A group of pastors and leaders in Virginia Mennonite Conference is inviting other pastors and leaders in Mennonite Church USA to sign a statement meant to bridge the gap between traditional and progressive views on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ inclusion.
Titled “Our Commitment as We Relate to Same-Sex Couples: We Will Live in Grace and Truth,” the statement upholds the traditional Christian understanding of marriage between one man and one woman while recognizing the difficulty of some to live up to that ideal.
“We as congregations will walk patiently with those who choose to follow Jesus and yet find it difficult to live out God’s design for wholeness,” the statement reads.
Harold Miller, pastor of Trissels Mennonite Church in Broadway, Va., was not the initial writer of the statement but has been its chief editor, receiving input from others. He said the idea initially grew out of some online discussion in which he and others felt the need to extend greater welcome to same-sex couples while retaining the traditional view of marriage.
“In the Bible we discern the wisdom of God for our lives,” the statement reads. “This includes marriage between one man and one woman as God’s intended context for receiving and enjoying the gift of sexual union. To be a faithful communal witness to the biblical vision of wholeness and shalom, we will teach this pattern as God’s good design for us. We will refrain from marrying same-sex couples and actively encourage fidelity in male-female marriage and celibacy in singleness.”
Miller described the position as “accommodation to fallen humanity,” comparing it to Moses’ allowance of divorce in the Old Testament even though it was never God’s ideal.
“If a lesbian couple starts coming to our church with children, do we say God wants that family unit to be broken to reach that ideal?” he said. “Or do we say that God accommodates?”
Miller referred to contemporary pastoral decisions such as that of the Meserete Kristos Church, the Anabaptist conference in Ethiopia, which in 2006 permitted men with more than one wife to join the church without divorcing any of their wives. However, monogamous marriage remained the teaching position of the church (MWR, Nov. 13, 2006).
He also pointed out that Glen Guyton, who became executive director of MC USA on May 1, was serving in the Air Force in 1993 when he joined Calvary Community Church, a Virginia Conference congregation in Hampton, Va.
“But the church was committed to doing what they could to move him toward the Mennonite church’s stance [of nonviolence],” Miller said.
Calvary’s pastor, Bishop L.W. Francisco III, whom Guyton has publicly credited with teaching him about Christian nonviolence and who is a member of the MC USA Executive Board, is a signer of the Grace and Truth statement.
Teaching and calling
Miller said the statement intentionally avoids drawing specific lines about to what extent same-sex couples can participate in church life.
An explanatory note in the document states: “. . . we realized that it would be an endless discussion to nail down which participation should be allowed and which not. And that our group cannot anticipate all the situations that congregations will face. Plus, we want to keep the focus on What do pastors teach and call persons toward? A congregation is most defined by the stance of its leaders, not by the lives of persons who are in it.”
Miller said that the document’s signers were not necessarily in agreement on the extent to which same-sex couples should be included but that the individual congregation was most suited to make pastoral decisions.
“It’s a muddled mess when we try to precisely draw the line,” he said. “. . . Every situation is different, and the local congregation is the one who knows that person’s heart.”
On Sept. 28, the statement had 40 signers, mostly from Virginia Conference. Signers include Aaron Kauffman, president of Virginia Mennonite Missions; Linford Stutzman, director of the BLESS program at Eastern Mennonite Seminary; Tim Sweigart, moderator of South Central Mennonite Conference; and Don Livingston, moderator of New York Mennonite Conference.
MC USA pastors and leaders may view the statement and add their signatures by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I think what the Spirit of God is wanting to say to the church through this whole thing is that we theologically conservative congregations have been just blind, deaf to the harm that we were doing,” Miller said. “We were not acting like Jesus.”