On Saturday, Nov. 1, the Gulf States Mennonite Conference (GSMC) will vote on whether or not to leave Mennonite Church USA.
The recent licensure by Mountain States Mennonite Conference of the lesbian pastor Theda Good and the debate surrounding the action is what led GSMC to the decision to vote on continuing their membership.
Tensions in MCUSA surrounding homosexuality have been building over the last couple of years.
Duane Maust, GSMC minister, stated in an interview in “Mennonite World Review” with Tim Huber, “We had several congregations that were really on the edge of their support for the Mennonite church, and that just sort of made their point final.”
Gulf States Mennonite Conference, the smallest conference in MCUSA, is made up of 12 congregations, eight of which are predominately non-Caucasian. This includes one Hispanic church, one African-American church, two South Louisiana Cajun churches and four Native American churches.
The vote on Nov. 1 will decide if the conference will remain a recognized conference in MCUSA. This vote will not be the final decision for all members of the conference. If the vote to leave MCUSA does not pass, churches still have the option to leave on their own. If the vote does pass, churches may choose to stay on independently.
GSMC is not the only group looking to leave MCUSA. Many others are waiting until a final decision is made on MCUSA’s official stance on gay marriage and homosexuals in pastoral positions before they make any moves.
Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH) has taken a clear stance on their feelings about homosexuality in the Mennonite church.
In a letter made public by the Evangelical Anabaptist Network website from IMH moderator Samuel Lopez to MCUSA executive director Ervin Stutzman, Lopez spoke on behalf of IMH.
He said, “The pastors and delegates expressed the painful sentiment that most, if not all, of the Hispanic Mennonite Churches will withdraw from MCUSA if the present teaching of sexuality and Confession of Faith is changed.”
Because no conference like GSMC or group like IMH has ever left MCUSA, it is hard to know how the change would affect MCUSA and Mennonite institutions like Eastern Mennonite University, Bluffton University or Goshen College. Churches that secede from MCUSA may choose to keep their Mennonite affiliation while just breaking ties with MCUSA, which would ideally leave Mennonite institutions untouched in regards to enrollment.