This blog is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board or the other resolution writers. Readers are encouraged to consult other resources, engage the writers of the resolution and discern within their own context. Mennonite Church USA would like to extend an invitation to members with differing viewpoints to submit blog posts, rooted in Scripture, on this and other matters for potential publication in the Menno Snapshots blog.
Joanna Harader serves as pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kansas. She is also a member of the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors leadership team and a contributor to various Mennonite publications, such as Leader magazine and the Voices Together hymnal.
Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3 NIV). He is speaking, of course, to Nicodemus, but I hold these words to be true for us all, individually and collectively. I believe that we, as Mennonite Church USA, must be born again in any number of ways. This is the basis of our call to #BeTransformed.
I am part of the writing team for the “Resolution for Repentance and Transformation,” because I believe that one of the most significant ways our church needs to be born again is related to how we understand and treat lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) people within the church. I see the Holy Spirit working in beautiful ways within and through LGBTQIA Christians and the congregations that welcome and celebrate them. I dream of all of the ways we, as the broader church, could bring healing and hope to the world, if we were to truly allow ourselves to be born again, if we would see and celebrate the kingdom of God that is already among us.
Before we can be born again, however — before we can #BeTransformed — we must repent.
In Matthew’s Gospel, both John the Baptist and Jesus call us to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). The Greek word we generally translate as “repent” is “metanoia;” it means to change our minds, to re-orient, to turn in a different direction. When we see God’s spirit moving, when we sense the presence of the kingdom, we are called — we are compelled — to turn toward it. This turning toward the life of God’s kingdom is the core invitation of the “Resolution for Repentance and Transformation.”
While this resolution is ultimately a call to turn toward a more life-giving way of being God’s people, there are some specific things the resolution calls us to turn away from. The most notable of these is Mennonite Church USA’s current Membership Guidelines, which reinforces language and structures that harm LGBTQIA members of the body of Christ.
Many of you who are looking over the information about the upcoming special delegate session might be struck by the fact that there will be two resolutions presented that would do away with these guidelines. You might wonder why we need the “Resolution for Repentance and Transformation,” when we already have the “Clarification of Mennonite Church USA Polity and the Role of the Membership Guidelines of Mennonite Church USA” resolution from the Executive Board. They are, at heart, quite different resolutions.
The Executive Board resolution proposes that we “retire” the guidelines, because they do not function well within our broader church polity and are not enforceable at the denominational level. The Executive Board resolution is a document about how the church functions at an operational level. While changing denominational documents and policies can certainly be helpful, such changes are not, on their own, transformational.
The “Resolution for Repentance and Transformation” is a spiritual and theological document.
This resolution calls the church to “rescind” the guidelines, as we acknowledge the harm they have caused, repent of our participation — individually and collectively — in causing that harm, and seek the transformation of the church through the power of the Spirit. It’s grounded in the principles of restorative justice, which seek to bring healing through truth-telling and commitments to repair and accountability. Getting rid of the Membership Guidelines, while important, will only lead to transformation in the church if the policy change is accompanied by repentance and a commitment to move faithfully toward the kingdom.
I should probably acknowledge here that Nicodemus didn’t leave his conversation with Jesus eager to be born again. He wasn’t sure what it might mean for him to repent and be transformed. We see him turning a little when he speaks up to those wishing to arrest Jesus: “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” (John 7:51). Nicodemus’ new birth is a slow and somewhat difficult process. But in the end, the kingdom-life Nicodemus sees in Jesus leads him to truly be born again. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare and bury Jesus’ body. Nicodemus has turned fully toward Jesus and will soon witness the resurrection!
For Mennonite Church USA, the invitation to be born again has been offered over and over for many years. This turning toward transformation has been slow and difficult. I believe we are ready to fully turn toward the kingdom life of a church that celebrates the faith, the gifts, the presence, of LGBTQIA people. I believe accepting the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation would be an important step in this turning.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.