Mennonites, Sexuality and the Abuse of Scripture

Delegates to the Mennonite Church USA convention this week passed three resolutions regarding human sexuality.  The first, supported by more than two-thirds of those gathered, affirmed a stance of forbearance, or tolerance, for practices in the church that reflect deeply held beliefs of many, but are in direct conflict with the one man/one woman marriage clause of the Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective.  The second resolution, in direct contradiction of the spirit of the first and passed by just over a majority, reaffirmed the confession as it stands and tabled consideration of changes in confession language for a period of four years.  The third resolution named and repented a generation of brushing over the sexual abuse perpetrated by a prominent Mennonite theologian, bringing finally to full light an exceedingly slow and painful journey for the victims who steadfastly refused the darkness.

Let me be perfectly clear.  Thousands of us in the Mennonite Church are firm in our stance in support of inclusion and broken-hearted by what is at best an extension of tenuous tolerance by the church.  And we are dismayed in our souls by the grinding inertia of a body of believers whose roots are deep in radical transformation of society and the church.  Somehow we keep missing trains that have long ago left the station.  We arrive at what might have been prophetic voice a generation late, the potential public witness having slipped through our fingers, the sands of dynamic time in a heap of entropy on an increasingly empty platform.

A people originally martyred for their courageous stance against a church lost in the abuses of control and power have grown up and become the dragon they once dared to face.   The most hopeful events of the convention took place in the heartrending songs of solidarity sung with brave and gentle protesters outside the doors of the official gatherings.  And the pervasive sense of a meagerly attended convention was one of discouragement and weariness under a thin and tattered veil of praise band rah-rah.

Sixteen hundred years ago the intended bride of Christ eloped with the government of Rome at the altar of Augustine.  Despite the various reforms and the occasional bright spots of true social transformation initiated and carried forward by the prophetic few, we have dumbed ourselves down almost every day since.  Our view has been one of an irretrievably fallen creation, connected to its bloodthirsty author by a closed canon of scripture read through the lens of violent sacrifice.  We choose the easy path of institutional judgment and control, expressed through burdens of guilt, alleviated through sacraments meted by the priestly caste to masses numbed out by empty and mindless repetition of the sweet name of Jesus.  In this we mock the very one who died inviting each so powerfully to freedom from political, social and religious oppression.

We need an entirely new and far more expansive faith and view of scripture, a view that sees us unequivocally created in the image, enlivened by the very breath of God – creatures with the gift of choice tooled into our minds and the Word of Love written on our hearts.

Scripture, dear friends, was written for people and by people.  It is the human record of our slow waking to our connection and oneness with our Divine Creator.  It is useful.  It is not finished.  You, and your Aunt Susie, too, were granted every gift of Adam, of Rahab, Ruth and Jesus, the one who over and over called us brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of God.  We just will have none of it.

True scripture explodes outside the cover of any book.  It is never, never, never beaten into swords to wear down and crush the weary.  It is the Word of Love, written for all time on the walls of our hearts, expressed in every breath of creation.  And when we read that Word in the depth of our spirit, we know that we are one – not just in relationship with each other but truly one.  And when we trust and yield to it, we celebrate and welcome the other, for they are us.

Sexuality through the lens of that faith, that scripture, looks entirely different.  It is the gift of deep beauty, the flowering of our embodiment.  Each bloom is lovely.  The only possible profanity is the wanton destruction of our own bloom or that of another through acts of disrespect, shame and abuse.

Our twisted view and discomfort with sexuality lie largely at the feet of Augustine, who projected his own distraught struggle with and rejection of God’s good gift so effectively and pervasively, now for more than a millennium and one half, onto the life of the church.  It fits so neatly with institutional control and power, and with our own refusal to accept the goodness of creation in the sexuality of every living being.  We are complicit in our abdication of freedom in favor of the sword of guilt and shame, granted freely to the hand of our ready institutions.

Time is long past to stop bashing each other with a wearied and sorely abused book, squandering the opportunity for our own salvation, freedom and relevant public witness.  The Word of Love is profoundly simple.  And its beauty is expressed with glory in the flower of our sexuality.  We must embrace, nurture and celebrate this beautiful gift, with deep respect and welcome for all.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype. Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

16 thoughts on “Mennonites, Sexuality and the Abuse of Scripture

  1. Jerry, I love this paragraph for its poetry and meaning:
    “True scripture explodes outside the cover of any book. It is never, never, never beaten into swords to wear down and crush the weary. It is the Word of Love, written for all time on the walls of our hearts, expressed in every breath of creation. And when we read that Word in the depth of our spirit, we know that we are one – not just in relationship with each other but truly one. And when we trust and yield to it, we celebrate and welcome the other, for they are us.”

  2. Jerry, you have written my thoughts much more eloquently than I could have. Thanks for the affirming words on this subject which shouldn’t ever be a bone of contention in the church, of all places. God is Love. Period.

  3. I loved this phrase: “Sixteen hundred years ago the intended bride of Christ eloped with the government of Rome at the altar of Augustine.” So much more poetic than my own brusk description of Empire co-opting the Church. Perhaps your phrase ascribes more willingness to the Church’s subjugation than mine. Or maybe I’m reading too much into both metaphors. It’s sufficient to say Imperial culture triumphed over the gentle bride-of-christ and it matters little if it did so by guile or by force.
    ( I was not clear whether your “we” apples to Mennonites, specifically, or to the larger Body of Christ in general. That’s probably because I’m a new reader. It doesn’t affect the conclusion, I was just curious.)

  4. Thank you, Jerry. I was not able to attend the convention, but you express so well what I feel having read various reports of what happened there. I continue to pray, confessing that I don’t have all the answers, but in hope that we can figure out how to be a church together in a way that most perfectly models Christ.

  5. If only we had let Christ live long enough to show us how He would have lived out His sexuality. We might have been able to avoid centuries of stone throwing, confusion and wall building!

  6. Jerry, I re-read this today. It is profound and is such a bit of fresh air to read it again and feel that it reflects so much of what I believe. The part that speaks to me is the belief that scripture continues to be written in each of our lives. So true. The Book of Jerry contributes greatly to our Bible. I am not sure that I can say that of the Book of Lonnie but it is in there as well for better or worse! In any case, let’s all keep writing and learning and loving.

  7. Hi Jerry.

    Thank you for this profound and undoubtedly Holy Spirit-led message to our Lord’s Church. I pray that more people arrive at such a level of tolerance. This will be the true embodiment of Christ’s love for all creation. Doing so could only serve to draw more people of all kinds to drop to their knees and accept the sweet gift of salvation. Kind regards. Jo Marie Hines Dooley

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