Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board (EB) is presenting a resolution on the status of Mennonite Church USA’s Membership Guidelines for consideration by the Delegate Assembly at convention in Kansas City, Mo., from June 30 to July 5.
In the background to the resolution, the board wrote: “Our interactions show that the church is divided on understandings of human sexuality and same-sex marriage. That is why we also support the resolution calling for grace, love and forbearance in the midst of our differences. We think it best to restate our commitment to the agreements made by delegates in 2001, while exercising Christian forbearance with those who differ in their understanding and application of those agreements.”
The board drafted this resolution as part of its 2013 commitment to allow delegates to address the substance of the Membership Guidelines, and also to clarify the implications of the Resolution on Forbearance developed by Chicago Community Mennonite Church, North Baltimore (Maryland) Mennonite Church and Reba Place Church in Evanston, Illinois.
“The board is supportive of the resolution on forbearance but felt like there was a need to describe our understanding of what forbearance means,” said Patricia Shelly of North Newton, Kansas, moderator-elect. “We know we are living with different interpretations of what it means to follow Jesus, and we have to give some latitude for that. At the same time, forbearance doesn’t mean that we suspend all the agreements we’ve made in the past about how we will work together.”
Specific actions included in the resolution are:
- A recommitment to the Membership Guidelines and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as the “guiding documents” for questions regarding membership and same-sex relationships.
- A commitment not to reexamine the Membership Guidelines again for four years.
- An assumption that area conferences will grant ministerial credentials in keeping with the newly developed Mennonite Church USA polity manual, A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership, as interpreted in their contexts. This manual includes the statement, “Pastors holding credentials in a conference of Mennonite Church USA may not perform a same-sex covenant ceremony.”
- A call to the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) to exercise its role as “elders” for Mennonite Church USA. The resolution states, “We also call on the CLC to exercise mutual accountability by engaging in conference-to-conference peer review when area conferences make decisions that are not aligned with the documents named above, and to make recommendations to the Executive Board if necessary.”
- A commitment to “… join hands for the work that binds us together—proclaiming Jesus’ gospel of peace, evangelizing the world and growing as missional Mennonite communities.
EB members wrote a first draft of the resolution at their April meeting in Kansas City and tested the content of the resolution with CLC members.
“Undergirding this resolution is a sense that, in spite of our disagreements, we have other things that we want to do together,” said Shelly. “We want to focus in a new way on the common mission we feel a passion and calling for.”
Pastoral letter and other resolutions
On April 30, the Executive Board sent a pastoral letter to all delegates outlining EB members’ hopes for the Delegate Assembly this summer. The letter states, “We write in a spirit of commitment, love and vision: We have been given a holy calling: to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. We are committed to bear witness to the abundant life God offers to all who confess faith in Jesus Christ. … We are committed to helping each congregation become all that God intends for their life and witness.”
During their April meeting, EB members also processed four resolutions affirmed by the CLC at their March 26–28 meeting in North Newton, Kansas:
The Forbearance in the Midst of Differences Resolution observes that there is no consensus within Mennonite Church USA about how LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) persons are included in the life of the church, and states, “We call on all those in Mennonite Church USA to offer 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.”
The Faithful Witness Amid Endless War Resolution calls for a recommitment to the way of peace and a rejection of mechanized (drone) warfare technologies.
The Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse mourns the ways in which sexual violence has been present within Mennonite Church USA and offers several concrete commitments and steps to prevent future abuse.
The Israel-Palestine Resolution offers support for continued Mennonite learning tours to the region as well as a commitment to the ongoing work for “just peace” in the region.
The next meeting of the EB will take place on June 30 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kansas City, Mo.