoken way. Today, though, we seem to be troubled by it. Something has changed - and not for the better.

Finally, it is possible to push an analogy too far. Delbert Wiens, formerly of Fresno Pacific College (MB school) said when we push even a biblical analogy too far, we can cross a line into heresy. While I would never accuse Brian Cooper himself of being a "heretic" I feel he may have pushed the family analogy into territory where the family metaphor no longer coheres. And thus his article should be taken with a "grain of salt."

Lee Kosa. I am saddened that an article that calls us to prioritize "the unity of the spiritual family—even ahead of those beloved biological family members we would like to affirm in the context of theological differences regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion—would not include an acknowledgment of the tragic reality that LGBTQ+ youth from evangelical families are at greater risk of family rejection and homelessness than other youth. 

Surely the position that spiritual family "takes precedence" over biological family has contributed to Christian parents rejecting their LGBTQ+ children. 

Family rejection is one of the two leading risk factors for LGBTQ+ teen suicide. As I learned from the BCMB-promoted Posture Shift seminar, 42% of youth in evangelical families fear being disowned by their parents. 9% are kicked out of their homes. 85% feel uncomfortable coming out to their parents. 81% fear being seen as disgusting by their parents and they are 8 times more vulnerable to suicide if family rejection occurs.

While the author admits that this difficult form of "faithfulness," does not mean "complete and utter dissociation" and that "most of the time biological . . . connections are to be enjoyed and celebrated" it seems insensitive, if not irresponsible, and certainly out of step with the pastoral concern encouraged by Posture Shift to fail to acknowledge the suffering that the rejection of biological and spiritual family members has caused and continues to cause LGBTQ+ people.

I wonder how this conversation about prioritizing spiritual family over biological family shifts when such prioritization contributes to harming the vulnerable members of our churches and wider society.

In the early church, when people's belief in Jesus ostracized them from their biological family, the new Christian spiritual family went to great lengths to welcome many of these new believers—many of whom were women and were particularly vulnerable in a patriarchal society when detached from their biological family. The contemporary North American Christian evangelically influenced church has largely amputated vulnerable LGBTQ+ believers from their spiritual body and many of those who do stay experience harm as churches are sadly often a haven of ignorance, misinformation, and bigotry. Surely we cannot bracket the reality of harm out of a discussion about the ramifications of prioritizing the spiritual family over the biological.

I do appreciate the article's call to not "anathematize those who differ." However, the comment causes me to wonder why I was referred to as a ''false teacher" by a BCMB leader in front of over a hundred people even when no evidence was ever produced of me publicly teaching anything contrary to the CoF. That certainly felt anathematizing.

While I was hoping my departure from the BCMB could have been seen as akin to what Andrew describes as "parting company over significant differences" the PMC's investigation of me as a potential "false teacher" was a hurtful approach that exacerbated conflict in my former congregation.

Lastly, I wonder what exactly "substantial consensus" means. If it simply means a majority, I'm not sure "consensus" is the right word. Furthermore, a majority is not hard to maintain when you simply kick out dissenting voices. Also, historically when it comes to discerning social/theological issues such as the enslavement of people and women in leadership, the majority was wrong for long periods of time while the vocal minority has often embodied the prophetic role of condemning injustice and advocating for reform.

Donald Peters. Brian Cooper’s reflections provide a good explanation of why the Mennonite world is so replete with denominations. If we make his reflections prescriptive, we’ll have even more.

Cooper states: “Theological connections are the measure of the true [spiritual] family.” Might it also be true that in the spiritual family, theological connections are strong enough to allow for different, even contrary theological views among members?

Cooper states: “Knowing when and why to part ways can be a sign of theological maturity rather than theological failure.” Might it also be true that a decision to part ways can be a sign of theological immaturity and theological failure?

All families, be they biological, cultural, theological, or spiritual, benefit from healthy doses of patience and humility.

From Facebook 

Dora Dueck. Thank you for featuring this article, John. I read much of that issue several days ago and this article (together with the Q & R feature and revisions to the intro to the C of F) has been sitting in my head and heart as a heavy disturbance ever since. 

Against the winsome words of Mark Baker about moving together in the direction of Jesus, this one falls like a discouraging stone. 

With respect, I believe Mr. Cooper is wrong here, and I hope that a lively discussion can ensue, because, frankly, this is pretty important. 

There's much I could say, but just a couple of quick points.  

1. I feel he greatly overstates the "biological" family piece of the MB denomination. It's true that there are shared-ethnic and shared-history components, yes, absolutely for sure, especially early (understandably) and it wasn't always easy for those outside that history to find their way comfortably in. (Women, for example, could feel a similar sense of grievance at times about struggling to get "inside".) But I think, if we're to speak of family (I prefer community or connectivity) MBs have become broader and more diverse, so it seems inaccurate to speak of biological in this context. 

2. Family as it's been used to describe the MB denomination is a metaphor, not literal; how strange to argue for exclusion then on the basis of Jesus' words referring to literal family in contrast to his. 

3. Belonging, community, family, whatever we wish to call it, is created in multi-faceted ways, and it seems as if Mr. Cooper is creating a binary instead of looking at many other components and losses that have divided and distanced us. 

Ironically, in the past few years, theology (shorthand for C of F here) has been almost exclusively emphasized. And yet we are having more difficulty hanging together than we ever have. And please don't tell me we haven't had tough disagreements to work through in the past. 

But most importantly for me, and sorry this has gotten so long, do we truly believe "theology does take priority over family and relationships"? Do we? Isn't the very heart of theology itself relationship? Following Jesus who said, "this is my command, that you love one another . . . remain in my love." What am I missing? 

Elsie Neufeld. Have you ever heard someone say, "If the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it?" That sort of thinking does damage to the way the Bible actually works. The Bible includes metaphor, hyperbole, history, poetry, philosophy, prophecy, etc.  

Andrew Dyck. Thank you, John, for highlighting Brian's article in MBH. As Dora writes above, I too would love to see a robust and generous conversation [and FB is an especially poor medium for such] about the use of "family" in Scripture...both as theological metaphor and/or ontological reality (e.g. when Jesus calls his apprentices friends, and when he states that his mother, sisters, and brothers are those who do God's will). 

In a similar vein, I'd like to see a response article to Brian's piece that wrestles with the meaning, extent, and nature of Christian unity (as Jesus prays for it in John 17). In what ways is unity an ontological reality established by the Holy Spirit? 

Then, as a follow-up, how can we faithfully express that God-created unity with our various human-created institutions (incl. churches and denominations) — I think, for instance, of the realizations within the global ecumenical movement that institutional unity is neither possible nor necessarily desirable. Unity is thus to be sought and nurtured in additional ways. 

Finally, the other topic I'd like to see addressed is the difference between church discipline (aka excommunication—i.e. breaking communion over apostasy, deliberate persistent sinning, or creating disunity—generally as a practice that identifies a person as outside the Christian community), and other ways of parting company over significant differences (a la Paul and Barnabas disagreeing about the contributions or lack thereof of John Mark). So many great topics that warrant digging, debate, dignity, and delight. 

James Toews. Andrew has raised a good number of points that also resonate with me. You will no doubt respond to those. But let me put mine forward as well. You will have to pick a course through these critiques. 

My first query of you is your apparent conflation of "spiritual" and "theological". To me they represent apples and oranges, as it were. I think this conflation leads to extreme and unjustified actions. 

As followers of Jesus, we are a "spiritual" family by virtue of our commitment to follow Him. Jesus defined us as family and the whole NT is focused on how we behave as such given the mix of personalities, the conflicts, and the issues that are part of life on earth. Being family is not easy. 

On the other hand, being a theological family means understanding and affirming a series of statements which followers of Jesus have debated in the last 2000 years. The history of that is very sad and has consistently brought out the worst in Jesus' followers. 

Imo, most people in the theological families that now exist, have only vague understanding of their theological content. Most join because that’s the family through which they were introduced to Jesus. 

That’s not to say theological family doesn’t matter, but that it is a far more nuanced entity than it appears you assume it is. Further, to me it appears that exiting members of our CCMBC family who are wrestling with a topic that is profoundly new [gay behaviour having only been decriminalized some 50 years ago], is the wrong step for the time. We need to talk in good faith first.

Many of us feel that has not happened in the CCMBC yet. We need to talk first before we determine who is in and who need to be out. 

Shoaib Ebadi. By the way, LGBTQ+ is not the only issue that Christian denominations are different. There are other differences about baptism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, drinking, wearing head covering for women, women's involvement in the church and in church leadership etc. there are some Christian denominations that welcome LGBTQ+. Unity is not uniformity. If you believe differently about an issue, it doesn't mean you don't love someone. There are five billion people in the world that need Jesus and his salvation. Friends please FOCUS on the lost world. 

Rich Janzen. Thanks for the post, John. It leaves me with many questions (to add to the other questions in this thread). Which of our shared convictions meet the threshold of requiring adherence lest we force a “parting of ways”? 

What of those congregations who currently are not in alignment with other parts of our confession of faith (beyond LGTBQ+ inclusion)? 

Similarly, what about those congregations who functionally disregard our shared convictions, or sidestep them in favour of others? Do they get a pass from discipline? 

Was our confession of faith ever intended to bear the weight of bringing unity to the extent that we seem to be expecting of it (especially in light of our weakening personal relationships and joint ministry)? Who gets to decide the answers to these questions and how can we encourage open, constructive conversation to inform them? 

And finally, is it wise for a denomination to take such divisive action as dismembering congregations from our denominational community before we have clarity to these questions (and the many others raised)? 

David Wiebe. It's hard to add to the already great comments; all have raised significant points. So Brian Cooper, you have hit a chord! Hopefully not "discordant." 

Delbert Wiens of Fresno Pacific University ("College" in his day) once noted that even a biblical metaphor pushed too far can become a "heresy". I wonder if pushing on the family metaphor the way Brian has done takes it beyond coherence. (Coherence with the dozens of biblical pictures of the church; coherence with how we as MB's have considered being family around confessional issues). 

Glen Friesen. My daughter is part of the LGBTQ+ community, she is also full blood Mennonite. She also loves Jesus with all her heart and is walking as close to him as you or I. Jesus would call her his sister according to Matthew 3, yet you are throwing her out of the church. 

Jesus calls us to love and not to judge, the MB church seems to have that backwards. 

This article is asking us to stick to the old ways, but I can tell you, the old timers didn’t always have it right. If they did then our ladies would still wear head coverings and not be involved in leadership. Those who divorce would be thrown out of the church and heaven forbid you get a tattoo or drive a red car! 

The fact is Jesus called us to love one another and never said a thing about LGBTQ+. 

Heather Loewen. Glen Friesen, the article is asking us to stick to Scripture, not our own traditions. He’s not talking about throwing people out because of their sin, but we also can’t encourage those sins. What is grace and forgiveness without judgment? We are not to condemn, but we absolutely need to discern. The warning not to judge is because we will be judged in that same way - harsh, cold, unforgiving, or with mercy and discipline.

Jesus did talk about sexuality “He who created them in the beginning made them male and female” (see Matt 19). For some of us our desires/feelings are more crosses to bear than others. 

Again, Brian has published a response to these comments on his blog. Find it here.