MILLERSBURG, Ind. – A Mennonite church in Elkhart County has split from its governing body, citing, most notably, what members say is increasing acceptance of same-sex relationships.
Representatives from Clinton Brick Mennonite Church announced in a statement that they formally left Mennonite Church USA and the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference. Clinton Brick church members originally voted for the break on July 13 after seven months of dialogue, then met with Indiana-Michigan conference representatives before formalizing the split effective Oct. 1, Stan Miller, one of the church elders, said Monday, Oct. 13.
“We believe that God created and ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman and sexual relations to be only between male and female in that married state,” said a statement sent out Saturday by Clinton Brick, located north of Millersburg. “All other forms of sexual behavior that deviate from this we believe are not acceptable to God.”
A “number of issues” precipitated the move, but the “largest rift” related to sexual behavior “and what has become acceptable” to many in the nation, including members of the Mennonite Church, said the statement. It was signed by Pastor Dave Hathaway, Miller and three others in the church, located at 62499 S.R. 13.
Clinton Brick has been around for over 150 years, according to Miller. About 50 people typically attend Sunday services.
The move by Clinton Brick parallels a seeming increase in differences within the Mennonite church related to same-sex marriage, as in other religions and the broader society, according to The Elkart Truth (http://bit.ly/1w8wfNO ).
Another Elkhart County church, Clinton Frame Mennonite Church, cut its ties last July with the Indiana-Michigan conference due in part to concerns over increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage, though it stayed within Mennonite Church USA. Karl Shelly, pastor at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, faces review from church officials for conducting a same-sex covenant ceremony in May.
“I really don’t have a lot to say. We’re always saddened when congregations choose to leave,” Dan Miller, pastor at the Indiana-Michigan conference, said in response to Clinton Brick’s decision.
Nancy Kauffmann, denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA out of its Elkhart offices, expressed similar sentiments. “My reaction is always sad, but churches are free to decide where they’re going to lodge themselves,” she said.
Aside from prohibiting pastors from performing same-sex covenant ceremonies, Mennonite church guidelines dictate that marriage is meant for heterosexual couples. That said, the issue is an increasing point of debate in the church and possible focus of discussion at the national assembly of Mennonite Church USA in 2015 at Kansas City, Missouri.
In the Mennonite denomination, individual churches belong to conferences, bodies under the Mennonite Church USA umbrella. Conferences typically oversee groups of churches, usually in a geographic area.
Clinton Brick invites “all to come and worship” and offers a “ministry of healing, hope and deliverance to those who want to be free from this lifestyle,” the church statement said. “However we cannot claim to be followers of Him and expect to spend eternity with Him if we are not willing to let Him be the authority on what acceptable behavior is, and what is not.”
For now Stan Miller, no relation to Dan Miller, said Clinton Brick still has to solidify its future plans. “We just want to take it one step at a time and let the Lord lead us,” he said.