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Largest Conference of Mennonite Churches Leaves Denomination over LGBT Issues

flock of seagulls

In what's become a recurring theme over the last few years, another denomination is in the process of fracturing over the definition of marriage. The latest to go through a rancorous split over LGBT issues, including same-sex "marriage," is the Mennonite Church USA.

The Lancaster Mennonite Conference, which is the largest conference of Mennonite churches in the U.S., officially left the Mennonite Church USA on January 1. The conference voted to leave in 2015, but the decision didn't take effect until this year.

Explaining the two-year delay, L. Keith Weaver, moderator for the LMC, wrote: "Disaffiliation included a two-year ramp for congregations that needed time for discernment; 17 congregations felt the need for more time to discern affiliation. Of those 17, seven decided to leave LMC, five decided to remain in LMC, and five are still in discernment." He went on to explain, "There has also been discernment occurring in congregations outside of LMC. Congregations that left other MC USA conferences have been looking for a place to belong. LMC has welcomed twelve congregations into membership."

According to a report in Religion News Service (RNS), "The two groups fractured over the definition of marriage — an issue roiling virtually every U.S. religious denomination in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. The LMC opposes same-sex marriage and members were increasingly uncomfortable with some Mennonite Church USA policies that affirmed it, including hiring policies that address LGBT people."

The RNS article continued: "But the issue of sexuality has riven the Mennonite community — and many other Protestant denominations — for decades. The Mennonite Church USA officially views homosexual activity as a sin and defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but there has been pushback against that from within as several pastors have performed same-sex marriages (and been censured or resigned) and smaller regional conferences that affirm LGBT relationships have departed."

"The chaos has prompted some Mennonites to call for re-evaluating the relationship of individual congregations to the broader community," RNS said. "In Canada, fracturing and declining membership has led to the formation of regional bands of congregations that share similar views."

Like many denominations, the Mennonite Church USA has been shedding members over the last two decades. In the '90s, the denomination had over 130,000 members. By 2016, that number had shrunk to just over 75,000. The loss of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference and its 170 congregations spreading from New York City to Washington, D.C., is going to be a severe blow to the umbrella organization's ability to survive. Using the numbers provided by an LMC report, that's a loss of almost 12,000 members. This means that the Mennonite Church USA has lost half of its members in a twenty-year span.