By Laurie Oswald Robinson
By completing a survey by Aug. 31, constituents across Western District Conference (WDC) will help shape WDC’s response to a resolution calling for congregations to make their own decisions regarding human sexuality issues without censure from the conference.
On July 5 at its annual assembly in Waxahachie, Texas, WDC’s Executive Board announced its plan to send the survey by email to all teenagers (ninth grade and above) and adults. The survey will help WDC discern how best to respond to the resolution from Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kan.
The resolution states:
“Be it resolved that the Western District Conference … out of respect for the responsibility and commitment ‘to seek to understand and interpret Scripture in harmony with Jesus Christ as we are led by the Holy Spirit in the church,’ upholds the right of individual congregations to discern how homosexuality will be subject to Biblical interpretation.
“Be it further resolved that pastors, with the affirmation of their congregations, consistent with Mennonite policy, and without fear of censure, may officiate or refuse to officiate ceremonies that consecrate before God monogamous, life-long unions, regardless of sexual orientation of those being united.” (See full resolution at: https://mennowdc.org/conference-life/annual-assembly/
During the afternoon delegate session, Ruth Harder, pastor of Rainbow Mennonite, said, “We at Rainbow value relationship with WDC and Mennonite Church USA and are thankful for the dialogue taking place. We hope we can continue to work in the spirt of love and faithfulness. We recognize that this is a divisive conversation and hope that by presenting it for discussion only, and by having a task force, that we will have the needed time to seek common ground and understanding.”
The resolution was brought July 5 to delegates for discussion only. The hope is that the survey and follow-up meetings will help WDC to have time to better process its response and to seek counsel from Mennonite Church USA. The survey was explained in detail by Jim Schrag, chair of the Discernment Task Force commissioned to shepherd the process of using the survey as a tool in conference decision-making in the next year.
In an interview after the delegate session, Schrag said, “We are interested in more than just counting noses. We really would like to know what kind of context people in the pew have for all this. So often when committees and task forces share information, it is hard for them to separate out their own ideas from the broader context. We believe the grassroots is the place to begin our discernment, not the place to end it.”
The survey will have 20 statements after which respondents will mark strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree. The statements are contained within four sections: Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective; Mennonite Church USA membership guidelines; polity regarding decision making among national body, area conferences and congregations; and views of how the church deals with sexuality and scripture and its documents and guidelines regarding sexuality.
After the results are tallied, they will be used as the basis for discussion at the WDC Reference Council (non-voting body) this November and in spring 2015. It’s likely that a voting decision will be made by delegates later in 2015.
“We desire that a good representation of all our churches participate in this survey of giving counsel to the leadership of Western District Conference and to the fellowship of churches as a whole,” said Clarence Rempel, WDC conference minister. “This will be an essential source of information for our Reference Council meeting on November 15 which will be expanded beyond WDC leadership to include delegates to Assembly 2014 and members of our congregations.”