The dictionary defines the word watershed as "a crucial dividing point or line." A watershed issue calls for a reexamination of core beliefs and key assumptions. The issue itself may appear marginal or extraneous in the broad scheme of things, but one's position on the issue reveals underlying convictions and fundamental values. A watershed issue demands a decision, and the options are often mutually exclusive. If one perspective is correct, the opposing perspective cannot be. Perpetual ambiguity on a watershed issue is not possible. And when the final determination is made, a dividing line is drawn. Sometimes that line provokes a violent, hostile reaction. More often, however, it simply signifies that two parties can no longer walk together in good conscience. They agree to disagree, unable any longer to mask their fundamental differences beneath a thin veneer of apparent unity.
For many within the Anabaptist/Mennonite community, homosexuality is becoming, or has become, a watershed issue. For generations, Anabaptist Christians have believed that the Bible forbids sexual relations between persons of the same gender even as it condemns other perverse and immoral behavior (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Recently, however, with the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in society at large, the church's traditional understandings have been challenged.
Some scholars have met the challenge with an exercise in "hermeneutical gymnastics," enabling them to interpret the Bible in such a way as to allow for "committed, monogamous, covenantal same-sex unions." In plain English this means that, if these scholars are correct, a congregation can (and indeed must) receive into membership openly practicing homosexuals and should bless those relationships even as they do heterosexual marriage.
EAF rejects such a revisionist interpretation of Scripture. The Bible condemns same-sex genital activity in no uncertain terms along with practices such as fornication, adultery, idolatry, thievery, drunkenness, covetousness, etc. Unlike these other examples of unrighteous behavior, however, only homosexuals have created a well-oiled machine to lobby the establishment, both civil and religious, for recognition and endorsement. Within the Anabaptist community, aggressive homosexuals, along with their friends and extended families, have developed an effective network for advancing their peculiar biblical interpretations and convincing skeptical church members that they have chosen an acceptable, alternative lifestyle. Those who oppose their progress toward respectability are dismissed as unloving and judgmental "homophobes."
This simply illustrates the perversity of the debate. Those who maintain a traditional, orthodox interpretation of Scripture are decried as divisive, while those who advocate abandonment of historic moral convictions are lauded as open-minded, sensitive and progressive.
The Heart Of The Issue
Numerous reasons could be cited as to why this issue has achieved watershed proportions. One, however, is paramount. A person's attitude toward the practice of homosexuality reveals his or her underlying attitude toward the character of Scripture and the nature of revelation.
Few of those who argue for full acceptance of practicing homosexuals base their convictions on a meticulous reading of the biblical text.
They are not actually convinced by the scholars' assertions that the Bible says something different on this matter from what they were traditionally taught. They simply choose to ignore the clear statements of Scripture without concern for what their selective reading of the text says about their view of the Bible as divine revelation.
No Accommodation; The Stakes Are Too High
Those of us in EAF oppose the practice of homosexuality because we are convinced God also opposes the practice and has said so in His Word. We fervently believe that to embrace a practice which God has condemned will at least forestall a movement of God in revival power and could well invite God's judgment on this communion. We are deeply pained when advocates of homosexuality impugn our motives and suggest that we are uncaring and insensitive. For our part, we can no more endorse homosexual activity than we can call for the acceptance of adultery or drunkenness as normative Christian behavior. Nor can we adopt a "live and let live" policy on this matter. The consequences are simply too severe.
That is why this is a watershed issue in the Anabaptist/Mennonite community, particularly the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church. For conservative, evangelical Anabaptists to back away from this issue under pressure from neo-liberals and those who misread or ignore the Bible's teaching in this matter would be to surrender our most deeply held conviction that God has spoken clearly and plainly in His Word.
Many of us have watched with sadness as the church's historic position on issues such as divorce/remarriage and leadership/authority have been reinterpreted in accommodation to the prevailing culture. In both cases we believe the consequences have been harmful. In the case of homosexuality, however, similar accommodation will lead to consequences which are spiritually and morally disastrous.