CLC Presentation, March 12, 2021

The following presentation of the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation was written by Randy Spaulding, Michael Crosby, Joanna Harader, and Carol Wise and present to the CLC by Randy and Michael.

The Inclusive Mennonite Pastors Leadership Team, or IMP, respectfully presents to the Constituency Leaders’ Council A Resolution for Repentance and Transformation.  This resolution was written by Joanna Harader, pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence KS; Michael Crosby, pastor of First Mennonite Church in Champaign-Urbana in IL, and myself, Randy Spaulding, pastor of BMC in CO.  IMP is an unofficial but growing community of Mennonite pastors who believe Mennonite Church USA should fully include and affirm LGBTQIA people in the life of the denomination.  The IMP Resolution was written on behalf of MC USA congregations and members who also desire full inclusion in MC USA.  It has been endorsed by 31 organizations, including 26 Mennonite congregations and almost 500 individuals. 

The Resolution for Repentance and Transformation has drawn heavily on the good work of the 2019 Advisory Group.  The Resolution was created and submitted to the MC USA Resolutions Committee, intended to be presented to the Delegate Assembly at the 2021 national convention known as MennoCon21.   We understand that resolutions dealing with membership guidelines will not be brought to the Delegates in July of this year.

This Resolution grew out of the work the broader church has done over many years, most recently when the Executive Board commissioned an Advisory Group in 2019, representing a diversity of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, identity and theological breadth.  The Advisory Group presented the Executive Board with recommendations, including acknowledging the harm LGBTQIA Mennonites have endured due to the Membership Guidelines.  Recommendations also included retiring the Membership Guidelines, offering LGBTQIA persons representation within the larger church, and developing a process to address healing, reconciliation and truth-telling.

We are presenting this resolution as a church statement and believe that it fits the three criteria for such statements as outlined by MC USA in their guidelines for developing resolutions.

The first two questions are:

1. Does the proposed resolution enable us to join God’s activities in the world?

2. Does the proposed resolution enable us to live and act in ways that allow God’s healing and hope to flow through us to the world?

And the answer to both is, Yes! Exclusion and mistreatment of LGBTQIA people by the church has driven many people away from participation in the church, even causing some to set aside their faith altogether. If MCUSA truly repents of the harm we have done through our  exclusionary policies and works at becoming a church that lives out LBGTQIA affirmation and justice, we will be positioned to welcome many more people into the work God is doing through us in the world. Many congregations that have worked toward such repentance and transformation have found themselves renewed in spirit and enlivened to do all kinds of work with God in their communities. We cannot expect God’s healing to flow through us to the world while we continue to hold policies that do great harm to our siblings within the Mennonite church.  I’ll ask pastor Michael Crosby to continue our presentation.

[Thank you Randy] The third question asked of church statement resolutions is:

3. Does the proposed resolution advance our Vision: Healing and Hope statement, our purpose statement and the Renewed Commitments that guides us toward God’s preferred future for us?

Yes! You’ve already heard Randy speak about “Healing and Hope.”

In terms of our denomination’s purpose statement, this resolution is a vital step toward nurturing “missional Mennonite congregations of many cultures.”  In many contexts, including my own, judgmental and exclusionary policies such as the Membership Guidelines are a true hindrance to evangelism–people do not want to be part of a community that does not fully welcome and affirm LGBTQIA people. By contrast, so many of us know the joy and power of Christ alongside and because of LGBTQIA Mennonites who enrich all of our faith.

This resolution also adheres to our denomination’s renewed commitments. It challenges us to “Follow Jesus” on the path of radical love and justice. It is a “witness to God’s peace” as it calls for us to “reject injustice in all forms and in all places.” Sometimes the injustice within is the most difficult to acknowledge and address. In taking this step we will bear witness to the fact that we are willing to work at peace and justice among ourselves, which gives us as a denomination more respect and credibility as we seek to work for God’s peace in the broader world. 

And finally, the whole point of this resolution is that we would “experience transformation.” I see the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of LGBTQIA Christians I know and in the congregations that welcome them. I see the winds of the Holy Spirit blowing through our denomination, inviting us to new life; inviting us to live joyfully into the truth that we claim: “Our diversity reveals God’s beauty.”

Why this resolution?

We understand that there is consideration of two different resolutions that both address the Membership Guidelines and we want to suggest that they accomplish two very different things. As Glen indicated a few minutes ago, the Executive Board resolution proposes a simple polity change; it is about how MC USA does business. 

But the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation tries to take seriously the testimony of LGBTQIA Christians who are harmed by MC USA theology and practice. It is a resolution about MC USA’s soul, and seeks a moral and theological framework for how the Spirit of God desires us to be together as Jesus followers. It is deeply rooted in the church’s understanding of repentance, which knows that healing cannot occur without truthful memory — about the kinds of confessions and commitments that seek to set relationships right where they have been neglected or broken.

Simply retiring the Guidelines cannot move us closer to healing because it continues the long and dangerous habit of overlooking (at best) and silencing (at worst) the pain of those who are harmed by the practices of the church. (And it doesn’t diminish the tension, as someone said just a little while ago. I agree with that). It seems like it’s time for MC USA to name this pain and allow it to shape our public conversations in a way that holds the possibility of growth and healing.

A Resolution for Repentance and Transformation calls us to rescind, not simply retire, the guidelines. It invites work that so far the Executive Board and denominational leadership has neglected to do. LGBTQIA members of MC USA have been faithfully calling the church to take up this work for more than 45 years. Most recently, it was expressed by the Advisory Group convened by the EB in 2019 with careful representation from across the denomination. , yet aAlmost none of their good work can be seen in the EB’s current proposal to retire the Membership Guidelines. Can we not trust God’s leading in this process? Or will we continue to undermine those who commit themselves to laying the groundwork for transformation?

It seems we are at a moment of truth: Are we willing to undertake this hard work, trusting in Christ the healer? Or do we keep ignoring the pain radiating from some members of the body of Christ?

For denominational leadership, A Resolution for Repentance and Transformation provides an opportunity to bring this conversation to congregations and delegates as an act of hope and an act of trust: Trust that congregations and delegates are mature enough to wrestle with this pain, trust that the Spirit of God wants to be revealed in this struggle, and trust that “hope and healing” can emerge from it.