Responses to my recent Call to Prayer

Ervin Stutzman is executive director for Mennonite Church USA
Ervin Stutzman is executive director for Mennonite Church USA

By Ervin Stutzman

I have never had so many people assure me of their prayers as I have over the past few weeks. Many of these reassurances came in response to a message I sent to Conference Moderators, Conference Ministers and members of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board on January 6, 2014, calling them to prayer regarding two recent news announcements which unearthed deep tensions within our church.

The first was an announcement that Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) had initiated a listening process to help reevaluate the policy that prohibited the hiring of persons in same-sex relationships. The second was an announcement that Mountain States Mennonite Conference board had approved the recommendation of their ministerial leadership committee to grant ministerial credentials to Theda Good, a woman in a committed same-sex relationship.

I called the church to pray for discernment as our church considered the implications of these actions for our church. I acknowledged that as the Executive Board planned for its meeting in mid-February, we needed the enablement of God’s Spirit and the strength of God’s Word. Therefore, I invited the recipients to share any particular scriptures or devotional insights that came to mind as they prayed.

With my permission, many of the recipients forwarded the call to prayer to many others, so that I received responses from all over the church, including some readers of Equipping.  I looked at each response as a window to the church, helping me see the landscape of our church during a season of rapid change. So, in a brief way, I will share about the emails and letters I received.

I was gratified that so many people took this call to prayer seriously. Many respondents promised to pray regularly for our church—some weekly or even daily. For example, David B. Miller of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary sent me a thoughtful letter and expressed a commitment to pray and fast each Friday, accompanied by colleagues. I am moved by these caring commitments.

Again, the respondents voiced deep feelings about the particular issues at stake—our church’s polity regarding same-sex marriage and the role of LGBTQ persons in our churches. We find ourselves at many different places on the spectrum of convictions on the issue, reflecting some of the same divisions that fragment our society. Many voiced their interest in following Jesus and staying faithful to the Bible, but differed on their interpretation and application of scripture.

You may be interested in seeing the scriptures that were suggested to me. Although this list may not contain every scripture that was cited in one way or another, it includes most of them. I’m fascinated by the way people with different convictions on issues of human sexuality look toward a different set of scriptures as guides for the journey.  So I will list the scriptures below in three categories, without going into much detail about the explanations that accompanied them.

The scriptures in the first list below were submitted by people who were relatively neutral in their comments. That is, they did not express specific convictions on the issues of human sexuality, but found peace and a sense of spiritual guidance in the scriptures they suggested:

Book of Ezra; Psalm 23; Matthew 1:18-25, 18:15-17; Mark 14:32-38; John 4:5-42; Romans 5:1-11; 14:1; Ephesians 4. Persons shared the need for strong teaching, for discernment by the church, for prayerful and prophetic watchfulness, and for hopeful dependence on God, who reconciles all things.

Many respondents voiced their disagreement with the decisions that had been announced by EMU and the Mountain States Mennonite Conference. These respondents listed the following scriptures.

Leviticus 18:24-25, 20:13; Jeremiah 23:16-22; Ezekiel 33:6; Matthew 13:30, 16:18; Luke 17:1-2; John chapter 6, 17:17; 1 Corinthians. 5:5, 9, 11, 6:9-11; Romans 1:18-32; 2 Cor. 5:17, Philippians 3:8-11; 1 Timothy 1:9-11, 3:10; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 2:4-5; Jude 1:7; Revelation 1-3. Persons emphasized the need for strong leadership, for life and teaching regulated by the standards of scripture, and the need for transformation of old patterns of living into the new.

Finally, a significant number of respondents voiced agreement with the directions announced by EMU and the Mountain States Mennonite Conference. These respondents listed the following scriptures.

Book of Ruth; Isaiah 56; Matthew chapters 5-7, 19:1-12; Luke 4:18-19; Romans 14:1 – 15:3; 5:12-26, Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:10, 17-19; Acts 5:17-42, 8:26-40, chapters 10 and 11;  15:1-35. Persons emphasized the need for acceptance of outsiders or marginalized people, reconciliation among groups that had been alienated from each other, and loving discernment that allowed persons with differing convictions and practices to flourish.

Perhaps as we come to the table of discernment in groups across the church, we should think of each of the scriptures listed above as wise counselors, offering a perspective that must be considered if we are to be faithful followers of Jesus. The New Testament itself contains a significant amount of commentary on the interpretation and application of Old Testament scriptures.

We have much discernment to do as a church, in order to answer questions like the following: How shall we be faithful followers of Jesus in a rapidly changing society? How do we express both grace and truth in the way we disciple one another in the way of Jesus? And how shall we express God’s love to one another, especially to those whose convictions and practices differ from our own?  Most of the scriptures listed above can serve as guides for that journey; we needn’t pick and choose.

I am immensely grateful for the prayers of God’s people on behalf of the church. “By the power of the Holy Spirit,” may we be more fully formed “as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”

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8 thoughts on “Responses to my recent Call to Prayer

  1. You seem to endorse a flat Bible approach that wrenches verses from their context with no discernable hermeneutical principle. This Fundamentalist approach, treating the Bible as a magical talisman, is hardly helpful, though often used by those who wish to do violence by attacking others with “scripture”. This also denigrates the element of personal experience and encounter, of listening to ” the Other”, which allows the Other to stay in that category, less than human, less than Christian, less than Us.

  2. Dear Ervin:

    Continued prayers to you for the way ahead.

    I wonder if you and the executive board have considered devoting Kansas City 2015 to training in spiritual discernment. I affirm this as a great opportunity to equip our leaders for guiding congregations, agencies and conferences in the process of preparing for, listening to and following the will of God.

    Dave Stevens

  3. There is more to this than merely scripture. When Galileo set out to prove the world was round, he was called a heretic for going against the interpretation of the Bible of that day. To deny science again and use a fundamental approach to scripture again will only doom the soul of the church. I expect this comment to be censored like my last one was. I hold a slim hope that the leadership is actually interested in honest two sided conversation.

  4. I continue to be very troubled by your cold clinical approach, Ervin. No one, of those supposedly holding the power ball in this supposed dialogue, has showed any compassion, love, awareness, sensitivity, to the pain of those being cut off, pushed aside, marginalized, rejected, thrown out… how can you or anyone else who claims to be listening, not hear those voices? Repeat after me, “I hear your cries, your pain, I want desperately to respond, and let you know that I care, but I don’t know how. I have never experienced what it means–can you help me?” Please Ervin. Listen and respond, or if you can’t there must be someone you can delegate to say those words. Or maybe wipe some tears or wash some feet if words don’t work.

  5. Brother Ervin, it seems that your leadership on this topic keeps coming back to the notion of safety. This is a safe essay. The Board meeting was closed to create “safety” for dialogue. But many of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers do not feel safe, either in our churches or in larger society. My reading of scripture doesn’t point me toward a Jesus who prioritized safety. Please be bold. Please be transparent. Please set aside this inclination toward safety as you take up your cross and follow Jesus this Lent. Blessings – tim

  6. Ervin…
    This seems to be an especially difficult era for the Mennonite Church, the church we all love. My guess is that as our leader you experience indecision, disappointments, and pain, as you try to lead where we will follow. Although many of us are calling for “strong leadership,” I wonder if what we really might need is “human leadership.” Like the lamb in Revelation 5 “looking as if it was slain.” Nobody was telling the lamb to “get up and be strong!” It was just there. And present.

    I noticed in some of the comments here, that some have referenced the pain of our LGBTQ members and former members. You know where I stand on this issue. I feel their pain. I cry with them as they share what it is like to struggle within the community of church. But I also hear the cry and feel the pain of those who see the church they love moving away from the historical traditions they are trying so desperately keep intact. We are all wounded people. Mennonite Church USA is a wounded church. I wonder if we can possibly find our humanness in our woundedness. Can wounded leaders bring us healing?

    Prayers for you and all of us,


  7. It seems to me that this whole debate boils down to one simple question that will help us all; is homosexuality a sin? If it is, then our LGBTQ brothers and sisters should understand that repentance leads to full acceptance. If it is not a sin then the rest of the church needs to understand that and be completely welcome and affirming. But we cannot “marry” these two very different theologies and expect unity. Agreeing to disagree in love will be a weak glue that will not hold because one of these theologies is wrong. Using the Bible as our guide is not a fundamental approach that will result in death to our soul. The Bible is the Word of God, inspired by Him and brought to fulfillment in Jesus Christ as the Living Word. It is what gives us life and our identity. We continue to pray for you Ervin and those in leadership of our church.

  8. I see the need to believe there is a third way, a way that is true to the plain meaning of scripture. I believe in the need for humility in understanding the scripture. We must not use the scriptures to prove our beliefs, but rather to let the written Word of God change us. I believe it was the Spirit of God that spoke to the early church that the New Testament is also the Word of God. I believe it wrong to treat it as a flatbook, but let us be respectful to others. Should we not be continuing in what the Church has believed to be moral living? From my viewpoint and reading, there are many people who are loving and gentle, and who are deeply concerned about the wholeness of people. These are persons of faith and their lives give evidence of salvation. Many of these person have been trained and are professionals in many sciences. Why should we not be listening to the Evangelical community with whom we share the conviction of the need for repentance, the cleansing of self-rightousness, and receiving of new life and the Holy Spirit. Are they not right in questioning whether sex-orientation is an unchangeable factor in a persons life? Do we not have the right to question the beliefs of what society believes about the science of sexuality? Why is so much of the LGBTQ areso militant about this issue and why should we be so ready to accept their beliefs are absolute science? My prayer is that God will give us true love.

    Of the believers, who are known as persons of color and with who I am personally acquainted, do not see this issue as one of civil rights.

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