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?

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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