Gulf States Mennonite Conference (GSMC) delegates met Nov. 1 at Des Allemandes (La.) Mennonite Church to vote on whether to withdraw from membership in Mennonite Church USA. Sixty percent voted to withdraw, but a two-thirds majority is needed to change the conference’s constitution, so the vote fell short.
More than double the usual number of delegates attended the meeting, according to one source.
Mark Roth, moderator, said in a telephone interview on Nov. 1 that delegates agreed to initiate a task force to work on how to move forward.
“We have to deal with the reality of 60 percent of our members wanting to withdraw from Mennonite Church USA,” said Roth, who lives in Clinton, Miss.
GSMC consists of 12 congregations, and all but three or four have said they want to leave, said Roth.
The task force is made of people from the conference’s executive committee, leadership commission, delegate body and pastors’ council, Roth said. It will announce its report by Jan. 31, 2015. The churches wanting to withdraw will wait until then, he said.
“For me this is a day of grieving,” said Roth, “that we can’t stay together and focus on the things we agree on.”
Those congregations wanting to leave Mennonite Church USA have said that cannot agree with the direction the denomination is going.
Dave Weaver, a district minister in GSMC, said on Nov. 3 that many people in the conference “have compromised over and over for the sake of staying together with others who openly promoted views that were unscriptural and in disagreement with our denomination’s stated beliefs.” He said he believes “it was our willingness to compromise in the first place that has brought us to this place.”
Nevertheless, he said, he prays that “we can separate amicably and with love. It will not be without a sense of sorrow. Looking forward, however, brings the encouragement that we can go and make disciples without the ongoing, never ending discussion on human sexuality.”
Charlene Clay, a member of the host church, read several passages from Menno Simons, then said, “If we leave Mennonite Church USA, we will not be losing our Anabaptist roots; we will be rediscovering them.”
Terry Shue, director for leadership development for Mennonite Church USA, urged the group to wait until at least the upcoming delegate survey this spring in order to use their influence to help shape the direction of the larger church.
In a Nov. 7 email, he said that “members of [the] task force who are charged to discern a way forward are truly in my prayers.”