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2014-03-01 issue:

Letters from conference leaders and pastors express concern about Mountain States' decision

Leaders in Ohio, Indiana-Michigan and East Coast conferences send three main letters

by Anna Groff

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In February, at least three groups of conference leaders and pastors sent letters addressed to the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board (EB) regarding the LGBT community and Mennonite Church USA.

In general, these three letters registered concern and requested clarification on the EB's response to the Mountain States Conference's decision to license Theda Good, a lesbian pastor at First Mennonite Church in Denver.

Two letters came from leaders in Ohio Mennonite Conference and Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference. The third was from East Coast leaders that include Lancaster, Franconia, Virginia, Franklin and Franconia Mennonite conferences. 

Fifty-two leaders signed the Ohio Conference letter, dated Feb. 5. The letter calls on Ohio Conference leadership to "urge Mountain States to reconsider and reverse their decision."

The 52 signatures of leaders represent 21 of the 77 congregations in Ohio Conference. The signatures represent both pastoral leaders and congregational lay leaders.

Some of the leaders have talked extensively about this letter with their congregations and others have not, said Tom Kauffman, Ohio conference minister, on Feb. 27.

"We have also been in conversation with Mountain States and how we might be in conversation with them conference to conference," said Kauffman.

If Mountain States does not reconsider, the letter from some congregational leaders of Ohio Conference asks that the Constituency Leaders Council and Executive Board suspend Mountain States Conference membership in Mennonite Church USA and bring a motion for the removal of the conference from membership in Mennonite Church USA at the delegate assembly during Kansas City 2015.

The letter also expresses concern regarding consequences of the Mountain States decision on the witness of Ohio Conference.

"[This decision] becomes an obstacle for missions when persons in our communities hear about such actions and are led to misunderstand or misrepresent the beliefs and practices of our congregations. We are concerned that it may cause weaker members to stumble if we are not unified in our understanding of godly expressions of sexuality and human relationships," the Ohio letter states. "And when our members hear of not just other individuals, or even congregations, but of whole conferences that hold views contrary to our own, it becomes more and more difficult to promote a distinctly Anabaptist identity and understanding of Scripture."

The second letter, from Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference leaders, is available online here:

The blog invited individuals to sign the letter by Feb. 10. Forty-six pastors and credentialed individuals signed the letter.

"We believe the ongoing dialogue over blessing same-sex relationships, credentialing pastors in same-sex relationships and the additional demands of LGBT advocacy groups is crippling our witness and mission to the world," states the Indiana-Michigan Conference letter. "There has been a dialogue over this issue for over 25 years in the Mennonite church, which has resulted in many congregations and people leaving Mennonite Church USA, and the dialogue has not drawn us together."

The letter also acknowledges that not everyone in Indiana-Michigan Conference agrees with the letter.

"We do not seek to change or force our beliefs on other congregations or conferences," it states. "At the same time, we are committed to identifying with congregations, a conference and a denomination that unite us in a common witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ."

The third letter, from East Coast conferences, dated Feb. 12, was made available to The Mennonite.

It was signed by Clyde Kratz, executive conference minister of Virginia Mennonite Conference; Keith Weaver, moderator of Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Conference; Gene Miller, executive conference minister of New York Conference; Ertell Whigham, executive conference minister of Franconia Conference; and Allen Lehman, executive conference minister of Franklin Mennonite Conference.

"A number of pastors in each of our conferences have begun questioning their continued affiliation with Mennonite Church USA in light of these latest developments," says the East Coast letter.

These three letters were among many responses the EB received. As reported in the March issue, a Jan. 24 letter signed by 150 Mennonite pastors and others credentialed for ministry urged denominational leaders to "make space for congregations and pastors who welcome and bless LGBT Jesus followers."

According to Ervin Stutzman, executive director, the EB and staff received many responses from individuals, churches and conferences before the EB meeting Feb. 13-15 in Harrisonburg, Va.

The EB discussed a few of the specific letters but spent the majority of the time discussing the "concerns and themes that were voiced in many letters," said Ervin Stutzman on Feb. 27.

"Three themes emerged … which tugged at the board from different directions: One, deep concern about the decision that the Mountain States Conference had made and a plea for the Executive Board to sanction the conference; two, affirmation for the Mountain States action, with a plea for fuller LGBT inclusion in the church, and three, a call to unity in the midst of our differences," Stutzman said.

Reader Comments

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  • Posted by SamS at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    This seems like another case of former Mennonite Church (MC) polity assumptions overwhelming congregations with roots in the former General Conference. I'm saddened and embarrassed to see Eastern MC's try to bludgeon former GCs into submission on an issue that would formerly allowed greater congregational autonomy and openness to diverse perspectives. The LGBTQ community is not going away. How long will we continue to push it away without really engaging with it?

    The mission and witness of the Mennonite Church has been crippled for years because it hasn't managed a meaningful relationship with people different from itself, and this includes our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

  • Posted by AmberDanielle at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    With so churches threatening to leave unless they get their way I just hear His voice saying, "And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself." And as someone though not new go to God but new to the Mennonite world I ask if they remember this passage from Matthew 22:39??? Aren't we supposed to be different from the World?

  • Posted by cindys at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    I am besides myself that Eastern Conference signed onto this. I am beside myself that Gene Miller would sign onto this. This is a very said day - when there are pastors threatening to leave MCUSA rather than become a welcoming church.

  • Posted by Ruby Lehman at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    As a follower of Christ , I am disappointed in the response of some church leaders who ask that the Mountain States Conference reverse their decision to license Theda Good. If a congregation or conference goes through a prayerful discernment process before licensing a decicated, well-qualified individual, I don't understand how some church leaders are making such strong objections. Throwing churches out of a conference or even MC USA?? Surely Christians can disagree and still worship and work together in love. RubyLehman

  • Posted by grtgrace at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    2 years ago I joined a congregation in Oregon. I had given up on church, but I was drawn to a congregation that has a spectrum of theological positions from very liberal to very conservative. I saw for the first time in my life a body of believers allowing each other "individual priesthood". Not only is this congregation greatly diverse, but there are ongoing conversations in the spirit of unity and love. No one is threatening to leave because of someone else's position being tolerated. There are no requests for censorship or admonition. Instead this many faceted group is working to bring peace in the community.

    I offer my plea that we be loving and accepting and follow the model of Jesus in accepting those the culture rejected. This means to my fellow progressives that we love and accept conservatives who struggle with the issue of LGBTQ affirmation and inclusion. To my fellow conservatives that we love and accept those who have crossed our boundaries of holiness like the woman at the well, the woman taken in adultery, Zaccheus, and others.

  • Posted by ebodnaruk at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 01:28 PM

    This topic is obviously experienced by many as frustrating, divisive, and dangerous - all in different ways and in different situations. I have made statements and arguments in the past on my view on this topic, so here I want to explore another biblical approach I think we could all agree on.

    Jesus said that the truth divides. It can tear apart families and friendships. He said he came not to judge or to bring the sword (he's nonviolent) but in other places he said he did come to bring a sword, (a sword is sharp and easily cuts or divides things).

    Jesus also said that those who pursue righteousness and the truth will be persecuted for it. Anabaptists were persecuted by the religious majority, and Jesus was persecuted by the religious majority.

    The trick is, both sides of the LGBTQ debate perhaps feel persecuted. But the reality is that only one side of this debate actually represents Truth.

    If people can tolerate different views on this matter and find ways to move forward, then the unity of the Mennonite church (an institution) can be preserved.

    If not, and people on one side, the other side, or both sides feel they are standing for Truth, then this *should* divide us.

    As an insitution, this is scary and bad. Institutions don't like being split.

    But we are called to care about Truth. Both sides can agree on this, I hope.

    So if there are some that want to cast out the group that wants to be supportive of LGBTQ people, maybe a nonviolent response of leaving and forming a separate institution is worth considering. This is difficult, but Jesus said that following the truth will be difficult.

    What this does is it allows both groups to express their vision of Truth. People will leave the church, people will join the church. It would be a roller coaster.

    But God is in control, and God will favor the Truth - whichever side it is.

    This issue has real ramifications. It may be possible to maintain unity in it, I don't know. But it seems fake to call for unity when there is such an obvious dis-unity on this topic, and this is not a topic like the preference of a food over another. Real people are hurt and crushed based on this. Others have pointed out that Mennonite institutions in other countries may be adversely affected by US Mennonite views on homosexuality. Either way, there are ramifications. To deny this, to deny the search for Truth, and to artificially prevent the search for Truth from dividing or separating us *may* be a sign that both sides are not following Jesus in this matter.

    I just wanted to share this perspective because I think it takes a step back to look at the topic in a different way, and one based on some biblical principles that I think (although I could be wrong) are absolutely clear and self-evident.

  • Posted by Berry Friesen at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 02:13 PM

    We can work through this, just as we've worked through out disagreements about military service and divorce.

    But first trust must be restored among the area conferences. That will happen when Mountain States Mennonite Conference suspends implementation of its licensing of Theda Good pending further consultation with the other conferences.

    When we describe our disagreement in grandiose terms, we make it impossible to bridge. Let's first restore the integrity of the process and eschew unilateral actions; then bit-by-bit the resolution may emerge.

  • Posted by George Lehman at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 02:37 PM

    I would like to make a correction to the comment by SamS.
    To the best of my knowledge the Rocky Mountain Conference was part of the former Mennonite Church (MC)before the creation of MC USA.

  • Posted by SamS at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 02:42 PM

    In response to George Lehman, I know Rocky Mountain was part of the Mennonite Church (MC), but some former Western District congregations became part of the Mountain States Conference, as I understand it. Is my information incorrect?

  • Posted by Ruby Lehman at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 05:01 PM

    I would like to ask everyone involved in this discussion to PLEASE read the article by Norman Kraus, "On Changing the Focus in the Sexuality Debate" on page 31 of the March issue of The Mennonite.

  • Posted by rkmacmaster at Monday, March 03, 2014 at 07:30 PM

    I am not a church leader. I am an ordinary member of a Mennonite congregation. I have difficulty in accepting the idea of a pure church although it is a significant element in our tradition. It seems rather a contradiction in terms. We are reformed but always reforming; forgiven but always in need of forgiveness. I have no difficulty with accepting anyone into the fellowship of my church, which has after all accepted me impure as I am. It is painful to learn of so many brothers and sisters who honestly feel they cannot be part of any fellowship that fails to observe the clear teaching of Scripture as they understand it - whether it be divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, military service, defrauding workers of their wages, taking interest on loans, or other matters of serious concern. I fault our Colorado brothers and sisters nevertheless for needlessly taking a provocative stand which they can hardly have been unaware would have this result. Theda Good is undoubtedly a person with a genuine call to ministry, but that call can be exercised without ordination and without specific credentialing. Before we recognized the ministry of women, generations of women ministered in the church. While leadership was limited to males, the tradition of ministry as an individual charisma was foreign to us. Since many, many brothers and sisters would be distressed and no one can claim to know the mind of Christ in this, it would have been better to use Theda's gifts in a way that reflected the humble service that we like to see as the identity of our church.

  • Posted by JDennyWeaver at Wednesday, March 05, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    A the Regional Meeting of Central District Conference last Saturday, the scripture for reflection was the story of the two disciples on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24. What jumped out at me was the “aha moment” when Jesus did something that they finally recognized. This idea of an aha moment when something about Jesus finally dawned on people seemed like a metaphor for realizations throughout the course of Christian history. Two such slow-arriving aha moments concerned slavery and the full equality and ordination of women. Another recent aha moment concerns the character of God. It has taken many centuries to realize that if God is truly revealed in Jesus, then we should assume that God is nonviolent, which has many implications for the practice of Christians who profess nonviolence. And of great current significance, given Jesus’ acceptance of and interaction with Samaritans when they were the ethnic group discriminated against in his time, his raising the status of women, his support for poor people and lepers and more, it should be a really strong AHA to realize that this Jesus would not be rejecting and discriminating against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. J. Denny Weaver [I just posted this comment on my Facebook account as well.]

  • Posted by jean Martin at Wednesday, March 05, 2014 at 03:22 PM

    It grieves me that the Mennonite Church, formerly a church described as a people of The Book can be so deceived. Welcoming people to Jesus does not mean telling them that living sinfully is okay. Sure, all of us fall, but then we repent, and ask for forgiveness. We know that sin is unacceptable to God- He thinks it is bad enough that he died for us so we would not have to. Jesus died on the cross to free us from sin. We welcome people to that truth and pray for their deliverance from sin. we stand by them when it is too tough, when they get trapped again, but we do not approve of it. (see Romans 2:1)Sex is addictive, just like drugs, so people will need lots of help dealing with lust, but we know Jesus is able to make them a new creation in Him. Ephesians says be made new in the attitude of your mind--meaning feed your mind with truth and you will live it. we walk with them by faith into a new life--one God ordains and accepts, which does not making sex our god, tho the culture does. and it is no different than the culture the Israelites had to deal with and succumbed to too often. if we accept that sinfulness as ok, we in fact, are going along with the culture not against it. we are letting it lead us with half truths and deceit. In the unity of the Spirit, let us pray for repentance, and cry out to God to heal us, to revive us, and to make us witnesses of His grace in Jesus Christ. it is our only hope.
    the other god in the Mennonite church is peace/nonviolence. we need to repent that we put that one above the Word and the Truth, for God is the one who fought for Israel in the OT, and his death on the cross was an atonement, not an example of non-violence-- that mercy might triumph over judgment, he died.

  • Posted by George Lehman at Monday, March 10, 2014 at 01:50 PM

    SamS asked for clarification regarding the presence of some formerly General Conference (GC) church in the Rocky Mountain Conference. Yes, a few formerly GC churches are in the confrence but First Mennonite, Denver and the bulk of the churches are historically Mennonite Church (MC) churches. At least that is how I understand the history.

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