Canadian Mennonite Brethren discuss ministry to LGBTQ+ people

British Columbia MB Conference vote to release Artisan Church from membership prompts request to hold a national discussion on LGBTQ+ ministry.

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Artisan Church, a Vancouver MB congregation, holds a worship service in 2019. The congregation requested to be released from the provincial conference due to its stand on gay marriage.

While Canadian Mennonite Brethren are discussing at the local and provincial levels how churches can show Jesus’ love more effectively to LGBTQ+ people, the Canadian Conference of MB Churches (CCMBC) National Faith and Life Team has said it will not host a conversation on the topic during the CCMBC Annual General Meeting this summer.

The NFLT, in a statement published in the May 2021 issue of MBHerald.com, says that discussions about confessional issues should first be processed at the provincial level.

The NFLT notes that CCMBC’s new collaborative model of governance invites individuals with questions about the Confession of Faith to first process those questions with their provincial conference Faith and Life teams because local and provincial conversations is where “relationships with members and churches are closest, where contexts are best understood and listening can be most effective.”

The statement also lists a variety of steps the NFLT is taking to address ministry to LGBTQ+ people while also affirming the CCMBC Confession of Faith.

The actions listed are:

  • Creating new written resources to provide guidance for how the convictions of the Confession of Faith on sexuality and marriage can be taught and practiced more compassionately in churches;
  • Adding resources to the NFLT website, including the 2013 and 2015 sexuality study conferences;
  • Revisiting the existing commentary and pastoral application sections of the Confession of Faith in order to “better clarify the biblical and theological foundations of our convictions and they ways that these convictions can be lives out by all of us today;”
  • Partnering with Posture Shift, a ministry training seminar provided by Lead Them Home that according to the ministry’s website offers a “biblically sound, missiological approach to LGBTQ+ inclusion and care;”
  • Deliberately exploring applications of CCMBC convictions with groups of pastors and leaders in local contexts; and
  • Opening an email account to receive input on how to better love LGBTQ+ people.

The NFLT statement was written in response to a letter signed by 517 individuals requesting that the national conference “create space for us to speak and listen to each other.

“We want to ask questions, seek clarification and speak the truth in love,” says the letter, also published in the May 2021 issue of MBHerald.com. The letter references the Annual General Meeting, to be held virtually June 10-12, 2021, as an appropriate time for such a conversation.

The interest in discussing ministry to LGBTQ+ is also reflected in the results of a recent survey conducted by MB Biblical Seminary that shows 88 percent of Canadian MB churches say they want help navigating the complexities of ministering to the LGBTQ+ community.

The only topic getting a higher response was how to read and understand the Bible, at 93 percent. The survey was answered by 29 percent of 215 Canadian MB congregations, representing over 21,000 attendees or 57 percent of the denomination.

In an interview with Anabaptist World in early May, Elton DaSilva, national director of CCMBC, says he believes “our churches are searching for resources that help them better engage with the LGBTQ community” while “also searching for clarity on how to best do this while still maintaining the theological convictions we presently hold.”

How to have this conversation has made up the bulk of the last two NFLT meetings, DaSilva said, adding that “our hope is that by the end of 2021 we will have steps in place for these conversations to happen.”

Ministry to LGBTQ+ people has recently emerged as a topic of conversation among Canadian Mennonite Brethren for a number of reasons.

Delegates to the BCMB convention in April voted to grant a request from Artisan Church, a congregation in Vancouver, British Columbia, that welcomes and affirms LGBTQ+ people, to leave the provincial conference because of the congregation’s decision to permit gay marriage.

The vote was taken April 30 during a convention held online due to pandemic restrictions. The final tally of the vote to allow the church to leave was not released, according to a report by Anabaptist World.

According to a March 12, 2021, article published in Anabaptist World, Artisan Church followed a four-year discernment process that resulted in an eight-page “Milestone” statement that says, “We suspect God is leading us to a place this is neither ‘open and affirming’ nor ‘traditional’ but a third way: an alternative place of radical acceptance and inclusion rarely seen in this world.”

This third way is leading the church to “embrace and include” all LGBTQ and same-sex attracted people and also those who “hold more traditional views.”

This means Artisan will “practice full inclusion” at “every level of leadership.” No one, the church states, “will be excluded from any form of leadership due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor related convictions and relationships.”

The church says it will also “celebrate LGBTQ+ covenantal marriages” and will “commit to always having someone on our staff who will perform marriages for any and all couples who are rooted in the life of our church according to the same discernment process afforded straight cisgendered couples.”

BCMB recommended the Artisan congregation be released from membership because its commitment to celebrate and perform gay marriages placed them in conflict with the MB Confession of Faith.

In a statement about the recommendation to release Artisan, BCMB minister Rob Thiessen noted that leaders from BCMB met with Artisan pastoral staff and their leadership team over the past five years “encouraging them to teach and develop a ministry response to LGBTQ issues from within the theological framework of our MB Confession of Faith.”

“BCMB and the wider CCMBC community are deeply saddened to see Artisan choose this path,” the statement says. “We have expressed to them that although we share their deep desire to reach the LGBTQ community, we do not believe that their approach is in line with the gospel and the teachings of Scripture…. Our prayer remains that they would repent of this decision.”

According to BCMB convention participants who talked with Anabaptist World, a number of delegates expressed frustration over the process and argued for more time and conversation before a vote was taken. When the time for discussing the recommendation reached its limit, a motion was made to grant more time to talk about the recommendation. It was defeated.

After the vote, Artisan moderator Peter Mogan expressed gratitude to BCMB for its support in planting the church and for its prayer and financial support as it reached out to younger people, especially those who are disaffected with Christianity.

At the end of the discussion BCMB moderator Sharon Simpson said the conference would conduct a review of the process that led to Artisan’s removal. Her comment prompted questions about timeline, reporting and how to ensure such a review would be independent.

The Manitoba MB Conference is also in discussion with one of their congregations, River East Church in Winnipeg, which has officially adopted a welcome and inclusion statement. At the provincial conference’s March 6 assembly, no vote about River East was taken; the church was asked to clarify its posture in relation to the Confession of Faith.

With files from Anabaptist World 

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Connie Faber
Editor
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law and one son-in-law. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.

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