Here are five things worth paying attention to this week. These are designed to expose you to a perspective you may not normally come across […]
Lancaster Conference’s rationale for decredentialing one of their longest serving pastors is on shaky ground. Longtime Mennonite leader Chester Wenger published an Open Letter to my Beloved Church Nov. 6, calling for inclusion of LGBTQ people in our church. Wenger writes that, after 65 years as a pastor, Lancaster Conference has de-credentialed him for officiating his son’s marriage to another man. In 48 hours, it received more than 68,000 views, over 14,000 Facebook shares and 87 comments. That’s a massive response in a denomination with less than 100,000 members.
On the same day, Lancaster Online published an article on Lancaster Conference’s decision to “terminate” his credentials. In the local news article the moderator of the conference, Keith Weaver, cited denominational documents as the basis for the termination of Wenger’s credentials:
Weaver said the action was based on Mennonite Church USA guidelines stating, “Pastors holding credentials in a conference of Mennonite Church USA may not perform a same-sex covenant.”
I discussed this Lancaster longing for top down denominational rule enforcement last month in Managing Mennonite Church USA: Do we need a head bishop?.
One of the traditional advantages of hierarchical structures (like bishops) is that accountability is clear: you know who has to answer for a decision.
Weaver seems to want the power of a hierarchy with dispersed responsibility. The problem with Weaver’s strategy is that, coming out of the Constituency Leadership Council (CLC) October meetings, there is clearly not churchwide agreement on the prohibition against performing same-sex covenants he cited.
In his Equipping Column for Nov. 4 Ervin Stutzman describes the CLC’s response to making this prohibition part of the new polity manuals “unsure” and “divided.” Stutzman elaborates:
The differences in the CLC largely reflect the variety of leadership practices within the 21 area conferences across our church who currently hold the credentials for their leaders. They do not all agree on what it means to be recognized as a minister across Mennonite Church USA, not just within the confines of a local church or area conference.
Many believe that while area conferences have authority to grant leadership credentials, they must do so in keeping with the written agreements made on the national level. In the current environment, that will affect the credentialing policies for persons who perform same-sex unions, or who are part of such a union. Others believe that area conferences should have freedom to interpret national polities as guidelines, not rules that govern practices regarding same-sex unions.
Lancaster Conference is clearly part of the former group with their focus on written agreement. This is a precarious position to take while very agreement you are citing is the subject of denomination-wide disagreement. Other conferences, part of the latter group, have reviewed minister’s credentials after they performed same sex marriages and found their credentials in order.
Lancaster Conference has the authority to purge Wenger from their ranks, but they should have the courage to take responsibility for their punitive actions, not pass the buck.
Photo: Lancaster County Farmscape by Tim Nafziger.
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