Opinion: Pastor’s action wasn’t misconduct

Jun 6, 2016 by and

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Virginia Mennonite Conference has suspended the ministerial credentials of my pastor, Isaac Villegas of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship in North Carolina, because he officiated at a same-sex wedding.

Villegas is “at variance” with the conference, which belongs to Mennonite Church USA. The denomination holds that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman for life.

Virginia Conference was aware of Villegas’ plan to officiate the wedding well in advance. The congregation has been in dialogue with it for years over the matter of fully welcoming LGBT people.

But the conference went a step beyond suspension. It shifted the tone of the conversation, not to mention the power dynamic, from “variance” to “misconduct.”


Misconduct applies when a minister steals from the church. Misconduct is when a minister is presumed guilty of physical or sexual abuse.

Misconduct is not blessing the marriage of two committed adults, with the full support of their church community.

Yes, there is a range of opinions in the conference. But it has chosen to shift the narrative from one of theological diversity to one of punitive measures, from variance to shame and censure.

Mennonites are not alone in the struggle to navigate such theological diversity. Mainline Protestant denominations around the country are splintering over LGBT people, too. Young talented leaders in growing congregations are driven away — sometimes formally, as with Villegas, and sometimes simply because they are worn down by the fight.

The lament over the lack of young people in churches is a common refrain, yet the unwillingness of denominational leaders to consider inclusive theologies is likely a contributing factor.

Conference leaders believe Villegas has sinned and must repent. Yet their own guidelines say ordained ministers are to “build up the local body and to further engage the congregation in the mission of God.”

Villegas was carrying out the calling placed upon him in his ordination, ministering to the local church body he serves, a body that welcomes LGBT people without hesitation.

Villegas and his church understand his actions as those of a faithful pastor.

Meghan Florian is a writer teaching at William Peace University and the Center for Theological Writing at Duke Divinity School.

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  • Aaron Yoder

    Meghan, it sounds like you are very upset. If you have a problem with your conference’s procedure and wording, then it would better for you to follow Jesus’ steps of conflict resolution in Matthew 18 and personally take this before your leadership.

    • James Regier

      And when the leadership does not listen to the grievance? Matthew 18 goes on to call for bringing more believers together to aid in bringing the offender to accountability.

  • Dale Welty

    I am very thankful for Virginia Mennonite Conference leaders for taking the Biblical action of suspending the ministerial credentials of Isaac Villegas of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship in North Carolina, because he officiated at a same-sex wedding which the Bible notes in many places as sinful. A marriage between a man and a woman becomes a one flesh union in the eyes of God. In his book ‘Separated Unto God, J.C. Wenger devotes 14 pages on what a marriage is as planned by God. God divinely commanded Adam & Eve to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. Same sex unions can not fulfill that command. Further, the Bible states in many places what marriage is, therefore it is not necessary to go into further detail to say what marriage is not although the Bible clearly says in many places that same sex unions are sin, therefore they cannot be considered as a one flesh union in God’s eyes. Ministers who officiate at same sex legal unions contribute to dividing the church and weakening our nation. Proverbs 14:34 Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people. We are living in a time of increasing reproaches in our nation, thanks in part to the advanced wisdom thinkers of the religious left. Dale Welty

  • Steven Stubble

    The situation is a good example of what happens when a church pretends it can simultaneously accept and reject a truth claim. “Theological diversity” is the wrong term for saying that same-sex unions are both “sinful” and “pleasing to God” at the same time; they are either one or the other, but never both. The confusion and disappointment we see here should not surprise anyone. To the Mennonite churches of all shades I say “Choose this day whom you will serve!” but please stop talking about “variance”, “forebearance” or “navigating diversity”!

    • Brian Arbuckle

      This is a good word Steven. Having a split personality is not a condition of health. Projecting this theological ambiguity on the God of the Bible is certainly absurd, even blasphemy. The reality is that the pastor in question has performed a pagan religious ceremony. If that is not pastoral misconduct then nothing is. Those with eyes to see have discerned that what is occurring in MCUSA and Mennonite Church Canada is not a discussion among family members. It is in fact, at root level, and at the point of engaging the activist, interfaith dialogue. Sure, the liberals/revisionists use the same vocabulary, God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters, etc., but they have a different dictionary. They have a profoundly different theology, a profoundly different God, a profoundly different Jesus. On what other basis could the action of Villegas be understood to be that of a faithful pastor? We must, if we are to continue to engage with people like Meghan Florian, who sees darkness as light, falsehood as truth, and porneia as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, recognize that what we are doing is in fact interfaith dialogue. That reality, of course, raises the question of the worthiness of such effort.

      Contemporary Christians would be well served to read J. Gresham Machen’s, Christianity and Liberalism. Although first published in 1925 it is extremely relevant for understanding contemporary liberals/revisionists.

      • Steven Stubble

        Brian, you’re right to say that this is an interfaith rather than an inter-church dialogue. As for the worthiness of such efforts: I don’t post primarily to change minds by force of argument (only a regeneration of the Holy Spirit can change hearts and minds), but to strengthen those of Gods people who need to see that a faithful remnant remains. There are many saints in the Mennonite church who need to know that all is not lost, which is why an article like this should not go unanswered if at all possible. Thanks for the book suggestion, will look into it. “Pagans in the Pews” by Peter Jones (2001) also comes to mind.

  • Conrad Ermle

    The Virginia Conference did the right thing. Same sex marriage is unbiblical and cannot be sanctioned in the body of believers. The reality is that this is an abomination and has no place in the Christian community, never did, and never will. The action by this so-called “pastor” is a violation of Holy Scripture and Anabaptist theology. He has already defocked himself. Only repentance on the part of all concerned will result in reconciliation. Many of us are praying for this to happen. – Conrad Ermle

    • Brian Arbuckle

      Repentance! Conrad, I wouldn’t expect this. This congregation is in celebration mode. Don’t you realize that there are different ways of following Jesus? Don’t you know that the Holy Spirit has led them to this point?

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