Photo: Western District Conference participants place cloths in a cross in the opening worship. (Photo by Gordon Houser)
At their annual meeting Oct. 30-31 in North Newton, Kan., Western District Conference (WDC) delegates voted by a 72-percent majority to approve a resolution that “pastors, with the affirmation of their congregations, consistent with Mennonite polity, and without fear of censure, may officiate or refuse to officiate ceremonies that consecrate before God monogamous, life-long unions, regardless of the sexual orientation of those being united.”
The resolution came from Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kan., which introduced it to the July 4-6, 2014, WDC delegate assembly. Following that meeting, WDC asked member congregations to participate in a 20-question online survey as a first step in a conference-wide conversation responding to the resolution. WDC’s executive board also appointed a task force to study and seek input on issues of sexuality and polity.
WDC discussed the resolution at its fall 2014 and last spring’s reference councils.
This year’s meeting was moved to October so as not to conflict with the Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly in July.
Peggy Coriell, moderator of Rainbow Mennonite Church, introduced the resolution to delegates, noting that the process took time. She emphasized that the resolution “only addresses pastors performing same-sex covenant ceremonies.”
Richard Gehring, WDC moderator and pastor of Manhattan (Kan.) Mennonite Church, said the district will still follow the Membership Guidelines of Mennonite Church USA and review the credentials of a pastor who performs such a ceremony. However, the focus of that review will be whether or not the pastor followed the discernment of the congregation.
During discussion of the resolution, one delegate made a motion that a 60-percent majority be required for the resolution to be approved, rather than a simple majority. Delegates defeated that motion 132-126. Later, that became a moot point.
Several delegates expressed concern about the repercussions of passing the resolution. One asked, “If the Western District is ‘at variance,’ are congregations and individuals [in WDC] also at variance?”
Gehring noted that a pastor who performed a same-sex ceremony after discerning it with his or her congregation would not be at variance with WDC but with the broader church.
Other delegates asked people to respect LGBTQ individuals and stop referring to who they are as following a “lifestyle.” One delegate said it is easy to justify our sin, but “this leads to destruction,” referring to Matthew 7:13-14.
Before delegates voted, Gehring explained the ballot, which included two choices under “yes” and two under “no.” A person could simply affirm the resolution or affirm it, even though they oppose same-sex relationships. On the other hand, a person could vote against the resolution or vote no, even though they affirm same-sex relationships.
The final tally showed 185 voting yes, with 30 of these noting they oppose same-sex relationships, while 72 voted no, with four noting they affirm same-sex relationships.
During the opening worship, Heidi Regier Kreider was installed as WDC conference minister. In her sermon, she said the church is to be a contrast community, a caring community and a Christ-centered community. “We are held together not by our own efforts but by God,” she said.
In a closing worship service, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, spoke on “The Reconciliation of All Things in Christ.” He asked what it means to be held together (the assembly’s theme) in a denomination that sometimes seems like it’s falling apart. “My advice is to hold on to Jesus and let him hold on to you.”
WDC’s church planting commission reported that there are three church plants in the conference, all of them Hispanic congregations.