Some of you may find this hard to believe, but I enjoy being in conversation with conservative Mennonites (at least the ones who don’t condemn me to hell as they bludgeon me with Leviticus). When I find the right dialog partners–or they find me–and when I listen well and open myself to the Holy Spirit, sometimes I learn something. Sometimes I come to a better understanding of the thoughts and feelings of others. (Please note that understanding and agreement are not the same thing.)
One recent conversation has helped me better understand why so many conservatives in MCUSA accuse liberals of “betrayal.” It’s an accusation I hear a lot–and one I deeply resent.
My conversation partner explained to me that when conservatives agreed to join the newly-formed MCUSA denomination, they understood themselves to be entering into a covenant. As part of that covenant, churches within the new denomination would not bless same-sex unions or ordain gay pastors. That is what the Confession of Faith and the Membership Guidelines said. That is how they understood it.
So those of us who officiate same-sex weddings and support the ordination of LGBTQ pastors are, indeed, breaking the covenant that conservatives thought they signed on to.
The thing is, that is not the covenant that my church signed on to when it joined MCUSA. Peace Mennonite has been publicly welcoming and affirming since before MCUSA existed. And the denomination invited us in and never once said, “By the way, you’ll have to quit accepting gay people if you want to be in this denomination.” I can guarantee that if we had been presented a covenant that required us to exclude LGBTQ people from the full life and ministry of the church, we never would have signed on.
And this covenant the conservatives signed is not the covenant I signed on to when I accepted ordination in the Mennonite church. I was asked (as are all ministerial candidates, I think) about my points of agreement and disagreement with the Confession of Faith. And I told the ministerial board that I disagreed with the statement in Article 19: Marriage is between one man and one woman. They ordained me anyway. If they had said that I could only be a pastor if I refused to officiate same sex weddings, I would not have signed on to that covenant.
Is it possible that even though we are all in the same denomination we agreed to different covenants? That we have misunderstood the terms of this relationship from the beginning?
We could spend time placing blame here: Is it the denominational leadership’s fault for misrepresenting the covenant to one or both “sides”? Is it the conservatives’ fault for willfully misunderstanding the covenant, for just assuming that their interpretation of the denominational documents (like their interpretation of the Bible) is the only interpretation? Is it the liberals’ fault for glibly going along with the merger and not thinking through what it might mean to be at variance with certain statements in the Membership Guidelines and the Confession of Faith?
At this stage, I don’t think placing blame will help us move forward. (It might make us feel better, but it won’t help us move forward.) We are in the situation we are in regardless.
The conservative churches entered a covenant to be in a denomination that would uphold their view of Christian marriage. The liberal churches entered a covenant to be in a denomination that would allow them to include LGBTQ people in whatever ways they felt called to include them. Yet we have all ended up in a denomination together. So where do we go from here?