Group recommends retiring MC USA Membership Guidelines

Nondiscrimination suggested as a ‘healing practice’

Jan 28, 2020 by

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A Mennonite Church USA advisory group is recommending “retiring” the denomination’s Membership Guidelines and adopting a “healing practice of nondiscrimination” regarding LGBTQ people.

The recommendations, released Jan. 27, are part of a report by the 21-member Membership Guidelines Advisory Group, which held a one-time working session in November.

Mennonite Church USA Executive Board members discussed the Membership Guidelines Advisory Group report in small groups during their meeting Jan. 17-18 in Kansas City, Mo. From left are Michelle Dula, Jon Carlson and Jim Caskey, Executive Board members; and Duane Oswald, an expert in Mennonite church leadership. — Camille Dager/MC USA

Mennonite Church USA Executive Board members discussed the Membership Guidelines Advisory Group report in small groups during their meeting Jan. 17-18 in Kansas City, Mo. From left are Michelle Dula, Jon Carlson and Jim Caskey, Executive Board members; and Duane Oswald, an expert in Mennonite church leadership. — Camille Dager/MC USA

The Executive Board assigned the group to “generate options” for the future of the guidelines, which the report describes as a source of “nearly continuous conflict.”

Approved by delegates in 2001 to complete the merger that created MC USA, the guidelines uphold a traditional definition of marriage and say pastors may not perform same-sex marriages.

The Advisory Group’s five nonbinding recommendations include proposing that “sexual identity, gender orientation or marital status” should not restrict “a person’s full participation” in denominational ministries.

“While we recognize that MC USA does not have the authority to require conferences and congregations to adopt this policy, we invite them to join in this healing practice of nondiscrimination,” the recommendation says.

The recommendations now go to the Constituency Leaders Council for discussion March 26-28. On April 23-25, the Executive Board will process the CLC’s responses and is expected to finalize a resolution for delegates at the 2021 convention in Cincinnati.

The Executive Board discussed the report at its Jan. 17-18 meeting in Kansas City, Mo.

In a news release, Glen Guyton, MC USA executive director, called the advisory group’s work “ an important part of the process of building trust and listening to diverse voices. It’s part of the larger discernment process that includes church leaders, conferences, congregations and delegates.”

Board member Earl Kellogg said: “I am encouraged, and my respect for the church is increased. I am heartened by the spirit of this theologically diverse group and our shared sentiments about what is at stake and our shared vision of hope and healing for the church and our future generations.”

Starting a discussion

The report includes background on the history and role of the Membership Guidelines, an acknowledgement of the harm done to LGBTQ people as a result of current policies and ideas for a churchwide discussion on belonging.

Recommendations for continuing the discussion include a “churchwide study on identity, identification and belonging” through small group study, web­inars, resources for conference assemblies and a suggested “common read” book.

The group was facilitated by Catherine Barnes of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Harrisonburg, Va.

Group members were selected to represent all regions of the country and to ensure a balance of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity, and theological breadth. Yet the news release acknowledges the group did not include any Asians, Asian-Americans, Africans or openly transgender people.

The group was not tasked with making theological statements about the role of LGBTQ people in the church.

“Nevertheless, biblical interpretation and theological convictions were part of the conversation, as well as the recognition that polity impacts people,” said Michael Danner, MC USA associate executive director for church vitality, who participated in the meeting.

The 5 recommendations

The Advisory Group’s recommendations are:

— No. 1: “Retire the Membership Guidelines.” The news release says the group overwhelmingly supported this recommendation.

— No. 2: “Any document or policy about LGBTQ people must actively include representatives of the LGBTQ community in its creation. As a broader principle, decision-making must actively include the voices of any specific group who are the subject of a policy or document.”

— No. 3: “That the Executive Board consult with BMC [Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests], Pink Menno and Inclusive Pastors to explore the creation of an LGBTQ constituency group with representation on the Constituency Leaders Council. (This recommendation recognizes a call we heard in delegate responses to the Membership Guidelines surveys at convention 2019.)” It was noted that two group members did not support this recommendation.

— No. 4: “That MC USA develop a process with BMC, Pink Menno and Inclusive Pastors to enable truth-telling, recognition of harms and reconciliation with LGBTQ people, their families and others who have been harmed by the way LGBTQ people have been treated by the church. The goal of this process will be healing and hope for the church.”

— No. 5: “MC USA’s board, staff and churchwide program agencies will not use sexual identity, gender orientation or marital status as criteria to restrict a person’s full participation in the ministries, activities, roles and committees of our denomination. While we recognize that MC USA does not have the authority to require conferences and congregations to adopt this policy, we invite them to join in this healing practice of nondiscrimination.” It was noted that there was no clear consensus on this recommendation.

Advisory Group participants were: Catherine Barnes (facilitator), Tina Begay, Sarah Bixler, Jon Carlson, Michael Danner (staff), Iris de Leon-Hartshorn (staff), Linda Dibble, Joanne ­Dietzel, Joanne Gallardo, Nathan Good, Glen Guyton (staff), Clyde Kratz, Marvin Lorenzana, Luke Miller, Sandra Montes Martinez, Vikki Pruitte-Sorrells, Don Rheinheimer, Phil Rich, Annabeth Roeschley, Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower, Randy Spaulding, Vivian Stevens Lyon, Isaac Villegas, Carol Wise and Bob Yoder.


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