The executive board of Mennonite Church USA met last weekend in a regularly scheduled meeting. The Church’s approach to LGBTQ issues and immigration were both on the agenda.
The LGBTQ discussion occurred partly in response to pressure from various concerns of pastors and church members. These concerns stemmed from the licensing of Theda Good, pastor at First Mennonite Church in Denver, Colo., by the Mountain States Mennonite Conference.
The EB’s discussion also resulted from Eastern Mennonite University’s decision to enter a listening process regarding its hiring policy, which bars people in committed same-sex relationships from being hired.
“The purpose of the listening process is to review current hiring policies and practices with respect to individuals in same-sex relationships,” EMU’s board stated in a press release. MC USA’s articles, decided upon in 2001, currently state the following in regards LGBTQ inclusion:
“We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life,” recorded on page 72 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
“Pastors holding credentials in a conference of Mennonite Church USA may not perform a same-sex covenant ceremony,” recorded on page four of MC USA’s Membership Guidelines.
In late January of 2014, 150 pastors affiliated with MC USA signed a letter sent to Ervin Stutzman, executive director of MC USA, asking for a change in policies concerning LGBTQ people. The letter was instigated by a recent article published in The Mennonite written by Ron Adams, a pastor at Madison Mennonite Church in Madison, Wisc.
The article addresses Adams’ own experience concerning exclusion from within the church. Adams’ brother, who identifies himself as a member of the LGBTQ community, was rejected by the Mennonite community because the church “valued its theological purity over the love modeled by Jesus,” The Mennonite reported.
Adams said, “If I am asked to choose between adhering to (denominational) guidelines and welcoming and blessing someone, anyone, seeking to follow Jesus, I will welcome and bless.”
In response, Stutzman posted a blog entry verifying his understanding of the beliefs expressed within the letter.
First he expressed his empathy “for the pain which people on the LGBTQ spectrum face in our church and society.”
Second, Stutzman recognized the “letter as a plea to the church to find a better way of addressing our differences.” Stutzman also acknowledged the letter as a means of provoking the executive board to respond, “asking for a change of guidelines at the national level.”
Third, Stutzman honored that the letter signifies further evidence that the “consensus forged on the Membership Guidelines in 2001 during the church merger processes is fraying.”
Additionally, First Mennonite Church of Denver has recently begun the credentialing and ordination process of Theda Good, a pastor in a committed same-sex relationship. This was a key topic addressed by the executive board in their statement posted on February 17.
The Mountain States Conference affirmed the ordination of Theda Good, however the decision intensified polarization within MC USA. Since credentialing and ordination is transferable to other conferences, the executive board deemed that the Mountain States Conference acted “without sufficient authority” and needs to take further steps before Good is ordained. Additionally, the board appointed a new task force that will review First Mennonite of Denver’s case.
Immigration justice was a topic more readily addressed. The board chose to refine previous statements to the following as announced in The Mennonite:
“We renounce the indifference to and mistreatment of undocumented and documented immigrants that has occurred and continues to occur in our congregations, our communities and this country. We are committed to joining God’s reconciling mission and to live and act as sisters and brothers in Christ regardless of our legal status.”
The Mennonite also reported that new resources will soon be available for educating and continuing reconciliatory action towards immigrants.
As the church begins to move forward in discussions surrounding LGBTQ issues, leaders are torn between the ideals of diversity and unity; and inclusion versus the risk of church splitting.
However, leaders such as Ervin Stutzman remain positive.
“For the sake of right relationships in the church and our witness to the world, we must find a way to have respectful conversation with those who differ with our convictions, particularly ardent followers of Jesus who feel marginalized by the church,” he said.