Church at forefront of debate over gay members.
A Mennonite church accepting an openly homosexual person. Talk about knocking me over with a feather. The whole movement is not embracing this..sut since more and more of the individual churches do it’s only a matter of time before the rest fall.
National body says it will seek a resolution
Larry Miller, 55, of Edmonston is a committed churchman. He regularly attends church meetings, holds leadership positions and strives to apply Biblical scripture to his life.
In 2003, he served as a delegate from his congregation, the Hyattsville Mennonite Church, to its regional conference, the Allegheny Mennonite Conference, where church delegates discuss and vote on matters.
But Miller’s visible role as a delegate who is also an openly gay man led some conference delegates to complain about the Hyattsville church’s stance on welcoming gays and lesbians into its congregation.
Conference delegates eventually called a vote in 2005 and about two-thirds voted to remove the church’s voting rights at the regional conference, Miller said.
The church’s loss of its voting rights at the regional level was mostly symbolic, though some members of the congregation were hurt by it, said Tim Wiens, congregational-chair elect and a member of the church for 30 years.
Miller said he didn’t serve as a delegate in order to prove a point. He merely wanted to serve his congregation, he said, adding that “it wasn’t a comfortable feeling” being at the center of the 2005 vote.
“But these feelings pretty quickly subsided for me when I was reassured by the congregation of its support,” he said.
The Hyattsville church is one of several Mennonite churches nationwide that have faced disciplinary action by their regional conferences for their stance on homosexuality.
Each regional conference handles the issue differently, with delegates able to vote to sanction churches, said Marty Lehman, The Mennonite Church USA’s director of communications and development.
The issue of homosexuality within the church has come to the forefront in recent decades as homosexuality has become more accepted in the larger society, she added.
“This issue has become very divisive in a lot of denominations and there are voices that are calling for us to not look at one particular issue but to think more globally on other things we disagree on,” Lehman said.
Mennonite churches belong to regional conferences under the umbrella of The Mennonite Church USA. Sanctioning as a method of discipline is a practice the church has allowed for years in matters other than homosexuality, Lehman said.
The stance of The Mennonite Church USA is that homosexual, extramarital and premarital sex are sins and that the church be in dialogue with those who have differing views, according to official church statements.
The Hyattsville branch has had an “intentional stance” of welcoming gays and lesbians since the 1980s. The church adopted the stance after a gay man wanted to join the congregation and has remained unified in the position even after the 2005 vote, Wiens said.
“As people got to know people who are gay or lesbian and committed Christians who were part of our congregation, we felt this was the right thing to do,” he said.
Several members from the Hyattsville Mennonite Church who attended the annual Mennonite convention in July supported unofficial events organized by groups seeking to raise awareness over the church’s stance on homosexuality.
Events were hosted by groups such as the Pink Mennos, a group founded in January to raise awareness of gay issues at the national convention. Founding member Luke Yoder said the campaign has turned into a movement that will continue to foster dialogue about the issue.
The Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly adopted a resolution during the national convention that acknowledged the ongoing debate over sexuality and dissenting points of view.
“We acknowledge the pain and frustration of this issue for a number of conferences, congregations, families and individuals,” it states.
Lehman said the national church will assist in setting up a method to work toward a resolution, although Yodder countered that sanctioning provides an obstacle to any resolution.
Despite contention around the issue, Miller calls his local congregation a “sanctuary.” He recalled the moment, during a retreat, when he told fellow congregation members that he was gay.
“It was a time when I could have felt isolated, I suppose, and I didn’t, largely because of the folk here,” he said. “Most people here will make an honest attempt to understand wherever a person is coming from.”
E-mail Elahe Izadi at firstname.lastname@example.org.