On Saturday noon, July 5, 2014, The Old Fool ate lunch on the back porch and then walked barefoot on the grass around the parameters of our property. This spring day was warm and beautiful, not rainy, cool and beautiful as is too often true in Indiana.
The book “Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions” by Rachel Held Evans, described by Google Books as an evolving spiritual journey that leads to an unshakable faith. In a You-tube video Rachel Evans described a year in which she practiced the teachings of such books as Leviticus, Proverbs, and the Pauline epistles. The Anabaptist Renewal Circles is committed “to joyfully embrace Biblical sexuality as taught by Jesus and His apostles.”
Without a flat view of the Bible the Anabaptist Renewal Circles joyfully embrace only the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. The Amish are Anabaptist who attempt to take the Bible seriously and literally. When I read the gospels it feels like Jesus was ambivalent about marriage. Not married, he was so busy about his Father’s business that his family thought he was out of his mind.
He expected dedicated disciples to act as though they hated their families. What he said about divorce and remarriage was so hard that his disciples said that it might be better not to get married. He heard them grumbling and admitted that not everyone could live up to his thinking.
Jesus allowed women to follow him and provide for his entourage out of their means. He crossed cultural boundaries to talk with a Samaritan woman, allowed an unclean women to touch him and be healed and defended a woman who washed his feet with her tears. Women were the first to see him after his resurrection and were the bearers of the good news to men.
The Apostle Paul believed celibacy to be the best choice for tough times. He allowed that marriage was the best remedy for uncontrolled passion and urged everyone to live according to God’s particular gift. He instructed some churches not to allow a woman to speak during a worship service, yet in his letters he names the women who worked with him in his ministry. He urged women to be subject to their husbands.
Paul M. Miller, a Goshen College professor was invited to come to the Southeast to equip pastors for ministry, He explained that Jesus as head exalted the church by trusting it with the most important mission in the world. In the same way, a man should use his headship to exalt women.
This Sunday morning, July 6, 2014, such headship was exercised in the College Mennonite Church. Ron Kennel, chair of the search committee, introduced a woman, Gwen Gustafson-Zook, as a pastoral candidate with a focus on outreach and spiritual formation. Then two pastoral women took charge and did what only ordained men could do when I served as a bishop in the nineteen-sixties. One woman preached the sermon and another joined her in presiding over communion. Laity of various ages, color, and gender distributed the emblems, a privilege reserved for only ordained men in an early era.
Having wrestled for six weeks with questions of sexuality, our church seems to be moving in the direction of a “third way” that neither condemns or approves those at variance from official positions on homosexuality.
Some in our church wish we were open to believing gays and lesbians, and others wish they were denied. Yet our church communed as one body on Sunday despite opposing opinions. Changes in the past give me hope for the Indiana-Michigan Conference, MCUSA, and our renewal circles.