CHICAGO — The Mennonite Church USA Executive Board sought to clarify the meaning of forbearance while focusing on the future at its Feb. 11-13 meeting.
Other actions included rejection of a proposal asking for an LGBTQ advocacy group to join a denominational counsel body and discussion of a proposal to modify MC USA’s racial-ethnic group structures.
Board members noted that the adoption of both the Membership Guidelines and the Forbearance resolutions at last summer’s convention in Kansas City has caused significant confusion. The board passed a statement to clarify the meaning of forbearance and to name implications of the tensions between the two resolutions.
The statement says that the two concepts reflect the tension between freedom and mutual accountability and that the board will be guided by the Confession of Faith’s theological stance.
“We believe our church will be strengthened by a humble pursuit of God’s will through ongoing study of the Scriptures and in interactions with fellow believers, even those with whom we disagree,” says the statement, in part. “Forbearance does not mean that our theological agreements are nullified, nor that we will bless everything that local congregations and conferences decide to do.”
The statement expresses a desire for disciplinary and ethical decisions to be made at the most local level possible, rather than “by centralized authority.”
The board pledged to welcome diverse perspectives in deliberations and will expect its members to honor decisions and the documents it is trusted to uphold.
“We will not take punitive action against congregations or area conferences at variance with our church positions on the one hand,” the statement says. “On the other, we expect national staff to administrate our church programs according to the standards, values and beliefs identified in documents of the church.”
The statement passed by a vote of 10 to 4, with two abstaining.
Executive director Ervin Stutzman announced he is planning a full-scale revision of the Purposeful Plan in time for the 2017 convention in Orlando, Fla. This update is intended to give the church a clear direction of “where we are headed in a time of significant change.”
Stutzman named evangelism and revitalization as two important areas of focus as the church moves forward through crisis and conflict. The board affirmed this direction and encouraged staff to “identify vital and growing congregations” in order to learn from them and develop resources.
The financial audit was approved. Despite declining membership and resources, the Executive Board was in the black.
Petition turned down
The board voted against a petition requesting that the Brethren-Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests become a constituency group with representation on the Constituency Leaders Council, MC USA’s advisory group and board of elders. The board first reviewed the petition in 2015 and sent it to CLC members for feedback.
The CLC, composed of representatives from conferences and constituency groups, sent counsel back to the board to reject the petition for a number of reasons, including the concern that BMC is a multidenominational group and that just two representatives from the LGBTQ community would not be a significant enough presence for dialogue.
Though the board voted against the petition, the motion encouraged the CLC to think of other options to open space for dialogue with LGBTQ members in the church. This discussion will be on the agenda for the CLC meeting in March.
Chief operating officer Glen Alexander Guyton gave a planning update for the 2017 convention in Orlando, Fla. The convention will be held July 4-8, with delegate meetings starting July 7. The event will be one day shorter than usual and focus on the theme, “Love Is a Verb.”
Racial Ethnic Council
The board unanimously approved a request from the Intercultural Relations Reference Council to change its name to Racial Ethnic Council. The scope of the group has broadened, and it was formed to oversee the Office of Intercultural Relations, which no longer exists.
Leslie Francisco, Executive Board member and new moderator of the Racial Ethnic Council, presented a proposal to change the designation of racial-ethnic constituency groups.
In a statement, the Racial Ethnic Council said that defining racial-ethnic groups as constituency groups like Mennonite Women and Mennonite Men “diminishes their history and struggle” because “Mennonite Men and Mennonite Women do not share the common history” of racial-ethnic people in the church.
The action requires a delegate vote since it is a change to denominational bylaws.