Sexuality resolutions: freedom, accountability

Delegates approve forbearance, reaffirm Membership Guidelines

Jul 3, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In two highly anticipated decisions on policies regarding same-sex relationships, Mennonite Church USA delegates on July 2 approved resolutions that affirm both freedom and accountability.

Mennonite Church USA delegates confer around tables July 2, when they passed resolutions on forbearance and the Membership Guidelines. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Mennonite Church USA delegates confer around tables July 2, when they passed resolutions on forbearance and the Membership Guidelines. — Lowell Brown for MWR

First, delegates passed “Forbearance in the Midst of Differences” by a vote of 581 to 228, a 72 percent majority.

The resolution calls for extending “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.”

Later in the day, delegates approved — by a vote 473 to 310, a 60 percent majority — a resolution that affirms the 2001 Membership Guidelines as the denomination’s “guiding document for questions regarding church membership and same-sex relationships.”

Delegates Michael Smith, left, and Phil Rosen­­berger, both of New Mexico, set an     example of respect despite differences. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Delegates Michael Smith, left, and Phil Rosen­­berger, both of New Mexico, set an example of respect despite differences. — Lowell Brown for MWR

The guidelines uphold traditional marriage and say pastors may not perform same-sex marriages.

The resolution imposes a four-year hiatus on consideration of changes to the Membership Guidelines.

It calls for “conference-to-conference peer review” when an area conference makes a decision that is not aligned with the Membership Guidelines and Confession of Faith.

In a June 18 document sent to delegates, MC USA executive director Ervin Stutzman described how the church would go forward if delegates approved both resolutions:

“If both of these resolutions pass, the Executive Board will see it as a mandate to hold together the traditional stance of our church with an approach that grants freedom to congregations and area conferences to work things out in their own context, with mutual accountability with the Constituency Leaders Council.”

Forbearance discussion

Pastors of two congregations that sponsored the forbearance resolution — Megan Ramer of Chicago Community Mennonite Church and Charlotte Lehman of Reba Place Church in Evanston, Ill. — introduced the document.

Charlotte Lehman, left, of Evanston, Ill., and Megan Ramer of Chicago introduce the forbearance resolution to delegates July 2.

Charlotte Lehman, left, of Evanston, Ill., and Megan Ramer of Chicago introduce the forbearance resolution to delegates July 2. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Ramer and Lehman said their congregations were not at the same place on the resolution. Chicago Community favored a more progressive statement. But they hoped all views could be honored and respected.

“We long to have the kind of healthy conflict you can only have with people you love,” Lehman said. “Conflict is not the enemy. The Enemy is the enemy.”

In discussion of the resolution, a majority of delegates who spoke at microphones supported it.

“This is our best chance of moving forward as one denomination,” said Kevin Goertzen of Stuarts Draft, Va. “I believe we can have diversity in some areas and still be the church together.”

Nicolas Angustia, New Holland, Pa., moderator-elect of Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church), speaking through a translator, said there are IMH churches ready to secede from MC USA if the issue is not resolved as God wants it. He said the majority in IMH believes marriage is only for a man and a woman.

“I ask that you don’t treat us like homophobes or as people with no compassion,” he said.

Jessica Hedrick of Telford, Pa.: “We are all united in the body of Christ whether or not we stay in the denomination.” — Lowell Brown for MWR

Jessica Hedrick of Telford, Pa.: “We are all united in the body of Christ whether or not we stay in the denomination.” — Lowell Brown for MWR

Jessica Hed­rick of Telford, Pa., said, “We are all united in the body of Christ whether or not we stay in the denomination. I believe this resolution is a really great opportunity for us to trust the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Michael Smith of Carlsbad, N.M., put his arm around Phil Rosenberger of Aztec, N.M., and said that in spite of disagreement with “a dearly loved brother,” their congregation would be “incredibly diminished without his voice and witness.” Later Rosenberger added: “I have had misgivings on this resolution, but I want to encourage all of us to embrace and to love.”

Guidelines discussion

In discussion of the Membership Guidelines resolution, several delegates questioned the wisdom of banning changes to the guidelines for four years. Some found the resolution’s relationship to the forbearance resolution confusing or contradictory.

One said the guidelines resolution provided needed stability, while another said it would enable continued exclusion.

Rachel Nafziger Hartzler of Goshen, Ind., said passing the resolution might help to keep some congregations from leaving the denomination.

Kathline Bilderback of Boise, Idaho, wondered if the resolution would lessen the anxiety of congregations that couldn’t approve the forbearance resolution.

Mick Sommers of Gordonville, Pa., said tension between freedom and accountability was positive for some but felt to others like contradiction.

See also: “Delegates oppose drone warfare, debate Israel divestment


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  • Berry Friesen

    Best I can tell, 30 percent of the delegates voted for both resolutions; the other 70 percent voted only for one or the other.

    • Conrad Martin

      Nobody voted for neither?

      • Berry Friesen

        Right, if your congregation put out the funds to send you to KC, you don’t want to be so cranky as to return and say “I opposed both.”

        My estimate assumes that the group willing to accept a much smaller church so long as it is progressively pure does not overlap the group willing to accept a much smaller church so long as it is traditionally pure. The 30 percent are skeptical of the purity thing and think diversity of viewpoints is part of our strength..

  • Justin Yoder

    This article fails to report a significant Pink Menno action that took place in response to the passing of the “Resolution on the Status of the Membership Guidelines.” After the results of the vote were announced to the delegate body on Wednesday afternoon, Pink Menno responded with a simple nonviolent action to give expression to the pain of those most affected by the delegates’ decision. Around 100 LGBTQ folks and allies stood silently in the hallway outside of the delegate meeting room and faced the exiting delegates who had just passed the resolution perpetuating the exclusion and silencing of LGBTQ Mennonites. For almost an hour, we stood in silence (some with duct tape covering their mouths), and later sang, as the entire delegate body left the meeting and walked through us on their way to dinner.

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