Ohio Conference affirms Confession of Faith

Actions mandated on issues of credentialing and same-sex relationships

Mar 24, 2015 by and

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Mennonite Church USA’s Ohio Conference delegates passed a resolution on March 14 stating its credentialing committee will not recognize any request to credential a pastor in a same-sex relationship. Additionally, credentials of ministers who perform same-sex ceremonies will be suspended.

Jeff Kauffman, lead pastor of Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio, shares during an open mic session at the Ohio Mennonite Conference annual assembly. — Bryan Leaman

Jeff Kauffman, lead pastor of Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio, shares during an open mic session at the Ohio Mennonite Conference annual assembly. — Bryan Leaman

These are listed as “action steps” after an affirmation of the Confession of Faith that emphasizes support for Article 19, which states marriage is between a man and a woman for life.

The resolution had 70 percent support — 163 in favor and 67 opposed — at the annual assembly March 13-14 at Martins Creek Mennonite Church in Millersburg.

Tom Kauffman, Ohio’s conference minister, said that since Mountain States Mennonite Conference licensed a minister in a same-sex partnership in February 2014, the conference has been discussing its position on same-sex sexuality and discipline.

In the process, the leadership committee formed and distributed guidelines regarding the steps that would be taken if churches or pastors acted out of line with Article 19.

“I think for some people the feeling was we need some kind of a binding resolution that commits us to this, rather than just hearing a report that says, ‘This is what we will do if such and such happens,’ ” Kauffman said.

So the leadership committee wrote the action steps, including three for the leadership committee, as part of the resolution affirming the MC USA founding documents.

One amendment passed to include that pastors performing same-sex ceremonies would not just be reviewed but would have their credentials suspended with a review “to determine whether to reinstate (with repentance and recommitment) or to terminate or withdraw credentials.”

Kauffman said the conference leadership committee took into account the results of the MC USA credentialed leaders survey, which revealed in January that 64 percent of Ohio Conference leaders want to uphold the church’s current view of marriage. Churchwide, the number was 43 percent.

“I think having this explicitly stated was a way of both affirming and confirming where we as a conference find ourselves,” Kauffman said.

Committed to stay?

During the year, four congregations left Ohio Conference, citing concerns over the direction of the conference and the denomination.

Kauffman said many have asked whether this new resolution may keep more churches from leaving.

He said that shortly after the assembly leaders received a letter of appreciation from a congregation that had been reviewing its commitment to the conference.

“They’re committed to staying with us now,” he said.

He also knows of two congregations involved with a new network of churches planning to launch this fall. He doesn’t think this resolution will keep them in the conference or MC USA.

Other congregations appreciated the resolution, “but what happens at Kansas City will continue to play an important role in their experience,” he said, referring to the MC USA delegate assembly in July.

“As leadership we’re committed to providing direction for our conference while at the same time remaining in Mennonite Church USA. We don’t see the Membership Guidelines changing, we don’t see the Confession of Faith being changed. So we don’t see any reason to disengage.”

Cap spending

Another resolution passed March 14 to put a cap on reserve spending — something the conference has been tapping into to maintain its current structure.

The conference is nearing the end of a five-year plan that required generating new income to be sustainable.

“We haven’t been able to generate the kind of turnaround that we feel like we need to keep staffing at this level,” Kauffman said. “So this will be a year of examining what we have the capacity to deliver.”

See also: Ohio resolution asking for discipline falls short

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  • John M. Miller

    While I regret this step that takes away discernment for pastors and local congregations to discern each situation according to their understanding of the gospel, I would hope that in their appeal to the strict letter of the Confession of Faith that Ohio Conference will be consistent and suspend the credentials of any pastor who baptizes, receives for membership, or marries any persons who have been divorced or remarried.

    • Jeff Linthicum

      John, I am not sure about you but my copy of our Confession of faith states “Today’s church needs to uphold the permanency of marriage and help couples in conflict move toward reconciliation. At the same time, the church, as a reconciling and forgiving community, offers healing and new beginnings. The church is to bring strength and healing to individuals and families.” So because pastors are calling divorce sin but offering new beginnings to those who have been caught in this is breaking the confession. Please expound on this and explain what exactly does new beginnings entail and what it does not.

      • John M. Miller

        Yes, Jeff, the church has accommodated to the reality of our world in terms of the permanence of marriage. It has recognized that grace needs to work in redeeming ways.

        I do not equate the acceptance of same-sex marriage with the sin of divorce and the reality of remarriage, but I see the Ohio Conference’s action as accommodating on the issue where sin is involved and hard-line with regard to an issue that is not as clear, a matter in which saved, sanctified, and Spirit-filled disciples and leaders disagree. The divergence of attitude is troubling.

        • Bruce Leichty

          You are right to not equate divorce & remarriage with same-sex marriage, but not for the reasons you imagine in your saved and sanctified vainglory. No one wishes to normalize serial marriage. As one who is divorced and remarried, I pay a great price for this sin every single day of my life. I consistently advise others to exhaust all other options, where my law practice gives me that opportunity. My concern for right relationships and for preserving God’s natural plan for His children then prompts me to oppose normalizing same-sex marriage, at the same time I try to relate with grace and truth to those involved in a sinful relationship of that nature. Let us at least uphold fundamental logic — which derives from the Logos. It is not “accommodating to the reality of this world” to sorrowfully accept that breaks in marriage relationships can be irreparable while still insisting that those marriage relationships must be formed between those whose anatomies are complementary rather than identical.

          • John M. Miller

            Bruce, I rejoice that you find grace for your life after experiencing the tragic results of a broken marriage. I pray that you may find the abundant life that comes from God’s grace.

            You judge that same-sex marriage results “in a sinful relationship.” On the basis of Scripture, I reach a different conclusion. Why would you condemn persons created in God’s image with a same-sex sexuality for finding fulfillment in the love covenant of marriage? Genesis 2, Psalm 139, and 1 Corinthians 7 lead me to think that God blesses them.

  • Tim Schultz

    I’m still fascinated that this issue is the one that conferences and churches are “digging in their heals” over, and the one that strikes fear in people’s hearts. Imagine a conference or congregation making a similar declaration about divorce and remarriage (“Our church is leaving the Conference unless it takes a stronger stand on divorce!”). Imagine the dividing line being over those who truly embrace pacifism and those who don’t (Isn’t a position clear in the Confession of Faith?). I’m grateful for the grace that has been shown those who are divorced and remarried and those who don’t embrace the peace position. That embracing has been rather natural and mostly unopposed, but it does take some “reworking” of scripture. However, the obsession over homosexuality–which affects maybe 5-8% of the population and likely less in Mennonite churches–continues to be the center of moral gravity, the dividing line over who is right and who is wrong.

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