Cultural divide splits MC USA in survey results

Jan 19, 2015 by and

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Though same-sex relationships dominate Mennonite Church USA conversations, the “real cultural divide” includes many deeply rooted factors, says Conrad Kanagy.

“It’s quite clear now this is not one issue, it’s a package,” said Kanagy, a sociology professor at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College who directed MC USA’s survey of credentialed leaders.

“A variable can be a proxy for a number of variables. It can be an indicator. When you look at where people are on that issue, there are a host of other things that accompany it — demographic variables such as age, residence, location, education; as well as other values and beliefs. . . . So this issue is really standing in for pretty substantial differences between people.”

Kanagy said he was surprised by the degree to which male and female pastors differ in their views of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Fifty-one percent of women in congregational assignments support LGBTQ membership without conditions, compared to 21 percent of men.

The survey includes credentialed leaders whose congregations were part of MC USA conferences as of August. Some of the change toward greater acceptance of LGBTQ people is likely due in part to the departure of more conservative pastors and congregations since the 2006 Roadsigns for the Journey study.

“I’m sure it’s made a difference,” he said. “Many of those leaving would be the more traditional folks.”

But Kanagy said greater acceptance is also partly related to the fact that Mennonite pastors are more highly educated, more urban and more female than in 2006.

He recalled a recent survey he conducted for Lancaster Conference that found 83 percent of leaders supported the historic teaching position that marriage is between one man and one woman for life.

“We found a relatively high level of unity among credentialed leaders, but a lot of debate about the role of Lancaster Conference in the denomination,” he said. “Should they shape it in a way they’d like it to go?”

How conferences relate to each other and the denomination was also a significant finding.

“I was kind of surprised or struck by how different the area conferences are and just the challenge of leading a denomination where conferences are so different from one another,” he said.

“The new denomination in many ways didn’t have time to develop a shared culture and relationships and structure to withstand the challenge of this particular issue. I think it’s possible to see in the data that people are reverting to the old differences between the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church.”

Though much effort is poured into organizational matters, some is finding its way into other kinds of kingdom work.

“In spite of the pain and how draining it is on people, there is so much energy on the congregational level,” Kanagy said. Reading open-ended survey responses, he found story after story about local projects, growth with youth and mission engagement.

“In all of this there is evidence of God at work in the world,” he said.

The full text of Kanagy’s report, an executive summary and an appendix containing tables of data are online atmennoniteusa.org/survey-results.

See also: MC USA survey reveals divides on inclusion, organization


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