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Experience and learning from church, seminary and life

Jon Mair

Photo: Jon Mair shared his experience with same-gender attraction and how the church, seminary and life experiences have shaped him. (Photo by Ellen Paulley)

“It’s not one thing that led to same-gender attraction, it was a compilation of things,” said Jon Mair, who has experienced same-gender attraction since his teenage years.

Mair, now in his early thirties, shared that a key moment in his journey was when he heard someone say that the goal is “not to change from homosexuality to heterosexuality, but from homosexuality to holiness.

While in seminary, Mair completed biblical and theological research on same-gender relationships and said he “could never get past that this wasn’t God’s plan or design for humanity.”

Mair still experiences same-gender attractions but says God has allowed him to have a love and attraction for his wife. The couple has a 6-month old son.

The church can best serve and support someone facing questions of sexuality through a long-term commitment to working with her or him and walking alongside, says Mair. He also recommended prayer that invites the Holy Spirit to provide counsel and direction in various situations.

Read Jon Mair’s testimony as it appeared in the MB Herald: http://mbherald.com/desperation-and-healing/

Secrecy of sexual abuse prohibits God’s power to heal

Workshop

Photo: Workshop participants discussed ways churches can support those who have experienced sexual abuse. (Photo by Gladys Terichow)

In a workshop on sexual abuse led by Elsie Goertzen, MCC B.C., participants learned how important it is for churches to help victims and abusers break the silence of sexual abuse.

Research shows that one in four girls in Canada and one in eight boys have experienced sexual abuse by age 18. About 80 percent of sexual abusers are known to the victim; only six percent of the incidents are reported to police.

Goertzen says secrecy around the issue allows it to continue and prohibits God’s power to heal the victim, abuser and everyone affected by the abuse.

The following quotes affirm the importance of truth-telling, acknowledgement and compassion.

‘What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.’ Henri Nouwen

‘If no one remembers a misdeed or names it publicly, it remains invisible. To the observer, its victim is not a victim and its perpetrator is not a perpetrator; both are misperceived because the suffering of the one and the violence of the other go unseen. A double injustice occurs—the first when the original deed is done and the second when it disappears.’ Miroslav Volf.

A participant says a quote he uses to encourage victims of abuse to become survivors of abuse is: “You were thrown out of the boat and supposed to die. But you are allowed to swim and become whole.”

For additional information visithttp://mbherald.com/abuse-prevention-program-makes-a-difference-to-pastors/

Processing session: Pastoral and Missiological Issues

Processing session #2

Photo: Study Conference participants line up to share insights and ask questions about the material presented. (Photo by Ellen Paulley)

Peter Brown, La Clairière, Saint-Jérôme, Que: What should the church be about? I think we need to be aware that the issues we’re discussing are of titanic proportion. We will be dealing with this the next 10 to 20 years. It’s a marvelous opportunity to come to God to seek his extraordinary grace.

Paul Loewen, Waterloo (Ont.): The issue of homosexuality is tied to behaviour. In order to love them we must accept their behaviour. Would that be true for everything? How do we love people we disagree with? Why do we accept that in the LGBTQ community when we don’t in other areas of life?

David Esau, Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship, Coquitlam, B.C.: I reflected on Dr. Gagnon’s talk and the weight of sexual sins in Paul’s writing. I’m doing a [preaching] series on Amos and what struck me is the unrestrained greed, violence, covenant breaking, neglect of foreigners and the innocent. Sexual sin is not the only sin – there are lots of other sins.

Janessa Giesbrecht, Fort Garry MB, Winnipeg: Addiction to pornography is also an issue for women, but it’s taboo to talk about. Girls in your congregations are also dealing with pornography. Silence is a loud message.

Rob Thiessen, BCMB conference minister: Are grace and truth really different legs? Gospel truth is always gracious. We want to apply the truth of the gospel. Grace is not a message to keep on sinning.

John Neufeld, Willingdon, Burnaby, B.C.: As a church, we’re portrayed as being powerful and [media says] the LGBTQ community doesn’t feel safe with us. But how powerful are we as a church? Our children are taught homosexual families are normal – through the press, workplace, and government. It’s the homosexual community that’s in power.

The doctrine of conversion states you must turn from darkness into light: there must be repentance. If we bring people into our membership who openly sin, we are not showing grace; we are normalizing the practices.

Jeff Bucknam, Northview, Abbotsford, B.C.: We believe repentance is part of salvation. In the story of the rich ruler, Jesus looked at him and told him to sell everything he had. I deeply, deeply want our conference to love people and the gospel enough to call for repentance from sin.

Danelle, student at Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask.: I was excited about this study conference. We have listened to a good, robust theology on homosexuality. I just wonder if we could step back to first celebrate healthy sexuality and the goodness of God.

Travis Barbour, Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.: In response to the comments made by John [Neufeld] that the LGBTQ community has more power than the church, I would say the church’s power is [over] individuals. The church can alienate or stigmatize people. The church is not a safe place to talk about it.

There is more than one model of conversion. Conversion can be a process. Sometimes we need to be patient with people on their life journeys; we cannot discount that type of conversion.

Marc Paré, St. Laurent, Quebec: I haven’t sensed a lot of compassion here. Some things don’t smell like Jesus. When I read the Gospels, Jesus’s standards are so high but there’s also love for sinners. The people who Jesus is really [upset with] is people who look like us – religious authorities. I don’t want Jesus to tell me I was a freakin’ Pharisee!

We also need a more positive theology of sex than a list of don’ts. It is surprising how little we talked about honouring God with our bodies. We talked more about dishonouring God.

Kristen Corrigan, Westside, Montreal: I am left with so many questions, and trepidation that we haven’t answered the question about how to move forward. All of us are sinners. All of us know someone in the sin categories. We expect a quick fix but as we think about our journey and walk alongside others, we need patience, endurance and unconditional love.

Bill Hogg, Crossridge, Surrey, B.C.: In Scripture, conversion always results in transformation. It’s an invitation to repent. To quote William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, the chief danger is religion without the Holy Ghost, salvation without regeneration, and heaven without hell.

Ezra Okoti, Northview, Abbotsford, B.C.: Remember the day you heard the Lord’s voice wooing you to ministry. He called you to contend for the faith, to proclaim Christ. I come from Africa: in my own family, voodoo is an issue. My coming to Christ has put me outside my family. That is the cost of following Christ. This call will cost you everything. He has called people to repent. There cannot be Christianity without repentance.

[A mother with a homosexual child]: Parents, hang in there. It may take 10 to 20 years for the conference to deal with this, but parents don’t have 10 to 20 years to answer when their son asks, “Do you still love me?” How do we reach out to homosexuals? And how do we support parents? As kids come out, parents come out too.

Veronique Beaudoin, L’Intersection, Terrebonne, Que.: I have known Jesus for six years. When I came to church, people accepted me as I am; because of that, I now know God. I had a tough teenage life, but healing has begun. If people come to your church, just be welcoming and love them and let the Holy Spirit work in their lives.

Randy Klassen, West Portal, Saskatoon: The story in Acts 17:16–34 starts on the Damascus road. In Athens, Paul stood up at a meeting and started by taking a very gracious approach. It is astonishing that Paul takes a poem about a pagan god and finds a bridge there. He then builds the message to present Christ and calls for repentance. Some sneer, some believe.

Friday Testimonies

Friday morning began with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper and two engaging testimonies. The first testimony was from Erin Thiessen, resident director at Trinity Western University, Langley, B.C., who outlined the public messages faced by today’s youth regarding human sexuality – from popular music videos promoting gay lifestyles, to TV sitcoms featuring same-sex couples raising children, to LGBT pride rainbows painted on crosswalks in downtown Vancouver.

“My internal monologue is freaking out when I have to confront students about this stuff,” said Erin. “My heart is heavy because I know what we’re up against.”

The second testimony was from Jon Mair of Jericho Ridge Church in Langley, B.C., who mapped out his decades-long journey with same-gender attraction.

“My attraction to the same gender hasn’t gone away,” said Jon. “At first, I wanted it to go away. But then I realized God’s desire is for me to move to holiness – which isn’t a matter of changing homosexuality to heterosexuality.” Jon and his wife got married two years ago, and they now have a 6-month-old child.

Pastoral implications fleshed out by two Mennonite Brethren pastors

John N & John U

Photo: John Neufeld (left) and John Unger (right), plenary speakers who presented on the pastoral application of what was discussed at the conference. (Photos by Ellaina Brown)

On Friday morning following communion, two presenters turned to pastoral application.

John Neufeld, pastor of The Meeting Place, Winnipeg, traced the history of Mennonite Brethren conversation around human sexuality, particularly on the topic of divorce and remarriage. Neufeld showed how the MB community’s response turned to restoration and forgiveness in the late 1970s – without confessional compromise.

“Both feet (one truth and the other grace) were firmly placed. But grace was bearing more weight than it had in the past,” said Neufeld.

Quoting J.H. Quiring, he said, “We have had to awaken to the fact that it’s easier to proclaim an ideal standard than to deal with the real situations in a sinful society in which the church lives and serves…. We cannot simply ignore those involved. We must not despise them. We must deal redemptively with them.”

Neufeld said the church must lay a path toward Holy Spirit-empowered healing for anyone dealing with sexual brokenness. He then outlined three key challenges faced by the church related to sexual morality:

  1. Singleness (The church must repent of its passive and active neglect of single people.)
  2. Cohabitation (One way to address this issue is to provide temporary homes for people, so they can recalibrate their relationships and discipleship.)
  3. LGBTQ practice and behavior (“Our conversation around homosexual behavior must fall under the Lordship of Christ, not under the category of human rights.”)

Neufeld raised the question of dealing with same-sex couples who are legally married under Canadian law and have children. He outlined G.W. Peters’ approach with remarried couples based on 1 Corinthians 7:16ff: “Here the converts are exhorted to remain in the civil human relationships in which the grace of God has found them. Certainly nothing would be gained in disrupting further human relationships by demanding separation of remarried people.”

Then John Unger of Winnipeg shared his journey. After 17 years of marriage to a man, Unger’s daughter revealed her same-sex attraction. Her original marriage fell apart, and she is now married to another woman.

At their wedding, Unger’s daughter asked for a blessing from her father. “Blessing is a like a shade tree,” he said. “My daughter asked, ‘Is there room under your shade tree for me?’” In the end, Unger was able to bless his daughter and now finds ways to stay engaged in her life.

In dealing with same-gender attraction issues, Unger said Christians must start at the cross – which offers freedom from bondage, healing, and restortation – and then create safe spaces where care and compassion are tangible. “It’s like the church and the LGBTQ community are at opposite rims of the Grand Canyon – we’re yelling at each other but we’re not hearing anything.”

Unger focused on James 2:13, which he paraphrased this way: “Mercy trumps judgment, so hold your fire.”

Dealing with sex issues in the church

Workshop

Photo: Workshop presenters (from left) Dennis Wilkinson, Terrance Froese, Bob Marsch discussed pastoral situations relating to issues of sexuality in the church. (Photo by Karla Braun)

Vancouver church planter (Meta Communities) Dennis Wilkinson, Hope Fellowship (Saskatoon) pastor Terrance Froese, and The Meeting Place (Winnipeg) pastor Bob Marsch shared stories of the messiness but beauty “when truth and grace come together” on issues of sexuality in the church.

Requests to marry often raise dilemmas for pastors who want to communicate that grace and truth with seekers who are tentatively beginning to engage with a church community.

“I don’t just marry someone, I’m keen on preparing you for marriage,” said Dennis who won’t say yes unless the couple is willing to accept counselling grounded in a biblical theology of marriage.

Many factors may be at play in a given situation, with premarital purity being but one consideration. For example, as Bob counselled one cohabiting couple, he realized, “What was at stake was her relationship with Jesus; [the couple’s] relationship was secondary.”

When a cross-dressing couple first attended Hope Fellowship, “the opportunity to judge was there, but God pre-equipped people,” said Terrance Froese. Members of the congregation wished to share prophetic words, and it proved truth that “prophetic words are for encouragement, strengthening, and comforting.”

Panel moderator Matt Dyck asked whether “the church’s failure to have a biblical picture of singleness has put pressure on the topic of homosexuality”?

“Whenever I talk about sexuality,” said Bob, “it comes from a perspective that we’ve all made mistakes in this area.”

“We’re too quick to identify somebody’s problem,” said Dennis. “It’s a conversation that will happen over time.”

“Let’s not just have a policy,” urged Terrance Froese. Even with confessional questions like baptism, “let’s see the person first – be God-directed – but have room.”

Reflections from the listening committee

A listening committee was tasked with reflecting and collating conversations and themes at study conference. The committee was comprised of: Marvin Dyck, Mary Anne Isaak, Darlene Klassen, Leonard Klassen, Tabitha VandenEnden and Dennis Wiens. The insights listed below were shared with participants on Thursday and Friday.

Thursday insights 

1. We observed the definition of self-righteousness to be very helpful in guiding our discussion and inviting/embracing healthy conflict. “Refusing to listen and refusing to submit to reality (God, the Bible, good arguments, other’s wellness, the greater good) is self-righteousness.”

2. We found Dr. Stackhouse’s presentation helpful in understanding our cultural responses and realities. We appreciate him not simply giving us an answer, but leading us to understand the breadth of the factors influencing our discussion. His humour helped bring the walls down and set us up well to walk into the challenging conversation for the remainder of this conference.

3. We appreciate the personal testimonies and prayer as a way of “humanizing” this conversation and reminding us that our conversations impact people. They are shaping how we listen to the presentations. The worship component adds to this well. Thank you Nelson (worship leader).

4. We are grateful that the Board of Faith & Life (BFL) is aware of the optics of having all male plenary speakers.

5. We are hearing a real sense of gratitude for the investment and engagement in the scriptures. Thank you Dr. Gagnon and others. The depth of biblical study is evident. There never seems to be enough time when digging into the Scriptures.

6. We sense that clarifying session goals would help focus our expectations. We are hearing gratitude for the foundation which is being laid, but also impatience for the practical.

Friday insights

7. We look around and see the large number of non-grey haired participants, and we give thanks for the diversity of ages represented in this room. This is a culturally relevant and challenging topic. Thank you BFL for discerning the topic for this study conference.

8. We have heard affirmation for the format of this study conference. We are hearing a real sense of appreciation for open dialogue on the floor. It is good to talk, even when this conversation creates tension or highlights differences. It is important to raise our pertinent issues. The buzz of conversation continues to be very evident at break times.

9. We are hearing a desire for more time for corporate study of Scripture. Engaging dialogue is not the same as corporate Bible study.

10. We sense an unacknowledged “fracturing” in regard to our theological approaches and Anabaptist understandings. Quietly some labels are being attributed to those with whom we disagree. We need a safe place to ask difficult questions without polarizing our gathered community. As we heard from on Wednesday, “conflict is not the devil.” (Stackhouse)

11. We have heard some frustration in regard to the balance of “inside/outside” presenters. This is heightened by the foundational topics addressed by non-Mennonite Brethren speakers only.

12. We heard sorrow for those in our midst who are personally impacted by this conversation. For some, there is great relief for the clarity of scriptural exegesis, for others frustration that there was only one view presented; for some there was dissatisfaction about the forcefulness of presentation, for others heaviness of heart in the face of sexual brokenness. We saw God’s Spirit bring conviction to many, and for different reasons.

13. We hear much affirmation for the continuing personal testimonies. They both challenged us and modelled vulnerability.

14. Thank you, John Neufeld and John Unger, for your candor and humility. We heard that these presentations were the pastoral aspect many were waiting for.

15. We hear gratefulness for some practical questions and tools that help us strive to emulate our Lord in grace and truth.

16. We hear concerns that our youth are being shaped more by culture than by Scripture and church.

17. We saw God’s people engaged in scriptural study, wrestling with issues, open to dialogue, participating in the body and blood of Christ, together.

Podcasts of plenary sessions

Listen to podcasts of the plenary sessions on CCMBC’s Vimeo site

Session 1 – John Stackhouse

Session 2 – Robert Gagnon

Session 3 – Robert Gagnon

Session 4 – John Neufeld & John Unger