LEtters and DISCUSSION
Alan Soffin’s “An Atheist Finds
God Yet Not God,” DreamSeeker Magazine Autumn 2009, is insightful,
thought-provoking, and helpful in the search for God through
“philosophical theology”—as far as that can lead us. Soffin’s distant
Father one could call upon in desperate situations may be less distant,
and more certain than we can find through reason alone.
In any search for God, we must
seek his inspiration as promised in the Scriptures, both Old and New.
Said Job, “there is a spirit in man and the inspiration of the Almighty
giveth them understanding.” The Bible’s prophets, Peter tells us, were
“holy men of God, spake as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”
Thus, the inspired words of the many prophets, testifying of God as
they touch our spirit, hold the key to belief and faith in God. The
best witness is his Son, his life and his words. This witness and these
promises of wisdom and belief and faith are far greater than the
philosophers ever could convey through reason.
My search for faith, in a way
far less sophisticated than reason, relied on the wisdom of those holy
men of God whose testimonies quietly convey assurance and conviction
that God lives. That conviction received was after supplication to God
on bended knee with weeping eye. Our heavenly Father speaks to our
spirit and tells us that he is here and that he loves us. Alas, too few
of God’schildren have felt that touch of his hand and that shower of
warmth and love. This assurance and faith come most often when we ask
We are part of this universe “in
every way but our thinking,” says Alan. True perhaps, but it is more
than that. It is that thinking with our spirit that provides that link
with the Father. Indeed, it is Job’s “spirit in man” that is the link
to the receiving of inspiration and belief and faith in God. I know
this is true.
My thanks to Alan Soffin for an exceptionally lucid and well reasoned
article. And my thanks to DSM for providing more than a little food for
thought. —Edward Telford Stevenson
Thanks for publishing Ray Fisher’s “Response to Stumbling Toward a Genuine Conversation on Homosexuality,” DreamSeeker Magazine
Autumn 2009. I found it wonderfully thoughtful, balanced, wise. It made
me hopeful too that Fisher’s goal of moving the conversation forward
will be realized. —Barbara Esch Shisler
Discussion, Harold Miller and Ray Fisher, “Response to Stumbling Toward a Genuine Conversation on Homosexuality,” Fisher, DSM Autumn 2009.
a life story, Ray. Beachy Amish to Harvard; agnostic/atheist to one
helping lesbians and gays and church leaders to hear each other. Yes!
Here’s a brief response to your helpful piece. You noted that the essays in Stumbling
“contained a challenge to the lesbian and gay community: Show us what a
holistic life of same-sex conjugal commitment looks like. Is there a
proposed standard of Christ-like behavior that our gay and lesbian sons
and daughters are prepared to adhere to?” You wrote, “It is incumbent
on us, the gay and lesbian sons and daughters of the church, to answer
I deeply appreciate your
instincts there, Ray. It would indeed be very valuable for your
community to write up guidelines or standards of the lifestyle you feel
called to live.
Yes, heterosexuals, as you point
out, do not have a pretty track record when it comes to maintaining
their sexual commitments. But the fact that they do have
well-articulated ideals does a least give them a modicum of pull in
Yes, same-sex couples, as you
note, don’t enjoy the same support network that straight couples tend
to have. But as those couples articulate the kind of “holistic life”
they are striving for, then those around can call them toward their
If those couples in your circle
who are “in stable, long-term relationships” also have sexual
exclusivity as their expectation and goal, that would affect me. As I
said elsewhere, I would still be personally convinced that homosexual
sex is wrong because of my understanding of the Bible (especially Rom.
1). But it wouldn’t seem so obviously and starkly wrong.
Certainly if your community is
not upholding sexual monogamy, you are at variance with the Anabaptist
Christian community as a whole. And that will get in the way when you
work to get Mennonite Church USA to change its stance on sexuality, to
adjust its boundaries, and stop disciplining over same-sex covenanted
Thanks for your explanation of why your community has chosen to include
bisexuals (to avoid internecine bias). I appreciate that you
nonetheless were willing to leave that term behind when it causes
offense and just use the terms lesbian and gay so that we can “move
beyond semantics and focus on the underlying substance.”
You are an important moderating
voice, Ray, in the dialogue our church has been talking about and seems
to be getting more serious about. —Harold N. Miller
Harold, many thanks for
your generous words and rapid response. I wanted to respond to a few of
your points as food for thought pending further exchanges later:
(1) On the nature of gay
relationships. I think that many many gay couples indeed do hold
monogamy up as an ideal that they seek for themselves. Of course some
do not, but that same dichotomy exists with straight couples. As I’ve
said, most of my gay friends are in stable, long-term relationships.
I’ve not been nosey enough to ask about their attitude toward
exclusivity, but generally I have no reason to suspect any straying off
the path—and we’re in some cases talking of relationships of 15-20
years or more.
Since I believe in full openness
and honesty, I can admit that, in my “atheist period,” when work and
international travel and visa difficulties separated Juan Carlos and me
for extended periods of time, he and I both experienced some straying
off the path—but really out of the loneliness of separation and not
because our own relationship was unsatisfying.
And as an atheist I felt bound
by a moral duty to treat Juan Carlos fairly but not a religious duty to
be exclusive in all circumstances. Certainly my preference during those
periods would have been to avoid separation and to respect
Am I willing to adopt a stricter
standard in the context of belonging to a community of faith? You bet!
I doubt that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who are seeking
to define their place in the church see it differently. If seeing us
aspire for exclusive covenanted relationships as an explicit goal would
remove your biggest stumbling block, we’re well on our way to working
together, since that would only be giving voice to a human desire that
many human beings—both straight and gay—feel.
(2) As to the challenge to
articulate a set of sexual standards. On reflection, months after first
penning those lines, I continue to find the challenge fair, but I think
it inappropriate to articulate a standard that is more stringent than
that followed by many of the straight young people in MC-USA—i.e., I
would not want to buy into or perpetuate a double standard.
If asked to draw up such a
standard today, I would compose it in two parts (and this is thinking
“out loud” in rough draft): (a) a set of principles that talk about the
power of sexuality to create healing and commitment or to cause harm
and destruction, and the responsibility of people of faith to ensure
that they are using sexuality in uplifting, healing ways; and (b) an
affirmation that the importance and primacy of sexual expression in the
context of exclusive, covenanted relationships. I might even
acknowledge that the latter kind of relationship is the only one given
positive sanction by the church.
Clearly this is a first rough attempt, in need of further thought and
refinement. I would be interested in hearing how other readers respond
to this suggestion.
(3) I’d be curious to know how
many of our gay and lesbian Mennonite brothers and sisters you know. If
not many, I’d love to try to change that! When time allows, I hope you
will allow me to set up meetings with some members of our community.
There is much more that could be said on all these topics, and I look forward to taking this up again in the future! Blessings. —Ray Fisher