This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Indiana-Michigan cites Goshen pastor’s ‘variance’ for same-sex ceremony

Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference has identified a Goshen, Ind., pastor as at variance with its teaching position for officiating a same-sex covenant ceremony.

mcusaThe pastor, Karl Shelly of Assembly Mennonite Church, performed a same-sex marriage ceremony May 28, 2014, for a couple from the congregation.

The conference’s Ministry Credentialing Team conducted a nine-month review and released a statement announcing its decision April 16.

According to the statement, three team members voted to note the variance in Shelly’s credential file, one voted for probation and one for suspension.

“When we realized we could not follow our normal practice of consensus, we went with a simple majority vote,” the statement said.

The team found Shelly’s actions to be at variance with Mennonite Church USA’s Membership Guidelines, which state that credentialed pastors “may not perform a same-sex covenant ceremony.”

The statement also said the team felt Shelly did not take their prior counsel seriously.

Shelly contacted the conference in 2011 before he presided, but did not officiate, at a same-sex wedding. After the ceremony, the conference sent Shelly a letter cautioning him against doing so in the future.

He met with conference leaders again last April regarding the May ceremony. The Ministry Credentialing Team felt the meeting “was more in the nature of informing Indiana-Michigan Conference of Karl’s intentions and motivations than seeking the counsel of conference,” the April 16 statement said.

The team also recognized Assembly’s policy affirming its pastors’ participation in rites and blessings for gay and lesbian members.

“While we appreciate Karl being in careful conversation with his congregation, the congregation is not the sole entity to whom he is accountable in the polity of Indiana-Michigan Conference,” the statement says.

It also recognized the current context of MC USA and the conference’s discussions regarding same-sex sexuality.

“We are sensitive to the breadth of understandings surrounding LGBTQ issues in our conference and denomination, and we respect the ongoing work regarding LGBTQ issues,” the statement said. “However, we also recognize that we have our role to play, and we agree that disregard of ordination vows cannot be ignored.”

Shelly said in an April 21 email that he sees the Spirit of God “continually pushing us to include, to value and to be in communion with the fullness of God’s creation.”

“We rejoice that more and more of the body of Christ are now recognizing that [creation] includes people who are LGBTQ,” he said. “The fact that the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference credentialing committee responded to my action with one of the least punitive responses at their disposal also gives me hope for the direction of the church.”

Assembly also is affiliated with Central District Conference, and Shelly is credentialed by it as well. Its ministerial committee met with Shelly on Oct. 3 and informed him a note would be put in his file to say his action was at variance with MC USA’s Membership Guidelines.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!