ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. — The largest Mennonite denomination in the country took a step toward accepting the LGBTQ+ community.
Over the weekend delegates of Mennonite Church USA voted to officially allow pastors to perform same-sex marriages, as well as apologize for the harm caused by past policies.
The church has a membership of about 62,000 people, according to Executive Director Glen Guyton.
Two measures were voted upon at the denomination’s conference in Kansas City, Mo. The first vote struck down a 20-year-old document called Membership Guidelines that described “homosexual, extramarital and premarital sexual activity as sin to be the teaching position of Mennonite Church USA.” That vote passed 404-84.
The second vote approved a “Repentance and Transformation” resolution that defines the harm caused by previous policies as violence, affirms the rights of LGBTQ+ members of the church and commits to further action. The vote passed with a slimmer margin of 267-212.
“[Some of our members] feel that our LGBTQ people have been marginalized throughout the history of our organization, since we formed in 2001,” Guyton said. “Definitely think it is a statement. I think it’s a step toward a more inclusive body. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
The fact that the vote came just in time for the beginning of LGBT Pride Month is just a coincidence, Guyton said.
The policy shift was welcome news for Christine Baer of Elizabethtown, who grew up in Mennonite Church USA but drifted away from active membership after coming out in college.
“In my own personal journey and discovering who I am as an LGBTQ community member, it’s taken a certain amount of time,” said Baer, who is also an advisory board member for the Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition. “In this current period of life, distancing myself from active membership has felt life-giving to me.”
The announcement was also applauded by other Central Pa. LGBTQ+ organizations, such as Rainbow Rose Center in York.
“We don’t expect everyone to get on the same page right away. This is a process and we applaud them for making this effort,” said Tesla Taliaferro, president of the center, which is holding its first in-person Pride event June 11 in Cousler Park.
The resolution is just a guideline, so each church in the denomination can decide whether to honor it.
Still, it’s enough for Christine Baer, who said she may consider becoming an active church member again.
“I think teenage Christine is happy, like maybe I’ve been holding my breath,” she said. “Personally I needed to see this happen.”