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2012-07-01 issue:

WDC amends one resolution, tables another

Speakers focus on becoming one, being sent in Christ

by Gordon Houser

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Meeting July 6-8 in Oklahoma City, Western District Conference (WDC) delegates deliberated over two resolutions and decided to amend one and table another.

One resolution, brought by Bethel Mennonite Church in Inman, Kan., called on the leadership commission of WDC to "suspend the credentials of Joanna Harader," pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kan. Harader performed a same-sex ceremony in 2010. The following spring, WDC's leadership commission voted 4-2 to find her credentials in order.

Suhelen Cazares (left) from Iglesia Menonita Casa Betania in Newton, Kan., holds a wheat stalk used as a "talking stick" at her delegate table. At right is Linda Shelly of Mennonite Mission Network, who served as translator for the Western District Conference assembly and was a delegate from First Mennonite Church in Newton. Photo by Laurie Oswald Robinson.

In introducing the resolution, Max Fuqua of Bethel Church said the church feels disrespected, that the leadership commission went against clear statements of WDC. He called its ruling "outrageous" and "rebellious."

Delegates met in table groups to discuss the resolution. During deliberation as a larger group, a delegate from Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church in Wichita, Kan., introduced an amendment that said: "We find Joanna Harader's credential in order. However, it will be noted on her Ministerial Leadership Information form that her action in performing a same-sex union is at variance with the Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines."

After discussion, delegates voted 184-154 to amend the resolution. After more discussion, the amended resolution passed by a vote of 203-136.

The second resolution, brought by three WDC churches in Oklahoma, asked that WDC leadership "acknowledge as official position the current Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective." David Wiens, pastor of Eden Mennonite Church in Inola, Okla., introduced this resolution and said, "It seems we have kicked it [the confession] to the side."

One delegate asked how adhering to the confession should be enforced. Wiens said the confession is "a framework for interpreting Scripture. … We're not trying to create a police state." The resolution calls on leaders to follow their conscience.

Before the resolution could be discussed in the larger body, David Habegger of Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kan., brought a motion to table it, saying that in 1995, when the Confession was adopted by the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church, "it was understood to be a teaching document, not a legislative document."

Delegates then voted in favor of tabling the resolution by a vote of 170-167.

In an interview afterward, outgoing moderator Doug Penner said, "This close a vote is not what we would hope for." He noted, however, that "in the past couple of months there have been good conversations," and "hopefully that can continue," adding that "voting is our least favorite way of resolving these issues."

Three speakers addressed the conference's theme, "Becoming One to Be Sent in Christ." Conference minister Clarence Rempel spoke on "God's Dream, Our Dream" and noted that the church in the New Testament was at its missional best when it was experiencing ethical and doctrinal disagreement.

Chuck Neufeld, conference minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference, gave two sermons. The first, "If Christ Is Our Center, We Must Be One," encouraged participants to hold onto one another’s perspectives with grace. "Any voice that tells us to think the worst of our brothers and sisters in Christ is not the voice of Jesus, and we should let it go," he said.

His second sermon came on Saturday evening, after the afternoon delegate session. He recalled the story of the disciples in a storm at sea waking up Jesus. "Whatever chaos is going on," he said, "we can wake up Jesus, and he will not be anxious." He added, "Is it possible to grant each other freedom, even if we think they're sinning?"

At Sunday’s final worship session, Eugene Thieszen, pastor of Herold Mennonite Church in Cordell, Okla., spoke on "Dancing with God." He spoke of the unity that exists in the Holy Trinity and said, "We try to make unity happen, but we will always fail. Instead we are invited to join the unity that already exists."

The love at the center of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is like a dance, he said. We are to join in that dance of love, and as others see it, they will want to join in. "If we live in reconciled relationships," he said, "others will want that as well."

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