One of America’s most outwardly conservative denominations has recently come out in favor of embracing members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) is one of America’s most theologically radical Protestant Christian denominations, with ties to the Amish. Both groups trace the lineage of their faith to 16th-century Anabaptists.
Mennonites believe in pacifism and that people become Christians by being willingly baptized. Some Mennonites wear old-fashioned clothes, don’t use cars, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t watch movies, and live in communities separate from the secular world.
The church also repealed older church instructions for pastors not to officiate same-sex marriages.
“Current policies of Mennonite Church USA do violence to LGBTQIA people by failing to affirm their full, God-given identities and by restricting their full participation in the life, ministries and rituals of the broader church,” the resolution reads.
The Mennonite Church’s change marks the latest denomination to embrace the ever-expanding acronym of modern sexualities. Of America’s 10 largest denominations, three now support LGBTQIA sexual identities.
The remaining orthodox denominations will likely face similar debates in the upcoming years as demographics clash with doctrines.
Duel of Doctrines
From 2001 to 2022, the MC USA’s doctrinal statements strongly opposed homosexuality.
“We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life,” the old standard reads.
But in May, the church voted for the repeal of these measures by a landslide, with 83 percent of the delegates backing the repeal of the church’s old doctrines.
The new resolution won with 55.7 percent of the vote. It not only condones but celebrates homosexuality.
“Excluding LGBTQIA people from the church is a rejection of God’s joyous delight in the diversity of creation and a denial of the Divine image and breath animating all humankind,” it reads.
The MC USA is relatively small, with about 62,000 members and 530 congregations.
It recently lost the theologically conservative Lancaster Mennonite Conference (LMC), which left over concerns about the MC USA’s stance on homosexuality. The LMC took 162 member congregations with it.
The Mennonite Church’s loose governance structure has made this apparent acceptance of LGBTQIA sexual practices somewhat less clean-cut than it first appears.
Officially, the church still believes God made marriage a lifelong promise between one man and one woman. Its guidelines also state that marriage is the only context for “right sexual union.”
But the MC USA’s “Resolution for Repentance and Transformation” states that it will undo church guidelines from 2001 that describe homosexual, extramarital, and premarital sex as “sin.”
Mennonites have a history of apparently contradictory doctrines, Glen Guyton, the denomination’s executive director, told Religion News Service.
“Mennonites have a tendency to stack confessions,” he said. “So we don’t necessarily get rid of one or revise them. We create new ones that reflect who we are at a certain period of time.”
Local churches will likely keep significant freedom to follow or ignore the church guidelines.
The Mennonite move on marriage is part of a larger debate over the future of American Protestant Christianity. The United Methodist Church (UMC), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Episcopal Church all advocate homosexuality.
And in the other seven of America’s 10 largest Protestant Christian denominations, polls suggest that traditional theological positions might be in danger.
A poll by Pew Research Center suggests that in 2014, 56 percent of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod denomination members believe homosexuality should be “accepted.” But in 2019, the denomination voted overwhelmingly to retain its traditional stance against homosexuality.
In 2015, Pew found that a majority of U.S. Christians believed that homosexuality should be accepted, not discouraged, by society.
The percentage of Christians in favor of homosexuality varies by denomination but rises to over a third in even the most theologically conservative Christian groups.
Pew notes that younger Millennials drive this trend of acceptance. This change upturns nearly two thousand years of Christian teaching against homosexuality.