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Homosexuality and bisexuality in the Mennonite churches

Censuring of congregations.
GLBT resources, books, etc.

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Censure of the Germantown Mennonite Church:

A centuries-long tradition of the Mennonite Church has observed the autonomy and religious freedom of the local congregations. However, the church found it difficult to convince some congregation to expel those among their membership who were in loving, committed same-sex relationships, civil unions, or marriages. When reason failed, some regional conferences have resorted to force.

In 1995-APR, the Franconia Conference reduced the status of the Germantown Mennonite Church of Philadelphia to that of associate, non-voting, member. The Conference links together 50 Mennonite congregations in southeastern Pennsylvania. Their action was in response to the church's continued welcoming of members in same-sex, non-celibate faithful relationships. The congregation is located in northwest Philadelphia. It is the oldest Mennonite Church in the US.

On 1997-APR-26, the moderator of the Conference  conducted a straw vote to determine whether the delegates were prepared to vote on the future status of Germantown Church. 54% of the delegates said they were not ready. The church continued in its status as an associate member. At the same meeting, by a majority vote, the conference decided to not devote more effort to the topic of homosexuality and the church.

In Mennonite tradition, decisions are made in face-to-face settings. However, in 1997-OCT, an unprecedented mail-in ballot was conducted. Delegates voted 178 to 40 to expel the church formally from the regional conference. This action  took effect in 1998. At that time Pastor Richard Lichty's credentials were returned to the congregation. Lichty commented: "It hurts. This is my church of birth, my church of choice. But the church for a long time has been a follower of the general culture's fear of sexuality, and this just plays into it."  Germantown continued to maintain an affiliation with the General Conference of the Mennonite Church where Lichty continued to be credentialed.

Jim Lapp is the conference pastor for the Franconia Conference. According to CNN, he explained:

"The Germantown church has received people into membership who are living in covenanted relationships, and that became a point of disagreement with the membership of our conference. ... All of this is the result of a long process and dialogue. It's the mood of our society, the way in which the issue is headlined. It's in the public consciousness. Many more people are becoming aware of it because homosexuals are more active and outspoken about their rights."

A heterosexual member of the congregation, commented:
"Sure, we could have one of those situations where the homosexuals could come but never tell -- and we would never ask or be open about it. Sure, we could just assume that they're celibate. But the problem is we'd never make those requirements of [unmarried] heterosexual couples."
Joe Miller left the denomination as a teenager and later returned to the Germantown church. He said:
"I learned a long time ago growing up as a Mennonite that I could either be a Mennonite or I could be gay, but that I damn well couldn't be both. But this church [congregation] accepted me for who I was and that's why I came here."

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Other Mennonite "Congregations Under Censure"

A Geocities website listed a number of additional Mennonite congregations that were been expelled or placed under discipline during the late 1980s and 1990s. 1 Unfortunately, with the demise of the Geocities service, it is no longer available and we cannot find any up-to-date listings of censured congregations on the Internet or in our library resources:

bullet1988: Ames Mennonite Church, IA was expelled from Iowa-Nebraska Conference
bullet1997: Southside Fellowship in Elkhart, IN was placed under discipline by the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference for a two year period.
bullet1997: Assembly Mennonite Church, in Goshen IN is also under discipline from the same conference for two years.
bullet1997: Oak Park Mennonite Church, IL (under discipline)
bullet1997: Maple Avenue Mennonite Church, IL (under discipline)
bullet1998: Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship, GA was expelled from the Southeast Mennonite Conference
bullet1999: Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, KS was expelled.

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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) support groups within Mennonite communities:

bulletThe Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian and Gay Bisexual and Transgender Concerns (BMC) was founded in 1976. Their stated objectives are:
bulletTo provide support for Mennonite and Church of the Brethren gay, lesbian and bisexual people, their friends and families.
bulletTo foster dialogue between gay and non-gay people in the churches.
bulletTo provide accurate information about homosexuality from the social sciences, biblical studies, and theology. 2

They have an online newspaper "Outspoken," and a monthly newsletter "BMC NewsNet." They offer support to LGBT students and BMC local groups.

Their Supportive Communities Network (SCN) is a network of Mennonite and Church of the Brethren churches, parent's groups, and communities who publically affirm LGBT members. As of 2010-JAN, the network contains over 40 groups. Many more communities accept gay, lesbian and bisexual persons as members, but have not yet identified themselves as "Publicly Affirming." Among their goals are "fostering dialogue within congregations, building a network of congregations willing to accept lesbian, gay and bisexual members, and assisting lesbian, gay and bisexual people in locating welcoming congregations."

bulletWelcome Committee is a group of Mennonites working to increase dialogue on gay and lesbian inclusion. 3 It was formed in 1998 during an informal meeting of parents and friends. They are the sponsors of the Open Welcome letter published in the Mennonite Weekly Review for 2000-FEB-17. 4 They are preparing a resource book that will promote the inclusion of LGBT persons in the church. They publish a powerful series of booklets as "... a further call to the Mennonite Church to walk with us in conversation and discernment..." 5
bulletConnecting Families is a support network of Brethren and Mennonite parents with lesbian, bisexual or gay children -- particularly children who are in the process of coming out of the closet and/or going public with their sexual orientation within the church. They maintain a confidential and non-judgmental atmosphere. They hold an annual retreat and publish an occasional newsletter. 6
bulletMennoNeighbors, were formerly called Urban Ministers. They are a Mennonite network providing "... mutual support and counsel to individuals, congregations, church employees and others who are working to proactively foster truth, love, justice and peace." Their general meeting is held during November in various U.S. locations. They maintain an active online forum. 7
bulletPink Menno:
"... supports the inclusion of LGBTQ individuals in marriage, in ordination, and in the loving community of Christian fellowship within the Mennonite Church. Pink Menno envisions the day when it becomes irrelevant because the church is fully living out Christ’s radical love toward all people, especially toward those in the margins."
The group's two founders had a vision at Christmas time in 2008. They were discussing how the 2009 convention in Columbus could be made a more open and welcoming place for LGBT people. They envisioned a sea of people dressed in pink as a gentle, passive sign of support for sexual minorities.

Pink Menno
plans to "... use laughter, music, poetry, color, artwork, quilts, fun,  film, food, books, and whatever else is positive and uplifting to communicate our message." 8

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Books about the LGBT dialogue:

bulletC. Norman Kraus, "To continue the dialogue: Biblical interpretation and homosexuality," Prandora Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
bulletMichael A. King, "Fractured Dance: Gadamer and a Mennonite Conflict over Homosexuality," Pandora Press. (2001)  

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References:

  1. "Congregations under Censure," http://www.geocities.com/ This website is offline.
  2. "Brethren/Mennonite Council for Lesbian and Gay Concerns:" at: http://www.webcom.com/
  3. The "Welcome Committee" has a home page at: http://www.welcome-committee.info/
  4. The text of the Welcome Committee's "Open Letter" is at: http://www.welcome-committee.info
  5. "Welcome to dialogue series," Welcome Committee, at: http://www.welcome-committee.info/
  6. "Connecting Families" is listed as the last entry on a BMC essay at: http://www.bmclgbt.org/
  7. "Neighbors -- Renewing Mennonite community," at: http://www.mennoneighbors.org/
  8. "Pink Menno Campaigh: Turning MCUSA pink," at: http://www.pinkmenno.org/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2010-JAN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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