Fall 2002 · Vol. 31 No. 2 · pp. 245–46 

Book Review

To Continue the Dialogue: Biblical Interpretation and Homosexuality

ed. C. Norman Kraus. Telford, PA: Pandora Press U.S., 2001. 332 pages.

Reviewed by Gordon Zerbe

This book seeks to address the state of theological and polity discussions regarding homosexuality within the newly integrated denominations of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. In the earlier denominational assemblies at Saskatoon (1986, General Conference) and Purdue (1987, Mennonite Church), statements on human sexuality were adopted which, among other things, identified homosexual activity (not orientation) as sin. These statements also invited members to “remain in loving dialogue” and to continue the process of ongoing discernment and study on the issues of sexuality.

In the view of the editor and most of the authors, the issue was regrettably turned into a polity question, as churches, who welcomed into membership persons involved in same-sex unions, began to be expelled from area conferences (particularly those of the then Mennonite Church). Moreover, according to most of the contributors, the denominational leaders did not make good on the agreement to promote further study and dialogue on the matter, and chose to silence calls to that effect, for instance by refusing to make public the recommendations of a Listening Committee (1992) formally tasked by denominational committees to identify the state of the questions related to homosexuality and the church.

In that context, this book is framed not as a dialogue itself; rather, it is a call to dialogue on the question of homosexuality and the church. In the Introduction, the editor writes: “Dialogue in the institutional church will require postponement of an ultimate resolution while we work with interim solutions. To preserve the authenticity of churchly dialogue, all participants must be equally recognized as full members of the body of Christ” (21). Part I is titled, The Need for Continuing Dialogue; Part II is titled, Framing the Theological Questions. Of the fifteen articles, two authors raise cautions about same-sex covenants, although in the spirit {246} of dialogue, while most refrain from taking an explicit position. An additional chapter of nine responses to the essays includes various reactions, including one who writes, “let’s not continue the dialogue” (292).

Some essays focus on biblical and theological interpretation (David Schroeder, Don Blosser, C. Norman Kraus, Mark Thiessen Nation, A. James Reimer, Ted Grimsrud), others on social-scientific or pastoral perspectives (Marcus Smucker, Paul Lederach, Carl Keener and Doug-las Swartzentruber), some on the process of dialogue in the church (Reta Haltemann Finger, Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, Appendix B: A Guide for Congregational Dialogue), and some on the history of the issue in the denomination (Michael King, Melanie Zuercher and Edward Stolzfus, Lin Garber, Appendix A: Report of the Listening Committee for Homosexuality Concerns [1992]).

Among the respondents, John A. Lapp, former executive secretary of Mennonite Central Committee, aptly and diplomatically summarizes the impact and value of the book: “From these essays I have learned more about homosexuality and the debate surrounding it than I previously thought necessary” (283).

Gordon Zerbe
Assoc. Prof. of New Testament
Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba