Severe pessimism ahead.
In my more pessimistic moments in the last few years I have made the comment that the existence of MCUSA over the next 10 years is not a certainty to me. It is well within the realm of conceivability that the denomination could fall apart.
Now I have something of a road map for what that could look like, and it starts in my back yard.
To begin the progression, you have to go back a couple of years.
1) 2010- Joanna Harader, pastor at Peace Mennonite in Lawrence, Ks, performs a same sex union ceremony.
2) 2011- In may, according to the agreement set out at the founding of MCUSA, Western District Conference Leadership Commission (the credentialing committee) reviews her credentials and finds them to be “in order”. This is the first time in the denomination that a pastor has preformed a same sex union and has not been disciplined.
3) 2011- This upsets the conservative end of WDC and at the annual meeting of WDC in July they try to have the actions of the Leadership Commission overturned. This motion is voted down because delegates a motion of this magnitude needs to be carefully considered by the whole constituency.
4) 2011-2012- over the next year the conservative churches get organized and bring several resolutions to be voted on at the July gathering.
As of this post, these are the current events. From here on is my speculation.
5) 2012- The two motions are brought forth to the delegate body and both are defeated because a majority of congregations either a) agree with the original decision or b) do not see this as a big enough problem to overturn the authority structure of the conference.
6) 2012-2013 – most of the Oklahoma churches leave not only WDC but also MCUSA. Maybe one or two join South Central Conference, but most likely none will.
7) 2012-2013 – WDC is now out of step with the rest of MCUSA leading to two implications:
7.a) The MCUSA denominational leadership will begin to deal with the implications for church polity. Specifically, how do pastoral credentials transfer from conference to conference when the conferences are at odds over credentialing standards?
7.b) There will be a congregational level backlash throughout the denomination. There will be several churches that simply leave the denomination altogether, but most will wait for the denomination to respond to WDC with some sort of disciplinary action.
8) Most likely MCUSA leadership will not take a major disciplinary action towards WDC because a) it is one thing to remove a church, but removing a whole conference is a matter that they will defer to the delegate body and b) even if they wanted to, the polity structure isn’t really set up for that.
9) 2013- MCUSA gathers in July in Phoenix, AR. Numerous resolutions and motions are brought to the floor (in spite of there still being no official resolutions allowed) calling for WDC to be sanctioned or removed from the denomination outright.
10.a) If there is no official action taken by MCUSA, many individual congregations will leave the denomination as well as several whole conferences (most likely led by Lancaster).
10.b) If there is an official action taken by MCUSA there will probably be an exodus of the more liberal churches, but more concerning there will probably be a mass exodus of individual young adults for whom this will be the final straw.
11) Either way, however, there will be a mass exodus of young adults for whom this is not a central issue (or they are in support of Gay rights) and who are tired of fighting about this issue. This exodus is primarily facilitated by the fact that when this fight comes before the MCUSA delegate body, it will be an ugly, nasty, and hateful fight.
Other possible implications from this course
1) A new conservative Anabaptist denomination takes shape made up of the conservative churches and conferences that leave in the near future as well as those who have left in the past.
2) A new liberal Anabaptist denomination, or potentially a rather simple network of independent churches, takes shape.
3) Young adults leave Anabaptism for other denominations.
4) Young adults leave the faith altogether.
Best case scenario: 1/3 of the churches in MCUSA leave by 2015.
Worst case scenarios: MCUSA splits along several different factions and, combined with severe disillusionment, there is no denomination in 2015.
I genuinely hope that neither of these things happen. I genuinely hope that the spirit of love and unity in the name of Christ prevails. But in order for that to happen it is going to take some pretty amazing leadership. What’s more, it’s going to take the entire denomination embracing a spirit of humility that, quite frankly, I’m not sure we’re capable of.
Let’s hope I’m wrong.