UPDATE: This article has been updated as of Feb. 23. At it’s March conference, the Manitoba MB Conference is not taking action on the membership of River East MB Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as was first reported. Also, the British Columbia MB Conference removed Pastor Lee Kosa’s pastoral credential March 2, 2022.
The Canadian Conference of MB Churches (CCMBC) and its provincial conferences remain committed to the CCMBC Confession of Faith statements regarding marriage. As a result, in the past year congregations that welcome and include LGBTQ individuals have been suspended and pastors and a provincial staff member who have initiated discussions on the topic have resigned. Meanwhile, some are asking for a moratorium on suspending churches that are discussing the issue.
Churches suspended, leave conference
Over the next weeks, two provincial conferences will decide whether to permanently suspend four churches that welcome and include LGBTQ individuals.
In February, the Ontario Conference of MB Churches (ONMB) will respond to the question of whether the suspension of FreeChurch Toronto and Southridge Community Church in St. Catharines will be permanent.
At its March convention, the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba will consider a similar question regarding Jubilee Church, of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The British Columbia MB Conference, at a May 1, 2021, convention held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voted in favor of Artisan Church’s request to leave BCMB because of the Vancouver congregation’s stance on permitting gay marriage.
Pastors, staff resign
Two provincial conferences saw pastors and conference staff resign in 2022 for reasons related to LGBTQ inclusion.
Ed Willms, ONMB executive director, was terminated as of Oct. 31, 2022, after he organized an event attended by about 45 ONMB pastors and other leaders to talk about LGBTQ welcome and inclusion. At the event, leaders from FreeChurch Toronto and Southridge Community Church shared about their congregations’ journey.
Three British Columbia pastors, lead pastor Lee Kosa of Cedar Park Church in Delta, B.C., along with associate pastors Darren DeMelo and Megan Simpson, submitted their resignations in February 2022, for multiple reasons, including disagreement over the nature of the Confession, especially as it applies to sexuality and marriage.
In November 2021, the British Columbia Conference asked its pastors to reaffirm their commitment to the MB Confession of Faith, including the article on marriage, singleness and family. The letter gave pastors, church boards and leadership teams until April 30, 2022, to “reaffirm together our confessional convictions so that our unity and mission may be strengthened for the days ahead.” The letter referenced the decision by Artisan Church to leave the conference.
Some leaders are asking for a national moratorium on suspending CCMBC churches that are discussing how to best relate to LGBTQ individuals. The request is one outcome of a January 2023 gathering of about 60 people who attended the invitation-only event called “Open Space.”
“Open Space” was organized by four retired CCMBC pastors and conference leaders: David Wiebe, former CCMBC executive director, and former pastors James Toews and Danny Unrau of British Columbia and John Unger of Manitoba. They met with Elton DaSilva, CCMBC national director, and Ken Esau, CCMBC National Faith and Life director to inform them about the event and said they plan to debrief DaSilva and Esau after the event.
In March 2021, an open letter asking for a national “family conversation” on the subject of LGBTQ welcome was signed by 517 people from over 40 CCMBC churches. In a statement at the time, the National Faith and Life Team (NFLT) acknowledged that “many in our MB family from across the country share a growing desire to find loving and just responses to LGBTQ+ people inside and outside our MB churches.”
Saying there are not “adequate arguments for hosting a conversation on revising our Confession’s convictions about marriage and same-sex intimacy,” the NFLT decided against hosting a national meeting on LGBTQ welcome and inclusion. CCMBC churches interested in discussing the Confession of Faith articles about marriage, were asked to begin the conversation at the provincial level. Provincial conferences could then bring the request to the national church.
“Open Space” was organized in response to that decision.
Prior to the January 2023 gathering, CCMBC issued a statement published in Anabaptist World: “While we were disappointed that the Open Space event was planned exclusively for those leaning toward an affirming posture — leaving out Mennonite Brethren with other perspectives — we welcome hearing from participants who believe they have a word from Jesus for our church. Our larger Mennonite Brethren family is responsible to test everything against Scripture, which we believe is Jesus’ primary way to communicate to us. We welcome input that could help us grow in God’s wisdom as we invite all marginalized individuals to Jesus, discipleship and inclusion within the body of Christ.”
Confession of Faith
In 1999, CCMBC and the U.S. Conference of MB Churches (USMB), functioning as the General Conference of MB Churches, approved a complete revision of earlier North American MB confessions of faith. This version is jointly owned by both national conferences following the 2000 dissolution of the General Conference.
In 2014, USMB approved a revision to Article 13 on peacemaking and in 2014 CCMBC approved a revision to Article 8: Christian Baptism. Neither national conference has proposed any change to Article 11: Marriage, Family and Singleness.
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and two grandchildren. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.