Delegates approve Rainbow Resolution

Story & photos by Laurie Oswald Robinson

NORTH NEWTON, Kan. – Western District Conference (WDC) delegates on Oct. 31 reached a long-discerned juncture: They voted 72 percent in favor of allowing pastors — without fear of censure, if with congregational affirmation — to officiate (or to refrain from officiating) marriage ceremonies for couples of any sexual orientation.

The vote was cast during the 2015 WDC annual assembly, “Held Together in Christ,” at Bethel College. Prior to the vote, delegates spent time in prayer and worship, process review, table discussion, and open mic sharing before completing their ballots on the “Rainbow Resolution.”

Rainbow Mennonite Church, Kansas City, first presented the resolution to WDC in July 2014. Following that presentation, WDC conducted a year and a half of discernment – including two WDC reference councils and counsel from Mennonite Church USA.

Of the delegates present, 185 voted yes, with 30 of those noting they oppose same-sex marriage. Of the 72 delegates who voted no, four of those noted affirmation for same-sex marriage. The resolution is as follows:

Be it resolved that the Western District Conference of the Mennonite Church USA, 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, and

     Be it further resolved that pastors, with the affirmation of their congregations, consistent with Mennonite polity, and without fear of censure, may officiate or refuse to officiate ceremonies that consecrate before God monogamous, life-long unions, regardless of the sexual orientation of those being united.

Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC conference minister, said she senses that delegates were ready to reach a decision and to move forward in the church’s work.

“Now I hope that WDC congregations will continue to seek God’s guidance through prayer, scripture study and dialogue as they bear witness to the good news of Jesus,” she said. “I also hope WDC will find effective ways to equip congregational discernment and the understanding between congregations.”

 Reviewing the WDC story on discernment

Prior to the vote, delegates heard reports from members of WDC’s Executive Board and the WDC Discernment Task. Wendy Funk Schrag, WDC secretary, reviewed the process leading up to the vote. Richard Gehring, WDC moderator, reviewed answers to frequently asked questions about the Rainbow resolution as well as two resolutions affirmed by Mennonite Church USA delegates this past July.

One of those resolutions calls for all members of Mennonite Church USA to forbear with each other as they seek different ways to be faithful to Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions. The other resolution calls for the retention for four more years of the denomination’s current guidelines regarding church membership and same-sex relationships/marriages alongside the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. The COF affirms marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman.

WDC will live out the implications of its delegate decision in accountability to Mennonite Church USA. Before delegates voted, Ervin Stutzman, executive director for Mennonite Church USA, and Gehring strove to clarify implications of a WDC “yes” vote.

Though not yet solidified, a major implication could include a conference-to-conference peer review, guided by the denomination’s Constituency Leaders Council (CLC). Also, pastors who perform same-sex marriage ceremonies in WDC will have a note placed in their ministerial file. This would not be a censure; it will describe the ministry perspective of the pastor whom other area conferences may call.

Delegates focus on WDC church planting and on counsel from Colossians 1

The focus of the afternoon delegate session shifted to other conference ministries, including a major new initiative by the WDC Church Planting Commission., reported by Marv Zehr, Chair.

“The commission is shaping a process that will help WDC to shift from the conference planting churches to churches planting churches with conference assistance,” Zehr said.

To help delegates conform to Christ in their conference life together, Regier Kreider and Stutzman provided two sermons focused on Colossians 1:1-20 during evening worship sessions.

On Friday evening, Regier Kreider shared three characteristics of a thriving church: living in contrast to the prevailing society, caring for each other and the world and remaining Christ-centered. “We do not create unity or reconciliation, as important as conflict resolution is,” she said. “We are not held together by our efforts but by Christ, the one by whom we are reconciled God and to one another.”

Stutzman, in his sermon Saturday evening, focused on the implications of the cosmic vision of Christ’s redemption of all creation. “Jesus is front and center of everything we do in the church,” he said. “He has supremacy and is before all things and over all things and over all powers. Jesus [is] the center.”