“The wind blows where it chooses…. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).”
I believe the Spirit of God is alive and well today. It’s the only way I can describe my journey, and the journey I see happening throughout the Body of Christ today. Having shared this with our church leaders, I’d like to share my journey with all at Houston Mennonite Church.
You see, at a point in the not-too-distant past, my thoughts about sexual orientation mimicked the thoughts I had inherited from church, culture, and family: godly sexual orientation was opposite-gender attraction only, and therefore marriage was only between a woman and a man.
I believe it was nothing other than the Spirit of God which led me to full inclusion of my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) brothers and sisters in Christ. My repenting toward this position did not happen overnight or in response to cultural pressure. It came through Biblical study, worship that oriented me more intentionally to who and how God is in our world, and through listening dialogue.
I’d like to share openly with you, with no assumption of your full agreement, my understanding of God’s movement in my life.
The Full Witness of Scripture
Over the course of time I came to see the Biblical witness is not “clearly against” gay inclusion.
The Biblical witness never mentions monogamous, loving marriage between two men or two women. Which means it’s neither affirmed nor condemned. It does however, mention in several places abusive, power-imbalanced, dysfunctional or cultic non-loving homosexual acts. These abusive acts are always condemned in the Bible, and would be equally condemned today. As someone who has been sexually abused, I remember with deep clarity how meaningful it was to discover that the Bible condemns in no uncertain terms what was done to me.
That seems to be about the length and breadth of Biblical discussion of “homosexuality.” So more important than what the Bible is silent on, or what it condemns, is what it affirms. Using the same biblical interpretation methods as Anabaptists in regards to war and Sabbath, and nearly all western Christians regarding slavery, I’ve grown to embrace the full witness of Scripture, and in particular, using a Jesus-lens to interpret faith and life.
Jesus’ clearest command is, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:34).” Jesus fully embraces those who have been marginalized by misunderstanding, purity laws, unjust religious judgment, and cultural exclusion. The New Testament portrays reconciling love and the breaking of walls that divide as core to his work (Eph 2), even claiming “enemies” as friends (Rom 5). Knowing them to be sinners of the most public kind, Jesus even welcomes Judas and Peter to the Lord’s Table. Jesus love brings liberation to oppressed groups.
Jesus unashamedly changes the religious rules of his day precisely at the point of inclusion: Sabbath keeping, inclusion of women, purity laws, moving the focus from tithing to justice, loving enemies, treatment of sin, Gentile inclusion. It’s hard for me to see anything silent about Jesus’ radical inclusion, or the way he treats “those people” as just people (read more here: https://houstonmennonite.org/sermons-from-marty-troyer/encountering-god-multi-culturally/). While the gospels clearly do not tell of Jesus teaching on or interacting with a gay couple, I find it hard to believe given the wider witness of Scripture that Jesus wouldn’t have loved them in the same way he’s loved me.
My Personal Story
For years, the uncontrolled shame of my own sexual abuse blocked me from any level of openness to a more inclusive stance. I was not only unable to see the nuances in the witness of Scripture, I was fearful of meaningful relationship with gays or lesbians. Further, scapegoating the assumed sexual dysfunction in one group freed me from dealing with the wider issue of human sexuality or of my own fallen sexuality.
And so relationship with, and learning the stories of, gay and lesbian family and friends has been a huge healing experience for me personally. Praise God! The shunning and religious oppression I saw in family and congregational members pained me deeply, and left me longing for wholeness and faith for those who were distant from God because of the exclusive actions of the church.
Faithful Christians who love God and neighbor with prophetic, creative and insightful voices were being excluded, though other “sinners” and their sins went unchallenged. I’m profoundly uncomfortable creating a litmus test out of a sin Jesus never mentions when greater issues such as injustice, wealth accumulation, treatment of the poor and living in empire are mentioned repeatedly and yet are not used as a test.
Through prayer and worship I’ve slowly taken a posture of Gelassenheit: willing removal of all blocks to loving God and neighbor, of which I believe this to be one. The image from Menno Simons, our namesake, of “suiting ourselves to Christ” has had a profound effect on me. He invites followers of Christ to “suit themselves in their weakness to all words, commandments, ordinances, Spirit, rule, example and measure of Christ, as Scripture teaches; for they are in Christ and Christ is in them.” You may recognize this from “Praying the Sermon on the Mount.”
Over time I came to see the assumption of “sin” surrounding the LGBT community to be oppressive, exclusive, and theologically misguided. I see inclusion of gay Christians as a major justice issue of our time. I believe my past assumption that a person’s sexual orientation could be a sin has been a significant block to the GLBT community as people and as followers of Christ. For this I repent, and long to live into Jesus gospel which he believed brought liberation to all peoples. I believe gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are as fully human, fully image-bearing, fully faithful and able to lead in ministry, and fully able to live in loving marriage relationship as I am.
I welcome LGBT people into all depths and arenas of relationship with myself and my family.
LGBT Christians are as in need of grace and community as I, though not because of their sexual orientation. Actually, it’s likely they need the grace and community of Gospel-formed communities even more precisely because of the church’s posture against them. I’ve found that learning from the experience and spirituality of ostracized members of the LGBT community can even be a key component in the revival of our own Anabaptist faith.
Living in Love at Houston Mennonite
I stand firmly on the truth that all individuals at HMC have a voice, and believe we’re stronger and wiser when all voices are heard. So please share yours! I want all voices on how to relate to the LGBT community to be welcome today in our church, even those who disagree with me or who may feel more comfortable with a traditional ethic. And so I share my thoughts humbly as your pastor, not as a conclusion to this conversation (the pastor has spoken and now we must all agree!) but an invitation for us each to explore our own faith and story in more intentional ways than HMC has invited in past years. We’re a family of faith where safe, respectful dialogue has allowed us to explore the “What’s” and “Why’s?” of our belief together. This was modeled so well for us in September by two of our dear sisters who disagreed and yet remained deeply committed to each other and our church (Kristi and Kathryn in our “fish bowl” dialogue).
I believe my inclusive stance is at odds with some and in agreement with others at HMC. My pastoral role is not to be dictator but listener, facilitator of dialogue for the sake of discernment, encourager of Christ-like faith, and shaper of a church culture where faithful ministry as each understands is lived out. None of us can mature in faith without growing in capacity to love!
I also appreciate how much respect and spiritual authority HMC has given to me. I believe you’d all want me to live with integrity out of personal conviction rather than a fear of what you might think. And I’d desire nothing but the same from you! Though, to be clear, the goal is not to “be myself” but rather to “be faithful to God’s call.”
Living into my convictions, I recently signed a letter from 150 Mennonite pastors and leaders inviting Mennonite Church USA to take a more open approach as we discern faithful discipleship together. You can read that document and an article about it here: www.themennonite.org/public_press_releases/150_leaders_call_for_change_in_policies_toward_gay_Christians.
While I respect that some at HMC may disagree, and that we have made no congregational decisions, I feel the Spirit leading me to inclusivity and Christ’s gospel of liberation, and to include the gay experience into my understanding of discipleship and ministry. The letter states we “feel called by Christ to welcome and bless LGBT people who are seeking to follow Jesus.” I believe silent and exclusive communities potentially destroy rather than bless the faith of gay and lesbian Christians. I’m not ashamed to say, blessing anyone who seeks to follow Christ is my desire.
To be clear, I could never take a stand I believed to be at variance with Jesus’ gospel or scripture. But this is a stand that is at variance with current Mennonite Church USA guidelines. I’d like to help people understand and close this gap. The letter was sent to executive board members, conference ministers and other leaders.
We all have family, friends, coworkers and sisters and brothers in Christ who identify as gay or lesbian. Perhaps some reading this have felt, or currently feel, confusion with your sexuality. And we are nearly guaranteed to have future people who join us at HMC who are gay. I’ve leaned more toward my own silence on this issue in order to be an objective facilitator, but no longer feel my silence is a faithful response within HMC, our shared Houston community or within Mennonite Church USA. More intentionality in our actions will serve us well.
So what is, and what isn’t this letter saying?
For starters this is not the church’s new official position (only we, not me could decide that). And it’s not me asking or demanding that you agree with me. We’re not leaving MCUSA nor do they want us to leave.
This is my statement as one member of our faith family. This letter is an invitation to listening dialogue with each other, and an invitation for you to do your own work regarding relationships with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters; especially exploring the Why of your thought. As mentioned, this is your pastors attempt to express conviction with integrity.
More than anything, I believe that each and every one of us desires faithfulness to God and to have the capacity to love our neighbors as ourselves. Together we’re more equipped and able to empower one another to do just that! I’m thankful to be a member of Houston Mennonite Church and to be your pastor for such a time as this.
May God continue to lead us where the Spirit is blowing! Grace to you all and peace, with deepest love,
Pastor Marty Troyer