Indiana pastor’s credentials under review by two conferences

Aug 25, 2014 by and

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Two Mennonite Church USA conferences will review the ministerial credentials of Karl Shelly, a pastor at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., for performing a same-sex marriage ceremony for two members of the congregation.

Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference began its review this summer, and Central District Conference will begin one shortly. Assembly is part of both conferences, and Shelly is credentialed by both.

Indiana-Michigan Conference’s Ministry Credentialing Team asked Shelly to write an explanation for his actions. The rationale for why he believes blessing same-sex marriages is consistent with the message of the Bible is available on Assembly’s website.

“After years of discernment and dialogue, I have come to conclude that being born with a same-sex sexual orientation and entering into a life-long covenant of fidelity and love with another human being is not sin,” Shelly wrote. “In fact, it is worthy of blessing. It is one part of the grand design of diversity and communion.”

Dan Miller, conference minister for Indiana-Michigan, said it is conference policy not to comment on ongoing processes. He said the conference overlaps quite a bit with Central District, and they cooperate often as a result.

“Our processes remain distinct,” he said. But they try not to make decisions without informing each other.

Central District minister Lois Johns Kaufmann said she anticipates a review will begin as soon as summer vacation schedules clear.

“We have no precedent in doing a joint credential review with another conference, so we are finding our way one step at a time,” Johns Kaufmann said.

Shelly declined to comment until after the reviews are complete but sent a statement prepared by Assembly’s leadership on behalf of the congregation.

“Pastor Karl Shelly’s actions came after the Assembly congregation affirmed their pastors’ participation in the equal care of all their members — gay and straight,” it says. “In April 2014, Assembly Mennonite Church adopted the following policy: ‘In keeping with our congregation’s history, statements, and commitments toward LGBTQ people, we affirm our pastors’ full participation in pastoral care, rites and blessings for all individuals and families.’ ”

Assembly’s Leadership Group chair, Keith Graber Miller, said in an email that “the congregation fully supports” Shelly’s action.

Nancy Kauffmann, denominational minister for MC USA, said the conferences are following the denomination’s Membership Guidelines, which state that the credentials of a pastor who performs a same-sex ceremony are subject to review.

Other pastors have been reviewed for the same action, most recently by Central District in 2012 and Western District in 2011. Both conferences kept the pastors’ credentials intact.


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  • Bob Young

    This whole notion of same sex marriage needs to be changed to same gender marriage. Ones sexual preference is none of anyones business. And it might not be challenged so much if sex were removed from the equation.

  • Bruce Leichty

    This is my former congregation while I was a student, and GC Prof. Keith Graber Miller a friend to some of my family members — at least one of whom continues to attend Assembly. This development leaves me saddened, and better informed as to why my former acquaintance/church brother for a short time, Terry Diener, has led his congregation out of IN-MI. Karl Shelly, who I don’t know, may have taken counsel from his own peers, but it seems to me he has not taken counsel broadly enough when he flippantly concludes that “gays” were all just born that way. I shouldn’t be surprised given the influence of a fading Goshen College on this particular church, but I still will vocally dissent. We are also deprived of normal measures of accountability through not knowing the persons involved in and the past and future trajectory of this and other “gay” unions.

    • Herbert Reed

      “After years of discernment and dialogue, I have come to conclude that being born with a same-sex sexual orientation and entering into a life-long covenant of fidelity and love with another human being is not sin,” Shelly wrote.

      Bruce, you are free to disagree with Karl Shelly but to characterize his position as “flippant” based on your particular understanding of the issue is not fair. I do know Karl Shelly and I can assure you he is not flippant about this or any other pastoral issue.

    • Herbert Reed

      “I shouldn’t be surprised given the influence of a fading Goshen College on this particular church…”

      What is the meaning of this phrase? How is Goshen College “fading” and what is its influence on Assembly? Do you have empirical evidence for either claim or is this just your opinion?

      • Bruce Leichty

        Many if not all of those who formed The Assembly (now known as Assembly Mennonite Church) in the 1970’s were GC faculty, alumni and students. Based on somewhat less familiarity now, I believe those groups still heavily factor into the church’s leadership. And yes, I stand by my use of the word “flippant,” because it is ipso facto “flippant” to accept at face value as many Mennonites unfortunately seem to do the profession of young people that they were “born” with homosexual inclinations, uninfluenced by the crossing of sexual boundaries in their childhood, uninfluenced by a culture of license and libertinism; and that they cannot change.

        Empirically, GC is fading in numbers and in attraction to Mennonites. Yes, it is also my “opinion” that GC is fading in many other respects, e.g. being culturally nonconformed, for starters. Sign me — sad alum of both this church and college.

        • Herbert Reed

          It is not just “many Mennonites” who do not accept your unfounded notions of the causes of differing sexual orientations but just about everyone else who has any expertise in the field. And one of the most strident voices supporting such notions, Exodus International, has recently shut down and apologized for their activities in trying to “cure” LGBTQ individuals.

          “Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” said Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus. “For quite some time, we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”

          From my experience with current students and recent graduates, GC is doing fine. It also seems to get pretty good reviews from the independent organizations which measure such things but I suspect you would cite that as just one more sign of cultural conformity. Your loss.

  • Wendell Hollinger

    I was born with a sinful nature to. Nobody had to teach me how to lie, hit, bite, be selfish or as I got older to lust! It came very naturally because all we like sheep have gone astray and gone our own way.

  • Wendell Hollinger

    John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2 Tim. 3: 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:. I still believe the Word of God to be truth and the foundation of all truth. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that His blood cleanses me from all unrighteousness. I know that Jesus freely forgives my sin when I repent but also that He tells me to go and sin no more. His message to the church today is still the same as it was in Revelation: REPENT! Return to Me and I will abundantly Pardon! This old world with all it’s sin, all it’s education, all its theory’s that oppose the Word of God will burn up and be completely destroyed! Matt. 11:28 Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest! Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest onto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. AMEN

  • Elaine Fehr

    Pastor Shelly wrote, “…being born with a same-sex sexual orientation and entering into a life-long covenant of fidelity and love with another human being is not sin”
    Considering everything that God has said in His Word, do any of us dare to even think that those words will stand before God on Judgment Day? Something to think about.

  • Mort Sunday

    Apart from the issue of whether or not homosexual acts are a sin, denominations that declare they are not sinful experience a steep decline in membership.

  • Berry Friesen

    There is much in Rev. Shelly’s statement that is good. In the spirit of dialogue, here are two areas where I find it falls short.

    1. Homosexuality manifests itself differently across time and in different cultures. Shelly implicitly acknowledges this in his discussion of the biblical texts that speak disapprovingly of same-sex relationships. Thus, Shelly describes “what we know today” (but biblical writers did not know): “loving, mutual, same-sex relationships that grow out of an innate same-sex orientation.” Basically, Shelly is saying the same-sex relationships known in biblical times are so different from what we know today that the negative statements from the Bible are irrelevant.

    Why some of us are one sexual orientation or another, and why some of us have no set
    orientation, has not been explained by today’s science. Environmental factors remain relevant (as do pre-natal factors); thus culture also remains relevant. I wonder what Shelly encourages us as a church (as one aspect of culture) to say to its members about their sexual identities and relationships. Within this very complex and fluid environment in which we grow up and live, I wonder how Shelly knows when he is counseling couples who were “born with a same-sex sexual
    orientation” and when he is not. And what does he tell those who were not “born with a same-sex sexual orientation” but who nevertheless enter same-sex relationships?”

    2. Shelly understands God to be saving us from “the human tendency to exclude, marginalize, segregate, judge, build walls, attack, hate, de-humanize, and even kill those who are in some way different.” As he says, “The testimony of this temptation is written not only throughout the Biblical canon, but throughout human history. There seems to be no sin more primal than this.” What I notice about this understanding of salvation is that it is focused on process–our ways of dealing with people that we perceive to be on the wrong path.

    The Bible also speaks very often in substantive terms, that is, it identifies by name behaviors that are destructive, deceptive and/or unjust. This is the sort of “judging” (“warning” is another way of saying it) that the Bible does a lot of.

    So the Bible tells us which paths to avoid and then ALSO tells us how to relate to people on those paths. It would help me to hear Shelly speak of salvation in substantive terms too.

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