Note: This is an article I wrote for “Zing,” the monthly newsletter of Mountain States Mennonite Conference (MSMC). This is the group that holds my ordination credentials. Recently MSMC licensed an openly gay pastor. As you might imagine this decision resulted in a tremendous amount of controversy. Letters have been written in support, in opposition and calling for more conversation. While at the same time some churches are contemplating what it means to leave the conference. The goal of this article is to suggest that there is a way for us to stay to together without having to surrender biblical convictions. Your thoughts and feedback will be much appreciated!
On September 11, 2011 I did something I never thought I would do, I got ordained. For almost 20 years I avoided this decision. There were good reasons for not taking this step. In general my reasons boiled down to not feeling that I would be fully accepted. I grew up Mennonite Brethren, so I tended to hold a conservative understanding of Scripture. In 1994 I started working for a program on the Westside of Denver called Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection (DOOR). This ministry experience has consistently challenged every one of my deeply held convictions, except one. I believe that Scripture is God’s message to us and must be taken seriously.
This tension has put me in a strange place. My conservative friends think I have gone over to the “other side” and my liberal friends don’t always know what to do with my conservative leanings. These tensions left me in a space of never feeling like I could belong or be accepted. That is until I met Herm Weaver, our conference minister. Over the years he has been slowly introducing me to the people of Mountain States Mennonite Conference. It is in this conference that I saw things I didn’t think were possible- conservative and liberal churches participating as co-laborers and equals. MSMC is living in tensions that would split most conferences.
What I have come to understand is that being at the table together trumps any of the reasons that would cause us to leave the table. This isn’t always easy because sometimes our differences are significant. 2014 is going to test us. Talking about leadership and sexual orientation is not easy or comfortable. There are many voices that will tell us that the prudent thing to do is separate. For some it even feels like a litmus test; that unless you agree with my position we are going to have to leave the conference. When I speak with people both for and against the ordination of gay and lesbian persons this issue quickly becomes an all or nothing faith matter. In situations like this it is tempting to assume a “my way or the highway” stance.
In Matthew 22:34-39 Jesus is questioned about his understanding of the law. In short he says love God, love people. I have a friend to takes this statement one step farther by adding “nothing else matters.” The call to love God and love people seems to be the lens Jesus calls us to use when dealing with difficult issues. When we choose to leave a conversation or sever a relationship are we not ignoring this imperative?
I would like to suggest that leaving, or expelling, is the sin that should concern us the most. The primary call of the people of God and the church is to relationships that include reconciliation, redemption, and restoration. If any of us leaves the table we are in essence saying that this is no longer possible. My friends, that is a decision only God can make.
Staying at the table demonstrates to those outside the church that we are not afraid to engage the difficult issues of the day. As members of Mennonite Church USA the decision of one worshipping body does not dictate the convictions or beliefs of another worshipping body. Staying together even in the midst of great difference does demonstrate to the world one of our core convictions – all people are made in the very image and likeness of God and for that reason we chose together instead of separate.