Update on the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation

*Trigger warning: For those of you who have experienced traumatic church processes in the past, this will all sound very familiar and will make you want to scream, cry, cuss and/or run as far away from the church as you can get. You are welcome to keep reading, but there is nothing new or surprising here about how church structures operate.

*Also, I am not a “detail person.” If I’ve got anything wrong here, please let me know!

OK, friends. I don’t have time for the complete history of the church’s bad behavior toward LBTQIA+ people. (If you’re interested in more of the story, I commend to you this webinar series.) But here are some of the most immediately relevant issues related to the recent CLC processing of the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation:

In anticipation of the 2015 Mennonite Convention, Inclusive Mennonite Pastors (IMP) submitted the Just Church Resolution, signed onto and supported by multiple congregations and many individuals. This resolution was not allowed to go to the delegates. And if I did follow that process at the time, I have conveniently forgotten all about it. I just know it didn’t go to the floor. The “Forbearance” resolution and the EB-proposed “Membership Guidelines” resolution both went to the delegates and both passed and it was awful and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Fast forward to fall of 2019, when Mennonite Church USA leaders called together an Advisory Group on Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines. This group included a theological and geographical range of people and LGBTQIA participants were particularly invited into the discussion. (My eternal gratitude to Randy Spaulding, Luke Miller, Carol Wise, Annabeth Roeschley, and Joanne Gallardo for subjecting yourselves to yet another process.) The following January, MC USA published a report on the work of the advisory group which included the following recommendations:

  1. Retire the Membership Guidelines (which prohibit pastors from officiating same sex weddings)
  2. Any document or policy about LGBTQ people must actively include representatives of the LGBTQ community in its creation.
  3. That the Executive Board consult with BMC, Pink Menno, and Inclusive Pastors to explore the creation of an LGBTQ constituency group with representation on the Constituency Leaders Council.
  4. That MC USA develop a process with BMC, Pink Menno, and Inclusive Mennonite Pastors to enable truth-telling, recognition of harms, and reconciliation with LGBTQ people, their families, and others who have been harmed by the way LGBTQ people have been treated in the church.
  5. MC USA’s Executive Board, staff, and church-wide program agencies will not use sexual identity, gender orientation, or marital status as criteria to restrict a person’s full participation in the ministries, activities, roles, and committees of our denomination.

The Constituency Leaders Council (CLC), which is mostly conference ministers and moderators, had a remote meeting October 16-17, 2020. On the agenda was a “review of the history of membership guidelines and Executive Board (EB) process” along with breakout group discussions of the proposed EB resolution to retire the membership guidelines. Representatives from Pink Menno, Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC), and IMP were invited to participate in these discussions—per recommendation #2 from the advisory group. (Fun side note: Afterwards we heard that some CLC members complained that there were “too many gay people” at the meeting. To my knowledge, there were three openly queer people who participated. In case you’re wondering how many is “too many.”)

Based on the CLC meeting and discussions with denominational leaders, the IMP leadership team had a sense that MC USA would try to retire the Membership Guidelines as a technical solution to a polity problem. We felt strongly that the guidelines needed to be abolished as an act of spiritual repentance in response to a sin problem. So IMP did a lot of math to figure out when exactly we would need to present a resolution, and then designated Michael Crosby, Randy Spaulding, and me to draft it. In writing the resolution, we referenced the Just Church Resolution and drew quite heavily from the language and recommendations presented in the Advisory Group report.

Once we finished drafting it and the full leadership team worked to finalize it, we published the resolution, which many of you have signed. We submitted the resolution on November 6, 2020, and met with the resolutions committee on January 7, 2021. In response to our meeting, we clarified a couple of points in the resolution and added a glossary to explain terms that might not be familiar to all readers. (Just consider our definitions of “harm,” “intersectionality,” and “truth-telling” as friendly public service announcements for moderate Mennonites.)

Which brings us to the CLC meeting of this past weekend (March 12-13, 2021). IMP was asked which two people would present our resolution. We sent them the names of all three authors—because we can be passive-aggressive too. But apparently this “two presenter” rule is quite steadfast, and when we did not designate two of the three of us, the powers that be sent the invitation and links to Randy and Michael. The three of us worked with Carol Wise to prepare an under-ten-minute presentation for Randy and Michael to take to the CLC.

In preparation for the CLC meeting, we also asked MC USA leadership when they were going to issue invitations to Pink Menno, BMC, and IMP so that MC USA could include LGBTQIA people in these discussions about resolutions that directly affect them. We reminded our denominational leaders of their commitment in this area more than once, but to my knowledge no invitations were given beyond our invitation to present the resolution. (It had actually been suggested to us earlier that the part of the resolution calling for queer people to be included in conversations about queer people was unnecessary because that was already denominational policy. But apparently not.)

I was not at the CLC meetings, but I have heard that Michael and Randy did an excellent job. Michael reports that “with a couple exceptions, of the questions CLC members asked us about the resolution (in our 28 minutes spread over 2 days) were used to deflect from its substance and challenge whether it was responsible enough or ‘pastoral’ enough or ecclesially Mennonite enough for church-wide consideration.”

Finally (for now), on March 17, the report about the CLC meeting was published. Regarding the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation, the report says: “Seven out of eight breakout groups said that the proposed resolution should not be forwarded to the Delegate Assembly at this time.” While this statement makes it seem that there was strong agreement that the resolution should not move forward, conversations with people who were at CLC indicate that most groups had difficulty reaching consensus. It seems to be not so much that CLC members recommend NOT moving the resolution forward as that they were not in agreement that the resolution should move forward. Which is actually a pretty big distinction. The report also fails to mention that the breakout groups were given thirty minutes to come to consensus on all four resolutions that had been presented.

I’ll save my (extensive) analysis for another post, because this is already far too long. But I trust it gives you a clearer view of the status of the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation. And if, after reading this entire post, you still feel confused, baffled, and frustrated—well, that sounds about right.

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