Conference leaders. Please consider forwarding this letter to your congregations. Thank you.
Mennonite Church USA congregations and pastors,
The Mennonite Church USA Convention in Columbus was a time of celebration and challenge and I want to share some of both with you.
Many, many people have expressed affirmation and gratitude for the convention as a whole. The responses received by the listening committee are very positive. You will receive much of this material soon. Special things happen when we are together as a people, and our time at the convention in Columbus was no exception. God’s spirit was present with us!
Beyond this affirmation which was the overall response, I want to acknowledge some aspects of the convention experience, primarily related to some activities of advocacy groups, which were not what we had hoped.
As you know, in one remarkable assembly in 1995, delegates of both the Mennonite Church and General Conference and traditions meeting together adopted the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love and our vision statement, “Vision: Healing & Hope.”
During the final session of the Delegate Assembly in Columbus, delegates adopted a resolution calling the church to find ways to be in dialogue with those who do not agree with parts of our Confession of Faith.
While we were trying to model a more open posture to diverse perspectives during the Columbus assembly, there were certain occurrences at Columbus that were problematic, primarily related to the distribution of literature by persons associated with a group calling itself PinkMennos. PinkMennos is a group which is advocating for the full inclusion of lesbians and gays into the life and expression of our church.
Our convention staff did not authorize or approve this distribution of literature. When they learned about the unauthorized distribution of literature in the exhibit area, they repeatedly requested that this activity stop. These requests were followed for a time but then continued again later in the week.
Some may have also read the Associated Press story in their local or regional newspaper that reported a one-sided and sometimes inaccurate view of our attempts within Mennonite Church USA, its conferences and its congregations, to recognize and practice our commitment to be in dialogue when we disagree. Leaders of the Executive Board and its Executive Leadership staff do not accept the inaccurate account presented in the secular press.
The delegate body overwhelmingly (about 90% counted in a hand vote) passed a resolution that acknowledges the teaching of our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective which states that “We believe God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.” (Article 19). The Columbus delegate statement also says, “We confess that we as a church (congregations, conferences, denomination) have rarely found a way to create a healthy, safe environment in which to have this dialogue, one that builds up the Body of Christ, and is respectful and honest about our differences.”
In our attempts to work with advocacy groups from within our denomination prior to the convention, we tried to establish expected patterns of conduct, but we acknowledge that, despite our best efforts to “agree and disagree in love” in this setting, what actually happened did not always meet our expectations and our understandings were not honored.
We accept our part of the responsibility for some youth receiving unwelcomed and unauthorized literature, or other incidents that may have brought offense or confusion to you or others in your congregation.
May God continue to have mercy on us and God’s spirit guide us, which invites us all to extraordinary patience and perseverance with each other in the midst of sincere disagreement and contrasting interpretation of scripture.
In Christian Love,
Jim Schrag Executive Director Mennonite Church USA