Lancaster Conference bishops recommend withdrawal from MC USA

Oct 26, 2015 by and

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The Lancaster Mennonite Conference Board of Bishops has affirmed a resolution recommending the conference withdraw from Mennonite Church USA. The proposal now goes to credentialed leaders for a vote.

Lancaster Mennonite Conference logoIn an Oct. 23 statement to pastors and leaders, conference moderator Keith Weaver indicated the bishops met the required 80 percent affirmation but did not say what the margin was.

Weaver turned down requests for further comments.

“The resolution we considered was essentially the same as the proposal discussed in the Sept. 18 Leadership Assembly,” he wrote. “In our meeting today, the group acknowledged the pain this proposed direction creates in our conference and denomination.

“Many expressed regrets that we are facing this decision.”

A booklet for participants in August and September listening meetings cited a “cultural and theological divide” within MC USA on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ relationships and “deep differences between area conferences” on LGBTQ membership.

The Oct. 23 statement said bishops were distributing ballots to credentialed leaders over the course of seven to 10 days, but it did not say when completed ballots are due back.

Two-thirds affirmation is required. A July 2014 survey found that 46.8 percent of LMC’s credentialed leaders were ready to endorse leaving MC USA, and another 17.6 percent had serious reservations about the denomination.

LMC has previously indicated that a decision is expected in late 2015 or early 2016. If affirmed by the conference’s 412 active credentialed leaders, a two-year implementation would begin, starting with LMC being “non-participating” in MC USA immediately, based on the proposal’s wording at the beginning of October. Congregations could continue to participate in MC USA until the end of 2017.

Lancaster is MC USA’s largest conference, with 13,838 members in 163 congregations.

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  • Bruce Martin

    I attended 2 of the cluster meetings which LMC held here in Lancaster as a part of the process. The slanted presentation of the Bishop board to it’s constituents was glaring. This combined with the fact that the Bishop board has a substantially higher representation of Bishops representing numerically smaller but also much more conservative district makes this process look like this was a strong arm tactic. The regrets seem hypocritical. If indeed there was regret, there would have been an attempt made by LMC leadership to find commonality and understanding our brothers and sisters within LMC. For me, this feels like we are witnessing the birth of a new Old Order group who in order to be faithful to their understanding of scripture felt the need to separate themselves from their fellow believers.

    Bruce Martin

    • J. Richard Thomas

      Good point Bruce. The bishops are 100 percent men and a conservative bishop with one church got the same vote as a progressive bishop with quite a few congregations. There seems to be a structural problem. Perhaps if the system would be set up in s just manner the outcome may have been the same but the sense of confidence thst this was a legiminate process would be higher.

      • Conrad Ermle

        All of the LMC bishops are progressive conservatives in the best tradition of biblical Anabaptism.. – C. Ermle

      • Jeff Linthicum

        We speak as though we should redistribute the congressional bounds around certain demographics. What is driving our church the ways of the world or the ways of the Lord?

        • Bruce Martin

          It seems to me if we were following the ways of the Lord, we would want to discern with our brothers and sisters in a manner where varying opinions can be heard. These cluster meetings were held in geographic areas where the bishops felt that their recommendations would be better received. That seems like the ways of the political world. If you are trying to say that the LMC system of Bishops and districts are set up in “the way of the Lord”, I would be interested in knowing what Bible verse that is coming from. That being said I have had great respect for the bishops of our district. — Bruce Martin

          • Jeff Linthicum

            To imply the bishop districts were set up this way for this purpose is very unfair. I know a number of the bishops and I have found them to be men of integrity. This process was a chance to hear from a broader constituency before making decisions. I commend them for going the extra mile in a major decision like this. It is a tough time in our denomination and many tough decisions are being made across the board.

            What I was implying is that in the ways of the world we draw congressional boundaries to get proper representation from all the groups. What I read from scripture to be a bishop does not mean to represent certain sections of the theological spectrum. It deals with ones character and faith.

          • J. Richard Thomas

            Not aware of an implication that districts were establised to create an outcome. But that does not mean there is no problem with the structure.This statement does not question the integrity of an individual bishop. There does seem to be a problem when one district has four votes because it has four bishops and then a bishop who has more than one district(and more members) gets one vote or a bishop with only one church gets one vote. At least that is my understanding and that seems tol be a structural problem.From the perspective of the Confession of Faith it is also a problem that there are no women bishops, and numerous women inLC feel rejected by the male leadership. I have heard their pain and assk that they be held in prayer during this difficult time.

        • J. Richard Thomas

          Problem is that it seems more like it allows votes that are shaped by a system that seems like it is distributed to favor a conservative demographic. Asking for a just system seems to be the opposite of bring worldly, it seems to be calling for non-conformity to the ways of the world Am hearing deep pain from women leaders how they are feeling a negative impact on them because of how they expect to be further marginalized if Lancaster Conference leaves Mennonite Church USA.

  • Harold Miller

    This decision by Lancaster’s leadership board will rightly be greeted with concern. Jesus prayed that we may be one; Paul urged us to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. We are to work for oneness, and then work some more. Yet staying together is not the only thing that matters. Truth also matters. Jesus clearly did not put unity higher than faithfulness (Matt. 18:17, Rev. 2:20). Surely “agreeing to disagree” is not our final rule of faith and practice; the Bible is.

    Perhaps we will end up having to agree to disagree on what the Bible says. That may be why MC USA delegates chose to show forbearance and grace to those who believe that loving, committed same-sex relations are not included in the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality.

    Here’s my plea to MC USA leaders: if you want us who are conservative to agree to disagree on blessing same-sex covenant ceremonies and on giving ministerial credentials to persons in same-sex partnerships, help us by making it clear that the authority of Scripture is being upheld. Show us the force of the progressive interpretation of the same-sex passages. You don’t have to persuade us to agree with that reading of those passages. But please at least try to help us to see that those holding it are honestly grappling with 1 Cor. 6 and Rom. 1. (I worry that that feels like an insult to progressives; but, before God, I don’t believe I’m saying it to be hurtful but to be honest about what we need.) Until then, we will hear a call to unity in MC USA as a call to devalue Scripture.

    • David Jost


      Thank you for your nuanced and articulate writing.

      There are many texts that articulate a clear vision of Biblical wholesomeness in same-sex relationships (perhaps notably this one: I’m certain that with some online searching, you can come up with other well-educated authors. There are many linguists who point out the suspect nature of our rendering of Pauline writing, and there are many historians who could lecture us at length on how pedastry, an obviously unjust system, was likely the lens through which Paul or at least many of his contemporaries saw gay relationships. Have you sought out theological writings that develop the case for inclusion, or are you familiar with anti-inclusion thinkers who have? It’s surprising how little in-depth scholarly work seems to inform this question in our church, as far as I’ve seen, when the fields of theology, history, and linguistics have a lot to say.

      Anyway, I think we have substantial precedent to accept variations on Pauline teaching. Lancaster itself has groups that involve women in ministerial leadership roles, and groups that don’t. There are a variety of traditions involving head coverings, as well. As far as I can tell as an avid follower of Anabaptist affairs, virtually no one or no one in Lancaster actually closely follows Pauline teaching, as singleness is most definitely not giving overwhelming preference over marriage as a lifestyle choice, as Paul suggests it should be. Ironically, marriage is perhaps most of all the social expectation among comparatively conservative groups. With all of these other issues in play, I would have hoped that Lancaster would be an exemplary area for cooperation and coexistence in diversity.

      Most importantly, I think that there is tremendous diversity in the Mennonite church
      around issues far more central to the Gospel than this could possibly be. We have churches that have military service personnel when we preach the supremacy of Christ’s kingdom. We have members with fabulous wealth, in all-out defiance of what the New Testament teaches. On another issue, divorce, we see tacit acceptance in vast swathes of the Anabaptist community, in contradiction of the MCUSA/Evana Confession of Faith (one man, one woman, for life) and a straightforward interpretation of Jesus’ words. I have never heard a good reply to this simple question, the double-standard of divorce, by the way. How do we live with our choice as a denomination to drag so many vulnerable people with minority sexual identities through the mud of our debate, while we don’t question the relational and sexual choices of thousands of divorced Christians? It seems to me that anyone who can construct a theological argument to justify contemporary divorce probably could also empathize with those who construct arguments for gay marriage. An argument for divorce must hinge on either progressive relaxation of strictness, a cultural interpretation of Biblical teaching, a linguistic or textual argument, or some combination. All such arguments can be employed for gay marriage, as well.

      I am eager to be in denominational relationships with congregations and individuals that don’t share my views on all of these issues, some of which I have comparatively conservative stances on, and some comparatively liberal. I have seen what we have done with our churches, committees, schools, universities, mission agencies, theological writings, thrift stores, seminaries, and lived, day-to-day witness. I see God at work. We have done remarkable things. I wish that so many weren’t so eager to leave over a question that in the grand scheme of our real lived differences is actually very small. I consider it no coincidence that this issue takes such prominence in an era when it’s very important as a political and cultural tool to a wing of our national politics, and I see the division of our church as a huge triumph of division, and, frankly, powers of this world that mean ill.

      David Jost

  • Conrad Ermle

    The Lord is certainly leading the bishops in the right direction. May this be a major wake-up call to the leadership and conferences of the MC. A return to biblical teaching is necessary. Sin is still sin. — Conrad Ermle

  • Ken Fellenbaum

    I have followed this development with interest as an outsider now who grew up in Lancaster County – same Church as my friend Dick Thomas. There does seem to be some inequity with the number of Churches that makeup a district. That being said – eighty percent plus is a pretty high figure to achieve in any grouping. Perhaps though the more telling result will be when the “credentialed leaders” of congregations register their votes. The heart of this issue is the authority of Scripture and a hermanutic that is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament – the true basis of ecclesiastical unity.

  • Robert V Peters

    I find the whole idea of Bishops and Pastors and Boards totally un Anabaptist and not what we find in Acts 2 and 4 etc…The church does not need a hierarchy of any kind. In fact all gifts are to be welcomed including those of youth, women, and gay people, etc…and like the Quakers there is no need for any “leader” to connect us with Jesus. His Spirit comes thru all of us directly..The Early Anabaptist’s understood this while worshiping as equals in the caves in Switzerland but sadly they soon once again adopted the way of the Catholic Church and its moderate reformers and we have been stuck with a bunch of men (primarily) telling us how to believe and act!

    • John Gingrich

      If you are on the inside of this process then I defer to your insight, but from my observations, many of the bishops took this vote with reluctance but with the knowledge that the grass roots of the conference are in agreement with the decision. If you know they are imposing “how to believe and act” against the sentiments and convictions of their members then you are right in your criticism.

    • Brian Arbuckle

      When one reads the MWR and especially the comments in response to the various articles one is exposed to a whole gamut of revisionist yarns. Mr. Peters has offered us revisionist versions of Anabaptism and the book of Acts. Revisionism, as we all know, finds something objectionable in the original story and chooses to write another story to replace it. The most poignant example is of course the revisionist story progressives (How do they know they are actually progressing?) are telling about sexuality. Mr. Peters finds bishops and pastors and boards objectionable so he simply imagines versions of Christianity and Anabaptism that do not include bishops and pastors and boards. Not only are such notions false with regard to the original story they are also, at the point of life, impossible.

    • Aaron Yoder

      Robert, I would encourage you to find a 16th or 17th century Anabaptist statement to support your claim that visible leadership in the church is ‘un-anabaptist.’ You are right that anyone can have access to Jesus by faith in His atoning sacrifice (Heb 10:19ff). Praise the Lord! However, if the church is not supposed to have any visible positions of leadership, what do you do with Ephesians 4:11-12 which names specific leadership functions to equip the saints, or Acts 15 which describes an ‘exclusive’ counsel for decision making, or 1 Timothy 3:1 which describes the “office of an overseer” as a noble task or Titus 1:5 which states, “appoint elders in every town as I directed you”? Anyone who is unwilling to be under the authority of any God-appointed leader may quickly find themselves at odds with the majority of the New Testament teachings.

  • Ken Fellenbaum

    Robert, regarding the Biblical basis for hierarchy in the Church see Acts 15 (Jersalem Council), and l Timothy 3:1-7 (qualifications and need for bishops/overseers), and Titus 2:5-9. The Church is composed of spiritual infants and mature believers, carnal and spiritual individuals – therefore the need for leadership. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers/bishops and deacons.” Phil. 1:1

  • Delmer B. Martin

    Greetings from Mennonite County in Elmira Ontario. I agree with the fact that Sin is Sin! and leaders should vote for what is clearly Biblical and leaders should do so passionately when over 80% of the membership are unified behind the stand. The current issues in your blog are not about disobedience to simply the Mennonite Church, or about how much we should Love our neighbors…it is about out and out, SIN against God’s Word and Purpose! The politically correct worldliness that surrounds us and especially all lukewarmness towards God and THE TRUTH will be destroyed at Judgement. YOU can NOT compromise THE TRUTH, even if the vote was 100% for sanctioning an attept at doing so!!! Both Jesus and satan come here to divide because we (unlike animals) were given the gift of freewill. (Luke 12:51) We will either follow/serve ONE or the other. We must serve GOD and not man or self. As Matthew 22;38 clearly indicates; We must Love/obey God FIRST (as it clearly stipulates that this is the FIRST and GREATEST Commandment, and then we can love our neighbour as the secondary command states.

    I am a prodigal son and just a pilgrim HOWEVER I am one who passionately believes that The TRUTH will make me FREE! as per (John 8:32) the In my pilgrimage I have researched and studied our Church and Congregations histories since the early 90’s and it clear to me that some of the greatest mistakes re; schisms occurred when our people put our so called love of neighbour and ourSELFS (and wanting our own personal peaceful Communion Service” ahead of first and foremost being truly obedient to The “First and Greatest Commandment” found at Matthew 22:35-39. Also it is critical that we “fear the Lord” and “strive for perfection” ,as a Christian BEFORE we get too concerned about just being a good Mennonite or Anabaptist. Unlike many of the old schisms, the leaders in your recent controversy had no other option but to advocate against what was creeping in. Sin is Sin and to allow a STIPULATED SIN to be authorized in any church is ANTI-GOD and Anti-Christ. The wise decision and vote is Biblically Solid because it was obedience to GOD! You cannot lose when GOD is on your side, even when your so called neighbors are clamoring to get into your house crying, oh lets compromise for peace, peace!!! Peace with GOD is required FIRST! There can be no compromise on this issue. Biblical Truth guarantees that turning your/our Mennonite Congregations into a modern Sodem and Gommarah would not be good for even those that would advocate for it! They and we must repent and become obedient to God. Praise GOD for Christians who actually still obey GOD and his WORD!
    May God Bless and Protect Us.
    Delmer B. Martin
    Elmira Ontario CANADA

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