MC USA’s “Membership Guidelines,” part one: A history

Ted Grimsrud—July 15, 2015

Mennonite Church USA had its biennial general assembly in Kansas City the week of the Fourth of July. Most of the attention before and afterwards seems to have been paid to the discussion of whether the denomination should strengthen the role of the 2001 Membership Guidelines that were part of the founding agreement the merger that created MC USA from the former General Conference Mennonite Church and Mennonite Church. These Guidelines were formulated in order to single out the alleged “sin” of LGBTQ Mennonites and to forbid pastoral participation in same-sex weddings.

This is the first of three posts that will respond to the passing of the resolution that re-affirmed the Membership Guidelines. Here I will give some historical background to the Guidelines and describe what they say. The second post will offer a theological critique of the content of the Guidelines, and the third post will reflect on the relationship between the Guidelines and the Mennonite peace position.

Reaffirming the Membership Guidelines

While it is likely that for most who attended this year’s convention, the experience was about much more than the official business that was done, Kansas City ’15 maybe will nonetheless be linked with the decision about the Membership Guidelines in the same way that Saskatoon ’86 and Purdue ’87 continue to be remembered for the statements on sexuality that were approved then by delegates—and whose reverberations continue.

I actually hope that this will not be the case, that the delegate approval of the MC USA Executive Board’s resolution that enlarged the role of the Membership Guidelines will prove to be the last gasp of a failed attempt to underwrite a restrictive approach to the presence of LGBTQ Mennonites and their supporters in MC USA. As it is, the presence of the Membership Guidelines as an official part in MC USA’s structure signals a tragic failure of Mennonite pacifism, or, as it has traditionally been called, the Mennonite “peace position.”

This blog post is a continuation of a series of reflections that have allowed me an opportunity to think out loud about the current struggle over whether MC USA will be welcoming and compassionate. I wasn’t at the Kansas City assembly, and I don’t write as one particularly well informed about the inside dynamics of MC USA politics. My sense of what happened at Kansas City is mainly filtered through the laments expressed on social media by those who hoped the Membership Guidelines would not pass. What I mainly have to offer, I think, is a historically-informed analysis of some of the underlying theological and ethical issues—more than insight into what actually happened on the ground in Kansas City.

It’s difficult to say now, of course, what the long-term impact of the passage of that resolution will be. It is likely that not that much will directly change. On one level, this resolution—passed alongside a resolution on “forbearance” that called upon MC USA members to respect those with different views—only reiterates the tension-filled series of statements dating back nearly thirty years where MC USA and its two predecessor denominations (the General Conference Mennonite Church [GC] and the Mennonite Church [MC]) have said both that the denomination believes “homosexual … sexual practice [is] sin” and the the denomination is committed to respectful dialogue among differing perspectives (both points are official “teaching positions” according to the original 2001 Membership Guidelines that were part of the founding of the new denomination with the merger of the GCs and MCs).

This is what I guess might happen. Those who oppose the Guidelines will continue to seek for more welcome in MC USA, and many will disregard the restrictions the Guidelines establish. This opposition will likely lead to more tensions and conflict depending on how those with the authority to enforce the Guidelines respond. Many of those who have been threatening to leave MC USA—from all appearances the main audience for the new embrace of the Guidelines—will continue to leave (media reports from the assembly quoted at least two leaders of large congregations and conferences indicating the likelihood that they will not continue in MC USA despite the passage of the pro-Guidelines resolution). Thus, the moral integrity of MC USA will suffer, given this effort to appease the restrictive forces at the cost of the spiritual and emotional well-being of a vulnerable minority in the denomination. The cost is genuine even as the effort signified by the Guidelines to encourage people to stay in the denomination will mostly be a failure as many leave anyhow.

The history of the Guidelines

The Membership Guidelines approved in 2001 in Nashville had their origins in the same kind of dynamics as the current re-approval—using a condemnation of LGBTQ Mennonites as a way of encouraging restrictive Mennonites to stay in the denomination. They were formulated shortly after the delegates to the 1999 joint MC/GC general assembly in St. Louis failed to approve the original Guidelines (the U.S. delegates, that is; the Canadian delegates did approve the Guidelines and split from the Americans to form MC Canada).

A new leadership entity was formed at this time, the Constituency Leaders Council, and the CLC formulated a new section to the proposed Membership Guidelines that specifically required that the new entity formally take a restrictive stance—most directly in stating that it is a “teaching position” of the new denomination that “homosexual … sexual activity is sin” and forbidding ordained MC USA ministers from performing same sex weddings or union ceremonies. This new section was the only change of substance and is about the only difference between the MC USA and MC Canada versions.

This assertion of an explicitly restrictive stance for the new denomination was enough to gain the support of those who opposed inclusiveness in relation to LGBTQ Mennonites. The affirmation of the Guidelines was nearly unanimous by the delegates at the 2001 general assembly when the new denomination was formed. Presumably, delegates who may have supported a more inclusive stance were willing to accept officially making the new denomination discriminatory because of seeing “church unity” as a higher value—”unity,” of course, that excluded a vulnerable (though small) minority from full acceptance.

Probably another factor in the approval of the Guidelines by those who might have wished for a less overtly restrictive approach for the new denomination was the message stated within the Guidelines that they were a temporary expedient based on contingent circumstances. The introduction to the new Section III referred to the presence of dually-affiliated congregations that had been disciplined out by their conference in one of the denominations and remained in good standing in the conference of the other denomination. Thus framed, the Guidelines were meant to serve the purpose of guiding MC USA in dealing with those congregations. As it turned out, the status of the two congregations that I know of who had actually been kicked out of one conference was quickly resolved. One, Germantown Mennonite Church, was almost immediately kicked out of the conference it had retained membership in and was removed from MC USA. The other, Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship, soon established membership in a new conference in MC USA with the approval of the conference that had kicked it out. However, the resolution of these relationships—seemingly the occasion for the formulation of the Guidelines—did not lead to the Guidelines being phased out.

The introduction to the new Section III had also stated that the Guidelines would be reviewed by 2007—again with the implication that they were meant to be seen as temporary. It would have made sense to some delegates to think that they could accept this expedient for the brief time that it would take to get the new denomination established and then move ahead without the Guidelines. As it turned out, even though the status of the dual-affiliated congregations that had precipitated the Guidelines was resolved quickly, the review apparently never happened. According to one report, MC USA’s executive board may have discussed the Membership Guidelines but never brought them back up to the delegates at the 2007 general assembly. So a review never happened in a public way.

Then, in 2013 the executive board did make some small revisions to the 2001 Guidelines that removed the references that showed how the Guidelines were presented as temporary and contingent. This revision included removing the references to the issue of the dual-affiliated congregations and the promise of a review by 2007. It also removed the section from 2001 called “Context for the Guidelines” that underscored their contingent nature. As a consequence, it became possible for the current resolution to present the Guidelines not as a temporary expedient meant to deal with a certain complication in the merger but instead as “the guiding document for questions regarding church membership and same sex relationships/marriages.”

Of course, it was a deeply problematic tactic to begin with, to specify one small, vulnerable part of MC USA for what many perceived as condemnation as a basis for establishing enough “unity” for the passage of an otherwise endangered action that would create a new denomination. But the problem has been exacerbated by the willingness of MC USA leaders to transform a temporary expedient into a “guiding document” that continues this condemnation as a tactic to sustain this “unity” and thereby cede tremendous power to those in MC USA who have threatened to leave.

The “resolution on the status of the Membership Guidelines” (2015)

The newly formed MC USA has never quite reached a place of stability. Even with the 2001 Membership Guidelines, numerous congregations departed from the denomination due to perceived theological incompatibility. And numerous others threatened to leave, putting pressure on denominational leadership to crack down on what some suggested was a creeping inclusiveness—most notably the licensing for pastoral ministry of a woman married to another woman in one conference and the pastoral role held by at least two other openly LGBTQ ministers in congregations in two other conferences.

MC USA’s executive board brought the “resolution on the status of the Membership Guidelines” to the Kansas City ’15 general assembly, and by a 58% – 42% vote, the delegates approved the resolution. One of the main effects of this resolution was to transform the Membership Guidelines from its original status as a contingent expedient meant to deal with the question of what to do about dual-affiliated congregations to a permanent “guiding document for questions regarding church membership and same-sex relationships and marriages.”

This transformation seems to have happened by a kind of sleight-of-hand seemingly without being presented as such. The 2013 revision by the executive board deleted the materials in the original Guidelines that made their contingent nature clear. And the 2015 resolution simply names the Guidelines as the “guiding document” without acknowledging the original context for the Guidelines—or the promise made in 2001 that the Guidelines would be reviewed, presumably with the possibility that they could be adapted or discarded once their original reason for existence ended.

The new resolution gives the Membership Guidelines a much more central role as an enforcement tool. This happens partly by its assigning to the Constituency Leaders Council the responsibility to act as “elders” in confronting conferences “who make decisions that are not aligned with the documents named above (i.e., the Membership Guidelines and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective)—a new role for what has hitherto been an advisory group.

The resolution also reinforces the misuse of the Confession of Faith embedded in the Membership Guidelines (more on this in my next post). It perpetuates the myth that the Confession speaks about same-sex relations when the article from the Confession cited in the Membership Guidelines (Article 19) actually addresses divorce and remarriage (see my essay critiquing MC USA’s “teaching position” on same-sex relationships).

We see one problematic expression of this twisting the Confession to single out same-sex partners in the recent book MC USA has published to guide ministers, A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership.On page 63, the book seems to allude to the Confession of Faith in stating that “a monogamous heterosexual relationship [is standard] for married persons.” But there is no allusion to the “for life” that is part of the Confession’s definition of marriage. This turns the emphasis of the Confession on its head. Article 19 is explicitly about divorce and takes a very restrictive view—and is reinforced by the New Testament verses cited and the commentary. It only tangentially alludes to same-sex marriage. However, Shared Understanding is silent about divorce and explicitly forbids same-sex marriage for pastors—and the blessing of same-sex marriage.

One may assume that the book ignores divorce because it is now widely accepted in Mennonite churches—many pastors and other church leaders are themselves divorced and even remarried. I think that it is a good idea to be accepting of divorced and remarried persons, even leaders. We may say that we understand marriage to be “for life” while recognizing exceptions. However, it is deeply problematic that such a generous spirit is not present in relation to same-sex relationships.

This double standard reflects some profound theological problems with the Membership Guidelines. I will address those in my next post.

31 thoughts on “MC USA’s “Membership Guidelines,” part one: A history

  1. One thing I find disappointing about all of your posts on homosexuality is that you make no effort to be anything other than partisan. It’s clear what your stance is and your perspective. But you make no honest attempt to understand or sympathize with the perspectives “on the other side of the aisle,” let alone attempt to articulate a compromise position. This seems to me to be a failure of imagination on your part and a missed opportunity for a theological voice that actually transcends the easy either/or positions that are already out there.

    1. There really is no compromise that either side would accept. If Dan can propose a “true” compromise (both sides give some, right?) then I’d like to hear it. Time for a split in the church. We are living a lie to think we have preserved “unity.”

    2. Please say more, Dan Umbel, about why you are disappointed that Ted’s posts seem so partisan. His role here is not as mediator. He is a scholar and teacher of Bible, Xn Theology, Xn Ethics, and Peace Studies. He is presumably trying to teach what he sees as truths grounded in the Bible and Christian theology and ethics. He is a peace teacher advocating for justice. If he is unfair to interlocutors who draw other conclusions, or miss characterizes their positions, then call him out on that. If you or anyone else has compromises to propose or understandings of truth that seem less partisan and that you think might therefore be more constructive, offer them. I think of Harold N Miller who expresses views and advocates for positions very different from Ted’s. Do you expect him to be less partisan? I don’t. Though I often don’t agree with his conclusions, the role where he is at his best is when he, likewise, is expressing truths as he sees them, again being kind and fair to those with contrasting opinions.

      1. Ted has been very clear on what his own positions are regarding the moral status of homosexual practice. That is his right. However, what I find problematic is his lack of accuracy in characterizing the motives and convictions of the other side. The fact that he repeatedly and deliberately calls the more traditional viewpoint “restrictive” and “exclusive” in all of his public writings on the subject demonstrates precisely the “othering” mechanism that he supposedly finds so problematic. I would think that it would be possible both to state one’s own position on the matter, while also recognizing the other viewpoint and describing it as accurately as one wishes one’s own viewpoint to be described.

  2. One of the things that shocked me about the passage of the Membership Guidelines Resolution was how poorly it was written and discerned. One of the questions asked by a delegate was how much time the Executive Board had spent discussing the CLC’s expanded role with the CLC. The answer: none. I don’t understand how the EB is able to change the structure of the denomination without first discussing it with those parties effected by the changes. To me it seems that the resolution is a kind of a “Hail Mary pass” to keep the denomination together and while it may slow down the exodus, I don’t think it’s ultimately going to work.

  3. Good short term analysis, Ted. However, the story should begin at least in 1847 with the formation of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the Mennnonite Church, led by John Oberholtzer and 15 other ministers who had been excommunicated by the older group for insisting on a written constitution. This was shortly followed by two more splits, in 1849 and 1851. The General Conference Mennonite Church was then founded in Iowa in 1860.

    Fast forward over a century and a half of extremely bitter divisions, including the shutdown of Goshen College by a fundamentalist wing of the Old Mennonite Church, etc etc etc, to 2001 when Mennonite USA was formed by the two main factions. Then there was the period in the 1960s when the GC seminary was invited to move to Goshen and merge with the Goshen Biblical Seminary by the Mennonite Pope and Dicatator, H.S. Bender (NO RELATION) . The GC’s said basically “Over our dead bodies!” but eventually Erland Waltner persuaded them to move to Elkhart — close but not too close.

    Or we could go back even further to 1693 when Jakob Ammann was directly responsible and personally responsible for causing the Amish schism; he excommunicated all the elders and ministers in Switzerland who would not agree with him to introduce and practice the Meidung or shunning of excommunicated members.

    Or even back to 1525 and the original Anabaptists (the peaceful ones that is, not the violent revolutionaries who were equally Anabaptist) who if they had been given half a chance by Zwingli, the Lutherans and the Catholics would likely have wound up excommunicating each other.

    And so it goes. Our history is one of extraordinarily opinionated and self-righteous folks hating each other’s guts but trying their best to follow Jesus’ command to unity. This is just the latest chapter. Stay tuned.

    Ross Lynn Bender
    Philadelphia, PA

  4. Gotta have faith. What’s the alternative?

    Maybe all Mennonites of whatever stripe will begin to look within themselves and acknowledge the evil that lurks therein. All that passive aggressive stuff built up over centuries.

    “Oh, I has a sad.”

    Should be “I’m angry as hell!”

    I know I have a deep hate/love relationship with the Mennonite church. Was thinking of going to World Conference, then started looking at the speakers and workshop leaders. My reaction? Oh, THAT guy. Really can’t stomach him. That guy? He’s full of it. That dude is so overwhelmingly self-righteous — darned if I’m gonna go to HIS workshop.

    Bottom line, gonna stay home and play computer games.

  5. I don’t understand why anyone would have agreed to the Membership Guidelines in the first place if they thought that either 1.) they were only a “teaching position” and thereby aren’t subject to enforcement or accountability of any kind or 2.) they were “only temporary”. Did anybody actually believe that sometime in the future those who uphold the Confession of Faith and Membership Guidelines would suddenly become enlightened and change their stance? Really? You caved to the majority opinion because you believe your social justice stance (which seems to many of those on the other side of this debate to be based on popular cultural influence and not in Scripture, but that is another debate entirely) would eventually convince everybody else to follow the minority? And now you are disappointed that it isn’t happening? I still get surprised by how far apart we are culturally and philosophically. Who was the passive aggressive here in the first place? Those who you claim are passive-aggressively threatening to leave if the minority insists upon changing the Confession of Faith or those who joined in covenant under that Confession with their fingers crossed under the assumption that eventually they would get it changed.

    1. I certainly would not have agreed to the Membership Guidelines if I were a delegate, Linda. I don’t know very much about why people who did support it did so. In any case, though, what they were doing—whether they truly believed it was an accurate and helpful summary of where MC USA would be or whether they cynically saw it simply as a temporary expedient that didn’t really mean anything—was to scapegoat gays for their inability to deal with their differences constructively. It was a vicious act, in my opinion.

      I’m not sure who the “you” is in your comment. I never expected “everybody else” to follow the minority. I’m disappointed that there are so many Mennonites who are anti-gay, but I’m not surprised. I expected the Membership Guidelines resolution to pass in Kansas City—and thereby to only exacerbate the mess.

      I don’t know if you ever have read the Confession of Faith. Read Article 19 sometime, all of it including the footnoted scripture texts and the commentary. The focus clearly is on divorce, not “homosexuality”—and the message is strongly anti-divorce, even to the point that any divorce would seem to be a violation of the Confession. Part of the tragedy in the current situation is how the anti-gay people get away with twisting the Confession as if it is on their side when it doesn’t even speak to same-sex relationships. More of the scapegoating.

      1. I apologize that in my hasty reply to this post, I reverted to a conversational style English and used the second person pronoun as a place holder to represent a larger like-minded group. I was not specifically meaning “you” personally.

        In my previous rant, I was referring to the approval of the Membership Guidelines which eventually brought the GC and MC together years ago. I can’t understand why those who didn’t really support them would have voted to approve them. Wasn’t that disingenuous? I come from a very ethnic MC backgroun (my maiden name is Stoltzfus if that gives you any frame of reference). I think our Amish and conservative Mennonite roots have embedded in us (meaning ethnically Amish/Beachy/Conservative/MC cradle Mennonites) a distinct understanding of membership in the church whether writ congregationally, conference-wise or denominationally, carries with it the same kind of covenantial weight as one’s wedding vows. You aren’t a member until you willingly accept the covenant of membership. I like to think of the practice of Rumspringa as an example. Those who haven’t deliberately made a choice of membership are not held accountable for their actions. Meaning, you support the guiding documents and the Confession of Faith, and, hence, you are accountable to the other members of that covenant based on your acceptance of it. Why would anybody join a group that they don’t agree with?

        I was speaking with my sister (who left the Mennonite church some twenty years ago) over July 4th weekend and described to her what was happening with the CoF and MCUSA. She surmised that MCUSA probably was formed primarily to pool money, resources, numbers of congregants rather than for spiritual reasons. I’m beginning to think she is on to something. Was GC looking at the larger memberships and greater resources available at MC with dollar signs in their eyes? Is that what the merger was about? What was the driving factor to cause all those who disagree with the CoF and MG to go ahead and approve it anyway? Another comment made to me on a different Mennonite blog said she felt that the merger was to “make a greater influence in the world.” I responded by saying most of the folks I grew up around were trying to be the “quiet in the land” and not seeking to change the world, at least not politically.
        Those of us who are merely congregants (not elders, scholars, delegates, nor pastors) in Mennonite churches really never understood what the merger was for or what was going on.

  6. Hi Ted, thanks once again for laying out some history and context around the present challenges MC USA is facing. I have a few clarifications/corrections to offer.

    You said, “the review [of the Membership Guidelines] apparently never happened [in 2007].” This isn’t true, although I’ve heard a number of people assert this in KC, or since. I was on the CLC in 2007, and we reviewed the MG prior to the San Jose convention. The review was not terribly extensive, and I’m not sure how many CLC attendees even knew what our goal was, but we had a document prepared (by the EB, I think) that summarized the history and context of the MG. I remember less well what was brought to San Jose, if anything, but I’m fairly sure that the delegates at San Jose at least heard about CLC’s review. I don’t remember whether the delegates were able to weigh in at all.

    The MG resolution results were 60%-40%. Abstentions don’t typically count when determining percentages. Numerical results: 473 in favor, 310 opposed, 28 abstaining. If you’re going to include abstentions in reporting percentages, you need to be consistent: 58.3% Y, 38.2% N, 3.5% abstaining. (Forbearance passed by 72% (71.8), by the way. MC USA reporting is slightly off on that one, too.)

    While I agree that the MG resolution sounds enforcement-oriented (perhaps especially to those of us on the inclusive side of things), its discussion of CLC’s role as “elders” is not “a new role for what has hitherto been an advisory group,” as you say.

    From its inception, CLC has been given “relational power” rather than executive power. The EB looks to the CLC to give it guidance (sometimes, they expect too much, methinks), but the CLC doesn’t make official decisions. However, the advisement that they offer to the EB is taken very seriously. The “elder” role is one that it has always had (as noted by the quoted passage in pearl 5 of the resolution). One might argue that they are being asked to do something more or different than what they have done in the past (as Karl Shelly’s notes indicate), but in my opinion this is only a matter of degree, not of substance.

    In other words, I think the CLC “exercise[d] mutual accountability by engaging in conference-to-conference peer review” back in 2007 when Lancaster Conference bishops voted to not allow women in pastoral leadership. The three Lancaster Conference representatives sat up front one evening and explained the situation to the rest of us. We asked questions and challenged this decision, tears flowed, expressions of pain and appreciation flowed out, and I felt the mutual understanding of conference leaders who deal with people who care passionately about living faithful lives while also wanting to be part of a larger body of Anabaptist Mennonites.

    That was the only time during the two years I attended CLC that such a focused, intense dialogue happened with one conference. My point, though, is that CLC, as a gathering of conferences and constituency groups, engages in this kind of informal “peer review” all the time, sometimes in a more focused way, sometimes less. On its face, in theory, I see nothing wrong with it.

    Especially given the passing of the “grace, love, and forbearance” resolution, one reasonable option available to the gathered CLC is to listen carefully, speak their (many and varied) opinions, and then offer forbearance to the conference making a non-aligned decision. There is nothing in the resolution’s language that requires a negative enforcement, just as the MG’s one polity point requires no specific disciplinary outcome other than “credential review”.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Dave.

      I appreciate the clarification about the review of the Membership Guidelines. In a way, though, your account makes things worse in terms of my critique. It seems to me that the acceptance of the Guidelines have been from the start a profoundly violent act (you and I debated this on-line 15 years ago, you may remember), not to mention terribly sloppy theology (more on that in my next post). So to the extent that there was a review and the Guidelines were reaffirmed, that only exacerbates the original violation (as the recent delegate vote also did). I will plan to revise the wording in my post when I have time, though.

      You wouldn’t happen to still have the “document … that summarized the history and context of the MG”? I’d love to see it.

      I’m not sure why you are nitpicking the vote percentage. I was only repeated what was reported in the press. I don’t see why the precise percentages matter.

      According to Jeremy Yoder’s comment above, there was an acknowledgment in the discussion that the CLC’s role would be “expanded,” and that no one had really thought through yet quite what that would mean. If nothing is really expected to change on that front, then why have the resolution sound like it would?

      The impression I have is that the CLC has at times had a helpful role and has been a place for a bit wider spectrum of voices being heard. But there is also the sense that in the lead up to Kansas City, the EB did not pay close attention to the counsel the CLC offered.

      Regardless, the key point in the Kansas City resolution seems to be not about the fine points about how these leadership groups function so much as an attempt to intimidate dissenting pastors, congregations, and conferences. As Jeremy Yoder also said, it seems like a “Hail Mary” that has little chance of making things better.

      1. Hi Ted, did our debate happen on Mennolink? I’d love to see what we wrote. I should be clear that I have never supported the MG (the only PNMC board member to vote against them in a straw poll some time in ’98 or ’99), so my point in responding is to help shed light on some of these processes that aren’t always “well-lit”, so to speak.

        I am pretty sure I can find the MG “review” document that we discussed. I am pretty sure it was written by Ed Rempel (Vern’s dad), or at least he was on the committee that prepared it. I’ll send it your way if I find it.

        I’m nitpicking the vote percentage because I am a data guy; data and numbers are my day job, and I get disturbed when they are used incorrectly. (“How to Lie with Statistics” (and Maps) are important books, after all.) Not that you originated these incorrect numbers, but I’m trying to nip it in the bud wherever I see it. Numbers are powerful political tools, and “58%” (which everyone at Pink Menno is using), sounds lower than 60%, for the same reason prices are listed as $2.99, not $3. But while the initial reports may have said 58% (incorrectly), all the Menno news outlets now say 60%.

        I disagree with your reading of Jeremy Yoder’s comment. He refers to a delegate asking a question that implies an expanded role. No one on the leadership side necessarily implied that. We’d have to look at the transcript or the minutes to be sure what was said there.

        I’m not sure I agree that the resolution sounds as if the CLC’s role will change. As I indicated with the enforcement fears (which I initially shared), it doesn’t have to be read that way. Much is being read *into it* (maybe validly, maybe not).

        As I’ve often argued with Berry Friesen in the past year, Mennonites are horrible about being implicit when they should be forthright. (I appreciate your clarity, in contrast!) This is one more example. I’m not saying the MG won’t be used to try to discipline conferences, but I don’t think the verbiage that is there can be justifiably used to do so. It is too vague, too open to interpretation, too fuzzy to support a crackdown.

        I’m not sure who had “the sense” that the EB did not pay close attention to the CLC’s counsel, but I heard specifically at the CLC meeting last October (when KC was definitely on everyone’s mind) that the EB strongly wanted CLC to come up with some clear way forward. The implication as I understood it was that the EB couldn’t or wouldn’t forge that path themselves. In the end, I guess they (or Ervin) did, with the MG resolution. (I was at the October meeting, but not the March meeting.) Still, the CLC’s choice of the Forbearance resolution is why the EB went with that one over the other two alternatives.

        Where do you see in the resolution an effort to “intimidate”? It feels like you’re adding an “or else” in the resolution that I don’t see there. As you’ve already said, no one on the inclusive side is likely to change anything they are doing, so if it’s an attempt to intimidate, it’s pretty lousy.

      2. I’m a “data guy” also. Of the 811 delegates voting, 58.3% (473) voted for the resolution. There is no way anyone can dispute that fact. When you are using the 60%, IT DOES NOT REPRESENT THE % OF THE DELEGATES WHO SUPPORTED THE MOTION. It represents something else and should be carefully and clearly communicated. Otherwise, one is “lying with statistics!”

      3. Chuck, maybe you missed my first post, where I said you could either remove the abstentions (which aren’t counted as votes for or against, and therefore could reasonably get dropped from the “n”, as they are technically non-votes (i.e., abstaining from voting)), *or* you could include all votes and report it accurately (which Ted did not), and which I laid out clearly: 58.3% Y, 38.2% N (not 42, as Ted had), and 3.5% abstaining. You really needn’t yell.

      4. Dave,

        Yes the conversation happened on Mennolink. It turns out that I have saved most of my (lengthy!) “contributions” to Mennolink from 1995-2003. So I have my contributions to the conversation, but not yours, unfortunately. I have uploaded them to this site:

        Click to access after-nashvillee28094mennolink-aug-2001.pdf

        My response to your comments may be found near the end of the document. I don’t know if the Mennolink archives still exist and are accessible. It appears that your comments were written sometime between August 9 and 13.

        As I said, I don’t care about the percentages and meant nothing by using the 58-42% number. But I do have a question. What would determine the percentage needed to pass the resolution—50% + 1 of the vote plus abstentions or 50% + 1 of those who voted yes or no? That would seem to determine whether you say 58% or 60%—though I accept that the 42% would always be incorrect. My main point is that it is scandalous that anyone would vote to support the Guidelines, not to mention either 58% or 60%.

        I hope you’re right that the resolution was not meant to give the CLC more enforcement power. But then what was its purpose if that wasn’t it?

        It seems like your paragraph itself supports the sense that “the EB did not pay close attention to the CLC’s counsel.” As you state, the EB did not accept the CLC’s choice to go only with the forebearance resolution but unilaterally added the MG resolution. And the EB did not accept the implicit counsel that “forging a path ahead” was not necessary.

        My perception, admittedly not particularly well-informed, was that the EB’s decision to “forge a path” was stimulated by distress many felt about Mountain States licensing Theda Good and was an attempt to much such licensing more difficult—and also possibly set the stage for disciplining Mountain States. So, I think of that as an effort at “intimidation.”

        Now, it could be that the resolution itself was (intentionally?) too weak or vague to lead to such an outcome. And at least Central District Conference does not appear to be intimidated as it (we?—I’m a member of a CDC congregation and fully support this step) will be licensing a gay pastor next week.

      5. Sorry my response is so late, Ted. I was getting ready for MWC, and now I’m here (last day! it’s been fantastic!), and have a little time. (I actually wrote a long response late last night but it got eaten by the Internet gods.)

        I don’t know for sure the official way of counting the vote, but I’m pretty sure I heard someone at the front say that while they’d be counting the abstentions, the abstentions would not be considered when tallying the vote results. In other words, I thought that 50% + 1 vote of the Y/N votes would carry the day.

        Again, I can’t say for sure, but perhaps the purpose of the MG resolution was to give the *impression* of being stronger on enforcement, but as I’ve said, the actual text doesn’t give them any concrete way of being stronger in practice.

        I disagree slightly with your take on the EB ignoring the CLC’s counsel. The CLC was asked by the Resolutions Committee to choose one of three resolutions to forward to the EB. Nowhere were they saying this was the *only* resolution that the EB should consider. The EB had the right to accept their suggestion, reject it, add to it, etc. I am disappointed with the EB’s choice, but it didn’t involve ignoring the CLC.

        I’m not sure why you see the concept of “forging a path ahead” as inherently negative. Obviously, you/I/we don’t like the status quo, so something needed to change.

        Yes, there was distress in some quarters of MC USA about MSMC’s licensing of Theda Good, and the EB was trying to determine the best way to respond, but I don’t perceive them as trying to “intimidate” anyone. As you say, it’s not very effective with CDC, so if they’re trying, they’re not doing very well.

        My main differences with you and others on our “side” seem to be how we perceive the leadership’s role and intentions in all this. I have heard many disparaging remarks about the leadership, blaming them for the situation in which we find ourselves. But what we should really be blaming is the vast difference in experience, belief, and values that are represented within our body, for it is those real differences that are causing these challenges.

        The members of the EB, and even Ervin Stutzman, are just ordinary people, fallible and human, stumbling their way towards what they hope to be the best solution for the *whole*. I know that doesn’t please many of us who are more concerned for those who have been excluded for too long, but I sincerely believe the EB feels as much pain as many of us do, and are not fully satisfied with where we are at. Would other leaders do things differently? Undoubtedly. Would other leaders do things perfectly? I doubt it. I’m not sure there is a perfect solution available at this time. But if anyone has one to present, I’m sure the EB would be happy to hear it and give it due consideration.

        I wonder how things might look if all those feeling distant from and criticizing the EB as the “other” would see them as potential *partners* and approach them accordingly.

  7. hit the nail on the head; the hope that the CLC will save our denomination isn’t so much a plan as a “Hail Mary pass.” I don’t say that as criticism of anyone; it simply reflects our reality.

    Yet Hail Mary passes do work sometimes, and when everyone can see that time is running out, such an effort is the obvious thing to do. Is there a consensus within the CLC that time is running out? If so, then the plea for the CLC to be our wise elders just might work.

    But CLC members also will need to be convinced there is some greater purpose in unity than what we’ve heard to date. What of importance will be missing 25 years from now if MC USA splits apart in 2020? I’m convinced the case is a strong one, but In the essays on unity that I’ve read over the past 18 months, I haven’t read much that is compelling.

    The other element needed to make this work is for conservative leaders to make it clear early and often that they are not happy with the Membership Guideline on sexuality and that they look forward to developing a consensus proposal for the delegates to approve at a future convention. The recently reaffirmed statement sounds like something from the prior century, before the dialogue within the church had included significant input from gay and lesbian Jesus-followers, before we had congregations with gay and lesbian members and before we had gay and lesbian pastors. It most certainly is not missional and reflects little awareness of or compassion for people (like us) who are living in a culture that distorts sexual desire and sexual activity in all sorts of negative ways.

    In other words, for the CLC to fulfill the outlandish hope we have placed in them, they need to encourage one another to expect something new and better to grow out of a relationship of restored trust and accountability. And the “winners” from the KC convention, those who achieved 60 percent of the delegate vote, should make the first move in that regard.

  8. Ted, I’ll be eager for the background of the Central District Conference (CDC) decision you reference. What opportunity has it given its conference peers to speak into this? What statement of theology and biblical ethics was adopted as part of this decision? What approved teaching on sexuality will accompany this step? Why is CDC rejecting the June, 2014 counsel of the Executive Board to not take such a step? All of this will help the rest of us know whether or not its decision marks the further fragmentation of the denomination.

    In the case of Mountain States Mennonite Conference (MSMC), this sort of contextualization did not occur prior to its December, 2013 licensing of Theda Good. Yes, there was “keep Elkhart in the loop” kind of reporting and the documents from MSMC make many general references to intra-conference consultations, times of Bible study and much prayer, and a breakfast meeting with the Moderator-elect. But one gets little sense that MSMC perceived the decision to be a historic shift in what it intended to teach in its congregations about the Bible and human sexuality and a crisis for the other district conferences. Pervading all was at attitude of almost adolescent narcissism (i.e., aren’t we bold and courageous for breaking the rules and aren’t those people in Elkhart meanies for talking about us breaking the rules).

    CDC will do much better, I’m sure.

      1. I’ve found the documents you reference; thank you, Chuck, for drawing them to our attention. I will read them carefully. Two things I will be looking for are (1) what will CDC encourage its congregations to teach about human sexuality and (2) how has CDC demonstrated the interdependence with other district conferences that is implicit in our denominational structure.

        Regarding the former, my hope is that the CDC teaching document reflects awareness of the dynamic relationship between culture and an individual’s sexual desire/sexual behavior.

    1. I found Berry’s interpretation to the Mountain States deliberations, communications, and decisions interesting. After reading

      Click to access clc%20timeline%20handout.pdf

      (and also:
      I came to a different interpretation than his. Of course, I do not have first hand knowledge of the communications. Excellent communication patterns require both parties to be fully engaged in the conversation.

      1. You may be right, Chuck, about a failure of the denomination to engage. I see in the MSMC timeline Herm Weaver’s attempts to engage the Conference Ministers and the meetings over the course of an August, 2013 weekend with the denominational minister, Nancy Kauffmann. Like you, I have no first-hand knowledge of what occurred during these encounters.

  9. In response to Linda Rosenblum’s last comment above, the merger was a successful attempt, if short-lived, to heal a century and a half old split between the General Conference and the Old Mennonites. I very much doubt that there were dollar signs on the movers’ minds. My own dear father spent most of his life working towards this union, beginning with the Joint AMBS seminaries. He was the First Joint Dean of that Joint. At Bethlehem 83 the GCs and OMs met jointly for the first time, and my father, as moderator, together with Jake Tilitsky, the GC moderator, moved their pulpits together and each laid down foundation stones for the joint denomination.

    Anyhow, despite my deep hate/love relationship with the MCUSA, I’m beginning to get tired of all this whining. If you want to see something new, come to the city.

    I just attended the annual Philadelphia Anabaptist Kingdom Builder’s Pentecost Service tonight. It was postponed from Pentecost to try to host a World Conference Scattered assembly, which didn’t happen, so it was just some of the Philadelphia Mennonite and Brethren in Christ congregations.

    The young and vigorous Indonesian church led in loud and spirited singing. There was a dance team of young women from one of the African-American churches. We took an offering for the black churches which have burned in the south since Charleston. Drew Hart was the very dynamic speaker. If you haven’t heard of him, you will. He preached on the meaning of Pentecost and pointed out that Philly Anabaptists unite white, African-American, Hispanic and Asian congregations who disagree on a variety of theological particulars. We sang hymns in Spanish and English, then a group from the Vietnamese church sang in Vietnamese. Pastor Juan Marrero led in communion. One of the Lancaster Conference bishops, Bishop Al, is an African American with long long dreadlocks. Another one is Leonard Dow, pastor of Oxford Circle. If you haven’t heard of him, you will.

    A man from our church (from MB background) led in 4-part singing of “Breathe on Me Breath of God”, after explaining what that was, and a bit of its history in the Mennonite churches, pointing out that at first it was too radical and progressive for many.

    Then we closed with “I’ll Fly Away”. If you haven’t heard it yet, you will.

    Present in the audience were also white Menno luminaries Wilbert Shenk and wife Juanita, who now teach at Fuller, and Ron and Arbutus Sider, who were early Menno pioneers in Philly.

    Point is, church unity is happening in Philly. If you folks out and down in the sticks wanna see the future of the Mennonite church, come out to Philly. And stop all that frigging whining.

    Hallelujah! and nuff said.

    Ross Lynn Bender

    1. Thanks for the insight Ross, like I said, I’m an ordinary ethnic MC that’s just another “butt in the benches” and have no knowledge nor understanding of why or what the purpose of the merger was. But your reply doesn’t answer the question as to what the motivation was to approve a CoF that many didn’t support. Just to merge? To what benefit? And to whom was the perceived benefit? I get it that the GC and MC had split long ago but honestly, wasn’t there a reason for that split?

  10. Hi Linda. I guess I would say that yes, there was a reason for that split, but there was also a reason to attempt to resolve those differences after many bitter years. To me the history of the Mennonite church (actually of the whole Christian church) is a cycle of continual splits — call them renewal movements — and moves toward unity.

    As for the motivation for approval of the CoF, I’ll leave that analysis to Ted and others who are obviously more up on those things. Just BTW by the time that happened my own father was off the scene and quite ill – he passed away four years ago.

    One more note on the Philly Anabaptists, if I may brag. For the previous two years, the Pentecost services included communion served by half a dozen pastors, including Amy Yoder McGlaughlin of the notorious Germantown radicals, our own pastor Lorie Hershey of West Philly, and then a range of more conservative ministers some of whom you might characterize as fundamentalists.

    The Kingdom Builders Network is a group of pastors who meet monthly. They are quite aware that some of our congregations are welcoming and that some are inerrantist – some accept women pastors and some don’t. Yet they persist in attempts at unity. That is why I have hope for the Mennonite church. My fervent belief is that things are changing rapidly and that those on the margins, either in terms of ethnicity, class, or sexuality now have a place at the table. Obviously MCUSA is not perfect and much work remains to be done. But the times they are a-changing.

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