Winnipeg

The antidote to our PR problem

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“Sex after Church: hope and sexuality for the redemptive community”

Plenary

Paul Cumin gave was a full and engaging presentation of how the church needs to be a community that provides space for healthy sexuality to be lived out. The way he began was important because he named the problem the church faces often, namely a PR problem of being seen as strange for the wrong reasons. One of the big ways to combat this problem is through relationships.
I deeply appreciated the attention Paul gave to how we have mistreated the LGBTQ community and need to change that. The way he put it was “we have failed to give more than lip service to core aspects of Christianity” including hospitality and love. This is an area where we need to change our ways and be known as a people who care deeply for others, despite having a difference of opinion.
In my experience, there is a desire for relationship and with it can come an opportunity to dialogue about our beliefs, giving the Holy Spirit opportunity to work in their life.
One of the other pieces Paul shared that struck me was the way Jesus lived utterly and completely for others. The importance of being in relationships that pour themselves out for the other is wonderful thing. This way of living allows us to change and be changed in meaningful ways and give incredible value to those in relationship. When we have relationships that are this secure we can appropriately deal with the brokenness we find in each other.
Paul also highlighted the concept of knowledge and how broad this term can be with important nuances. Knowing facts is one thing but that isn’t enough or appropriate for relationships. Rather we need to know people through history, context and experience that ends in trust. From my reading and research, this is part of a more holistic understanding of sexuality that we need to recover, to “know” in the biblical sense. Similarly, we only know God appropriately when we know him in relationship.
At the end of his presentation Paul spoke about the way love is messy and is meaningless without painful danger. This is so true especially when we are dealing with our areas of brokenness. All of us have areas of brokenness that are in need of the redeeming work of Jesus. We need to become comfortable working with the Holy Spirit in the messiness of sexual brokenness so his healing power can be manifested in our lives, and those to whom we minister.
Grantham MB pastor Tabitha VandenEnden provided a response to Paul’s presentation and keyed in on the same theme of community. The communion table was her key model to encourage this community as we focus on the brokenness Christ took upon himself for us. She also pointed us to the potential for seeing aspects of Catholicism as helpful in our desire for community among singles.
There is a great richness to true and deep community that is important as we consider a full and well-rounded understanding of sexuality.
—Jon Mair is director of operations at South Abbotsford (B.C.) Church.

How to ground difficult conversations

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“How the Meeting House Engages the LGBTQ Community”

Workshop

Bruxy Cavey followed up his Thursday evening plenary address with a Friday morning workshop that was set up as a Q and A session to answer questions about how The Meeting House, the Toronto-area congregation where he serves as teaching pastor, engages with people around questions of sexuality.

Those attending the workshop posed a wide variety of questions, predominantly focusing on how The Meeting House has worked at engaging with the LGBTQ community. Bruxy began by addressing the classic confusion between acceptance and agreement, noting that often we feel like full acceptance will be misconstrued as full agreement. Challenging that assumption, he noted that brothers and sisters can fully disagree about a particular issue, and yet still accept one another as family.

For this reason, The Meeting House has been intentional about reaching out in radical love towards those in the LGBTQ community, while at the same time being clear that this acceptance does not signify theological agreement and holding firm to their stance that sexual intimacy is properly expressed in a marriage between one man and one woman.

In the context in which I work, encounters with people who identify as LGBTQ are a regular part of my reality, and as an MB pastor I have often wrestled with how to care for them while at the same time acknowledging that my beliefs when it comes to the subject of sexuality may be different than theirs.

Bruxy’s encouragement not to equate acceptance with agreement was helpful to me in this regard. After all, we often have relationships with people with whom we disagree. Is there anyone with whom we agree about absolutely everything? Even within the group gathered for Study Conference, it was evident that we do not always have consensus even within our Canadian Mennonite Brethren family. But it’s easier to live with those points of disagreement when we have a relationship within which we can have those difficult conversations.

In the weeks leading up to the study conference, I was talking with a friend who happens to identify as LGBTQ. She was asking me where I was going, and I was hesitant to explain that I was going to a conference about God, Sex and Church. In spite of my fears, we were able to have an interesting conversation about the subject. She wanted to know about the books I had been reading as I prepared for the conference. We talked about my hopes that we would be able to create a safe space for honest conversation, and that when we disagreed with one another, we would do so in a respectful manner.

It was a starting point for what I hope will be a lot more conversation in the future – conversations about sexuality, what it means to follow Jesus and about a host of other challenging subjects.

All of those conversations are more easily had when they are grounded in love first.

As we seek to follow Jesus, we have the example of one who readily accepted people from many walks of life – eating with tax collectors and sinners, and touching those who were said to be unclean. By reaching out in love to those within the LGBTQ community, we are emulating this example.

—Kathy McCamis is a graduate of MBBS-CMU and serves as community pastor with House Blend Ministries in Winnipeg.

Lord, help me teach about sexuality

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“Teaching Teens about Sexuality”

Workshop

Janessa Giesbrecht is the passionate and articulate youth pastor at Fort Garry MB Church here in Winnipeg. (She’s also an amazing van driver.) Here are a few of my thoughts in response to her presentation.

“We live in a Google world.” Well, no kidding! Of course, we all know that. But wait a second. Do you know any children or youth? Have you noticed how Google is the starting place for any and every question? Teens are able to get a lot of information about sexuality, both helpful and harmful. Janessa suggested that the church isn’t making the younger generations “works cited” list. As a pastor, I’m convicted. What will I do to provide helpful and true information to the children and youth in our congregation? Lord, help me!

“Are we ministering out of anxiety or love?” Janessa compared the extremes of anxiety and love as the driving force for ministry. Referencing Mark Yaconelli, she shared that leading while anxious results in providing concrete answers, looking first to results, and convincing youth to simply do what we tell them to do. Love, on the other hand, values process, is relational, asks questions, and is present with people. Too often, we are motivated by anxiety instead of by love. As a pastor, I’m convicted. I want to be more loving and much less anxious. Lord, help me!

“Sex is only a small part of sexuality.” Again, no kidding! But, why is it that we tend to focus so much on sex in our “sex talks” to youth? We must address so MUCH more than simply how far is too far in our physical relationships. We must recognize the topic is broad and impacts all of us. Some youth are sexually active, others have been abused; some struggle with gender identification, others are addicted to pornography or masturbation. As a pastor, I’m convicted. I need to study, prepare, and be bold to teach about the broad topic of sexuality. Lord, help me!

“Silence screams.” Is there a lonely silence in our churches? Are we paying attention to what is NOT being talked about? It saddens me that perhaps we may be sending (or have sent) a message that the church is a place for perfection, rather than a place for conversation, struggles, safety, and welcome. Is the church a safe place for youth today? Again, as a pastor, I’m convicted. Am I contributing to the silence? Lord, help me!

I’ve been challenged to address this topic without fear. For me, writing “youth” or “teens” is too impersonal. My sons are 11 and 10 years old. As a father, this hits home, and I’m convicted. Lord, help me!
—Leonard Klassen serves as an associate pastor at King Road Church in Abbotsford. He has been challenged and stretched during this Study Conference. Let’s talk.

What would happen if our churches were absent of the Holy Spirit?

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“Glorious Sex”

Workshop

How do I see God at work in my life? How does my dependence on God translate into my relationship to those around me? Or the world in my midst? What does this have to do with sex, ‘glorious’ or not?

These are questions that arose from Paul Cumin’s workshop, Glorious Sex.

A pastor in Pemberton, B.C., Paul Cumin challenges us to consider whether we have fallen for a message of deism in both our theology and practice within the church today. If you are not familiar with the term, deism is the philosophy that holds God at a distance. God is the “watchmaker” of the universe, having aligned all things and set them in motion to continue forward. There is little need for intervention or adaptation as all systems are in place for the world to turn.

Deism seems to be alive and well.

This line of thought means little interaction in day-to-day life. God is distant, and we as people are simply living where we might bump into one another, but no personal community is necessary. All moral and ethical decision making is to the benefit of the individual, whichever path will create the best outcome for them.

This includes salvation. It is only an end result promised by the divine watchmaker.

But this is not the way of the incarnational Christ, who transcends the material of this world, and the spiritual realm we so crave. He is the marriage of what was described as ‘me-ism’ and deism. The complete human, and the complete God, completely whole. He is both timeless, unhindered by the effects of time; and yet present in our time. Christ is our starting point in understanding wholeness in communion, where the Spirit seeks to dwell.

So much of what ails our world is in the separation. We desire to find space with the other, but struggle with how we should then live together. We desire to know God, but settle for keeping him at a safe distance. The incarnational Christ starts in the gap, in the revelation of God to his people. As we see in Colossians 1:15–20, the starting point is truly, Christ is “all things”.

This moves beyond a mere view on sex. It is about how we view communion as Christ’s body, how we see the incarnate Christ as near and calling us to communion with him together, today.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks Peter in Matthew 16. Today, we too must answer as we take stock of our thoughts on sexuality and growing in community.

As with Peter, our response should solicit the same response he received from Jesus: “…this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father…” The Spirit prompts us to reflect on what is being revealed to us in how we live as the church today.

—Eric Friesen is pastor of discipleship at North Kildonan MB Church, Winnipeg. He is husband to 1, father to 4, experiencing the joy of being a father-in-law for the first time. You can check out his blog here.

It matters HOW we talk

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“Clarity in a Culture of Shame”

Workshop

As Christian brothers and sisters, it matters HOW we talk to and with each other. In this workshop that looked at shame related to sexual identity, Columbia Bible College professor David Warkentin emphasized that how we listen to and hear each other matters.
There is a spectrum of ways that the church has responded and is currently responding to homosexuality, from full exclusion to full inclusion. As family, we need to approach each other in ways that create places to dialogue and find ways to discuss different views and conclusions.
David also highlighted Bruxy Cavey’s church, The Meeting House, as a case study of a church that is seeking a faithful response in our culture (see Friday workshop).
I heard that we all need to be aware of how shame keeps people in silence when it comes to sexual struggles within our communities and our world. This workshop connected well with my own thoughts and reflections pre-conference. I read Tim Otto’s book Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships (I definitely recommend it) and was challenged by his call to the Christian community to have courageous conversations about homosexuality.
I am thankful for the great sharing and dialogue that the group was able to have today. I want to love my brothers and sisters within my church and seek together how to live faithfully in our context. David’s four word summary is my takeaway, a framework for my ongoing reflection: “Honest clarity and humble conviction.”
—Lisa Braun is from Hepburn (Sask.) MB Church.

Download David’s handout here.
DW – Handout

Unity in Diversity

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“ Abundance, Responsibility and Provision”

Bible study

Eyes closed, we listen to the reading of Genesis 2:4-25 attempting to allow our five senses to engage in this creation account. I offer this description as a picture of what I perceived through my own senses and from what I heard others share.

What started as barren and dry land is turned into fertile soil. Beauty and life, abundance and fullness are springing up from the ground culminating in the formation of man. For this man, God provides all things pleasant to see, taste, hear, smell and touch; richness is flowing in all directions while in the centre, there is a tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Yet the picture is not done. God desires more, and so, in his infinite wisdom, gives the man a vocation, a warning and a partner – one formed not of the dust, like himself, but one coming out of his own flesh.
This woman is also made in the image of God, yet unique, created to complete the developing intimate and harmonious community already present between man, a triune God and the rest of his creation.

We were then asked to take this picture as a beginning point to discuss who we are and why God has placed us here with our “embodied desires for intimacy.” Listening to my own thoughts and to those of others I am left with a few “take homes” and “wonderings” that I think can be a framework to look at more practical issues.

  • God in his goodness teaches humankind to desire good, earthly and beautiful things; why else would he provide and create such an abundance? Yet, not all created things are to be enjoyed (the fruit of the one tree is off limits) and many other aspects of creation will need continual work to be kept and maintained in their useful/intended state.
  • God gives to humankind immense responsibility and a good amount of work to do, but instills a central and visible reminder that not all things will be their “burden to carry.” The knowledge of good and evil are not intended for him to discern. I wonder if still too often we see this as a restriction rather than a provision?
  • Both females and males carry the image of God, yet are distinct. This seems to be shown both in the timing and form of their creation. This diversity is not meant to divide but be brought together in unity and vulnerability. The mystery of this seems profound, but immensely important in understanding how human intimacy is meant to be lived out. I propose that while bonding with those to whom we are more alike (uniformity) is meaningful, perhaps bonding sought in diversity is an experience that brings even more wholeness.
  • God seems to know what we will need before we are even aware of it. God sees and God provides and a deep trust and obedience in this provision seems needed in order to live in ongoing intimacy with God.
  • Using all of our senses to listen to the text is a good and helpful exercise, although not perhaps always easy as we carry all of our previous thoughts into such an exercise. This speaks to the importance of listening in community: some see and hear things others miss, some grasp concepts while others are needed to flesh them out. There is no shame or pride in this, it’s how the body is meant to work together.

Jacqueline Block is a member of Faith River Fellowship, Saskatoon.

Sex talk in church

“Sex and the City of God”

Workshop

In this session, Canadian Mennonite University professor Justin Neufeld offered an engagement of some philosophical understandings through three narratives of sexuality with a focus on reproduction.
There was a lot of high-level content in this workshop which, though valuable, was a lot to grasp in a short presentation. The statement Justin made up front was particularly important: constant dialogue on the topic of sexuality is needed in the church. I agree. This topic is too large and too important for us to only address occasionally.
The first narrative Justin looked at is the evolutionary adaptational approach. There are parts of male and female anatomy that don’t make sense from an evolutionary perspective, he said. This is interesting because it demonstrates how both male and female start out quite similar from conception and then as gender is formed, these various parts develop differently and provide gender uniqueness.
The second narrative that Justin discussed was that of Socrates in Plato’s Symposium. There was a lot to this section but what stood out to me, in a nutshell, was his mention of the human desire for immortality and how, in Socrates’ view, all of humanity is pregnant with thought which is birthed in speech and the erotic value of being invited to be part of conversation. Also noteworthy: in Symposium beauty is achieved by progressively “climbing up a ladder.” Plato contrasts this with the Christian view that in Christ beauty is brought to us.
There is a great attractiveness to the fact that we don’t have to strive after beauty because Christ has brought it to us through his redeeming work.
The last narrative came from Augustine’s City of God and was put up against Plato’s view which would have been the predominant view of the time. The gendered relationship of Christ and the church is foreshadowed in the gendered story of creation. There is certainly a richness to be understood in the way Christ relates to the church and how men and women have been created to relate. Not a lot of time was spent on this narrative, which is unfortunate, as I had hoped to hear more about this part.
Justin provided a set of four questions for us to consider, the first three were related to the three narratives. The last, long question, asked if “…grace is obligated to remove [homosexual desire] in order to draw the person to God and other” – with the premise that it does not. When Justin was questioned if desire included practice or action he struggled to answer but indicated that he leaned toward having grace for those who practice homosexuality. As a person who has a story that includes same-sex attraction it concerns and troubles me that we might be facing the possibility of compromising the biblical view of sexuality in our churches. While I agree the church needs to engage and love those in the gay community and bring Christ’s love I believe we still need to hold to the traditional biblical view of sexuality.
—Jon Mair, a graduate of MBBS, is Operations & Support Manager at South Abbotsford (B.C.) MB Church. He shared his testimony in the MB Herald here.

Let’s talk about sex

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“The World Through the Eyes of a College Student”

Workshop

Terry Doerksen (youth and young adults pastor, Westwood, Winnipeg) and Erin Thiessen (resident dean, Trinity Western University, Langley) combined forces with four Winnipeg young adults to have an interactive conversation around the topic of human sexuality. We were given a glimpse of the world through the eyes of college students. The presenters spoke with candour and passion. The workshop goal of embracing conversation with respectful, healthy dialogue far exceeded my expectations.
What are some things this 40-something white, heterosexual pastor learned from these college students in 90 minutes? Let me share just a few thoughts and observations.
Young adults value sex. Read that again. Young adults value sex. The younger generation doesn’t just flippantly participate in sex as is frequently portrayed in our overly sexualized media and culture. Having sex is a BIG decision, not simply a flippant, casual act done on a whim. This encourages me.
The church needs to talk about the topics connected to human sexuality. If we don’t, how will the younger generation be comfortable bringing their questions and struggles to the church? There is fear that stems from the perception that simply experiencing struggles is already sin. Why is it that sexual sins are considered really, really bad? It’s time to talk about sex, to converse, to seek understanding, to listen. Let’s learn the language and ask the questions. And let’s not be afraid of providing solid, foundational, biblical teaching as a part of this conversation.
We must watch our language. I’ll make this personal. I have to stop using charged language in my conversations. No jokes about sexual identity and behaviours are acceptable. I must learn not to react to things that are shared; put simply, I must never act squeamish with a bizarre look on my face when someone trusts me to join their conversation. I must become comfortable with words such as homosexuality, LGBTQ, pornography, same-sex attraction… I must struggle both to love others and to tell the truth. These are not mutually exclusive. I desire to be a safe person with whom to converse.
When asked what the church can do to create a safe space, one of the young adult panelists spoke of the real value of mentors. “We are looking for leadership, for wisdom; to be heard; be present and be available and love me. Listen and be a non-anxious presence in my life.” Or, as someone else said, perhaps we need to be more of an “everyday person” – people who naturally speak of the struggles, realities and victories of life in every corner of life.
And lastly, we were reminded to uphold a high view of both marriage and singleness. I must confess that it is easier to rail against same-sex marriage than to call out those involved in heterosexual sex outside of marriage (whether premarital or extramarital). The biblical case for chastity must also be a part of our conversations.
As I conclude, I realize that listing things I learned is but one step in my journey. What’s next? For me, I desire to be a safe person who is committed to listen. I desire to be compassionate, to ask questions, and continue to learn. I must refrain from quick-fix solutions. I want to love deeply and hold on to truth firmly – and I am glad I don’t have to choose between the two.
—Leonard Klassen serves as an associate pastor at King Road Church in Abbotsford. A part of his role is working with young adults and adult ministry. He can’t help but hope this conversation will continue.