LANCASTER, Pa. — The largest conference of Mennonite Church USA has parted ways with the denomination over concerns that include increasing acceptance of practicing homosexuals in leadership positions.
The Lancaster Mennonite Conference, which consists of over 170 congregations, officially left the Mennonite Church USA on Jan. 1 following a vote two years ago to no longer affiliate with the group.
“[D]ifferences over whether LMC can remain in this affiliation have reached a breaking point,” Chairman Keith Weaver wrote to the Constituency Leaders Council in 2014, according to the Mennonite World Review.
He told that outlet that, at that time, the Conference Board of Bishops wanted to reevaluate its relationship with the denomination in light of concerning developments, such as the licensure of a lesbian woman by the Mountain States Conference, and the decision by Eastern Mennonite University to review—and ultimately change—its policy prohibiting practicing homosexuals from working at the institution. Read reports here and here.
150 Mennonite leaders had also signed a letter supporting the allowance of members to be in same-sex relationships.
Listening meetings were consequently held about the matter, and over 700 attendees submitted responses surrounding the question of whether or not to end the affiliation. Church polity, vision and governance were also stated reasons for the proposed departure.
In November 2015, it was announced that 82 percent of the leaders of the Conference had voted to leave Mennonite Church USA.
“[This] announcement will likely be received in very different ways by leaders and congregations of Lancaster Mennonite Conference and across the denomination. Leaders were encouraged to interact with others in loving and respectful ways and to pray for the Lord’s leading in the life of [the Lancaster Mennonite Conference] in the days ahead,” Conference leadership said in a statement.
The separation did not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017.
“We are disappointed that Lancaster Mennonite Conference made the decision to leave MC USA, because it is painful to separate from part of our body in Christ. We will miss our mutual sharing of valuable gifts and perspectives, and lament our diminished capacity for fellowship across difference,” Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, said in a statement on Friday.
“The official separation does not mean that all of our relationships with Lancaster Conference will end,” he added. “Members of the conference will continue to participate in some MC USA program agencies such as Everence and MHS Alliance. And there are many other ways that members will cross paths in the coming years, particularly in inter-Mennonite programs such as Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, and Mennonite Economic Development Associates.”
As previously reported, in 2014, Hartville Mennonite Church in Lake, Ohio likewise decided to leave Mennonite Church USA over concerns about homosexuality.
“We felt that Mennonite Church USA and [our church] were going in different directions concerning scriptural authority and holiness,” Ross Miller, pastor of the church, told Mennonite World Review.
According to the membership guidelines of Mennonite Church USA, the denomination holds that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman. Pastors are also prohibited from officiating same-sex ceremonies.
“We hold the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995) to be the teaching position of Mennonite Church USA. ‘We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life’ (Article 19),” the guidelines read. “We hold the Saskatoon (1986) and Purdue (1987) statements describing homosexual, extramarital and premarital sexual activity as sin to be the teaching position of Mennonite Church USA.”