WDC receives resolution on same-sex ceremonies

Jul 8, 2014 by and

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WAXAHACHIE, Texas — A Kansas City, Kan., congregation is asking its area conference to promise not to discipline any pastor who performs a same-sex covenant ceremony.

Participants at Western District Conference’s annual assembly worship at Iglesia Luz del Evangelio in Dallas. From left are Grace Bartel of Faith Mennonite Church, Newton, Kan.; conference minister Clar­ence Rempel and his wife, Amanda; associate conference minister Gilberto Flores and his wife, Rosa (face obscured); and Sandra Martinez, assistant to Flores, of Dallas. — Laurie Oswald Robinson/WDC

Participants at Western District Conference’s annual assembly worship at Iglesia Luz del Evangelio in Dallas. From left are Grace Bartel of Faith Mennonite Church, Newton, Kan.; conference minister Clar­ence Rempel and his wife, Amanda; associate conference minister Gilberto Flores and his wife, Rosa (face obscured); and Sandra Martinez, assistant to Flores, of Dallas. — Laurie Oswald Robinson/WDC

Rainbow Mennonite Church brought the resolution for discussion but not action at the annual assembly of Mennonite Church USA’s Western District Conference July 4-6.

The resolution’s future is not certain. Over the next year, a task force will study and seek input on issues of sexuality and church polity and give counsel to the district’s Executive Board.

If brought back to delegates and approved, the resolution would put Western District in tension with the denomination’s Membership Guidelines, which forbid same-sex covenant ceremonies.

However, the resolution would be in accord with a previous decision by Western District leaders. In 2011, the Leadership Commission decided not to discipline Joanna Harader, pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kan., who officiated at a same-sex ceremony.

“We feel the time is overdue to extend God’s love and ordinances fully to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ, and yet, in our resolution we also seek to extend love and understanding to fellow Mennonites who read Scripture through a different lens and come to a different conclusion,” Rainbow leaders wrote in a letter accompanying the resolution.

The resolution states that “pastors, with the affirmation of their congregations, consistent with Mennonite polity, and without fear of censure, may officiate or refuse to officiate ceremonies that consecrate before God monogamous, lifelong unions, regardless of the sexual orientation of those being united.”

Keith Jantz, Rainbow’s moderator, presented the resolution to the 118 delegates in attendance. He said the congregation had welcomed people of diverse sexual orientations since 1979.

Ruth Harder, Rainbow’s pastor, said: “I feel grateful to be part of a congregation that is, I believe, working patiently and persistently toward greater justice. . . . We hope that presenting this resolution for discussion only and having a task force will give us time to seek common ground and understanding.”

The district’s Executive Board has appointed Jim Schrag of Newton, Kan., former executive director of MC USA, to chair the task force. The group will give counsel to the board on issues of same-sex relationships and church polity. It will conduct a survey of Western District participants on these issues.

Schrag said the task force will address such questions as, “What is the meaning of congregational polity today? What are its blessings and hazards?”

“It is not our intent to adopt one position or another on same-sex marriage,” Schrag said. “Our intent is to accept the integrity of all views by those who hold convictions on these matters.”

Delegates were asked to discuss the task force’s assignment, and several expressed support for the process.

Also at the assembly, delegates:

  • Approved the formation of a Church Planting Commission to lead church-planting initiatives and foster relationships with emerging Anabaptist-Mennonite groups. The conference has planted seven churches in the past three years.
  • Celebrated the completion of the Year of the Bible, which congregations used to promote biblical literacy and which has become a resource across the denomination.
  • Celebrated 50 years in ministry by Gilberto Flores, associate conference minister for Texas.
  • Heard a report from Terry Shue, MC USA director of leadership development. He said the MC USA Executive Board’s recent action not to recognize Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s licensing of Theda Good, a Colorado pastor in a committed same-sex relationship, was “a middle way of responding” by not affirming nor punishing Mountain States.

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