I grew up Old Mennonite (Mennonite Church, MC), graduated from Goshen (Ind.) Biblical Seminary and pastored two Old Mennonite congregations, one dual-conference congregation and one former General Conference Mennonite Church congregation. I am now retired and a member in a former GC church.
When I supported the merger of the two denominations, I was not aware of the profound differences between the two groups. As I see it now, the two denominations began living together without getting married.
We didn’t effectively combine the different ways we worked together and made decisions. The former MCs traditionally had a top-down, hierarchical bishop/conference system, and the former GCs were congregational. This living arrangement worked until we came to the discussion around homosexuality.
Then the two ways of resolving issues collided, and the current living arrangement is not working. At the same time, the lines have blurred. Now there are progressives and conservatives across all area conferences.
Some of us call for unity and continued talking. However, that does not address the real issue for conservatives.
As I see it, the two groups have different understandings of Scripture and church discipline. For many, what is at stake is simply a different interpretation of Scripture, and continuing talking is the most logical thing.
On the other hand, with a conservative understanding of Scripture, the issue seems clear and unmistakable.
1 Corinthians 5:1ff. says, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found among pagans. … And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? … Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? … I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons. … But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolator … do not even eat with such a one. … Drive out the wicked person from among you.”
It seems to me that different interpretations of Scripture passages such as this form the backbone of our differences. Progressives tend to see Scripture more as a guide that needs to be interpreted in the light of Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, while conservatives tend to see it as more like a rule book.
Someone may say Jesus was inclusive, that he reached out in love and continued talking and that that is what we should do, but Jesus apparently did not face this situation. In the case of the rich young ruler, a case of possessions, not sexual immorality, Jesus simply let him walk away. I can imagine some of today’s liberal people running after him and trying to convince him to continue talking.
We have been talking and talking, and it seems those who support same-sex marriages will not be changing their positions. They do not see it as sinful, so what is a conservative to do? For the conservative, to remain in fellowship with what seems like flagrant immorality makes them a partner in sin.
Would it be possible to let the various area conferences do the “GC thing” and be accountable only to themselves and responsible for themselves. Individual area conferences would not be responsible for or accountable to the other conferences.
As we are now doing, individual congregations could line up with conferences where they feel comfortable.
I don’t know if this would satisfy the conservative conscience or not, but unless we can relieve the sense of accountability/responsibility for “wrong” decisions made in another far-off conference, congregations/conferences will continue to walk away.
I do not want to see more division in our church. We have had too many already. I believe both sides have their strengths and both also limp. How can we move forward together?