Group to advise MC USA on Membership Guidelines

Nov 25, 2019 by

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An advisory group has been assigned to recommend how to decide the future of the Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines.

After a Nov. 15-17 meeting in Chicago, the group is expected to deliver a report to the Executive Board within 15 days.

The 21-member panel is tasked with discernment about a document that has been a point of contention for years.

Approved by delegates in 2001, the guidelines are one of MC USA’s founding documents. While the first two sections cover largely routine matters of purpose and structure, the third addresses “issues related to homosexuality and membership.”

The guidelines define marriage as between one man and one woman and say pastors may not perform same-sex marriages.

In recent years, conservative members have asked why the guidelines aren’t uniformly enforced, while progressives have advocated that they be changed or dropped.

In 2015, delegates reaffirmed the guidelines and also resolved to practice “forbearance” toward those who disagreed. They declared a four-year hiatus on considering any changes.

At the denomination’s national convention last summer in Kansas City, Mo., the Executive Board asked delegates: Should we address this issue? and Do you have the time and resources to work on this? Sixty-nine percent said yes to the first question and 43 percent to the second.

Two denominational staff — Iris de León-Hartshorn, associate executive director of operations; and Michael Danner, associate executive director for church vitality — will co-lead the advisory group.

The members will review the history of the guidelines and how they are functioning, develop insight needed to frame issues arising from these guidelines and consider options for how to address them, according to a Nov. 8 news release.

The group also will consider input collected from delegates at the Kansas City convention.

Catherine Barnes of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Harrisonburg, Va., will facilitate.

The group’s recommendations will be presented at the Jan. 17-19 meeting of the Executive Board, which will decide how to lead the denomination through the discernment.

Symbolism and impact

Danner said the advisory group’s meeting would be closed to the press in order to provide “the private space to have difficult conversations uninhibited.”

Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA, said: “I pray the process will be led by the Spirit and that it would honor both our history and our desired future as a denomination. We cannot ignore the symbolism of the document in our system nor its impact on LGBTQ members of our congregations.”

De León-Hartshorn said: “We ask the church to pray that the advisory group will be transformed by the Holy Spirit through this experience. We hope that this journey will change how we look at and relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Advisory group members represent all regions of the country and have been selected to ensure balance of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity and theological breadth.

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