Believe it or not, I have been eagerly awaiting the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board resolution–for weeks. Weeks! And it is finally here. Unfortunately.
For those of you who just want the Readers’ Digest condensed version: the resolution from the MC USA Executive Board, “On the Status of the Membership Guidelines,” is a train wreck of a resolution. If you are a delegate, DO NOT VOTE FOR THIS RESOLUTION.
That is all. Carry on with your life.
For those with the forbearance to wade into the wreck and examine the carnage, I offer a translation of the document from resolution-speak into reality-check:
The Membership Guidelines, adopted by the delegates in 2001 and updated in 2013, shall continue to serve Mennonite Church USA as the guiding document for questions regarding church membership and same-sex relationships/marriages, alongside the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
So, kids, we know there are differing theologies of sexuality within the denomination, but we’re just going to pretend like we all still agree with our 15-year-old ill-conceived guidelines–or at least that we agree on the parts that deal with the “issue” of “homosexuality.” If you don’t agree, kindly keep that to yourself. We’re all for forbearance. But Karl,—and the rest of you “at variance” pastors– you can’t officiate gay weddings. And Theda, Mark—your ordinations won’t count.
In order to exercise forbearance on matters that divide us and to focus attention on the missional vision that unites us, the delegate assembly will not entertain changes to the Membership Guidelines for the next four years.
If you pesky liberals would just shut up already about justice and inclusion and the Bible and Jesus, we could get back to following our foundational documents and using our big ambiguous words.
We look to area conferences to interpret and implement these documents in mutual accountability with other area conferences, particularly through the CLC.
Western District should definitely not pass a resolution that allows pastors to officiate same-sex weddings. Because mutual accountability means liberal conferences should not challenge or upset more conservative conferences. (Also, stop calling them “conservative conferences.” They prefer the term “evangelical Anabaptist.”) Conference leaders should be more concerned with what other conference leaders think than with joining in the work God is doing in the midst of their member congregations.
We presume area conferences will grant ministerial credentials consistent with the guidelines in A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership, as seems best in their context.
We will pretend that we are the responsible adults in this denomination and Mountain States and Central District are rebellious teenagers who will soon have a moment of insight and turn from their wayward ordaining of queer pastors. We expect all conferences to ignore the Spirit-guided discernment of their communities and deny the gifts of pastors in their midst who happen to be gay (or lesbian—is that the same thing? Do we have to use all the letters all the time?). And never mind that the current version of the “Shared Understanding” document is a provisional revision that will itself be discussed by delegates at the assembly. And that MC Canada has different wording only for the section of this document that deals with pastors in same-sex relationships and those officiating same-sex weddings. Which is the part we are talking about here. Just . . . never mind all those minor details . . . What we mean to say is, “Shame on MSMC for credentialing Theda. Don’t you dare ordain her or else . . . ”
We call on the CLC to take seriously its role as “elders” for the denomination, “discerning and advising the Executive Board, the Delegate Assembly, and the Mennonite Church USA on issues confronting each of them relative to faith and life,” as well as their other functions named in the bylaws (Article IX). We also call on the CLC to exercise mutual accountability by engaging in conference-to-conference peer review when area conferences make decisions that are not aligned with the documents named above, and to make recommendations to the Executive Board if necessary.
We want to take church leaders who have thus far functioned as a support system for each other and make them police each other. It would be so much easier for us if conference leaders would be the ones to enforce the rules. Right now if we want any discipline to happen we have to write the sternly worded letters ourselves. And then people get upset and write us sternly worded letters back. And that hurts our feelings.
We join hands for the work that binds us together—proclaiming Jesus’ gospel of peace, evangelizing the world and growing as missional Mennonite communities. We desire all people who are inspired by the Anabaptist vision laid out in the Purposeful Plan of Mennonite Church USA to join us in this work.
We think if we ignore the presence of queer people and their allies in Mennonite Church USA, they will eventually go away—or at least be quiet. We think it is possible to promote peace, spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and enhance the vibrancy of individual Mennonite communities while continuing policies and practices that oppress and exclude a particular group of people. We desire all people who agree with us–or will pretend that they agree–to join our work.
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For those of my friends who helped to write and/or who support this resolution, I welcome your discussion about where I am misunderstanding the intent. (Frankly, I hope I am misunderstanding the intent.) For those of my enemies who helped write and/or who support this resolution . . . I suppose I welcome your discussion too because, you know, Jesus says I have to.