LGBTQ advocates in Mennonite Church USA are pressing their case for a delegate resolution that didn’t get Constituency Leaders Council endorsement.
Their proposed resolution is one of two — both of which would repeal the denomination’s controversial Membership Guidelines — that the CLC considered during an online meeting March 12-13.
The guidelines prohibit pastors from performing same-sex covenant ceremonies. But area conferences do not consistently enforce the rule, and the Executive Board does not have the authority to enforce it.
The CLC recommended that a resolution to “retire” the Membership Guidelines be forwarded to delegates at a special session, proposed for late spring of next year.
The resolution that didn’t get CLC consensus was brought by the LGBTQ-advocacy group Inclusive Mennonite Pastors. Titled “A Resolution for Repentance and Transformation,” it calls for “rescind[ing]” the guidelines and proposes other inclusive actions such as creating an LGBTQ constituency group with representation on the CLC.
The word “rescind,” says the resolution, “represents a stronger rejection of the painful legacy of the Membership Guidelines” than “retire.”
The CLC, an advisory group without decision-making power, offered its input to the Resolutions Committee. The committee, whose members are appointed by the Executive Board, is the gatekeeper between several resolutions and the delegates. The timeline for its decisions has not been determined.
On April 16, the Executive Board is expected to decide whether the resolution on retiring the Membership Guidelines will be submitted to the Delegate Assembly in 2022. The resolution will not be shared publicly until the board approves it.
A decision on the guidelines had been planned for this summer’s convention in Cincinnati. But the board postponed the delegate decision after reducing the 2021 assembly to a partial-day virtual meeting due to COVID-19 limitations on attendance.
The proposed resolution to “retire” the guidelines “doesn’t change anything in our current practice,” said Glen Guyton, MC USA executive director, in a news release about the CLC meeting. Area conferences would continue to manage and approve ministerial credentials as they see fit.
In an open letter to the Resolutions Committee, the writers of the Inclusive Pastors resolution collaborated with the writers of “For Justice in the U.S. Criminal Legal System,” another resolution that didn’t get CLC consensus.
The writers urged the committee not to view the CLC’s lack of consensus as an obstacle to passing the resolutions on to the delegates.
“The challenging, prophetic nature of both resolutions merits greater delegate dialogue, not a squashing of churchwide discussion,” they wrote.
The resolution is endorsed by 26 congregations and almost 500 individuals. (MC USA has about 530 congregations.) It acknowledges harm caused by excluding LGBTQ people and calls the church to “embody a theology that honors LGBTQIA people and relationships with all future MC USA theological statements,” including any future revisions of the Confession of Faith.
At the CLC meeting, Randy Spaulding, pastor of Boulder Mennonite Church in Colorado, and Michael Crosby, pastor of First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, Ill., presented the “rescind” resolution on behalf of Inclusive Mennonite Pastors.
Spaulding said: “Exclusion and mistreatment of LGBTQIA people by the church have driven many people away from the church, even causing some to set aside their faith altogether.”
According to a news release, some CLC breakout groups expressed support for broadening the conversation on sexuality across the denomination, hearing the testimonies of those who have experienced harm and doing the work to listen and build relationships. However, some groups said they struggled with the resolution’s language, describing it as “challenging,” “scolding” and “not invitational.”
Three of eight breakout groups said the resolution should not be forwarded to the delegates. Three indicated it should be considered for further study. One recommended it be moved forward. One could not reach consensus.
CLC members considered two other proposed resolutions. They endorsed one that asks congregations to increase accessibility to people with disabilities and offer resources through Anabaptist Disabilities Network.
They did not reach consensus on “Justice in the U.S. Criminal Legal System.” This resolution calls congregations to support 10 commitments, which include learning about injustices in the U.S. criminal legal system, learning from former prisoners, supporting the families of incarcerated people, learning how the U.S. legal system has been shaped by racist assumptions and advocating for reforms such as ending cash bail and mandatory minimum sentencing.
Ryan Koch, moderator of Mountain States Mennonite Conference, said his breakout group couldn’t reach consensus even though they felt the resolution advances the denomination’s vision.
“Some felt that further study was an appropriate way to move forward,” he said. “Some also felt the resolution needs more vetting and additional sources, and some wanted law enforcement to be part of the process.”
The Resolutions Committee will process the CLC’s input.
Signers of the open letter to the Resolutions Committee are the writers of “For Justice in the U.S. Criminal Legal System”: Trevor Bechtel, Kristin Loeks Jackson, Hillary Watson, Isaac Villegas, Stephen Lamb, Charlotte Tsuyuki Lehman, Zachariah Begly and Elizabeth Reimer; and the writers of “A Resolution for Repentance and Transformation”: Michael Crosby, Joanna Harader, Randy Spaulding and Carol Wise.