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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
All families, be they biological, cultural, theological, or spiritual, benefit
from healthy doses of patience and humility.
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.
winsome words of Mark Baker about moving together in the direction of Jesus,
this one falls like a discouraging stone.
respect, I believe Mr. Cooper is wrong here, and I hope that a lively
discussion can ensue, because, frankly, this is pretty important.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
What of those congregations who currently are not
in alignment with other parts of our confession of faith (beyond LGTBQ+
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.
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
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.
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.