Ervin Stutzman, director of Mennonite Church USA, publicly asked to hear more from the authors of the Forbearance Resolution in his June column. “I’d like to hear more from the writers of the resolution about the ways they imagine grace, love and forbearance will take us to a new level of communal life with each other,” he wrote.
What follows is a June 7 response letter from Charlotte Lehman (left), lead pastor of Reba Place Church, Evanston, Ill., and Megan Ramer (right), pastor at Chicago Community Mennonite Church.
Dear sisters and brothers of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board,
Thank you for the prayer and care and diligence which you give to your leadership of Mennonite Church USA. We appreciate that you have put much time and thought into the resolutions you have decided to put before the delegates at Convention this July.
Particularly since you specifically and favorably mention the Forbearance Resolution our congregations submitted in the background to your Membership Guidelines Resolution, and because Stutzman verbally framed the latter as being the practical fleshing-out of the former at his presentations at our regional conference meetings, we wanted to express our disappointment in the final outcome.
We see the Forbearance Resolution as helping to establish space for seeing our differences about same-sex covenanted unions as a biblically disputable issue, and in which to treat those who love Jesus and love the Bible but come to different conclusions with respect. This is not an exhortation to be nice to one another while doing things in the same ways that have resulted in the stuck place in which we find ourselves as a church.
Healthy conflict around a disputable issue requires a more robust level of living with diversity among us while we work to hear one another and ultimately the Holy Spirit about the best way to live faithfully in the time and place where God has put us. Balanced, respectful discussion can happen in an environment that does not make one end of the spectrum carry a far larger share of the burden of restriction and censure. Forbearance means that we respect each entity’s conscience in this matter.
The Membership Guidelines Resolution seems to us to move in the opposite direction. Its overall message sounds to us like: “Let’s be clear that we’re keeping the guidelines exactly as they are now, and we’re expecting the Constituency Leaders Council to do a better job of enforcing them, and we’re going to agree to not talk about this for four years.”
With strong passions about this issue from many different directions, there are certainly no easy answers—no answers that will please everyone. But if not what this current Membership Guideline Resolution offers, then what would we suggest could “flesh out” the spirit of the Forbearance in the Midst of Differences Resolution, should it pass?
There could be a proposal to launch a process such as the “Being a Faithful Church” in which MC Canada is currently engaged.
- Grace, love and forbearance in such a process would ensure that we are hearing from all the voices in this discussion, especially those of the marginalized.
There could be specific applications of “grace, love, and forbearance” at the congregation, conference, and national levels.**
- In MC USA, it is primarily congregations who are empowered to decide their membership, choose their pastor, and determine what rites and blessings their pastor can offer. Grace, love, and forbearance would yield to the congregation on these matters.
- In MC USA, it is primarily conferences that are empowered to grant and hold ministerial credentials. Grace, love, and forbearance would yield to the conference on matters of credentials.
- In MC USA, it is primarily the denomination that is empowered to articulate teaching positions and periodically update them. Grace, love, and forbearance would yield to the Executive Board’s decision on when changes to the current teaching position will be entertained.
We do note that the Background section says that the Executive Board “is testing the status of the Membership Guidelines by proposing the resolution below…”
This testing with the delegate body is perhaps a worthwhile endeavor. However, since the Board has constructed the Membership Guidelines Resolution with an emphasis on enforcement rather than forbearance in differences, and with no provision whatsoever made for establishing a mutually respectful space for discussing those differences, we do not believe it is consistent with the Forbearance Resolution.
Finally, we appreciate the difficult position you are in at this time in our denomination’s life, and continue to lift you up in prayer, that the Spirit may guide and sustain you and give you courage and peace.
Thank you for hearing our reflections.
Charlotte Lehman and Megan Ramer
**Before finishing our letter, which contained these same ideas, we received this three-point formulation by Karl Shelly, a pastor at Assembly Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind. Because he so clearly and succinctly captured our own thoughts on the matter, we have decided to use his language.