150 appeal on behalf of sexual minorities in MC USA

Feb 17, 2014 by and

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One hundred fifty Mennonite Church USA pastors and others credentialed for ministry have signed a letter calling on denominational leaders to “change church policies” to “make space for congregations and pastors who welcome and bless” gay and lesbian Christians and other sexual minorities.

The letter was sent Jan. 24 to MC USA Executive Board members, conference ministers and other leaders.

Letter organizers stated in a news release it is the “biggest collection of Mennonite pastors and credentialed leaders to affirm equal treatment for those in same-sex relationships.”

The letter asks for an end to the discipline of pastors and congregations that dissent from MC USA’s teaching position that homosexual practice is a sin.

The teaching position is based on the MC USA Confession of Faith, which states that “God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life,” and by denominational statements from the 1980s that define “homosexual, extramarital and premarital sexual activity as sin.”

According to denominational guidelines, pastors who officiate at same-sex marriages or covenant ceremonies are potentially subject to discipline.

“Some may ask, ‘Why now?’ for a letter like this,” said Chad Martin, one of the letter’s organizers and associate pastor at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, Pa., in the release. “We feel called to remind the church that treating LBGTQ members and their advocates justly and including them at all levels of church life is not simply the cause of a few fringe pastors or conferences. Many, many pastors across geographic and conference boundaries care deeply about MC USA becoming a more inclusive, hospitable and safe place for LBGTQ people of faith.”

The letter states that the signers — who come from 26 states — stand in solidarity with Madison (Wis.) Mennonite Church Pastor Ron Adams. He wrote a recent article in the MC USA denominational magazine The Mennonite about his brother, who he says was rejected by the church for being gay. He later committed suicide.

“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,” he wrote in the article.

Some of the signers are pastors who feel called to welcome and bless all who follow Christ, no matter their sexuality. Others are “not prepared to act at variance” with denominational guidelines but respect their colleagues and seek a setting in which there are no threats of ministry credentials being denied or congregations sanctioned.

“We believe this openness embraces the heart of the biblical Good News,” the letter states.

The letter comes on the heels of Mountain States Mennonite Conference licensing a homosexual pastor and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., evaluating its hiring policy with respect to people in same-sex relationships.

“There are voices pushing in different directions that create angst,” said Terry Shue, MC USA director of leadership development. “As staff it’s not our position to change those but to create an environment where voices can be heard and discussions can be healthy and guide us to be a faithful church.”

He said discernment is a growing priority. It was the focus of the School for Leadership Training at Eastern Mennonite Seminary Jan. 20-22.

“We’re working on that on a number of levels and believe that is a growing edge of the church,” Shue said. “If we can’t talk together, we’ll never be able to discern together.”

A similar letter was released in 2009, when 106 pastors and others who have ministered in MC USA called on the denomination to fully welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Letter organizer Karl Shelly, pastor at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., said the new letter is more specific by addressing polity matters and by collecting a group limited to signers who are or have been credentialed.

“It comes out of awareness that this stuff is on the agenda of the Executive Board and the [Constituency Leaders Council],” he said. “There are currently discussions of a new draft of the polity… . Although I’m not aware of any specific changes on the table.”

See the full text of the letter and list of signers here.

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