An open letter to my beloved Mennonite Church

Nov 10, 2014 by

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I am profoundly reluctant to write this letter because I know there are those it will wound deeply. But I have also come to the conviction that I can no longer hide the light the Lord has lit within me, under a bushel. I want to share with you what the Lord has been telling me and my dear life companion, Sara Jane Wenger.

First, a defense of my ministry — if you will allow me to paraphrase the words of the Apostle Paul from Phil. 3:4.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:

  • Baptized into a Virginia Conference Mennonite Church as a young boy, youngest son of AD Wenger, a Mennonite evangelist and second president of Eastern Mennonite School (now University) in Harrisonburg, Va..
  • Mothered by a diligent student and teacher of the Scriptures, the oldest daughter of a Lancaster Mennonite Conference bishop and faithful to her church in every way.
  • At the request of Lancaster Mennonite Conference ordained in 1949, by Virginia Mennonite Conference for mission work in Ethiopia.
  • Appointed by Eastern Mennonite Mission Board of Lancaster Conference as the Educational Director for the Mennonite Mission in Ethiopia.
  • Founded and taught Bible in the Bible Academy of Nazareth Ethiopia which was established to train potential leaders for the budding Meserete Kristos Church.
  • First elected chairman of Ethiopia’s Meserete Kristos Church, now the largest Mennonite church in the world.
  • Happily turned the MKC chairmanship over to an Ethiopian who later was chosen and served as president of Mennonite World Conference.
  • Began and taught in various educational programs in Lancaster Conference that were centered on Bible teaching (e.g. Keystone Bible Institutes, Paul Timothy Program).
  • Former director of Home Missions of Eastern Mennonite Missions.
  • Former pastor and still a member in good standing of Blossom Hill Mennonite Church, a thriving congregation of many young adults and young families.
  • Lifelong student of the Bible and when it comes to quoting scripture passages I would be ready to compete with any one.
  • Father of eight children (one deceased) all of whom love the Lord and serve his Kingdom.
  • Pleaded for patience when my congregation decided to leave Lancaster Conference over the women’s leadership issue to join Atlantic Coast Mennonite Conference.
  • Loyal member of Lancaster Conference to this day.
  • When it comes to my desire to be faithful to the laws of God and to walk uprightly with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, my children and many, many Ethiopian and U.S. witnesses will vouch for my integrity.

My life has been filled with much joy seeing God at work in numerous settings. God’s grace has been shown daily on my behalf. But as the Apostle Paul has said so well, “whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”

So, with all of the above acknowledged, what is the light I’ve been hiding under the bushel?

  • When our gay young adult son about 35 years ago was excommunicated from the Mennonite Church by a church leader, without any conversation with him or his parents, my wife and I grieved deeply.
  • For many years, in the company of other grieving parents of homosexual persons, we have told our stories, read and reread the Scriptures. Most striking to us is that God, who created the world, who gave us Eden, also gives us the “leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations.”
  • The world we live in is no longer the idyllic Eden. It is a broken, complex, messy, violent and yet wonderful world. God’s mercy-filled grace infuses our broken world with a goodness that keeps surprising us with joy — and healing. God’s grace also calls us to faithfully love God and neighbor above all else.
  • The church we belong to has the power to bind and loose. Today’s church, much like the early Christians, has the Spirit-given power to rethink whether or not “circumcision” will continue to define who is in and who is out.
  • Because of the brokenness of all sexualities that abuse, lust, access pornography, have sex with unmarried partners of the same or the other gender — because of this brokenness, the church must rise up to reclaim a godly and wholesome sexuality:
    • a godly sexuality that is wholesome because it is covenanted, accountable to and blessed within the church (not left to fend for itself outside the church);
    • a godly sexuality that is wholesome because it calls every one to recommit our bodies (whether heterosexual or homosexual) to be temples of the Holy Spirit, seeking first the Kingdom of God and covenanting to follow Jesus every day.
  • When my wife and I read the Bible with today’s fractured, anxious church in mind, we ask, what is Jesus calling us to do with those sons and daughters who are among the most despised people in the world — in all races and communities?
  • What would Jesus do with our sons and daughters who are bullied, homeless, sexually abused, and driven to suicide at far higher rates than our heterosexual children?
  • We know from Deuteronomy that eunuchs were a sexual minority, loathed and considered unacceptable for admission to the “assembly of the Lord” and yet in Isaiah 56 the Lord says: “Do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ . . . I will give them a name better than sons and daughters . . . for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. . . . ”
  • My dear wife, Sara Jane, and I love all of our children. We give thanks for the remarkable Kingdom work each of them is doing. We know that several of our children believe that the church should not endorse same-sex marriage. And several of our children believe that same-sex marriage is a faithful and godly choice when blessed by the church.
  • While the tension around this issue is painful in our family, we continue to love each other, to sing, pray and play together. Our children all honor us with deep devotion and faithful care — and genuinely enjoy each other.
  • My wife and I are devoted to our Lord, with a firm commitment to the authority of the Scriptures. We strive to be faithfully obedient to Jesus.
  • We invite the church to courageously stake out new territory, much as the early church did. We invite the church to embrace the missional opportunity to extend the church’s blessing of marriage to our homosexual children who desire to live in accountable, covenanted ways.
  • We know that while many of us hear different things from the Scriptures, God’s deepest desire, as made known in Jesus Christ, is “to seek and to save that which was lost.” We believe this is an opportune moment for the church to boldly proclaim a pastoral, grace-filled readiness to include both homosexuals and heterosexuals within the blessing of a marriage covenant designed to be wholesome and God-honoring.

This is the light that has been burning more and more brightly under my bushel, and I am now prepared finally, as a 96-year-old, still zealous missionary, to let it shine. So:

  • When the laws of Pennsylvania changed in July, our gay son and his committed partner of 27 years went immediately to apply for a marriage license. Subsequently they asked me if I would marry them. I happily agreed. We held a private ceremony with only six persons present. Our son and his partner are members of an Episcopal church, but they chose my wife and me to share with them in this holy covenant of marriage.
  • When I reported this event to Lancaster Conference leaders, they responded with grace-filled pastoral listening, while acknowledging that what I’d done was out of step with established credentialing agreements with other [area] Mennonite conferences. Afterward the Lancaster Conference Credentialing Committee met and [terminated] my credentials and I am at peace with their decision and understand their need to take this action.
  • I know persons will accuse me for my transgression, but my act of love was done on behalf of the church I love, and my conscience is clear. I feel that my act of love in signing a marriage license for our son and his companion was in line with the actions of Peter and Paul who led the church of Christ to welcome the uncircumcised into the fellowship of the family of God.
  • Paul and Peter both received harsh criticism for years for their deeds but the Holy Spirit led the Jerusalem conference to heartily approve their testimony and leadership. My prayer is that our Church leaders in their next Assembly will likewise not only approve but warmly invite into congregational fellowship those believers in Christ who have suffered exclusion from membership in our Mennonite Church. Let us pray the Spirit of Christ will teach us all how to love and welcome the outcasts as Jesus did.
  • My dear companion of 70 years and I declare our enduring love for Lancaster Mennonite Conference, for the Mennonite Church, for the Meserete Kristos Church and for all God’s people. We carry no bitterness or regret for our actions. Our hearts are filled with love for all.
  • We pray that our love in family and Church will bind us together in God’s family even when our understandings of God’s will may differ. Christ’s prayer for oneness in John 17 can be attained!

With joy that abounds,

Chester Wenger
Lancaster, Pa.


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  • Carl Metzler

    I read this letter earlier today on the web site of the Mennonite magazine, after Martin Lehman called my attention to it in his blog. I repeat what I said on Martin’s blog: From time to time in my Sunday School class I have asked why, in the
    past 2000 years, we have had no addition to ‘the Inspired Word of God’?
    I consider this prophetic word from the Wengers to be ‘Scripture’.
    Thanks to Chester and Sarah, and may God bless.

    • Elaine Fehr

      Mr. Metzler, you’ve asked the question, “…why, in the
      past 2000 years, we have had no addition to ‘the Inspired Word of God’?”

      Let’s look to Proverbs 30:5&6 to find the answer:
      “Every word of God is pure;
      He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
      Do not add to His words,
      Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.”

      • Carl Metzler

        Well, Elaine, when Jesus said : “It is written… but I say…” was he adding to His words?

        • Elaine Fehr

          Carl, could you please provide a chapter and verse to refer too?

          • Carl Metzler

            The quote is not correct; my ageing mind convoluted Matthew 4 and Matthew 5. However, as I read Matthew 5 the sense I get is that Jesus is adding to God’s OT word. To sins of action he adds sins of thought. Indeed the entire New Testament is an addition to God’s OT Testament word.

          • Elaine Fehr

            Carl, as you have acknowledged, there was a period of time where scripture was being written. Of course, during that process, words were added in order to bring it to completion. But the issue at hand now is that God has already revealed fully what He has would give to us as scripture. We must never ever add to it.

            Because what Mr. Wenger has said on the homosexuality issue is contrary to scripture, we can be absolutely certain that it is not a prophetic word.

            In contrast, we can be certain the words of Jesus bore the authority of our One true living God when He said “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24)

          • Carl Metzler

            Elaine, you asked me for chapter & verse. I ask you the same: Where can I read that “God has already revealed fully what He has would give to us as scripture”?

          • Elaine Fehr

            Carl, just to clarify my statement (“God has already revealed fully what He has would give to us as scripture”) is not a quotation from scripture. If you’re interested in more information about what is the canon of scripture, there’s a fairly good article at gotquestions.org. There’s also some interesting reading on the closing of the canon of Scripture at undergroundnotes.com.

          • Carl Metzler

            Elaine, I’m a little disappointed; you have gone from using scripture as the basis for authority to using writings of humans. The first site you suggested (gotquestions) supports the belief that the earth is only 6000 years old; the other site (undergroundnotes) is a hodge-potch of links to Fox News, NRA and anti-government blogs that speak with scorn and disdain of our leaders with vicious lies. Are you really suggesting I learn of God and scripture from these sources?

          • Elaine Fehr

            I certainly wouldn’t be able endorse everything from these websites either. But I did think that there were some insights, some of which was gleaned from scripture in “What is the Canon of Scripture” and “The Closing of the Canon” that might help understand why we can look on Scripture as a complete book.

  • Stephen Johnson

    Thank you for sharing this beautifully written piece. I am struck by the image of Chester’s family who still share love and joy in disagreement. Isn’t that an image we as a church should be emulating? May the Lord continue to bless and use Chester and his family.

  • Joey Sommers

    okay i’ll start by disclaiming- my intention is not to offend, or come across rude. Please take this as it is: i’m a 20 year old bible college graduate. I’m a human being who loves God and I am trying my best to live accordingly, with all my heart.
    My best friend in Bible school told me he was gay. I never judged him. I never wrote him off. I never stopped listening to what he had to say. I remained his friend even after graduation. We still keep in touch and i visit him in New York City from time to time. It’s been three years of me studying scripture, praying, and reading and listening to arguments on the internet. All i’ve wanted was for God’s blessing for him. I didn’t want to secretly hurt for him anymore. First of all, this is the most painful topic of my life ever to discuss. The closest person to me is indulging in a “sin” or “lifestyle” that is not acceptable to God. Or is it? I didn’t know! First of all, [not to sound harsh or anything (excuse my sarcasm)] the Word of God is the only word that is in authority of how we live. No MAN has any authority to change some things here or there. I don’t care how convincing it sounds. God gave us scripture to follow in order to give us discernment for the things we hear. If it is not Biblical, it is not truth. Otherwise we could make up anything we want: “Polygamy is now okay if their intention is to please God with there individual relationships”, or “murder is okay now if the government allows it one day”, Or “Jesus didn’t really walk on water, there water was frozen in some areas because it was winter time, thus says the Lord” ( FYI- i’m not comparing homosexuality with murder or polygamy. My context is talking about adding to the word of God) I may sound ridiculous with the statements i just made, but hey, how can you be sure that i’m not right?

    God knows how ridiculous we can get. That’s why He give us the Bible to back up everything we say. There are no new “additions” to scripture if God didn’t say we could do that. That would be giving the stupidity and imperfections of humanity room for authority. How much more lost can this nation get. We don’t need radicals in the church adding, rearranging, or going against anything in the Bible and confusing new believers even more. Otherwise what’s even the point of believing anything it says without it having the final say. If i thought the Bible was changeable to begin with, i never would have believed it. i don’t want an unstable faith that changes its beliefs all the time. To think this way is, in all honesty, completely moronic.

    Back to the topic at hand, I believe only what the scriptures say. What the scriptures say seems very black in white, especially in Romans 1, but my friends (and many others) have other seemingly plausible interpretations. “Historical context could suggest that homosexuality is only sin if done so in an ungodly manner” Okay, so there are many loop holes in the scriptures that talk about homosexuality, that my friend has clung to. He doesn’t even feel fully confident that what he is doing is acceptable to God yet, which allows me to respect him a little bit more, because honestly… I don’t know either. As much as i want to lean towards “in favor of” i still lean towards “against”, because loop-holing scripture is a dangerous thing. Sometimes it’s how it was supposed to be read all along, but other times it’s us trying to compromise for the sake of peace. I still can’t make a bold statement about it yet.

    Right now all i want to ask for is prayer for myself and my friend, and really the entire church and their involvement with this subject. What used to be clear is getting blurry, and it’s either because God is doing something, or the world is just getting more and more sinful, and Satan know hows to lie all too well. Above all we must love everyone, and express that we care. But God’s truth is truth, and i don’t care how emotionally painful or uncomfortable we have to feel to follow that truth. I’d rather follow that than the stupidity of man that i’ve known for years. And please, don’t try to argue with me. I didn’t just take a stand for or against homosexuality, and no argument about this topic has ever done any good or come to a resolution. It’s childish. If you want to talk to me you can ask me for my number and we will have an actual conversation instead of an internet outlet to let loose our flesh on each other so we can feel better about ourselves. I took a stand for the Bible being God’s word, and you could argue about that i suppose if that’s really what you want to do. I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say.
    Anyways, I’m sorry i took up so much space. I guess i just needed to to talk it out. Carl Metzler, I love you. Thank you for voicing your opinion. You too Elaine. And Chester in no means am I coming against you, I respect you so much and you sound like an amazing and loving father. I’m praying for you and your son. Not that you would turn from your beliefs, but that like me, God will give you clarity and confidence. Thank you so much for being honest with the church, but still loving. That says more than you know. Like i said, please pray for me and the church that God would bring clarity. Thank you so much for letting me ramble on a year old post i found. It’s strange but I appreciate it.
    .

    • Elaine Fehr

      Thank you for writing, Joey. You may be interested in reading the account of Dean Bailey at lifesitenews.com. He is an ex-gay man who says that homosexuality is just another human brokenness. That makes so much sense in light of what scripture has to say on the matter.

  • Linda Diehl

    We will be judged by the Word of God. Jesus said His Word will never pass away. I’m not going to quote scripture because I don’t have my Bible but I do not know how a person can find any permission from God to partake in homosexuality. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman. I would like to bring out the facts that Satan is anti-christ. He poses as God and deceives many especially in these last days. In the last days men will call evil good and good evil. A man can appear godly with an outward appearance and may have an emotional love for a god he has created in himself. Look at the worlds religions, there are many who live by the law of love, the Buddhists for example. Are we worshiping the real Jesus? The Bible says if we do not believe that He came in the flesh that is an anti-christ spirit. I was once a Mennonite and walked among them for 22 years. I was fooled by the outward appearance of righteousness. In their doctrines they declare that Jesus was wholly divine and not born of the flesh of human kind. This defies the Bible that says He would come from the seed of Abraham and the loins of David. He had to become real flesh and blood to die. God can not die. Yes He was God, incarnate.Can we not believe in Jesus and be saved. Can we make Him to be what we immagine and be saved? The Bible says,we have to “believe” in who He was and what He did in order to be saved. There is an impostor, Satan. He is anti-christ. He always wanted to be God. He is still trying. Let us recognize him or we will be deceived in this last day.
    There may be people who have a hormone imbalance, and soy formulas have not helped the matter; but anyone can remain celibate. We are here for a short stay to see who will we worship. If we are filled with the Spirit of the True God we can be victorious over sin, men and women.
    May we all feed on the Word day in and day out so we will not be fooled by Satan.