The e-mail finally came last Friday afternoon. It cam to me from the Leadership Commission, and it came to all pastors in Western District Conference from the Executive board. It was the official rationale of why the commission decided to let my credentials remain in order after I officiated a same-sex wedding. It also contains two dissenting opinions from commission members who felt that disciplinary measures should have been taken.
There were no surprises in the rationale. Yet as I read it I was struck by the depth and complexity of the questions surrounding my credential review.
We have, of course, the issue of sex. And I do think that for the vast majority of Mennonites who do not desire full inclusion of sexual minorities in the church it is about sex itself, not sexuality. There aren’t many folks still arguing that the simple fact of same-sex attraction mandates exclusion from the church. Randy Spaulding was not disciplined for being gay, but for being in a romantic relationship with another man.
We also, though, are dealing with the issue of authority. Who has it? And why? And how should it be exercised? There are those who agree with my biblical interpretation and believe that gay people should be fully included in the church . . . but the membership guidelines say that pastors are not allowed to officiate at same-sex weddings, so I shouldn’t have done it.
And we have the issue of accountability. All pastors need some accountability. But to whom am I accountable? The denomination? The conference? My congregation? The people in my congregation that agree with me? There are those who disagree with my biblical interpretation but believe that congregations should be allowed to discern this issue for themselves and so, therefore, it’s OK that I did it.
And of course we have to talk about scripture. Well, I guess we don’t have to talk about scripture, but I do it quite a bit. Because my views are based on scripture. And because a lot of people think my views are not based on scripture. All kinds of questions come up about how we read the Bible; about law and grace; about cultural specificities and global generalities; the authority of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and Paul.
If this were just about sex, it might be easier than it is. There wouldn’t be quite so many opportunities for disagreement.
Here’s the paradox I’m being forced to live into whether I like it or not: It is so very hard to follow Jesus when we’re linked in all kinds of crazy and uncomfortable ways with a bunch of people we don’t agree with or understand. But it’s impossible to follow Jesus alone.
So, in the words of Rich Mullins: “Let mercy lead. Let love be the strength in [our] legs. And in every footprint that [we] leave there’ll be a drop of grace.” Amen.