A Goshen-area church has cut its ties with the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, due in part to apparent acceptance of same-sex marriage among other member congregations.
Clinton Frame Mennonite Church congregants voted overwhelmingly in early June to end membership in the conference, and the church conveyed the news in a statement Wednesday, July 23. There was a measure of “grief” in deciding to cut ties, approved with 95 percent backing by voting congregants, the statement said.
“However, during the past number of years, there have been significant conversations within (the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference) surrounding the controversy related to same-sex relationships,” it continued. “The congregation has felt the impact of being located in a community where other Mennonite congregations, pastors and community members affirm same-sex marriage, a perspective that is clearly in variance to the written teachings of Mennonite Church USA and at Clinton Frame.”
The same-sex marriage issue wasn’t the only factor in the Clinton Frame decision, but it was “the main part of it,” Terry Diener, lead pastor at the church, said Thursday. Clinton Frame is located east of Goshen at 63846 C.R. 35. Around 400 congregants attend the church, which marked its 150th anniversary last fall.
The change, Diener said in the statement, “is about clarifying who we are as a congregation, our mission, vision and values.”
Dan Miller, the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference pastor, said he had been in regular communication with Diener over the last year or so over apparent differences between the church and the conference. The conference formally “released” Clinton Frame last month, following the June 4 congregational vote, according to Diener.
"This whole process has been a sad thing for me because I know and appreciate people at Clinton Frame,“ Miller said. ”It’s a difficult thing to have people who have been part of us to feel the need to separate.“
He emphasized that though same-sex marriage was one of the issues for Clinton Frame, it wasn’t the only thing.
‘HAVING SOME CONVERSATIONS’
As the debate over permitting same-sex marriage grows across the country, so has the discussion within the Mennonite church. The Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference is within the denomination of the Mennonite Church USA, and the denominational stance on the matter is that sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman.
That said, “there’a a lot of conversation around that” in the Mennonite church, Miller said, and an apparent divergence of views on same-sex unions.
"How wide a variety of opinion can we work with and stay together?” Miller said. “So we are having some conversations about that.”
The Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference groups 74 congregations in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, according to Miller. Different conferences handle matters in different ways, Miller said, and the Clinton Frame statement said the church would “explore options for affiliation that are more tightly aligned with (congregants’) vision and purpose.”
Same-sex relationships have also emerged as an issue at Goshen College, part of Mennonite Church USA as well. A librarian at the college resigned in May in part due to the college’s employment standards, per religious guidelines, that say sex should be reserved for married heterosexual couples.
Just last month, a federal court struck down Indiana’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage. The decision spurred a flurry of same-sex marriages until it was stayed as the legal wrangling continues.