Southeast Conference raises possibility of leaving MC USA

Forbearance resolution is a point of concern

Apr 10, 2017 by and

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Southeast Mennonite Conference might leave Mennonite Church USA if the denomination continues extending forbearance indefinitely to members at variance with its teaching on same-sex marriage.

At its spring delegate assembly, Southeast delegates representing 12 congregations affirmed with a 17-3 vote a statement that “Southeast Mennonite Conference go on record as planning to leave Mennonite Church USA should the forbearance resolution . . . become a permanent position or practice for the church.”

Southeast Conference is made up of 27 congregations in Florida and Georgia.

The “Forbearance in the Midst of Differences” resolution, which passed with 72 percent support at the 2015 MC USA convention in Kansas City, Mo., 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.”

Conference moderator Michael Zehr of Key West, Fla., said the indefinite practice of forbearance on this matter would conflict with the conference’s statement on homosexuality, which states that “homosexuality [defined as ‘the continued practice of, and acceptance of, homosexuality as a way of life’] is sin, and as such, is an affront to God.”

“While this is what we believe, it’s also very important that we treat people in a loving and caring way,” Zehr said. “It’s not a statement of position that doesn’t also talk about how we’re going to work that out in practice in a way that’s caring and respectful of people.”

The conference reaffirmed its statement two years ago after initially adopting it in 1987.

Reaffiliations possible

Zehr said the conference’s focus wasn’t on a specific time frame, but they wanted to state publicly their current position on affiliation.

“If the [MC USA] delegate body [in 2019] would move to say, ‘We’re not going to address this again for two or four years,’ our conference would see that as continuing to see forbearance as an ongoing practice,” Zehr said. “Most certainly if there was a movement at some point to change the Confession of Faith, that would obviously be a move in a direction that’s different from the direction we’re headed.”

He acknowledged Southeast churches had differing views.

“Some congregations would like to leave [MC USA] sooner. There would be others who would say, ‘We’re not interested in leaving,’ ” he said. “I think that no matter what direction Southeast takes on this issue, there will probably be congregations that decide to reaffiliate.”

Berea Mennonite Church in Atlanta is in the process of transferring its affiliation from Southeast to Central District Conference. On March 18, Pastor John Wierwille met with leaders from two other Southeast congregations, Americus (Ga.) Mennonite Fellowship and Emmanuel Mennonite Church of Gainesville, Fla., as well as from Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship, a former Southeast congregation that had transferred to Central District; and Alterna, an Anabaptist intentional community in Georgia.

Wierwille said physical distance has always been a problem for the Georgia congregations, as conference meetings are often in south-central Florida. He grew concerned after the 2015 MC USA convention, when there was talk among the conference of leaving MC USA.

“At that point, we said, ‘We need to reconsider our conference affiliation,’ ” Wierwille said.

He said the conversations with Southeast and Central District have been good.

“My hope is that we can all remember our shared understanding of Jesus,” he said, and “keep coming back together and follow Jesus, as peace people.”

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