CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A Mennonite leader in North Carolina has had his ministerial credentials suspended for officiating a same-sex “marriage” ceremony despite denominational prohibitions against the practice.
The Virginia Mennonite Conference suspended Isaac Villegas’ credentials on May 25. Villegas had been leading Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship in North Carolina and officiated a ceremony between two women on May 21.
Officiating such services requires an immediate suspension as per Conference guidelines.
“We hold the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995) to be the teaching position of the Mennonite Church USA. Thus ‘We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life,’” an online copy of the guidelines reads.
“Given the membership guidelines of the Mennonite Church USA, if a credentialed person conducts a covenanting ceremony for a same sex couple, their credentials will be immediately suspended while a review is underway,” it continues.
There are a variety of other sinful behaviors that also warrant suspension, including sexual abuse or harassment, the viewing of pornography and acts of physical violence.
Two days before his credentials were suspended, Villegas resigned from his position on the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board, citing a policy that he was encouraged to resign in February after expressing his intentions to officiate the service.
“The board has to manage a diversity of theological convictions in our denomination, and I understand their perspective on what is most helpful for board members to do and not do,” he wrote in his resignation letter according to Mennonite World Review. “So for those reasons I can understand why it is helpful to not have a member of the board who doesn’t follow part III of the Membership Guidelines.”
However, Villegas also opined that he wants Mennonite Church USA to change its stance on homosexuality.
“I hope that soon we will loosen the grip upon our lives of the denomination’s teaching position regarding sexuality; that soon we will no longer teach that queer desire is sinful; that soon we will let our churches bless those who wish to marry, whether gay or straight,” he said.
Villegas said that Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship concluded three years ago following an 18-month period of “discernment” that those who engage in homosexual behavior would not be prohibited from membership. He asserted that the decision was guided by God.
“In all of our discussions with our conference minister and the Faith and Life Commission, they did not seem willing to change their minds about the policy of the conference regarding people who are gay and lesbian, despite our congregational discernment,” Villegas said. “They seemed to be unwilling to listen to what our congregation was discerning about the direction of the Holy Spirit.”
However, as previously reported, one Mennonite congregation broke ties with Mennonite Church USA in 2014 over concerns that it was not doing enough to take a stand for biblical truth and to discipline those involved in homosexual relationships.
“We felt that Mennonite Church USA and [our church] were going in different directions concerning Scriptural authority and holiness,” Ross Miller, pastor of Hartville Mennonite Church in Lake, Ohio told the Mennonite World Review.
“We felt very strongly that that’s where God was calling us, but it was a very painful decision [to leave],” he said.