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    Spring 1999 -- Special MC/GC Assembly Issue [Newsletter Banner]

A Matter of Faith

Will two years of "study" make resolution of this question more likely? It might, if those actively promoting the merger succeed in

The Heart of the Matter
A Matter of Faith
The Cause of Disunity
Cracks in the Foundation
EAF Update
portraying the current impasse in terms of misunderstanding, failure to communicate, lack of compassion, or stubbornness. Recent editorials in the two most prominent Mennonite weeklies have suggested that what is needed to overcome this impediment is more "trust" (Mennonite Weekly Review, May 6) and less "fear" (the Mennonite, May 25). Since the ties that bind Mennonites in both the MC and GC are as much sociological as theological, the call to compromise convictions in order to preserve denominational unity could be powerfully persuasive. We fervently pray it will not be so.

Apparently the general boards hope that further discussion will somehow yield a solution that will keep these recalcitrant sheep within the fold and allow those on both sides of the homosexuality question to coexist peacefully in the new denomination.

The question of whether or not the new Mennonite Church should receive practicing homosexuals as members is not, after all, a matter of misunderstanding or poor communication. It is not a matter of disagreement over polity, structure, or approaches to decision making. It is not a matter of denominational authority versus conference or congregational autonomy. And it is not a matter of too little trust or too much fear. At its most basic level, this question is a matter of faith. It is theological. It goes to the very core of what we believe and why we believe it.

Mennonites dislike the term "theology." Our scholars have convinced us that we are a "non-credal" communion. The problem with this reasoning is that it is both inaccurate and irresponsible. It is inaccurate since everything we do is based on what we believe. What distinguishes us from other Christians if not our beliefs, our creeds, our theology? It is irresponsible because it suggests that what we believe is less important than what we do. But if behavior is not a product of belief, how do we know what we should be doing? Must we wait for the scholars to tell us?

The Heart of the Matter

The heart of the matter is how we read and interpret the Bible. For generations, Anabaptist Christians took the Bible at face value, subjecting themselves to the criticism that their interpretation was naive or simplistic. In the Bible, they believed, God has spoken. When God speaks, the only faithful response is to listen and obey. Among sixteenth century Anabaptists, and for centuries afterward, a debate like the current one over homosexuality would have been unthinkable.

Over the past hundred years, however, a change in attitude toward the Bible has subtly infested western Christianity in general and contemporary Anabaptism in particular. Theological liberalism, with its roots in Enlightenment rationalism, sought to communicate the message of Christianity to modern minds who rejected the notion of supernatural phenomena or the intrusion of divine power into the natural order. In the process, liberalism surrendered too much that is essential to Christianity and sacrificed its soul on the altar of relevancy. One consequence was the rise of biblical "scholarship" which approached the Bible, not as the infallible revelation of God to man, but as the record of human efforts to understand and relate to God. This latter point of view interprets the Bible much like any other work of literature. From this perspective, correct interpretation requires the aid of scholars to clarify the subtle nuances and explain what the text really means.

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