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150 leaders call for change in policies toward gay Christians

- 01/27/14

Mennonite individual

150 Mennonite pastors and others credentialed for ministry signed a letter calling for changes in Mennonite Church USA policies related to inclusion of sexual minorities in the church. 

The letter urges denominational leaders to "make space for congregations and pastors who welcome and bless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jesus-followers." 

The letter was sent on Jan. 24 to executive board members, conference ministers, and other leaders.

The letter comes as denominational leaders consider the future of church policies related to people who are gay and lesbian, churches who welcome them, and pastors who officiate at same-sex weddings.

Current policies have largely prevented people in same-sex relationships from having their call to ministry or their marriage blessed by Mennonite pastors. 

However, the pastoral letter makes clear that many pastors "feel called by Christ to welcome and bless LGBT people who are seeking to follow Jesus" even though that sometimes puts them at variance with denominational guidelines. 

Other signers to the letter said that while they are not prepared to act at variance to these guidelines, they "respect the discernment of [their] colleagues and seek a denomination where we can engage in the ministry to which God calls us without the threat of having credentials denied or removed or congregations sanctioned."

The letter was written and circulated by a group of six Mennonite pastors and inspired by a recent article in The Mennonite by Ron Adams, pastor at Madison (Wisc.) Mennonite Church. 

In his article, Adams tells how his brother, who was born gay, was rejected by a church which valued its theological purity over the love modeled by Jesus.

In the wake of his brother's suicide, Adams writes, "If I am asked to choose between adhering to [denominational] guidelines and welcoming and blessing someone, anyone, seeking to follow Jesus, I will welcome and bless."

The letter begins with the affirmation that Adams is not alone and ends with the call for policy changes. 

The significantly large number of signers constitutes the biggest collection of Mennonite pastors and credentialed leaders to affirm equal treatment for those in same-sex relationships. 

The continuing change of attitudes in church and society suggests that this voice will only grow larger in the coming years.

Organizers of the letter are Cynthia Lapp, pastor at Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church; Karl Shelly, pastor at Assembly Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind.; Megan Ramer, pastor at Chicago Community Church; Joanna Harader, pastor at Peace Mennonite Church of Lawrence, Kan.; Theda Good, pastor at First Mennonite Church of Denver, and Chad Martin, pastor at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, Pa.

Organizers had this to say about their witness:

"It's time the church formally recognizes that whatever consensus once existed around its teaching positions on same-sex relationships is gone," said Shelly. "The longer we fail to do so, the more the church will stay embroiled in conflict, decrease its relevancy to younger generations, and continue to inflict harm on LGBT Christians and itself."

"Some may ask, 'Why now?' for a letter like this," said Martin. "We feel called to remind the church that treating LBGT members and their advocates justly and including them at all levels of church life is not simply the cause of a few fringe pastors or conferences. Many, many pastors across geographic and conference boundaries care deeply about Mennonite Church USA becoming a more inclusive, hospitable and safe place for LBGT people of faith."

"This letter was written out of love for the church, not defiance," said Lapp. "We understand the strength of the Mennonite church to be the body of Christ, where all parts are needed and available for service. We affirm this one body with many members; we affirm Christ's love as our greatest gift; and in raising our concerns, we remain committed to bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things in love."

"Our congregation would be a spiritually poorer place without the active participation of people who identify as LGBT," said Ramer. "And the same is true of our denomination. An increasing number of congregations have begun to affirm that the Holy Spirit falls on gay and straight alike. Who are we to withhold God's blessing?"

Click here for full letter and signed names.