(CORRECTED) The critical need for all Mennonites to embrace diversity

Correction: I orginally stated that both of these events (the female ordination and the withdrawing of a gay man’s ministerial credentials) happed in the same conference *, but I was wrong. The confusion was because I saw the story about female ordination on the Franconia conference website, but the story was talking about what happened in Lancaster conference. So, to restate this, Franconia took away the credentials of a gay man, while Lancaster performed their first female ordination. (thanks to Celeste for alerting me to this mistake)

I am struck by two bits of news from two Mennonite Conferences on the Eastern Seaboard…

FranconiaConference.org: Oxford Circle ordination marks a first for Lancaster Mennonite Conference

The August 3, 2008, ordination of Lynn Parks at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, a Franconia Conference Partner in Mission, in Philadelphia is the first official Lancaster Mennonite Conference ordination of a woman. Parks, along with her family, congregation, and the wider church, celebrate a renewed sense of God’s affirmation and calling with this important milestone.Parks recognized that one of the hardest parts of ministry was taking on the identity of pastor.

“For a long time, I would not tell people that I was a pastor but would simply say that I worked at our church,” she said. “Being ordained, for me, is an important part of embracing that identity.”

After a long discernment period the Bishop Board, which oversees all conference credentialing activities, decided in May 2008 to allow diversity within the conference on the ordination of women. Prior to Parks’ ordination bishop Linford King had performed two ordinations in the Lancaster District, Elizabeth Nissley of James Street Mennonite in June 2007 and Janet Breneman of Laurel Street Mennonite in January 2008…

Mennonite Weekly Review: N.J. pastor loses credentials over sexuality issue

Franconia Conference of Mennonite Church USA took away the credentials of Pastor Michael Schaadt of Alpha (N.J.) Mennonite Church, effective Oct. 15, because Schaadt, who is gay, told the conference he could no longer commit to celibacy.

Ertell Whigham, director of congregational resourcing and equipping for Franconia Conference, said he had worked with Schaadt over a five-year period.

“It has been painful and difficult for us as a staff as well as for Mike and the congregation,” Whigham said of the decision to remove Schaadt’s credentials.

When Schaadt transferred his credentials to Franconia, he had been open about his sexuality and his participation in ministries that describe themselves as healing gay men and lesbians of their homosexuality. Their agreement was that Schaadt would be celibate, Whigham said. About a year ago, Schaadt told the conference his understanding of his sexuality had changed.

“For me it came down to a question of integrity,” Schaadt said. “I had to be honest to say healing wasn’t taking place.”At least not the healing he expected of a change in his sexual orientation, he said.

“I do now describe myself as a healed homosexual, but the healing has come through accepting myself for who I am,” he said. “The peace that I searched for through all those programs I finally found in myself and in my relationship with God.” …

I understand that there is significant theological diversity among and within the conferences, but still to see them move so, so slowly on female ordination AND to take away the credentials of a gay male pastor is just too painful to watch.

I believe that we should seek to find unity and to work together, but I am finding it hard to have any kind of real fellowship with those who would exclude folks from the work of God. I am also beginning to see that our “respect for diversity and differences of conviction” can too often make us complicit in injustice.

Because of these convictions, I plan to continue to aggitate and advocate within my congregation, conference and the broader Mennonite Church that we embrace the radical, inclusive love of Christ. No one, and I mean no one, should be excluded.

Or else, we are literally excluding Christ from our midst. He told us that if we show love to another, it is showing love to him, and that if we neglect to love, we are neglecting to love him. Unfortunately today, we don’t really love Christ or else we would be embracing all people in the church.

* For non-Mennonite readers, Conferences are the regional governing bodies in Mennonite Church USA. Compared to other denominations, the Conferences are relatively powerful as compared to the broader denomination. (and in turn, individual congregations have a great deal of autonomy as well)

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