(RNS) – The governing body of the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States passed a resolution on Sunday (May 29) confessing to having “committed violence against LGBTQ people” and committing to LGBTQ inclusion.
In a separate vote, Mennonite Church USA also repealed instructions for pastors not to officiate at same-sex marriages. The denomination’s official confession, which considers marriage to be a marriage between a man and a woman, remains unchanged.
Nearly 83% of delegates gathered at a special assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, voted to repeal guidelines banning marriage for same-sex couples, while the resolution for LGBTQ inclusion was voted down. passed by a narrower margin, with 55.7% in favor.
“Excluding LGBTQIA people from the church is a rejection of God’s joyous joy in the diversity of creation and a denial of the divine image and breath animating all humanity,” reads the resolution for the repentance and transformation.
The resolution commits the denomination to forming an LGBTQ constituency group, creating faith-based resources on repentance and reconciliation for local congregations, and honoring LGBTQ people in future theological statements.
The Mennonite Church USA has its roots in 16e Century Anabaptists and, like other Anabaptist groups, is known for its beliefs in adult baptism and pacifism. Today, the group has approximately 62,000 members and 530 congregations organized into 16 conferences. Formed in 2002 from a merger between two older denominations, Mennonite Church USA initially adopted the now-repealed membership guidelines prohibiting pastors from officiating same-sex marriages. It was done as a compromise in a dispute over whether to exclude LGBTQ people from congregational membership, according to the ordained Mennonite pastor and Ph.D. student Isaac Villegas.
“This compromise decision started this pattern of prejudice against LGBTQ people, as they became bargaining chips for denominational unity,” said Villegas, a Mennonite pastor who resigned from the executive board of the denomination. church in 2016 after arranging same-sex weddings.
In November 2015, the denomination’s largest and most traditional conference, the Lancaster Mennonite Conference, voted to remove its 179 churches from Mennonite Church USA, fearing the denomination was weakening its position on traditional marriage. Individual conferences have supported the ordination of LGBTQ ministers and supported same-sex marriages in recent years.
The flat structure of Mennonite Church USA means that in practice the denomination holds little more than nominal authority over individual conferences. So while the membership guidelines theoretically barred pastors from performing same-sex marriages, conferences implemented (or ignored) those guidelines as they saw fit.
The structure of the denomination also allows it to pursue seemingly contradictory policies. Officially, the confession of faith affirms that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, although the new resolution implicitly expands this definition.
“Mennonites tend to stack faiths,” said Glen Guyton, executive director of the denomination. “So we’re not necessarily getting rid of them or revising them. We create new ones that reflect who we are at a certain period of time.
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Guyton added that some of the actions included in the latest resolution had already been addressed by the denomination’s executive council in 2020, and he said that, like other policies adopted at the national level, they will not be applicable at the community level. congregation or conference.
“This action, and I say this carefully, is more symbolic in some ways than it is indicative of the actual changes that are about to occur at the congregational or conference level,” Guyton said. “But it’s a big symbol, I think, for many.”
At the weekend assembly, a number of delegates expressed concern that the resolution would fuel division rather than healing. “We need both the traditional and the progressive. We can’t do this job if we don’t have both,” said Dwight McFadden of the Millersburg Mennonite Church in Ohio, according to Anabaptist World. “I don’t feel like that’s the third way we’re known for.”
But according to Villegas, while the implications of the resolution will still need to be worked out at the local level, the message it sends is loud and clear. “As a national denomination, we now say we are a pro-LGBTQ denomination. This is our position.
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This story has been updated to reflect that Isaac Villegas holds a Ph.D. student. An earlier version said Ph.D. candidate.