US. Mennonite Brethren leaders have sent a letter to Mennonite Central Committee encouraging the inter-Mennonite relief, development and peace organization to hold all who serve with the agency to the traditional view of marriage as between one man and one woman.
The letter was prompted by a recent decision by MCC to continue to allow for exceptions to the framework, including the stated lifestyle expectation that all MCC staff and volunteers will “respect and abide by an understanding of sexual intimacy as only within marriage between one man and one woman, reflecting the confessions of faith of [MCC’s] supporting denominations,” as explained in a letter to denominational leaders written by J. Ron Byler, MCC U.S. executive director.
The USMB letter, emailed April 23, 2018, and addressed to Byler, says, “We strongly encourage MCC to continue to hold to those standards for all positions in the U.S. We are very disappointed to learn that MCC has made provision for possible exceptions to this standard…. We fervently ask that MCC remain firm concerning previously stated positions about marriage and sexuality—for all who serve MCC in any capacity.”
The USMB letter was signed by Don Morris, USMB national director, Tim Sullivan, U.S. Board of Faith and Life chair, and Marv Schellenberg, USMB Leadership Board chair.
The letter concludes with, “Our hope is for continuing collaboration and connection between MCC and USMB. We are thankful for the many good things that MCC provides around the world in the name of Jesus.”
Framework review processed extensively
In March, MCC’s U.S. and Canadian boards approved the possibility of exceptions to the lifestyle expectations for some MCC personnel, although those parameters have not been completely defined. The updates came as the boards reviewed MCC’s human resources (HR) framework at their annual joint meeting March 16-17 in Abbotsford, B.C.
The HR framework is one of eight frameworks authorized and approved by the two boards to govern their shared work around the globe. The frameworks are reviewed regularly on a four-year cycle, and this meeting was the culmination of a two-year process around the human resources framework, which included input from MCC staff and Anabaptist church leaders in Canada and the U.S. The boards of all provincial and regional MCC offices also processed the framework.
At the close of the day, the boards approved an updated framework to be implemented in coming months, as well as a code of conduct outlining the faith, personal and professional conduct expectations of personnel and board members.
Along with the faith qualifications and professional standards, MCC personnel and board members are expected to respect and abide by an understanding of sexual intimacy as only within marriage between one man and one woman, among other aspects of personal conduct.
“While the new HR framework deals with many issues of importance, much of the review input focused on the ‘lifestyle expectations’ for MCC personnel, and specifically the expectation of celibacy outside of heterosexual marriage,” Byler writes in his letter to denominational leaders. “The approved, updated framework brings together related guidelines from various MCC frameworks. The code of conduct is a new accompanying document, a new format to spell out faith, personal and professional conduct expectations of both staff and all members of MCC boards (application to boards is new).
“All expectations are rooted in commitments to a personal Christian faith, active participation in a local Christian church or Christian community and nonviolent peacemaking,” writes Byler. “They reflect responsible lifestyle choices and the values of MCC’s supporting denominations and program partners. The code of conduct retains the expectation that staff will ‘respect and abide by an understanding of sexual intimacy as only within marriage between one man and one woman,’ reflecting the confessions of faith of our supporting denominations.”
The framework includes a clause whereby exceptions may be made, and this option prompted the USMB letter. The process to apply exceptions is not fully determined, but exceptions must be approved by the two national executive directors, who are responsible to their respective boards. According to MCC, exceptions will not be granted to leadership personnel, workers with significant interaction with MCC’s constituency and service workers in international assignments.
Exceptions are not new
Exceptions are not new for MCC. In his letter to leaders of MCC’s supporting denominations, Byler writes, “The possibility of exceptions also was part of the previous version of this framework and was occasionally applied.”
Byler goes on to say, “We expect very few, if any, exceptions will be granted in the MCCs in the U.S.”
Before the boards met, a petition and letter criticizing MCC’s policy on LGBTQ people was signed by hundreds of current and former MCC workers and volunteers. The letter called on MCC to alter or eliminate what it called a discriminatory qualification.
MCC requires “sexual celibacy for personnel outside of a heterosexual marriage relationship during their terms of service.” Workers who identify as LGBTQ are considered by MCC for service positions if they are willing to abide by the celibacy policy and agree not to “use MCC as a platform from which to advocate for same-sex sexual relationships.”
MCC notes that discussions within the organization—and with input from Anabaptist church leaders in Canada and the U.S.—have been long and will continue.
“Board chairs Peggy Snyder and Ann Graber Hershberger expressed confidence that this framework allows MCC to recognize the various contextual differences in Canada and the U.S. and to continue to focus on its ministry,” states MCC in a press release regarding the decision.
MCC plans to implement the updated framework in the coming months, along with a code of conduct outlining the faith, personal and professional conduct expectations of personnel and board members.
With files from MCC and Mennonite World Review