Open letter calls for 'radical hospitality'by Everett J. Thomas
GOSHEN, Ind.—Thirty-eight current Mennonite pastors joined 68 other leaders and retired pastors in signing a letter asking congregations to provide "radical hospitality" for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members. Concerned primarily about pastoral care, the letter does not ask Mennonite Church USA to change its teaching position on homosexuality and avoids any mention of the membership guidelines adopted in 2001.
"We must acknowledge that the church is already divided," the letter says. "We have been willing to sacrifice our LGBT brothers and sisters, their families and friends to preserve a presumed unity."
The letter was drafted by three pastors over the course of a year: Sheri Hostetler, pastor at San Francisco Mennonite Church; Cynthia Lapp, pastor at Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church and Weldon Nisly, a pastor at Seattle Mennonite Church.
See the Web site for more information: www.openlettertomcusa.org.
Read below for the Open Letter:
An Open Letter to Mennonite Church USA
Passion Sunday 2009
We are writing as pastors and people who have ministered in the Mennonite Church. We are distressed by our Church's exclusion of sisters and brothers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). Our hope for a Church guided by the radical hospitality of Jesus compels us to invite us all to confession and healing.
Our vocation as ministers is to proclaim and embody the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is the Gospel of radical hospitality and extravagant love (Luke 15, John 4). We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. We believe that we can not deny that grace to anyone seeking to be part of the Body of Christ. We are each called to faithfulness to Christ, accountability in the Church, and integrity in human relationships. We believe that all people are invited to faithful fellowship in this Body, blessing for our deepest relationships of love and care, a spiritual home for ourselves and our children, and the opportunity to fully express the gifts for ministry that God has given us.
Through our unwillingness to extend full hospitality to LGBT people, we believe the Church has lost sight of this Gospel vision and, in so doing, has seriously compromised its witness. Jesus often confronted religious people with their spiritual blindness and offered healing so that they could see not only with their eyes but with their hearts (Matthew 23, John 9). Jesus offers the same challenge and healing to us today.
We believe that now is the time for us to confess and be healed of this spiritual blindness. Some of us, out of love for the Church, have remained silent for the sake of unity. However, we must acknowledge that the Church is already divided. We have been willing to sacrifice our LGBT brothers and sisters, their families and friends to preserve a presumed unity. While some of us may caution to "go slow," we are reminded by prophets such as Martin Luther King, Jr. that going slow only perpetuates the injustice. We are also reminded by Jesus and our Anabaptist forebears that the faithful path is not easy or without pain.
As ministers in Mennonite Church USA, we invite all members of Christ’s body in MC USA to join us in this call to confession and healing. If you desire a Church that offers Christ’s radical hospitality and extravagant love to everyone, please sign on to this letter by going to the Web site, www.openlettertomcusa.org.
Let us seek a new unity where all are welcome and all are called to an abiding "faith, hope and love ... and the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).
For the healing of Christ's Body and the sake of the Church,
Anita Amstutz, Michelle Armster, Wes Bergen, Carolyn Blosser, Donald Blosser, Stanley Bohn, Anne Breckbill ,Mitchell Brown, Libby Caes, Robert J. Carlson, Sylvia Shirk Charles,
Karen Cox, Sara Dick, Pam Dintaman, Mary Jane Breneman Eby, Elaine Enns, Amy Epp, Jason Evans, Jake T. Friesen, Duane Friesen, Matt Friesen,Walter S. Friesen, Ray Gingerich, Steve Goering, Marlin Good, Ted Grimsrud, David Habegger, Joanna Harader, Leland Harder, Ruth R. Harder, Rachel Nafziger Hartzler,Cheri Herrboldt, Sheri Hostetler, Doug Hostetter, Ron Hunsicker, Gary Isaac, Norma J. Johnson, John Kampen, Renee Kanagy, Donald D. Kaufman, Gordon Kaufman, Robert Kauffman, Beth Miller Kraybill, Ken Kraybill, Harold Kreider, Heidi Regier Kreider, Clarice Kratz, Lawrence Kratz, Kathleen Weaver Kurtz, Cynthia Lapp, Chad Martin, Pat Hostetter Martin, Eric Massanari, Brenda Meyer, Bryce L. Miller, Joel Miller, Lloyd Miller, Marilyn Miller, Phil Mininger, Ched Myers, Jonathan Neufeld, Melanie Neufeld, Bert Newton, Weldon Nisly, Helen Wells O’Brien, Ruth Penner, Stephen Penner, Vicki Penner, Vern Preheim, Megan Ramer, Steve Ramer, Steve Ratzlaff, Carole E. Ricketts, Garland Robertson, Carol Rose, Willard E. Roth, Juel Yoder Russell, Michael Schaadt, Melvin Schmidt, Myron Schrag, Rhoda Schrag, Gayle Sheller, Karl Shelly, Ann Showalter, Joyce Shutt, Marlene Smucker, Stan Smucker, Randall Spaulding, Muriel T. Stackley, Donald Steelberg, Regina Shands Stoltzfus, Ed Stoltzfus, Gene Stoltzfus, Karla Stoltzfus, Marie Stoltzfus, Vic Stoltzfus, John K. Stoner, Hubert Schwartzentruber, Kathleen Temple, Adam Tice, Mark Van Steenwyk, Paul Versluis III, Frank Ward, Tonya Ramer Wenger, Tim Weaver, John Zimmerman
The Executive Committee of the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA responded to the the Open Letter with a letter to area conference leaders. Read below:
April 2, 2009
Re: Responding to the open letter
Area Conference Leader of Mennonite Church USA:
We value all of our pastors and their leadership in the congregations of Mennonite Church USA. Pastors do their pastoral work mindful of the intimate and sometimes difficult stories of people in their congregations. Pastors are committed to being faithful to scripture and to the teachings of the church.
Pastors also need to be committed to their covenant with the conference body that credentialed them. The congregation calls and the conference credentials.
As leaders of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board and its churchwide agencies, we are grateful when leaders seek a pastoral response to concerns in the church, such as the inclusion of gays and lesbians, where the context of congregational discernment and the broader voice of the conference help shape this response.
Our churchwide documents, including the Membership Guidelines which were accepted in the formation process of Mennonite Church USA in 2001 and reaffirmed by the Constituency Leaders Council in 2007 and the Executive Board in 2008, affirm the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective which says that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman for life. The Membership Guidelines and the earlier denominational documents on human sexuality also call for continued discernment and dialogue with our brothers and sisters who disagree with the church’s statements in this area.
We believe that God calls us to share the teachings of the church as we understand them and to walk alongside people in our congregations who are gay or lesbian, or their family and friends. This is a necessary part of pastoral ministry in congregations.
While we believe that discernment can and should happen in larger circles beyond congregations in conferences and in churchwide settings, we believe that discernment in congregations deserves respect for its integrity and its effort to be faithful to scriptural teaching.
We believe that our call to be a missional church requires us to ask what God is doing in the world around us, and that means asking what God is doing in the lives of those whom God sends to our congregations. We pray that God will guide and bless the entire body of Mennonite Church USA and help us focus on building a faithful witness to the world and avoid what has the potential to tear us apart.
These days, we are challenged on many fronts. We are called to set our minds on the higher things of our faith and our living. We want to live our lives in humility and in relationship with Jesus, depending on God’s grace and the Spirit’s leading, so that we can become an effective witness to Christ within our body and to the world
Executive Committee of the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA:
Sharon Waltner, moderator
Ed Diller, moderator-elect
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