It may seem that the frustration expressed by people wanting to discuss LGBTQ+ inclusion is an indication that conversation about LGBTQ+ inclusion is unwelcome. I am sure that there are people who would like to have more conversation, and the sooner the better. But it would be an overstatement to suggest that conversations are unwelcome, or that they are not happening.
In truth, among MBs, conversations have been happening at various levels for quite some time. We had a couple of the largest attendances ever when we had study conferences on human sexuality in 2013 and 2015. In conjunction with those gatherings, the Board of Faith and Life (now called the National Faith and Life Team) produced study guides and recommended materials to facilitate conversations in local churches before and after the event. At various levels in provincial conferences, leaders have had ongoing discussions with church leaders and pastors about issues of human sexuality in relation to the Confession of Faith.
As an MB seminary professor, I regularly engage the discussion with my students, and I make it clear that my classroom is a safe space for students to discuss theological topics from whatever position they feel compelled to occupy. I also helped organize an open discussion between a side A and a side B speaker in the seminary consortium where I teach. Not to blow my own horn, but I have regularly received praise from students about the opportunities for conversation. And yes, we have students who identify as non-binary; to the best of my knowledge, there have been no unfortunate issues related to this.
I have had numerous personal conversations with friends with whom I disagree on LGBTQ+ inclusion, and I have noted one major consideration that is seldom acknowledged. Having covered and recovered the theological territory related to LGBTQ+ inclusion, I am aware that many MB inclusion advocates have given up trying to craft robust theological arguments to support their desire for full inclusion. The theology will follow, they say. My response is that this is no way to discern the need for change.
MB theological identity has long been formed by the conviction that theological reflection needs to be derived first from attentiveness to the concepts and categories that arise in biblical texts, including narratives. Letting the biblical texts speak for themselves first is a high value. Even in their diversity, Christians (including MBs) have recognized a unified message revealed in Scripture.
In response to this, I hear two things from advocates of inclusion. First, I hear the argument that biblical texts need to be read through the filter of modern scholars and interpreters, such Rene Girard, Eugene Rogers, or John Zizioulas. The list is seemingly endless, and it makes me wonder what Christians did before the advent of these resources. You will quickly realize that I object to this approach, not simply because I disagree with what these modern scholars have to say, but because what they represent is a new theological foundationalism that theologians have already recognized and rejected in other contexts. I would humbly suggest that it merits no more consideration here than there.
The other major response is that theology is not the primary consideration here. Rather, I hear that experience needs to be our guide into embrace of new realities that we will find ultimately to be faithful. To this I reply that once we relinquish theological faithfulness, and faithfulness to the risen Christ, as revealed in Scripture, as the highest guiding value, then we have lost the plot entirely. We will have traded our birthright for a mess of cultural pottage. I am not trying to be dramatic, at least not for its own sake. I think the problem is that serious.
In any discernment moment, I think it is important to ask the “Why?” question. Why do we want to talk? What issues remain unclear? What goals lie ahead of us? What are we prepared to learn, and from whom? I think a major problem is that the present disagreement feels uncomfortable, and there are some among us that want to talk until it feels better. I am not sure if that day will ever come. In any event, it is a poor priority. I think the more we talk in large groups, the more we are likely to generate more heat than light. Conversation that generates heat but sheds no light is a distraction from the work Christians are called to do.
If you want to speak, do it in person — one on one. Relationally, and lovingly. Sift what you hear, and what you say (preferably before you say it). Restrict yourself to talking about what you know, rather than what you assume. Test everything against Scripture. Look not only at what you come up with, but at what it leads to, and examine the fruit.
But most of all, if we are going to talk about something, let our first priority be to talk about what we can do to live the presence of Christ. And then act on it. Let whoever wants to surrender to this priority come and join the conversation. And be prepared to be remade into what God has chosen for us to be. It matters not who we are when we come. It matters only that we set all that we were aside for the sake of Christ, and let Christ make us anew.