From the Editor: Sex and Faith
With this issue we step into the turbulent waters of faith and sexuality. Most of the essays appearing here have some connection with the Canadian Mennonite Brethren study conference held in Winnipeg in October 2015. Its theme was “God, Sex & Church: A Theology of Healthy Sexuality.” Thus, a conversation that began in 2013 at another study conference, where biblical exegesis and the homosexual issue dominated the discussion, continued in 2015 with a focus on healthy sexuality. The essays below testify to the need many feel to keep talking about sex, as well as the work being done to move us toward a more profoundly Christian understanding of this complex aspect of our being.
Andrew Dyck and Ingrid Reichard together delivered the opening plenary address at the 2015 conference. Their essay is based on that address and shows how questions of human sexuality take on a different hue when placed under the light of broader scriptural and theological considerations. Biblical doctrines of creation, fall, redemption, sanctification, and mission, they suggest, must frame our deliberations about sexuality if they are to be authentically Christian. Aside from the fine insights Andrew and Ingrid provide, their reflections also remind us to guard ourselves against the always present danger of slipping into the vocabulary of secular values.
Laura Schmidt Roberts would concur that the Bible is our touchstone for spiritual and ethical truth. Her article on theological anthropology thus examines some implications of the first three chapters of Genesis for understanding what a human being is. In their physicality, she says, human beings are like other creatures, but they are also unlike other creatures because their task is to image God by loving each other. Gil Dueck’s article, a response to Laura’s, cautions us against downplaying the vocational dimension of being God’s image as we emphasize its relational aspect. To neglect the vocational denies us the theological motivation for directing our creative, stewardly energies toward the world. “Eden was meant to spread,” he says.
The Bible also grounds our understanding of Christ’s divine and human natures. Paul Cumin argues that the various Christological heresies that arose early in the Christian era, undercutting the orthodox affirmation of Christ as fully God and fully human, have analogues in the attitudes Christians often have toward those attracted to the same sex. They also have analogues in how we understand the nature of the church. Though his reasoning will strike many as overly philosophical, others will appreciate that Paul’s reasoning is deeply informed by a Christian philosophy grounded in the nature of the divine and human Christ.
In her paper on cohabitation (not presented at the sexuality conference), Irma Fast Dueck identifies the array of pressures that push even some Christian couples to postpone marriage and simply live together. The church, she says, should certainly respond by holding up marriage as the context in which an intimate couple can best live out their life together before God and the Christian community. At the same time, it should not alienate cohabiting couples and push them away. She acknowledges that this can be a difficult line to walk.
Carol Penner’s essay addresses the darker issue of sexual abuse of women by our pastors. She argues forcefully that Mennonite Brethren churches need to do more to protect women from such callous treatment. Our reluctance to take more aggressive action, she suggests, is in part due to our elevation of the doctrine of the church’s purity to the point where we hide our faces when signs of abuse become manifest. And this makes women vulnerable. Carol identifies some helpful practical steps that churches can take to reduce the likelihood of pastoral abuse and provide support to the victims of abuse when it occurs.
The interview with John Neufeld (Winnipeg) appearing under Ministry Compass will not entirely surprise anyone who heard him speak at the 2013 study conference. The pastor of The Meeting Place admits that at his church “we talk about sex a lot.” Although he’s engaged with people whose sexual inclinations and living arrangements defy traditional Christian standards, he actually worries more about how to minister to singles, a group that is largely invisible in most churches.
Recommended Reading offers a short annotated list of books that address the specific topic of homosexuality. You’ll find our Book Reviews in their usual place.