ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A “church” in New Mexico has become the first in the Mennonite Church USA to appoint an open lesbian as “lead pastor.”
Albuquerque Mennonite Church, which affirmed homosexual relationships a decade ago, made the announcement on Monday that it had chosen Erica Lea as its new leader.
It remarked that Lea has a “strong call to connect with and serve people affected by current immigration policies and racial, social and economic discrimination—as well as a call to provide a beacon and safe haven for the LGBTQ community.”
“We look forward to finding more ways of articulating and sharing an Anabaptist faith that can flourish in locally derived expressions of Jesus’s call to discipleship, peacemaking and justice,” said search committee member Andrew Clouse. “We think Erica is well-equipped to help us do this.”
Lea has heretofore mainly led professing Baptist assemblies, but did serve as an interim pastor for Houston Mennonite Church, Mennonite World Review reports. She has been at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. for the past three years.
According to the site Sojourners, Lea plans to move to New Mexico to take the role at Albuquerque Mennonite Church after she “marries” her female partner in November.
“It’s like the Grand Canyon distance between becoming open and affirming and actually calling an LGBTQ pastor who is out,” she told the outlet. “A lot of churches struggle to make that movement. … I want LGBTQ people and women to be celebrated and encouraged in pastoral and ministry leadership roles.”
She also asserted to the Mennonite World Review that “it is quite possible that the Spirit might be calling them (homosexuals and transgenders) to these types of roles.”
Lea is a graduate of Truett Seminary at Baylor University in Texas, and also has a background in ecofeminism, which “sees a relationship between the serious environmental damage done to the earth and the repression of women.”
While Lea is the first openly lesbian “lead pastor” to be appointed by a Mennonite Church USA congregation, in 2014, the Mountain States Conference approved the ministerial license of Theda Good, a Colorado woman who identifies as a lesbian, to serve as as pastor of nurture and fellowship at First Mennonite Church of Denver.
As previously reported, the development prompted a Mennonite Church in Ohio to leave the denomination in part due to concerns over the lack of discipline against those who engage in homosexual behavior.
“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, told reporters.
“We felt there needed to be church discipline, and there hasn’t been,” he said, referencing disappointment that the Ohio Conference failed to pass a resolution urging the denomination headquarters to address the Mountain States’ actions, as well as a statement from an executive board member that he felt was less than satisfactory.
According to 1 Timothy 3, leaders of the Church are to be men and are to be examples of holiness, including in their own homes.
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity,” it reads. “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?”