MC USA council endorses unity statement

Among three proposed resolutions on sexuality, leaders state their preference

Mar 30, 2015 by and

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NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — Conservative, progressive or a call for unity and tolerance?

From left, Dean Beck, Moises Augustia and Karen Sensenig participate in a table group discussion during the Constituency Leaders Council meeting. — Hannah Heinzekehr/MC USA

From left, Dean Beck of Ohio Conference, Moises Augustia of Iglesia Menonita Hispana and Karen Sensenig of Lancaster Conference participate in a table group discussion during the Constituency Leaders Council meeting. — Hannah Heinzekehr/MC USA

That was the question for the Mennonite Church USA Constituency Leaders Council as its members weighed three proposed resolutions on sexuality and church polity.

They chose the call for unity and tolerance.

Meeting March 26-28 at Bethel College, the CLC endorsed a resolution to extend “grace, love and forbearance toward conferences, congregations and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.”

The statement now goes back to the Resolutions Committee and then to the Executive Board. Each can make changes. The board will decide whether to recommend it to delegates at the July convention in Kansas City.

The board still can consider the other two resolutions. The CLC has an advisory role, not decision-making power.

The 70-member group of conference and constituent group leaders gave the Resolutions Committee what it asked for: one clear favorite.

Known as “Chicago-Reba,” the resolution came from Community Mennonite Church in Chicago, Reba Place Church in Evanston, Ill., and North Baltimore Mennonite Church.

It acknowledges MC USA’s lack of consensus on “whether it is appropriate to bless Christians who are in same-sex covenanted unions.” It calls the church “to seek peace and unity as together we discern and seek wisdom on these matters.”

Of the other two proposals, the progressive resolution — known as “Just Church” and sponsored by seven congregations — got the least support.

It calls for “amend[ing] all church documents as needed to support full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the denomination at all levels of participation and service.”

Also receiving less support than Chicago/Reba was a conservative resolution known as “Lower Deer Creek” for the Iowa congregation that is one of its sponsors.

It would require the CLC to “review the actions of all conferences who have acted contrary to our Confession of Faith as it relates to performing same-sex covenant ceremonies or credentialing persons living in same-sex relationship . . . and bring the Executive Board recommendations for sanction or termination of membership for such conferences.”

The full text of the three proposed resolutions: Sexuality-Resolutions.pdf

Discussion of proposals

After discussion in table groups, participants described their views of the three proposed resolutions.

Dan Miller of Indiana-Michigan said the Chicago/Reba statement “has the most chance of success but doesn’t change the trajectory of separation that we are currently on. . . . Are we really coming to terms with how far apart we are?”

Richard Gehring of Western District said Chicago/Reba “seems to be the most likely to pass and best captures the essence of who we are as Mennonite Church USA.”

Rhoda Keener of Mennonite Women called the Just Church resolution “a helpful statement of where the LGBTQ community is.”

Michael Zehr of Southeast Conference said that at his table the Lower Deer Creek resolution “reflected our theology, but we felt that it was quite prescriptive and lacked expressions of grace and humility.”

Ron Guengerich of Central District said he was intrigued by the discussion of where authority lies: Scripture, the church and the Confession of Faith.

“I’m not satisfied with any of these,” he said. “All authority is given to Jesus Christ. For me, Scripture is a secondary authority to Jesus Christ.”

Keith Weaver of Lancaster Conference said, “I have a dream that we can make space for each other and respect each other.”

The group also gave counsel on three other resolutions. It overwhelmingly endorsed a churchwide statement on sexual abuse and said it was important to present it to the delegates this year.

Between two resolutions on U.S. warmaking, CLC members favored one known as “Faithful Witness Amid Endless War” but were evenly split on whether it should go to delegates.

About two-thirds favored sending to delegates a resolution that calls Israel’s occupation of Palestine sinful and advocates withdrawing investments from corporations that profit from the occupation and violence in Israel-Palestine.

The full text of these resolutions:

Room for both

In his executive director’s report, Ervin Stutzman invited two conference leaders — Lois Johns Kaufmann of Central District and Keith Weaver of Lancaster — to the front as symbols of his hope for unity even when conference cultures differ.

Lancaster takes a traditional position on same-sex relationships; Central District plans to license a gay man for pastoral ministry this year.

“My opinion is that there is room for both of these people in the church,” he said. “They are my friends. I admire both of them.”

But, he said, “I realize that organizational unity itself is not the unity of the spirit. I wish we could stay together as a church, but if we don’t, I hope we cultivate the kinds of relationships that show the unity of the spirit.

“There are some so committed to Mennonite Church USA that you couldn’t push them out with a bulldozer, and there are some so eager to leave that you couldn’t hold them in with a net.”

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