Forbearing family?

Resolutions tell adult siblings to work things out

May 25, 2015 by

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Mennonite Church USA congregations and conferences are like adult brothers and sisters. In a dispute, no one can force the other’s hand. Nor can they appeal to parental authority. They have to figure out for themselves how to get along.

Today there is a family crisis and a reunion coming up to talk about it. Will the siblings make peace or go their separate ways?

A plan has been placed on the table to preserve as much unity as can still be saved. It is in the form of two resolutions on church polity and same-sex relationships. Delegates will consider these statements at their convention June 30-July 5.

The plan can work if members acknowledge that they are adult siblings who need to live with their differences rather than try to control each other or look to a parent to give orders.

The resolutions describe a church that affirms the traditional view of marriage but that tolerates dissenting beliefs and actions. This accurately reflects the majority’s belief and the actual practice within the denomination today.

  • One resolution, written by the Executive Board, upholds the majority’s traditional position on same-sex relationships. It says the Membership Guidelines and Confession of Faith, which affirm the traditional definition of marriage, will continue to serve as guiding documents.
  • The other resolution, which comes from three congregations, implies that those in the minority ought to be accepted and allowed to act on their convictions. It calls for “grace, love and forbearance” toward those who, “in different ways, seek to be faithful” on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.
  • Both resolutions acknowledge that the church is divided on the issue of same-sex relationships but that a common purpose to follow Jesus Christ should unite the church with a bond that is stronger than any impulse to break it apart.

The resolutions bear the marks of a good compromise: It is probable that few will be completely satisfied. Traditionalists get affirmation but not assurance of a “pure” church. Progressives get tolerance but not approval.

The result is imperfection, as either group sees it. Traditionalists who believe conformity on this issue is essential will not find it. Progressives who would like the church to affirm their beliefs will be disappointed.

But the fact that it is the traditionalists who are leaving MC USA reveals one reason why it is hard to make the compromise work: It appears that traditionalists want purity more than progressives expect approval. We see evidence of this in the fact that we know of no LGBT-affirming congregation that has left the denomination because it disagrees with the Confession of Faith’s definition of marriage. But many conservative congregations have left, and more will leave, because they do not feel they can be part of a denomination in which some conferences allow gay or lesbian pastors and same-sex marriages.

We lament these departures but accept that congregations need to follow their convictions. We also believe this respect should extend in equal measure to congregations that affirm gay and lesbian members. Their convictions are worthy of “forbearance” — as the resolutions say — without the threat of coercion or punishment.

These dissenters are convinced that their variance from the Confession and the Guidelines does not diminish — and certainly does not erase — their identity as part of the MC USA family. The Central District Conference Ministerial Committee has said it well: “We do think there is space within these documents to allow for discernment on the individual, congregational and conference levels which differs from the majority.”

A family that forbears extends charity. It is composed of peers who are accountable to each other but know the limits of their influence. They respect each other’s choices and value relationships over uniformity. Like adult brothers and sisters, those who don’t conform are still family.

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  • Fred J Morgan (Jeff)

    Any family member which falls victim to modernity and political correctness by forsaking the words of Christ that marriage was ordained by God in the beginning to be One Man to One Woman, should be prayed for… Any person excepting Same Sex marriage should be removed from the church register and prayed for and helped to learn the words of God not the acceptance of the times…. Anyone who says the are Anabaptist are the same as Christian who pray through Mohammad to Allah… they simply are not what they say… This is not hate, it is fact… Why are people insistent on changing the foundation of Anabaptist??? Simple Answer if you understand the work of Satan.

    We can accept and love the gay or lesbian as we love all me.. We do not have to accept the Sin or the unrepentant sinner.

    Paul Schag, the writer believe Anabaptist must roll with the changes… I am sure with this attitude all none of the Anabaptist Fathers of the past would have died as Martyrs… they simply would have accepted the Popes rule and disregarded the Bible or perhaps simply bowed down and agreed to fight for those of the reformation.

    It is NOT as many in this time believe… Show love and acceptance.. that is all that matters since we have Grace… However Grace comes at one Price.. to believe! in Christ which means we forsake our sin to our best ability and living under Grace… We as Christians must never forsake the love of Christ but we should never give in to Sin.

    • John Bekert


    • Dale Welty

      Brother Fred, thank you for your comments. I am glad for all people like you who are well anchored in the Bible and do not flow with every wind of doctrine. As I read your comments, 1 Corinthians 15:58 came to my mind. Dale Welty

    • Elaine Fehr

      Amen, brother.

  • Eldon Mast

    I am sorry brother (adult sibling) Fred (Jeff), I do not accept your “Simple Answer.” I know that you may think that it is simple — and believe strongly that it is simple — but it is simply not.

  • Berry Friesen

    Paul, you’ve given us a helpful analysis of how the two resolutions on sexuality fit together; many people have perceived them to be contradictory. And you’ve given us an excellent analogy (adult siblings) to help us understand the organizational dynamics involved. I’m not sure there is enough respect left among some of the siblings to continue working at their significant differences, but let’s hope so.

    For my district conference (Lancaster), the unavoidable question is whether being missional includes the discipling, nurture and encouragement of gay and lesbian individuals, couples and families. My prayer is that it will find a way to answer this question publicly and in the affirmative before the convention.

    • Phil Schroeder

      Discipling, nurture, and encouragement of gay and lesion individuals, couples and families is not what this whole mess is about. It is about the the Church,( denomination), being asked to affirm this lifestyle as nonsinful. This was not brought about by a church reaching out the those groups of poeple, but by a church that chose to ignore the Confession of Faith and the Word of God and elevate one to a position of leadership. This is not about anything more than the members of MC USA being asked to affirm a lifestyle that both Old and New Testament call sinful. MC USA has every right to capitulate and in so doing teach members that there is no need for confession or repentace, but no one has the right to call those whose convictions force them to move on, uncooperative or disrespectful siblings. These poeple are not leaving MC USA, it has left them.

  • Berry Friesen

    Phil, I agree with your analysis of what precipitated this crisis and have often written here to that effect. The Executive Board in June 2014 said the Mountain States Mennonite Conference failed to honor its covenant with other district conferences. It also said other district conferences did not need to recognize Theda Good’s licensure. So a degree of accountability has and is occurring.

    Over the course of these 18 months, we also have learned something about ourselves, haven’t we? For example, we have learned how the Membership Guideline on sexuality has become a convenient way to sanctimoniously separate ourselves from gay and lesbian individuals and stigmatize them. We have learned how congregations are afraid of reaching out to gay and lesbian persons lest they run afoul of their district overseers. All of this has had the effect of heaping up burdens on the backs of gay and lesbian persons, something Jesus spoke against.

    Moving forward, we all need to be in a spirit of confession, certainly Mountain States for its action, but also our more traditional conferences. Adopting that confessional stance prepares the way for a renewal of trust and a new unity of purpose. And as I noted above, this confessional stance needs to publicly articulated before Kansas City.

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