Context: This opinion piece is primarily in reference to decisions by some of the Mennonite conferences over the past several years. Those decisions have been to exclude selected congregations from conference membership and support, on the ground that those congregations are too open to allowing "unrepentant homosexual sinners" to be members. I agree with the "welcoming" mission of those censured congregations, and this is my protest against the conference actions.

Justice and the "H-issue"

March 2, 1998

I believe the debate of "Is homosexuality sin?", while important, gets the church stuck at the wrong question. We're losing a healthy perspective on the justice of our response.

Consider first the huge range of mutually respectful ways in which responsible adults express relationships: from a hello, eye contact, handshakes, or kind words, sometimes all the way to public commitments, legal documents, genital stimulation. Appropriateness of expression depends on so much: trust, commitments, mutual consent, other relationships, feelings, natural desires, and more. If some same-sex activities that fall within this range offend other people as "sin" or "uncleanliness" or "stumbling blocks," what is the church's appropriate response? Is the severe process that would result in suspension of the offenders really justified?

Consider the biblical evidence dealing with the proper mission of God's people in regard to society's "unclean." Taking the evidence seriously, we cannot stop at the levitical holiness code passages and a few oft-cited Pauline "proof texts." The whole Bible notably includes Jesus' social teachings and actions, Peter's epiphany in Acts 10-11, Paul's admonitions in Romans 14, and much more.

The biblical evidence gives me serious reasonable doubt that sufficient cause has been established in this case to make anyone into an outcast. Shouldn't suspension as an extreme step be reserved for the spiritual felonies, sins that unequivocally shatter personal trust, publicly proclaimed relationship commitments, and community structures?

So while the debates about sin drag on, let's grant the same-sex "sinners" and their families and friends the same welcome as is granted to all the rest of us sinners. "What Would Jesus Do" for today's outcasts: have fellowship meals or sew scarlet H's? Will our church be a sheep or a goat (Matt. 25:31-46)?

- Brad Lehman

(An abridged version was published as a "Readers Say" letter in The Mennonite in March 1998.)

Biblical passages cited here directly (RSV):

Other biblical passages which have been applied typically by various groups as relevant to the topic of homosexuality:

See also: