Ohio resolution asking for discipline falls short

Special session addresses pastoral licensing concern in Mountain States Conference

Aug 11, 2014 by and

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MILLERSBURG, Ohio — An Ohio Conference resolution asking Mennonite Church USA to remove Mountain States Mennonite Conference from membership if it does not reverse its decision to license a lesbian minister did not pass Aug. 9 at a special delegate session.

Dan Hilty, a delegate from Huber Mennonite Church in New Carlisle, Ohio, hands ballots from his table to Dan King of Beech Mennonite Church in Louisville. Votes were being cast for a resolution brought to a special delegate session Aug. 9 for Mennonite Church USA’s Ohio Conference. — Kelli Yoder/MWR

Dan Hilty, a delegate from Huber Mennonite Church in New Carlisle, Ohio, hands ballots from his table to Dan King of Beech Mennonite Church in Louisville. Votes were being cast for a resolution brought to a special delegate session Aug. 9 for Mennonite Church USA’s Ohio Conference. — Kelli Yoder/MWR

The resolution needed two-thirds approval to pass, and it received 61.7 percent. The vote was 163-101 in favor of the resolution.

Delegates held three votes in an effort to pass a resolution of some sort related to the decision of Mountain States to license Theda Good, a pastor at First Mennonite Church in Denver. Good is in a committed same-sex relationship.

Although none of the resolutions passed, Ohio Conference minister Tom Kauffman said he saw thoughtful conversation throughout the day of round table discussions and open floor question-and-answer sessions at Martins Creek Mennonite Church.

“I think this typifies how challenging this issue is in terms of finding a common understanding and position,” Kauffman said.

The resolution was tabled at the conference’s annual assembly in March to allow more time for study. It was part of a letter signed by 51 retired and current Ohio pastors.

Ohio Conference has 76 congregations and 11,098 members.

As delegates registered, they were given a straw poll asking how they intended to vote and why. Kauffman said the poll showed enough reservations that leaders wanted to offer delegates a chance to amend the resolution.

Kauffman, moderator Dean Beck and parliamentarian John Rohrer compiled the suggested amendments into five possible variations to the resolution. They offered those to the delegates.

But when the floor was opened for questions and comments, delegates passed a motion to disregard the amendments and vote on the original resolution. The motion passed easily.

“I think it became confusing in terms of which [amendment] do we start with,” Kauffman said after the meeting.

“I think the people who were in favor of the original resolution did not want it to be changed. I think the people who were opposed to the resolution didn’t see any of the changes as being ultimately helpful.”

A second resolution

Once the original resolution was off the table, a second resolution was presented by Berlin Mennonite Church. It affirmed the 1995 Confession of Faith article 19, which states that marriage is “a covenant between one man and one woman for life.”

It also requested the Executive Board develop a polity that would give the board authority to hold “conferences and churches accountable to the approved Mennonite Confession of Faith.”

After a short discussion period, the resolution was put to a vote. It received 35 percent approval and did not pass.

While votes on the second resolution were being counted, one of the five amendments was reopened. It amended the original resolution to ask that Mountain States be suspended — rather than asking national assembly delegates to remove Mountain States from membership, as the original motion called for — unless:

  • it reverses the decision to license Good; or
  • the national delegate assembly changes the denomination’s polity on same-sex marriage.

The amended resolution was voted on, and while votes were being counted conversation continued. Joel Shenk, pastor of Toledo Mennonite Church, observed that delegates seemed to want something to pass but reminded them the purpose of the day had already happened.

“Perhaps that’s God’s word to us today, and we should let things play out in the larger church,” he said.

A motion was made and approved to end the meeting after the results of the third vote.

The third resolution received 56 percent approval, or 141 yes votes, and did not pass.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the care and the kindness with which people spoke and heard one another,” Kauffman said. “I don’t think we know how best to talk about this [disagreement] yet, but we tried to do it.”

Surveying pastors

Terry Shue, MC USA director for leadership development, was present to answer questions on church polity.

He gave a report explaining MC USA’s discernment process thus far, including a survey sent out on Aug. 8 to 1,700 credentialed pastors. He said 13 Ohio pastors had already returned it.

The survey was developed with sociologist Conrad Kanagy to learn where pastors stand on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion.

“We desire to hear from the church leaders so that the Executive Board will be able to set the agenda at Kansas City in 2015,” he said.

Shue has attended or will attend many area conference meetings this year. He said he hears “a healthy buzz” as conferences work on biblical communal discernment and healthy conversations on the topics of polity and LGBT inclusion.

“It’s clear to me this is not an issue between Ohio Conference and Mountain States,” he said. “It gets at the heart of who we are and why we exist as not just a conference but also a denomination.”

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