An even more inclusive direction?

Delegates will face important questions at special assembly

The 2021-23 biennium Mennonite Church USA board is, front row, Chaiya Hadtasunsern, Michelle Dula, Linda Dibble, Emily Merolli, Karen Zehr, back row, Mitch Kingsley, Leslie Francisco III, Richard R. Aguirre, Thomas Dunn, Todd Lehman, Jim Caskey, not pictured, Jon Carlson, Susan Hart, Margie Mejia-Caraballo and Zenobia Sowell-Bianchi. — Mennonite Church USA The 2021-23 biennium Mennonite Church USA board is, front row, Chaiya Hadtasunsern, Michelle Dula, Linda Dibble, Emily Merolli, Karen Zehr, back row, Mitch Kingsley, Leslie Francisco III, Richard R. Aguirre, Thomas Dunn, Todd Lehman, Jim Caskey, not pictured, Jon Carlson, Susan Hart, Margie Mejia-Caraballo and Zenobia Sowell-Bianchi. — Mennonite Church USA

Mennonite Church USA’s special delegate session scheduled for next May has become even more interesting and important. Now delegates will have an additional option — a more LGBTQ-­inclusive one — as they shape denominational policy.

A recommendation from the Executive Board to repeal the Membership Guidelines was already on the agenda. The guidelines prohibit pastors from officiating same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Now delegates will also decide whether to vote on a more detailed resolution — brought by the group Inclusive Mennonite Pastors — that would not only repeal the guidelines but also confess past harm and affirm the spiritual gifts of LGBTQ Mennonites.

The Executive Board has taken a positive step by adding a more progressive resolution to the agenda. Expanding delegates’ options shows leaders will not try to restrict the people’s discernment. If delegates want to reject exclusionary practices more decisively — and call for “repentance and transformation,” as the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors resolution does — they should have the opportunity.

Repealing the Membership Guidelines would make MC USA policy consistent with what some of its conferences already practice: freedom of conscience on marriage equality. It doesn’t make sense to keep rules on the books that aren’t enforced, especially ones that deny the equality of LGBTQ members.

Much has changed in MC USA since 2001, when delegates adopted the guidelines to enable a denominational merger. Twenty years later, after conservative departures and a growing movement toward LGBTQ acceptance, it will not be surprising if delegates repeal the guidelines.

Will they want to move in an even more inclusive direction? That question might be as important as the fate of the guidelines themselves.

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. Read More

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