A regional body of Mennonite Church USA has entered into a period of discernment over possibly leaving the denomination in part over LGBT issues.
The South Central Mennonite Conference opted to begin a process, known as “Discovery 20.21,” which began after the regional body held its July 25-26 online annual assembly.
In an overview of the process provided to congregations, South Central leadership explained that the third part of the three-year discernment came over LGBT issues.
“We are in a time of moral discernment, theological realignments and changing affiliations in Mennonite Church USA, with the result that MC USA has significantly changed in its composition of churches and its theological orientation,” explained the overview, as reported by Mennonite World Review on Wednesday.
“The advocacy for the sanctification of same-sex relations in Mennonite Church USA, some pastors conducting same-sex covenant services with the approval of their area conferences and a few pastors living in same-sex relationships has brought us to a tipping point.”
Howard Wagler, a former pastor and conference leader who will chair the Discovery Process, told MWR that it was not just the ideological direction of the church body that fueled the process.
“The pull of culture toward a progressive side of a continuum has been part of, but not all of, why we are doing this,” explained Wagler.
“The specific reason for this is that we can be on mission and know that we are with congregations and are part of a network or conference that holds up like kinds of values.”
The largest Mennonite denomination in the United States, Mennonite Church USA allows for regional bodies to determine their stance on LGBT issues.
“Inclusion and the membership status of LGTBQ individuals varies by conference and congregation across MC USA. Discernment around this has been a cause of pain and disagreement,” states the church body on its FAQ page.
“Yes, there are LGBTQ Mennonites and LGBTQ-affirming Mennonite congregations. There are also Mennonite congregations who discern that same-sex marriage is sinful. A congregation’s website will often communicate if it is welcoming and affirming for people who are LGBTQ.”
If they decide to leave the denomination, the South Central Conference would not be the first Mennonite regional body to split from the church body over LGBT issues.
In 2018, the Lancaster Mennonite Conference, formerly the largest regional body of Mennonite Church USA, left the denomination following their own three-year discernment process.
In the spring, three congregations opted to leave Mennonite Church Eastern Canada after the regional body voted to allow member churches to hold different views on LGBT issues.
“We announce with great sadness Kingsfield-Clinton and Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church, Living Water Christian Fellowship and Maple View Mennonite Church have left the MC Eastern Canada family,” announced the church conference in May.
“After a healthy conversation with leadership from each congregation, we mourn their leaving, and we bless and pray God’s best for each of them in their future ministry.”