by Richard Gehring, moderator for Western District Conference
By now, most people who are interested have likely heard the results of votes taken at last week’s Mennonite Church USA Convention in Kansas City. While there were significant actions taken on several important issues, most attention has been focused on the two resolutions that speak to the role of LGBTQ persons in the church. Delegates affirmed the Forbearance Resolution that recognizes the diversity of perspectives in our church, and calls on us “to live in grace, love and forbearance” with one another. The same day, the delegate body also adopted the Resolution on Membership Guidelines that re-affirms the guidelines that prohibit pastors from performing same-sex marriages, and imposes a four-year moratorium on any action to change them.
The two statements clearly stand in tension with one another. Many would say that they are even contradictory.
Much of what happened in Kansas City, however, is impossible to convey in news releases and brief reports. It was about much more than what the resolutions stated and how many people ultimately voted for and against each one. For several days, delegates sat around tables with sisters and brothers in Christ, seeking to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit. There were more than 90 such tables, each with eight or nine delegates present.
At my table, we came together from many different places, theologically as well as geographically. We spoke from the heart, sharing our convictions regarding the truth of Christ to the best of our understanding. We listened to one another. We wept with one another. We prayed with and for one another. We laughed with one another. And we wept with one another some more.
The table thus became a sacred space where Jesus was palpably present. I am convinced that all of us are deeply committed to faithfully following Christ. And all of us are deeply committed to living within the church, the Body of Christ. I remember and understand more deeply that Jesus’ promise to be present wherever two or three are gathered in his name is a promise given in the midst of instructions regarding church conflict. (Matthew 18:20)
I doubt that any of us ultimately changed our minds regarding the significant topics we discussed and voted on. We may not have been right in all our decisions. But I hope that we all came to a better understanding of why our brothers and sisters hold different viewpoints. I know that was true for me. And I hope that we can continue to be the church together even in the midst of our differences.
I know it won’t be easy. It is difficult – perhaps even impossible – to extend the experience of the table across the denomination. I know that many will choose not to come, or feel that they are unable to come to the table. I know that some have felt unwelcome or even unsafe at the table. I know others are tired of the conversation and don’t have the energy to come back to the table. I know that many – including me – have felt pain, anger, sorrow and fear at the table. But it is my prayer that we will continue to seek out those with differing viewpoints and experiences as we seek to do our best to be the church that God is calling us to be. We will make mistakes. And we will need to continually practice humility, grace and forbearance with one another.
In introducing the Forbearance Resolution, Pastor Charlotte Lehman of Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Illinois, declared, “Conflict is not the enemy. The Enemy is the enemy. We want to glorify God in both the outcome of our dialogue and the way we conduct our dialogue.”
As conference moderator, this is my prayer. May the way we conduct our dialogue give glory to God. May the outcome of our dialogue bring glory to Christ. And may our dialogue continually seek to reveal the glory of the Spirit.