Nothing like starting off the new year with one of the most contentious issues facing the wider church.
There are a number of happenings right now having to do with how the Mennonite Church relates with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and self-identified queer persons (LGBTQ). Mountain States Conference (one of 21 area conferences in Mennonite Church USA) announced in November that it intends to credential Theda Good for pastoral ministry at First Mennonite Church, Denver. Theda is in a committed relationship with her female partner and this is the first time an openly gay and partnered Mennonite pastor will be credentialed in the US.
Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia has announced that it is beginning a six month listening process regarding how it can be a safe space for LGBTQ persons and campus hiring practices.
Both of these actions have prompted Ervin Stutzman, Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA, to write a letter to church leaders in which he says, “…The Executive Committee plans to meet at the end of January to discern how to best respond to these situations, in preparation for the Executive Board meeting in mid-February.
I earnestly desire that our church be faithful to scripture and God’s call. The issues that we face cannot be solved by human effort alone. We need the enablement of God’s Spirit, and the strength of God’s Word. So as you pray, I invite you to let me know if any particular scriptures or devotional insights come to mind.
You may feel free to forward this message to pastors or congregations who have interest in the denomination’s response to the recent announcement.”
The denomination is also in the process of updating its Polity for Mennonite Leadership. The most current draft includes language that says pastors are not to officiate at a same-sex union/wedding and doing so is cause for their credentials to be reviewed.
Toward the end of last year a group of pastors composed a letter addressed to denominational leadership affirming their solidarity with an essay written in November by Ron Adams, pastor of Madison (Wisconsin) Mennonite Church, called The Rule of Love, in which he told the story of his gay brother who committed suicide and was never affirmed in his full humanity by the church. His words included this: “Denominational guidelines exist regarding the conduct of pastors. Those guidelines include consequences for pastors who bless Jesus-followers whose partners are of the same sex. … But speaking as a pastor, if I am asked to choose between adhering to those guidelines and welcoming and blessing someone, anyone, seeking to follow Jesus, I will welcome and bless.” Any credentialed person in the denomination is welcome to sign this letter, which I have done.
So…this is what is in the mix right now. Our congregation has affirmed that “Columbus Mennonite Church is an inclusive congregation seeking to follow Jesus’ teachings of love to all, justice for all, and fellowship with all.” Although the statement does not name the issue outright, we are committed to affirming and blessing (and being blessed by!) LGBTQ persons. Amen to that.
Ervin Stutzman is calling on the denomination to pray, and that’s a good invitation. Some of you may also wish to take up his invitation to write to him directly with scriptures that inform your view and ways you hear the Spirit speaking to the denomination at this time and place. His email address is ervins (at) mennoniteusa.org If you write, I would encourage you to say which congregation you are connected with (mainly so he knows that the words are coming from someone within the denomination).