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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