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Isaac Villegas: A letter to MC USA delegates

5.23. 2016 Written By: Isaac Villegas 14,007 Times read

Isaac Villegas is Pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. 

Delegates of Mennonite Church USA,

In July 2013 you appointed me to serve on the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA (EB). Soon after, I was appointed to the five-member Executive Committee of the EB. During these three years on the board, I have served as the chair of the Resolutions Committee, as well as a member of the ad hoc Restructuring Committee. This work has been fulfilling for me, because it gave me the opportunity to help our denomination grow in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. The Gospel is always embodied, and I have found the joy of Christ’s good news in visiting your congregations throughout this country as part of my work on the board. I’ve seen God’s beauty in your communities, and I’m grateful for all the ways you have welcomed me as a denominational leader.

So it is with regret that I write to inform you of my resignation from the Executive Board, effective May 23, 2016. With the guidance and support of my congregation, I officiated a wedding on May 21 between two women in our community. At the EB meeting in February 2016, when I shared my intentions, the board counseled me to resign if I were to officiate the wedding because this act would put me at variance with the 2001 Membership Guidelines, which you reaffirmed in Kansas City in 2015.

While the EB’s counsel was specific to me, the board also formalized a more general policy that applies to my situation and others: “We expect board members to honor our decisions and the documents we are trusted to uphold.” The Membership Guidelines has become a significant document in the life of our denomination, specifically its censure of pastors who conduct same-sex weddings. As a pastor who is committed to the movement of the Holy Spirit in my congregation—a congregation that affirms the blessing of same-sex marriages—I am at variance with part III of the Membership Guidelines.

After several years of congregational discernment, as we listened for the Word together in our study of Scripture, my congregation embraced God’s call to include Christians who are LGBTQI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex] in the life of the church. We decided that we would not use sexual and gender identities as criteria to determine who may give and receive the ordinances of the church. This direction “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) as we live into the reality of the Gospel, where there is no longer any distinction between male and female, because we have been made one body in Jesus Christ through baptism (Galatians 3:27-28).

As a member of my congregation, as a minister of this gospel, I would be denying God’s call in my life if I were to reject our discernment of the Spirit’s leading. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). The lives of LGBTQI Christians are good, and I will hold fast to them, bound up together in the same body, members of one another through Jesus Christ.

As a Mennonite pastor I know that I am not discovering something new here. There is already a cloud of witnesses who have officiated same-sex weddings in our denomination: Loris Habegger, Joanna Harader, Sheri Hostetler, Cynthia Lapp, Weldon Nisly, Megan Ramer, Vernon Rempel, Karl Shelly, Tim Stair, Kathleen Temple, Helen Wells O’Brian, Chester Wenger, Amy Yoder McGloughlin, and other ministers whose contexts prevent them being named in public. A tradition has been emerging in our church documents that makes space for LGBTQI Mennonites within our congregations. This incipient tradition was already there at the beginning of our denominational conversations about sexuality, in our 1986 (Saskatoon) and 1987 (Purdue) statements:

“We affirm that we can feel positive about our bodies and our sexuality because we are created in God’s image and know our Creator… We repent of our wrong view of the body, which keeps us from speaking openly and honestly about our bodies, including our sexual nature… We repent of our judgmental attitudes and our slowness to forgive each other when we fail or when our sexual values differ from those of other Christians… We covenant with each other to mutually bear the burden of remaining in loving dialogue with each other in the body of Christ, recognizing that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that the Holy Spirit may lead us to further truth and repentance… we covenant that as we discern God’s will for our lives and our fellowship, we will seek to obey it, through God’s grace and strength.”

In these two documents we called for the affirmation of our sexualities, because our bodies are full of God’s goodness, and therefore we should repent of all the ways we have taught people false doctrines that cause them to hate themselves; to hate their sexuality. We committed ourselves to staying together, despite our disagreements, as we open ourselves for God to lead us into further truth.

At our 2009 Assembly in Columbus, Ohio, we reaffirmed this tradition of bearing with one another while we disagree about the ways that human sexuality matters for Christian discipleship:

“We acknowledge the statements by Mennonite Church USA on human sexuality, which have been previously passed and are currently in place, while we also acknowledge the presence of dissenting voices within the denomination… We confess that we as a church (congregations, conferences, denomination) have rarely found a way to create a healthy, safe environment in which to have this dialogue, one that builds up the Body of Christ, and is respectful and honest about our differences.”

In this statement we made room for those of us who dissent from the position of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, and we expressed our desire for healthy and safe communities in which we can build up the body of Christ with our differences; where we can belong to one another even while disagreeing about the status of LGBTQI members of our churches.

As a culmination of this trajectory within our denomination, in July 2015 at our Delegate Assembly in Kansas City we committed to forbear with one another, as we face our disagreements about sexual unions:

“We call on all those in Mennonite Church USA to offer grace, love, and forbearance toward conferences, congregations, and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.”

This is the Mennonite community I’ve experienced, the Mennonite church that is my spiritual home. I hope we will soon find ways to commit ourselves to grace, love, and forbearance for every member of Christ’s body, even as we have different ways of living out our convictions regarding same-sex relationships. I hope that soon we will loosen the grip upon our lives of the denomination’s teaching position regarding sexuality; that soon we will no longer teach that queer desire is sinful; that soon we will let our churches bless those who wish to marry, whether gay or straight.

Over the years, while serving on the EB, I’ve received phone calls and emails from Mennonites who have been affected by the anti-LGBTQ position of our denomination. To all of you who have reached out to me, to you who have trusted me with your stories—thank you for staying in our church, despite all the ways we have tried to exclude you. I’ve seen you contribute so much to the life of our church, your gifts, your grace, your love, your life bound up in the life of all of us, the joy of our communion.

You are here, and so am I, still working together to see how our fractured community becomes a church where all of us can belong. We are the church, living out the good news of Jesus Christ for the world. And I will pray for our church with the words of Jesus, his prayer for our communion in the glory of God here and now, manifest in our union, in our body:

“I ask that they may all be as one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

With love,

Isaac S. Villegas, pastor
Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship

The views expressed in this opinion post do not necessarily represent the official positions of The Mennonite, the board for The Mennonite, Inc., or Mennonite Church USA.

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49 Responses to “Isaac Villegas: A letter to MC USA delegates”

  1. Les Horning says:

    Thank you, Isaac, for your powerful witness. May your tribe increase.

    Les

  2. Jennifer Gorman says:

    I am so very sad to read this. But I thank you for your bravery in standing up for your beliefs, for doing what Jesus has asked of you, for living your life the way He has asked you to as well. And having that courage and strength and love in our church, and being able to witness it, and that our LBGTQI brothers and sisters, that include my own two young adult children who are members, are able to witness that there are people in our denomination that love and accept them, who do want to include them, including allowing their marriage, when so many others in our world want to say they are not okay just the way they are, no matter how much they love Jesus and are trying to change this world.

  3. José Elizalde says:

    Simply… thank you. Thank you for your thoughtful and pastoral article. Thank you for your honesty and Spirit let words of hope. We will find better days ahead… this is after all the message of the Gospel. Yet, I hurt for all those who are no longer within our faith family… such lost… our lost.

  4. Thank you, Isaac. While we are getting weary of the treatment of our LGBTQI brothers and sisters receive from the denomination that we love, it is important for us to continue to speak the way of Jesus as we have experienced it.

  5. Jacob Kraybill says:

    Isaac,

    Thank you for being a prophet.

    With gratitude,
    Jacob

  6. Norma Wyse says:

    I am so saddened that there is no longer room on the Executive Board for your brave, calm, thoughtful voice. Thank you for your patient, courageous service, and I hope that you will continue to inspire us all with your powerful witness to God’s love in our world.

  7. Luke Miller says:

    Thank you Isaac for your courage & love.

    I think it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on the Executive Board’s decision to counsel Issac to resign, and revisit the (very recent) history of the two resolutions that were passed by delegates this past summer in Kansas City. The first, the Resolution on Forbearance in the Midst of Differences (known as the Forebearance Resolution), was written by several congregations who found themselves with differing stances on LGBTQ people but who desired to continue working together as one broader church body, and wrote the resolution in that spirit, offering their vision as one the denomination could choose to adopt. Of three different resolutions that grew out of congregations addressing LGBTQ people, the Constituency Leadership Council chose the Forebearance Resolution to send to the delegates in Kansas City for consideration.

    There was a second resolution, the Resolution on the Status of Membership Guidelines (a.k.a. Membership Guidelines resolution), which did not grow out of any organic local process. It was drafted directly by the Executive Board, and seemed designed to mitigate or cancel any effects that the passage of the Forebearance Resolution might have, reaffirming the current Membership Guidelines that forbid LGBTQ marriage and preventing any reconsideration of them for four years, even going so far as the use that exact same word – “forebearance” – in an entirely different context to mean something entirely different than the original Forebearance Resolution.

    In Kansas City both resolutions, despite their seeming contradictions, passed with healthy margins, with the Forebearance Resolution receiving 71% yes votes and the Membership Guidelines 58%. In their own words on their plans to hold together these two seeming incompatible resolutions, one of which was entirely of their own inventing, the Executive Board FAQs released before the convention (written by Executive Director Ervin Stutzman) stated that: “If both of these resolutions pass, the Executive Board will see it as a mandate to hold together the traditional stance of our church with an approach that grants freedom to congregations and area conferences to work things out in their own context, with mutual accountability with the CLC.”
    (http://mennoniteusa.org/menno-snapshots/frequently-asked-questions-regarding-the-two-resolutions-on-polity-and-practice/)

    Last summer at Kansas City, these were my fears: that the Executive Board, sensing that a local, organic process had produced a resolution that might change the status quo of the denomination’s approach to LGBTQ people, produced a confusing resolution that would neutralize and cancel the meaning & intention of the Forebearance Resolution and allow them to continue doing things the way they preferred (and possible the way that other powerful figures in the church preferred who chose not to work or speak openly but rather by influencing the Executive Board in the background.) I didn’t have any concrete evidence to support this conclusion, but it was my suspicion based on other actions they have taken.

    I think now we can see the concrete evidence of the above fear. When faced with a reality that forced them to decide which resolution was truly the central will and direction the congregation had chosen, the Executive Board chose to follow the document they had generated themselves and that passed with 58% of the vote and to ignore the central claim of the resolution that grew out of the church and that passed with 71% of the delegates’ votes.

    What could be a clearer application of the Forebearance Resolution than someone continuing in a church leadership position who had chosen to act in the way that a large segment of the church has been acting by blessing LGBTQ relationships? What else could it mean that “we acknowledge that there is currently not consensus within Mennonite Church USA on whether it is appropriate to bless Christians who are in same-sex covenanted unions… we call on all those in Mennonite Church USA to offer grace, love and forbearance toward conferences, congregations and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions”?

    It seems that my suspicion about the Membership Guidelines Resolution was right all along: it wasn’t meant to provide any further guidance to to the church that was missing in the Forebearance Resolution. It was just an excuse for those in power to stick their fingers in their ears for another few years and pretend that the church hasn’t already shifted beneath their feet. When we look back in the future and question how at times the Spirit has seemed to have been blocked from moving in the church, it’s these small & great acts of cowardice that might come to mind.

    • Like you, Luke, I do not know why the Executive Board brought forward the resolution that it did. You might be right, for all I know.

      But it is the delegates who set our direction as a denomination, and their two votes on sexuality do not strike me as a contradiction, but as an attempt to follow the Spirit of Jesus.

      You will recall Jesus boldly proclaimed the truth as he had received it from the prophets and Moses, yet also insisted that this truth be used to help people, not harm them. Thus, Jesus had little time or patience for those in authority who wielded received wisdom as a weapon.

      This understanding of Jesus has much traction among pastors and laity within Mennonite Church USA and it produced the delegate votes you find so contradictory, IMO.

      Although some may have voted for forbearance because they wanted MCUSA to discard the wisdom of the creation stories and Jesus’ affirmation of those accounts, my hunch is that more simply wanted to stop using that wisdom as a weapon against dissenting conferences and congregations.

    • Caren Swanson says:

      In a word, AMEN.

    • Steve says:

      Luke, these actions of EB and Executive Leadership have gone a long way toward revealing the Zeitgeist under which they are operating. You come very close to naming it in your writing here. Can you take it a step further and name the evil Spirit, or Spirits that seem to be at work among the leadership of MCUSA? Arrogance? Pride? Fear? Hatred? We could focus on the systemic ills of a structure with far too much power concentrated in far too few hands, but that would only be part of the picture, for institutions and systems also demonstrate over time the spirit(s) that guides them, and the spirit guiding the current EB and Executive Leadership is becoming clearer with each meeting.

    • Luke says:

      The Membership Guidelines resolution was presented to the delegates as the leaders’ recommended way to hold the church together. My read (as much as one can analyze the complicated motivations in a large & diverse mix of people) was that there was a lot of confusion about how the resolutions would work together, but the vote followed a basic line of trust in the counsel of the Executive Board. At the time, my most charitable interpretation of the EB’s motivation for crafting the resolution was that it was the language they felt necessary to prevent various groups from withdrawing from MC USA, but that the Forebearance Resolution would be applied whenever possible to allow some grace and peace to creep in around the edges.

      However, we now see their response when faced with a stark choice: they couldn’t resist the temptation to pick up that old bludgeon against a pastor. You forgot pastors in your reference to the “weapon against dissenting conferences and congregations.” The Forebearance Resolution explicitly speaks of offering grace and forebearance to dissenting pastors.

      I think it’s now all rather transparent. The old pattern of the church has been to use tradition as a bludgeon against queer people and their supporters, and the Forebearance Resolution offered the church a path forward, together, with differing & dissenting views, that eliminated that weapon. Some people couldn’t face living with that reality, so they did what they had to do to cancel the Forebearance Resolution, and effectively move forward as if it never existed. If that was not the case, then we be seeing something very different play out as those who have power choose how they will exercise it.

      Queer people claim the creation story with a vast, deep fervor, born in their years of pain & struggle to know who they are as God’s children. They know they are created very good and holy in God’s image. You will read that story as you will, but that knowledge can’t be taken away from them.

  8. Stefan Baumgartner says:

    Thank you, Isaac. Your words and actions show the true love of God and I am grateful for the loving witness you have breathed into our church. May more spread that call and vision.

    Peace to you,
    Stefan

  9. Joe Roos says:

    Grateful for your action and witness, Isaac. I long for the day when the consequences of a loving action do not mean exclusion from the EB and elsewhere.

  10. Blessings on you, Isaac. You are a gifted leader and hospitable and generous as a person. I’ve received from you in all those ways and am grateful.

    Two comments on your description that your congregation “listened for the Word together in our study of Scripture” and then “embraced God’s call to include Christians who are LGBTQI in the life of the church. We decided that we would not use sexual and gender identities as criteria to determine who may give and receive the ordinances of the church. This direction ‘seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ (Acts 15:28) as we live into the reality of the Gospel, where there is no longer any distinction between male and female, because we have been made one body in Jesus Christ through baptism (Galatians 2:24).”

    First, there is no Gal. 2:24. You were referring to Gal. 3:28 — where Paul says “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

    Second, I would be glad to support your congregation’s discernment (and “glad” is the right word — I am not a natural conservative) if there were indications in Paul’s other writings that he might be using the words “there is no longer male and female” to say that marriage can be either male-male, female-female, or female-male. But we have no passages suggesting that such a thought (of gender-neutrality in marriage) was ever in his mind. Instead we have a few passages indicating that Paul would not be saying that. And we have many passages where Paul speaks of women and men equally receiving God’s grace and the Spirit’s ministry gifting. So those thoughts clearly could have been in his mind when he wrote that “there is no longer male and female.”

  11. Jennifer Gorman says:

    Galatians 3:28-29 was used well here, as Paul would have meant it. In verse 29 he goes on to say (NRSV) that we are all Abraham’s offspring, which means all of us, including all LBGTQI people. As for homosexuality, what Paul meant is not entirely clear, there are now Biblical historians and researchers and translators who are explaining to us what Paul would have been actually been warning about at that time, something more evil and sinister, and something we do not need to get into another argument about here. But to say that “if there were other indications in Paul’s writings….” indicates that it is Paul that we are worshiping, not Jesus, a Jesus who tells us to love everyone, tells us not to judge, who tells us to be healing, and teaching and feeding and binding up wounds, giving out Living Water, givng out His Body, serving and most of all loving them, loving God with everything in us, and leaving the judging to Him. Paul has a lot of fantastic, wonderful things to say, but he is not God, Jesus was.

    • Jennifer Gorman says:

      That should have read, “…he was not God, Jesus is.”

    • marvin Yoder says:

      Jennifer;
      How do we know what Jesus said? How many books of the Bible did He write? My point being if we can trust the biblical writers to accurately record what Jesus said, can we not trust that the balance of their writings are also to be accepted?

  12. Rick Yoder says:

    Thank you Isaac.

  13. Rex Hooley says:

    To Harold N. Miller.

    I guess we are to assume then that the Holy Spirit has not spoken to anyone, nor moved in the hearts of anyone since the Spirit last spoke to Paul? This really locks the Holy Spirit in for the last 2000 years. I think Paul listened to the Holy Spirit. I don’t think the Holy Spirit is restricted by what Paul thought or said. If we really think that the Holy Spirit is bound by the thoughts of a mortal man who lived 2000 years ago, we have rendered the Spirit powerless.

    • Marvin Yoder says:

      Rex would you affirm that the Holy Spirit spoke and moved in the formulation of the confession of faith or the membership guidelines resolution?

    • Rex, I agree with you that the Spirit keeps speaking. See my point about trajectory in my blog yesterday on MWR‘s site. The Spirit is still “giving people nudges toward the ethic of the age to come.”

      I’m just pointing out that Isaac’s interpretation of Gal 3:28 is something that can only be read into the text; it does not arise from the text, for there are no exegetical or inter-textual arguments for that particular reading. So the only weight it has is the weight we give to the persons saying they sense the Spirit saying this. (Thus Isaac was right to quote two Holy Spirit texts.) It does not have the weight of being what Paul, by the Spirit, was intending to say to the church in Gal 3:28.

  14. Isaac, I grieve this resignation. Thank you for your service. Thank you for standing up for truth. I now understand why I was asked if I had ever officiated a same-sex wedding. My reply was (and remains) some day I hope to be so honored.

  15. M. South says:

    A different Holy Spirit speaks complete opposites to different people, if one is to believe the One who speaks to the faithful past and present of one body of believers and yet take seriously the claims of those for a new dispensation, such as Villegas. Which one’s claims are true, since they are mutually exclusive?

    I suppose, for some, the one who confirms you according to what it is you already want to believe, must be right.

    A different Spirit implies a different religion, so there can be no common church for the followers of different antagonistic religions led by a different Spirit.

    Particularly, since the accusation is openly made that those who believe differently from former board member Villegas have no integrity.

    No doubt, this is a powerful modern heresy against the church once faithful to the teaching of 2,000 years. The new religion does not acknowledge scripture as authoritative, or any previous sacrament, but offers far fetched and novel interpretations, or none at all, simply sentiment, as if the testament of the Holy Spirit informing the saints for 2,000 years has been completely in error, as were they. This new dispensation claims to stand in judgment of all who preceded us.

    The origin of this new theology derives entirely from powerful western secular and hedonistic notions of individualism that are based on appetite and a modern totalitarian consumerism formed entirely outside the church. Nowhere is there any historical precedent or evidence for it in any generation of Christians before, but the new adherents don’t know and don’t care. Churchy language that mimics the old faith while mocking it, does not make it the same Christian faith, regardless of the zeal of its adherents. After all, there is no religion in the world, no matter its tenets or practices, that it does not include many who will swear “by every truth” that it follows the spirit of God or Gods, even when they are later proven wrong.

    • Rex Hooley says:

      You have said, “No doubt, this is a powerful modern heresy against the church once faithful to the teaching of 2,000 years. The new religion does not acknowledge scripture as authoritative, or any previous sacrament, but offers far fetched and novel interpretations, or none at all, simply sentiment, as if the testament of the Holy Spirit informing the saints for 2,000 years has been completely in error”,

      From the book: “Same-Sex Unions in PreModern Europe”, “Around this time (1100s), many Christian churches throughout Europe had ceremonies for blessing same-sex unions/marriages. On page 312, it lists one such ceremonial blessing for 1147 AD, which includes the following two prayers to bless the men being joined:

      (first prayer) O Lord our God, Ruler of all, who didst fashion humankind after thine image and likeness, and bestowed upon us power of everlasting life, who didst deem it meet that thy holy apostles Philip and Bartholoew, should be united, not bound unto one other by law of nature but in the manner of a holy spirit and faith, as Thou didst also [bless the joining together of] thy holy martyrs Serge and Baachus in union of spirit. Send down, most kind Lord, the grace of thy Holy Spirit upon these thy servants, who thou hast found worthy to be united not by nature but by faith and a holy spirit. Grant unto them thy grace to love each other in joy without injury or hatred all the days of their lives, with the aid of the all-holy Mother of God and of all the saints, forasmuch as thou art blessed and glorified everywhere, now and forever.

      (second prayer) O Lord our God, who didst command us to love one another and to forgive each other’s failings, do Thou, Ruler and most kind lover of good, [bless and consecrate] these thy servants who love each other with a love of the soul and have come into thy holy church to be blessed. Grant unto them unashamed fidelity, sincere love, and as Thou didst vouchsafe unto thy holy disciples and apostles thy peace and love, so also bestow on these servants of thine all things needed for salvation. For to Thee belong all glory, honor and worship. Then shall they kiss the holy Gospel and the priest and one other, and he shall dismiss them, saying: The Lord of peace and love be with you. Amen.

      A nice set of wedding prayers for homosexuals, at the time of the end of the first 1000 years of Christianity. There is evidence that this was not unusual during the time from 400 AD through 1100 AD. It is not until the late Middle Ages, with the coming of the Inquisition, the beginning of persecutions of Jews that would lead to unspeakable crimes for centuries, and other intellectual retreats of Christian Europe, that deep hostility of homosexuality infected Christianity for the next thousand years.

      • Linda Rosenblum says:

        Many secular medieval scholars have called Boswell’s arguments into question. I would hesitate to use Boswell as evidence to support your point here.

      • M. South says:

        This Boswell was no faithful amanuensis to church history the way the other Boswell was to Dr. Johnson. Basically, Boswell’s claim, published in the 1980s, boils down to equivalent to the old trope that David and Jonathan were “gay lovers” because it’s just too unbelievable to sex-soaked homosexual American professors that there could ever be deep friendships between Christians of the same sex, without sexual relationships. Now I know what he means, since it is very difficult for folks with lust in their hearts, especially if they have been taught that if it feels good, do it, to avoid turning friendship into sexual relationships. Maybe it is in modern America, where men aren’t really friends with anyone, outside of sex. Heterosexual men here would never be caught dead walking and holding hands with another man as Arabians do in the Middle East. No wonder I also hear constant assertions, equally as fraudulent and based upon nothing, that, “the apostle Paul was gay.” This is the era where people can invent anything about themselves or others and consider the fabulisms to therefore be true just because they like the idea. Even two lesbian scholars who consider themselves married to each other, nevertheless completely debunked Boswell’s fabricated assertions as having no factual evidence whatsoever; quite the contrary were the real facts. No matter how many tears pour down how many cheeks, does not alter the historical facts.

  16. Steve says:

    Isaac, may you feel the strength of many standing with you as Virginia Conference suspends your credentials, and begins its review of same. I have no doubt that your ordination will be revoked. I wonder how many of the 58% who voted for Membership Guidelines would have voted differently had they known the EB would use that vote to sweep away the 70% Forbearance and remove you from the Board? The EB’s February actions demonstrate a Spirit of Arrogance and Disregard for the will of the delegate body expressed in the 70% support for Forbearance. May your courage contribute to the further naming, unmasking and engaging of this Power!

  17. To Isaac Villegas,

    Bravo, powerful words Isaac. We are spiritual beings, much more than this crude matter which we dwell within for a short time. We know our spiritual relationship with our Teacher is made manifest through how we love others as He loved us.

    And;

    We know that He judged not as He asked us not to judge – you are a powerful example of that.

    We are one.

    Love in His Name always,
    Allan

  18. Helen Wells O'Brien says:

    Thank you, Isaac, for your prophetic voice, your courageous actions, and your solidarity with the whole people of God, without whom the body of Christ cannot be whole.
    Helen Wells O’Brien, St. Paul Mennonite Fellowship, St. Paul, MN

  19. Kurt Goering says:

    Blessings on you, Isaac, and thank you for your words and courage.

  20. John Gingrich says:

    The question of calling down the Holy Spirit to validate our decisions is a risky proposition. Both sides do it, both in Isaac’s letter and in the responses. As the story goes in the middle of a prayer meeting where the group is asking for Holy Spirit wisdom in a decision to be made Joe stands up and deeply moved says “the Holy Spirit just spoke to me and told me we should do XYZ”. Almost immediately George rises and with deep conviction says “God just spoke to me and told me we should not do XYZ, and he also told me it wasn’t Him talking to Joe”.

    When someone claims to have a “new revelation” from the Holy Spirit I have warning flags go up in my head. In the 2000 years since Paul and Jesus men have gone to war, they have built glass cathedrals, they have enslaved other men, the have burned “heretics”, they have led cults, in Jesus’s name. The list is endless of the atrocities that have been justified by the words “God revealed this to me”. If there are opposite words from the Spirit, as there are in this issue dividing the church, then it is very dangerous to move out in arrogance until the true word is discerned. The Holy Spirit is not the one giving the opposite words and it is the church’s holy calling to find the Truth.

  21. Don says:

    Although I am not a Mennonite and I am one who holds to the Catholic (Universal) Church’s understanding of gender and marriage between one man and one woman as God’s unchanging design, I am inspired by your willingness to put everything on the line for what you believe is just and true. Oh that all pastoral leaders in our local churches as well as within denominational structures would have the same integrity!

  22. Lorie Hershey says:

    Many thanks, Isaac. Your integrity, courage, and compassion throughout your time as denominational leader has shown us Christ in our midst.

    In gratitude,
    Lorie

  23. Sheila Gruenhagen says:

    Thank you, Isaac, for your integrity. I wish that the board would have encouraged you to stay so that it could be a true representation of the Mennonite church…a church made up of people who listen to the Holy Spirit and hear different things. I thank you and the Mennonite for sharing.

  24. John Gingrich says:

    I would have one question for Isaac. He says “I hope…that soon we will no longer teach that queer desire is sinful”. Where does he encounter that teaching in the bible, the mennonite documents of faith or in leaders voicing such a belief? I have not seen that expressed in my encounters with anyone from either side of the inclusion debate.

    • Jim Foxvog says:

      Romans 1.26 refers to “dishonorable passions” and then speaks of what many believe to be homosexual desires. This does not say that the passions are a sin, but I can see where it can lead to that though.

  25. Don Garber says:

    Isaac, I am beyond disappointed to hear that you were forced off the Executive Board. My understanding is that the whole point of the forbearance resolution was to ensure that we continue working together even when we disagree. The Executive Board’s “counsel” for board members who are “at variance” is, in the current jargon, overreach. Your voice is sorely needed among the leaders of our denomination. Who will now speak on behalf of the nearly 40 percent of the delegates who voted against renewing the membership guidelines?

    • Chuck Friesen says:

      Don, presently it has to be closer to 50% who DO NOT support the membership guidelines (than 40%) when one considers the 14088 members of the Lancaster, Franklin, and N. C. conferences who are no longer in MCUSA. See my figures elsewhere in these comments. It is very likely almost all those exiting people voted for the membership guidelines, don’t you think???

  26. CNC16 says:

    I think he did the right thing, in resigning. But it was not all for the right reasons. Unfortunately, Isaac is not heeding the warning that Paul gives to the Ephesians about embracing sexual immorality and other vices.

  27. Chuck Friesen says:

    The 2015 support for the two resolutions was 58% and 71% (see Isaac’s letter above.) With the Lancaster (12747), North Central (341), and Franklin (1000) Conference losses of membership it was reported the membership is 78,892 Thus, the membership in Summer, 2015 was approximately 92,980 (78892 + the losses). Let’s assume the summer 2015 voting was proportionate to the MCUSA membership (I know delegates do the voting.) Let’s also assume those leaving MCUSA all voted for the Membership Guidelines and against the Forbearance resolution. I understand this is likely not to have been the case.

    This would yield new results of 50.5% support for the Membership Guidelines and 83.7% for the Forbearance resolution. I’m sure my assumptions are not correct, but it would be safe to hypothesize the present support for the resolutions would range from 50.5% to 58% and between 71% and 83.7%.

    The point I’m making is that MCUSA is quite different than it was a year ago. It is so sad EB could not practice and model forbearance!

  28. Mike Gagnon says:

    My church, (Episcopal) struggled with this issue a few years ago. All will be well folks. The word of G_d will be written with creativity in your hearts, because G_d is always creating. So if Paul mentioned nothing of sexual equality, this simply had not been revealed to him at his time in history. Controlling people, such as “Executive Boards”, have always talked out of both sides of their mouths, so as to keep us under control yet more. Hence the two resolutions. G_d will heal this. Blessings.

    • LF says:

      Isaac, I just wanted to convey that my prayers and love are with you. I recently read your letter of resignation from the executive board of MCUSA. I know this was a difficult decision for you.

      I want you to know that I respect and honor your decision, and applaud the integrity behind such an action. To know that the church is in tension over the union of same sex persons and yet to personally be at variance with this issue, is understandably quite challenging. Your ability to honor the current position of the Church, while personally having another perspective, required tremendous respect for a structure and body that is at a different place in principle and practice. Forbearance, gives us the freedom and the grace to continue loving dialogue, yet remain faithful to the body of believers that affirmed our current structure. As that body wrestles with the dynamics of the present times, may we continue to respect and love each other with a love that will one day lead us to a consensus, not of who is right or wrong, but one that we can unite around and grow the Kingdom of God.

      Although you will no longer be a member of the executive board, I will be praying for you and trust you will do likewise for me. I value the gifts you brought to the board and the church. Please know that your labors of love are greatly appreciated.

      You set a standard of excellence, that I trust we can all adhere to, so I am deeply humbled that you respected and submitted to the teaching position of the denomination, even though it resulted in your resignation. I trust your action will allow God’s peace to rule in all of our hearts and lives as we strive to build God’s Kingdom here on earth.

      While we may differ in perspective and practice regarding this issue, I will continue to pray for and love you as a brother in Christ. I also pray that we may all be one as we listen to the Spirit speaking to His people. May we all have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

    • M. South says:

      “My church, (Episcopal) struggled with this issue a few years ago. All will be well folks.”

      It depends what you mean by well. The Episcopal Church is a sick entity, shrunken, divided and at war in government courts over who owns the remaining church properties since whole congregations exited and the finances dwindled.

      As is the case with all mainline denominations going down the path to conformance to secular, worldly abnormalities, its membership is declining. There’s not much use in going to church when you can get the same teaching on MSNBC or via corporations you can attend instead on Sunday, let alone better finding God on the golf course, as they used to say.

      I guess you could call this kind of going out of business rightsizing, instead of downsizing, if you want to adapt even more worldly claptrap.

      MCUSA has lost over 40% of its members, but, maybe that just means we’re getting healthy by shedding excess baggage.

      Anecdotally, I’ve heard that people who are still members, have reduced or stopped tithing. Now that’s either a healthy fast, or it’s a wasting disease.

      • Gene Mast says:

        This is perhaps the most amazing aspect of the whole direction from the aspect of human behavior. Observing the continuing collapse of denominations after pursuing inclusion on this issue, it is a mystery why those in charge of other groups think this is the route to a thriving church. Lemmings, we are.

  29. marvin yoder says:

    Well stated M. South

  30. Frank Lostaunau says:

    Thank You Isaac for your many Good Deeds! Countless Mennonites are grateful for your contributions.

    It’s always problematical when one speaks truth to power.

    VIVA ISAAC! GORA!

  31. M. South says:

    “It’s always problematical when one speaks truth to power. ”

    It’s also a problem speaking truth to those who are in error.
    It’s been described as a wilful state of invincible ignorance, where correction is refused. The point is reached where the person is guided by their own spirit, confusing that with the Holy Spirit, who is no longer heard or recognized.

  32. Frank Lostaunau says:

    This article may be of interest:

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/whistleblower-catholics-must-work-together-change-churchs-mindset-homosexuality

    Thank You Isaac for your courageous stance. Gracias.