Letters from conference leaders and pastors express concern about Mountain States' decision
Leaders in Ohio, Indiana-Michigan and East Coast conferences send three main lettersby Anna Groff
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: http://transformationletter.blogspot.com.
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.
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