At its September meeting, the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board raised hopes for making the denomination a more welcoming place for LGBTQ people.
The board’s actions were not dramatic. It remained neutral on the most highly anticipated question — the fate of the Membership Guidelines — because it needs input from the Constituency Leaders Council before deciding what to recommend to delegates at the convention in Cincinnati next summer.
The board’s actions were generally encouraging for those who favor recognizing LGBTQ Mennonites as equal members of the body of Christ. On all five recommendations from the Membership Guidelines Advisory Group, the board either moved the decision-making process forward, accepted the advisory group’s counsel or agreed to consider actions that would recognize the voices of LGBTQ church members and seek healing.
One healing action was to direct Executive Board staff to “develop a truth-and-reconciliation process with LGBTQ people.” This was a positive response to the advisory group’s request for reconciliation with sexual minorities, their families “and others who have been harmed” by church policies.
This is a call to repentance. The advisory group’s full report adopts the language of repentance on behalf of the church. It confesses that “we have not affirmed the full status and worth of LGBTQ people as fully beloved by God” and that the Membership Guidelines “have done violence to the personhood of LGBTQ people.”
Retiring the Membership Guidelines would resolve contradictions in MC USA’s governance. Maintaining restrictive policies at the denominational level while allowing inclusive practices at the conference and congregational levels has proved frustrating to all. The advisory group’s report notes that MC USA has lost both traditionalists and progressives, as well as “people — especially the young — who witnessed how MC USA was functioning and discerned it was not for them.”
Whatever delegates decide in the end, MC USA needs to be a place where diverse followers of Jesus can feel at home and follow their consciences. A church functions best when its members respect differences and are willing to do the hard work of “biblical discernment on disputable matters,” as an Executive Board press release said.
Unity amid diversity is a strength, a hopeful witness in polarized times. MC USA has an opportunity to model charity and forbearance.
With calls for repentance and the potential for policy changes, MC USA members can see a path beyond past conflicts to a more inclusive and welcoming church.