Allegheny Conference to license LGBT pastor

Hyattsville church has long history of inclusion

Feb 20, 2017 by

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Allegheny Mennonite Conference on Feb. 15 announced it will license for ministry a Maryland pastor who “is a member of the LGBTQ community and married to her partner.”

The conference approved a request to license toward ordination Michelle Burkholder, associate pastor of Hyatts­ville Mennonite Church.

Michelle Burkholder is associate pastor of Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church. — Markus Kristeya

Michelle Burkholder is associate pastor of Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church. — Markus Kristeya

Burkholder becomes the third openly LGBT pastor credentialed for ministry in Mennonite Church USA, after Theda Good of Denver in 2014 and Mark Rupp of Columbus, Ohio, in 2015. In December, Good was the first to be ordained.

Allegheny Conference “recognizes that approval of this request for credentialing places our conference of congregations at variance with Mennonite Church USA membership guidelines,” stated a news release from the conference office and conference minister David E. Mishler.

“We welcome dialogue and counsel from sister conferences and MC USA about our decision in the spirit of mutual discernment, forbearing with each other in the spirit of Romans 14-15.”

The release cited a 2015 Allegheny Conference decision “to live together with theological disagreements using the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as a guiding document, not a disciplinary document.”

The release continued: “[W]e believe congregational autonomy to discern and choose congregational leaders from the context of the congregation should be affirmed as appropriate congregational authority.”

That belief, the release said, “is in the spirit of” the conference’s 2015 decision and two resolutions passed by MC USA delegates at Kansas City in 2015 “in which we see an intentional tension between a vision of forbearance among diverse congregations and application of membership guidelines that have remained constant.”

The release said the decision was made “with deep humility . . . in support of [Hyattsville Mennonite Church] yet not intending to impose one congregation’s decision on other congregations who see things differently.”

Hyattsville has a long history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion. Last June it celebrated 30 years of welcoming LGBT people.

Burkholder, who has served the congregation since 2013, said in a sermon at the celebration: “Hyattsville has time and again chosen that, for us, being faithful witnesses to the love of God calls us to acts of hospitality, justice, healing and peacemaking, even when those actions are counter to the status quo expected by the broader church.”

For 10 years beginning in 2005, Hyattsville was under discipline by Allegheny Conference. Its representatives could not vote at conference meetings or serve in leadership positions. In 2015, by a 72-70 vote, delegates restored the congregation to full, voting membership.


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  • Conrad Ermle

    Is this in accord with biblical Anabaptist thought and the biblical based understanding of those who went before us? – Conrad Ermle

  • Craig and Karen Long

    As the Worthy, Slain, Resurrected, and Seated on the Throne Lamb of YHVH, Yahshua haMeshiach, strips the seals from the title deed to the earth (which had been forfeited in the Garden of Eden), Judgement has commenced, and we are not to be surprised or dismayed at anything haSatan attempts, in his last ditch effort to tenuously but persistently cling to what he deems as his right to the earth and its inhabitants. He so easily dismisses that “What is written, is written.” The delusion that YHVH sent among the people, that they would believe the lie, has taken effect. He warned us to “come out of her my people, that you partake not of her plagues.” Some are listening; most are not. It is not too late to repent, teshuva, to turn again and be healed as we find rest for our souls in the Truthful, Eternal One Whose yoke is easy and His burden is light. In this final Restoration of all things, we have had 7 years since 2009, the end of the prophesied 2730 years of captivity for the 10 northern Tribes of Israel, from their Assyrian capture in 721 BCE, where YHVH indeed has “renewed the Covenant with many for one week.” Many in the Tribe of Judah both in the Land of Israel and around the world have been recognizing the One Whom they have pierced, as the two sticks, the two houses of Judah and Ephraim, are coming together in the Mighty Hand of YHVH. We have been warned, exhorted, encouraged, edified and prompted by the Ruach haKodesh, for “it is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says YHVH that this mountain will be removed.” This day, come what may, may we ascribe Praise and Kavod, Wisdom and Thanks, Honor and Power and Strength to our YHVH, for ever and ever. For He alone is Worthy, for He alone is Worthy, for He alone is Worthy, Yashhua haMeshiach. He is returning, soon, to rule and to reign from Jerusalem. Look up. Prepare your garments for the Wedding Feast! Keep the oil burning in the lamps! Believe only what the Father YHVH speaks: No one else!!! Watch!!! Be ready!!!

    • Matthew Froese

      I’m having a hard time parsing what this comment means. Are you taking the ordination of LGBTQ people as a sign of the end times? Not trying to troll here, honestly confused about what is being said.

      • Craig and Karen Long

        No, not necessarily; homosexuality has been prevalent possibly for the length of time that mankind has existed (6,000 years). But, we have never been in the end times up until this past 70 years, when the commandment again went forth to restore Jerusalem in 11/1947. If you get a chance today, heavily study the book of the Revelation along with the book of Daniel.

        • Matthew Froese

          Thanks for the reply. So am I correct in understanding your post as more of a general call to repentance in the context of the end times? That is, that you view this ordination as one of many areas where repentance is required, rather than something especially significant on its own?

          I will make my way to studying Revelation, presently spending time with the Psalms.

    • Conrad Ermle

      Excuse me, but what are you trying to say??? – Conrad Ermle

    • Bruce Leichty

      Craig and Karen, The yoke of reading your posts and the burden of doing so is not light….I think I understand that you are using terms used within messianic judaism with a heavy emphasis on prophecy, and I respect your fervor and the insight from which it arises. But you must know that most MWR readers don’t know what Kavod means or “teshuva” or “haSatan” or “Ruach haKodesh” (Holy Spirit?) and that we don’t refer to Jesus as “Yahshua haMeshiach,” even though I discern that you are doing so….So can you please consider whether the use of these in-group (?) terms is more alienating than helpful? And also — is it helpful to admonish us to “believe only what the Father YHVH speaks” when none of us have ears to hear the Father’s voice directly, but we hear only through the media of His Son and the inspiration of text and Spirit that followed the Son’s ministry? More than “being ready,” must we not also continue to be bold witnesses in the streets and courts and public squares?

  • Berry Friesen

    Now that MCUSA eschews disciplinary responses, it appears being “at variance” with MCUSA Membership Guidelines doesn’t count for much, at least not with this particular conference.

    Last evening I attended an excellent program sponsored by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society on how the biblical teaching of “Nonresistance” has been practiced by Anabaptists during recent decades. Naturally, one of the questions receiving attention was how this unconventional teaching retains moral authority in our lives.

    When a conference decides to be “at variance” with the very body it has constituted and joined, what becomes of that body’s moral authority? What becomes of the moral authority of its teachings?

    • Charlie Kraybill

      Being at variance with authority is very Anabaptist, Berry “Resist the Empire” Friesen. What is your major problem anyway? A body’s moral authority is only good as long as its moral view is respected. Obviously we’ve reached a point where the authorities have fallen behind the curve of moral progress. So being at variance is the appropriate response. Why are you enabling the denominational empiricists on this issue?

      • Berry Friesen

        That’s easy to explain: MCUSA is not an empire. You walked away without negative consequences, lots of people have. It hasn’t killed anyone to my knowledge, hasn’t hired any Islamic mercenaries to kill anyone, hasn’t bombed anyone. Doesn’t hold anybody’s financial future in its vice, hasn’t imprisoned or tortured anyone, etc. And when it’s less than truthful, lots of people are eager to point out its error.

        Far as I can tell, one of the core questions of life is to decide which group I’ll give my loyalty to, defer to on controversial matters, be morally authoritative in my life. Is it the state? Is it the church in which I hold membership? Fifty years ago, without giving it a second thought, Mennonites understood this choice and also understood the importance of empowering the church, which compared to the state is a fragile and weak structure. Now, people don’t see the world that way.

        But thank you for raising the empire question. I find lots of people who think that anyone who exercises authority over any part of their lives is functioning as “the empire.” That’s nonsense, both practically and biblically.

        • Charlie Kraybill

          You say one of life’s core questions is to decide which group to give your loyalty to. Where does this impulse come from? Why do you feel compelled to submit to any authority? Is submissiveness a virtuous trait in your world view? What if all bodies of authority around you are unworthy of loyalty? Could you stand alone, responsible only to the authority of your own conscience? Are you honestly submitted to the authority of your denomination and local congregation in all areas now? I would be surprised. Do I hear you advocating for a return to the Mennonite church of 50 years ago? Heaven help us.

          • Matthew Froese

            I’ll throw in another way to think about the church, outside of the authority/anti-authority split above, without any claim that it is meaningful to anyone besides me: the church is an imperfect means to an end. I find church participation meaningful and relevant as a central site of response to the call I feel to faith. Being part of a voluntarily gathered faith community is a valuable part of learning from others on the same path and working together for aims that are larger than I could meaningfully take on alone. So if the church is responding to the call, it’s great to be able to work within the church. If it’s not, then sometimes a faithful response needs to take place somewhere else.

    • John Gingrich

      In my opinion your final question is a rhetorical question that has an obvious answer. MCUSA has decided it will not exercise any authority which means moral, doctrinal, or in any other controversial issue. As a consequence, a second rhetorical question is whether it is a “church” in the New Testament tradition or whether it has become something else.

      • Berry Friesen

        John, MCUSA is doing the best it can; the conferences that are setting the tune (as I see it).

        • John Gingrich

          I respect your hope for MCUSA Berry, it seems very important for you. My background is more in the world of business and contracts and I guess I see things through that prism. Trust is earned and is important in this world and it is hard to give someone a second and third chance when trust is broken. Entities that cannot be trusted are rejected and abandoned.

  • Ken Fellenbaum

    Menno Simons, a Dutch Reformer (from whom Mennonites derive their name), listed 9 attributes of Anabaptist church members. No. 4 was “marriage could only be between one man and one woman.” Source: “Menno Simons” by Abraham Friesen. (Page 233) What did he base his beliefs on? His first point which was “God’s Word and the Spirit”. (Matt. 19:4&5) The choice today is between Biblical Christianity or societal Christianity. FYI, I was raised in a Lancaster County, PA Mennonite home & Church (founded in the early 1700’s) and received my training in history from EMC, theological studies at EMS).

  • Debra B. Stewart

    Six blind MEN and an elephant. Sigh.

    • Bruce Leichty

      The gazelle speaketh. :)

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