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The wars about sexual minorities begins in the smaller churches

The wars about sexual minorities begins in the smaller churches

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.01.42 PMThe Mennonite Church USA (MC-USA) is the result of the union of two predecessor churches in 2002. At that time the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church formalized their union. Both had been ethnic churches of Mennonites who immigrated to North America beginning in the 1680s. The Mennonite Church began as predominantly Dutch & German immigrants settling in Germantown PA, who were later joined by Swiss and Amish Mennonites. Their congregations were mainly in PA, VA and OH. By the 1990s the Mennonite Church had grown into the largest Mennonite body in North America.

The General Conference Mennonite Church was a body of various Mennonites who immigrated to North America and were centered around Iowa. The church later grew larger with the immigration of Russian Mennonites to North America in the 1870s. The two churches first held a joint event in 1983 when the respective churches governing bodies met jointly in Bethlehem PA to celebrate 300 years of Mennonite witness in North America. This first step lead to further conversation ending in a formal union of the two churches with the US congregations forming the Mennonite Church USA and the Canadian congregations forming the Mennonite Church Canada.

After about 15 years of union, the MC-USA is disintegrating as various churches pull out of the parent denomination. The Church is made of 20 regional conferences. To date three of those conferences, including the most populous conference headquartered in Lancaster PA, have withdrawn from the denomination. There has been tension in the Church since the union in 2002 with regard to human sexuality. Things started coming to a head in 2013 when the Mountain States Mennonite Conference licensed a gay man as a pastor. By 2014 16 congregations had left the denomination.

At the Church’s 2015 biannual general conference, delegates reaffirmed the denomination’s position that marriage was between one man & one woman. At the same general conference delegates also passed a resolution calling for “grace, love and forbearance toward conferences, congregations and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.”

On 21 MAY, a member of the denomination’s Executive Board officiated at the marriage of two women. The Revd Isaac Villagas, pastor of the Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship in Chapel Hill NC, officiated at the wedding of Kate Dembinski to Kate Flynn (see above photo) with the support of his congregation. Two days later he resigned his position on the Executive Board. The Virginia Mennonite Conference, with includes his congregation, has suspended his ordination and is in the process of determining what further consequences to take regarding his actions. Two other congregations in the Virginia Conference have sent delegates of support to Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship in its situation with the conference leadership.

Meanwhile, the Western District Conference has declared that its clergy may officiate at same gender marriages without fear of reprisal. Last year the Central  District Conference also granted a license to a gay man. With individual congregations and entire regional conferences leaving, the Church is down to 600 congregations with 73,000 members and the executive leadership is preparing for a much smaller denomination. The Mennonite World Review, an independent publication, has run an editorial stating that the day of the denomination may have passed and calling for a loose federation of like-minded congregations concentrating on the mission of carrying the message of Christ to the world and not getting involved about what other folks think about things such as same gender marriage.

This story was covered by Religion News Service here and here. The main photo is by Dan Scheirer. The MC-USA logo is a screenshot from the denominational website.

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MaryLou Scherer

Oh well...

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JC Fisher

Sad about the denominational break-up. A good old-fashioned shunning, essentially, just because of different interpretations re obscure Biblical language (in the Clobber Verses). Kyrie eleison...

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