Responding to concerns about an LGBTQ-affirming resolution that Mennonite Church USA delegates approved in May, Virginia Mennonite Conference leaders issued a statement saying the conference upholds the Confession of Faith and maintains a policy of suspending the ministry credential of any pastor who conducts a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Three Virginia Conference leadership groups — the interim Conference Leadership Team, Conference Council and Faith and Life Commission — jointly issued the statement Sept. 23, two weeks after a meeting where they listened to views from across the conference.
They listed concerns they heard, including that the Repentance and Transformation resolution was one-sided, lacked forbearance for those who hold a traditional understanding, did not affirm Christian ideals of marriage and seemed to “embrace a secular sexual ethic.”
MC USA delegates voted 55.7% to approve the resolution, which confesses harm, affirms spiritual gifts of LGBTQ people and commits to inclusive actions.
VMC leaders heard that some in the conference perceived the process that led to the vote as “not representing the best of what we anticipate from denominational leadership, causing widespread consternation in VMC.”
The statement, titled “VMC leaders respond to call for guidance,” acknowledges that some in the conference support the resolution and are grieved by church divisions.
“We hear a strong desire that people want to stay together in VMC and don’t want to leave the conference,” the statement says. “. . . We regret that many people are leaving the church, disillusioned by un-Christlike fighting and division about many matters (including sexuality), and that the church has often failed to speak convincingly about God-honoring sexuality.”
In an email responding to questions, Craig Maven, VMC minister of administration and church relations, said: “We believe MC USA polity and current practice gives VMC the ability to function as we sense the leading of the Spirit and understand Scripture. That means the decision by the Faith and Life Commission in 2013 regarding [suspending credentials of] leaders participating in same-sex covenantal ceremonies remains in place and will be observed. It means VMC continues to hold the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective in its entirety as the standard for credentialing and our teaching position. It means, from our perspective, that our participation in MC USA has not changed, and we remain committed to the covenant we entered into with other conferences when MC USA was created.”
In a statement to Anabaptist World, MC USA executive director Glen Guyton encouraged VMC as it fulfills its role to provide discernment, mutual accountability and consultation.
“Our conferences are to provide oversight and resources to help create and maintain healthy congregations,” he said. “I commend VMC for caring for and listening to its members to strengthen Christian witness and model Christ’s love.”
He said that MC USA delegates operated properly to “discuss and decide major issues of policy for the national conference,” according to the bylaws, and that the Repentance resolution does not negate the Confession of Faith.
VMC leaders indicated a conference- wide process will “listen and learn about who VMC can be at our best.” Gilliam & Associates will lead the process, with the goal of sharing a report at VMC’s Feb. 4 winter delegate assembly.
Maven, the conference’s liaison to MC USA, is part of the interim team that was formed after former executive conference minister Clyde G. Kratz resigned March 22 following a ministerial misconduct investigation.
Maven said the Conference Council envisioned the listening process as a means of seeking healing and reconciliation following Kratz’s resignation.
“MC USA’s recent delegate actions increased the need to also hear each other as we discern where God is leading VMC,” Maven said. “The question of membership in MC USA is not the primary or secondary purpose of the process we are about to undertake. Rather it is to discern who we are as a conference.”