The largest conference of Mennonite churches in the U.S. split from the Mennonite community Monday in a dispute over the denomination’s stance on homosexuality.
The Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s (LMC) 2015 vote to officially leave the U.S. Mennonite Church took effect on New Year’s day as the culmination of dispute over the definition of marriage and whether homosexuality is a sin, according to Religion News. The LMC’s split from the denomination tore the U.S. Mennonite church in two, as it was the largest conference of Mennonite churches in the U.S., comprising 179 church congregations in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
“We are in a sense not really leaving,” Steve Olivieri, pastor of Cornerstone Fellowship of Mill Run in Altoona, Penn., told NPR. “They are the ones that essentially have left true biblical Christianity in this respect.”
Donald Kraybill, a professor who studies Mennonites and the Amish, told NPR that the LMC’s relatively quick decision to leave the U.S. Mennonite Church in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on gay marriage posed a serious threat to the health of the Mennonite community at large.
“Typically, when you have social change, it may occur over one or two generations,” Kraybill said. “To put it in a fast track and to try to make decisions about it in a matter of two or three years can be very dangerous for the health of a community.”
Mennonite doctrine officially classifies homosexuality as a lifestyle choice and sin and upholds a biblical definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The U.S. Mennonite Church has censured and fired pastors who have rebelled against that doctrine and performed LGBT marriages, but individual pastors pushed for reform from within. The push led the U.S. denomination to adopt hiring policies and other official stances that the LMC deemed affirming of LGBT lifestyles. This led to the split from the U.S. Mennonite Church.
“I don’t want to do some of the things the Bible says sometimes, lot of times — but I still have to do it,” Olivieri told NPR. “We understand that whenever a passage says, ‘The following shall not inherit the kingdom of God,’ and it lists homosexuals, we believe that’s a lifestyle choice that you make.”
Mennonites are a subset of Protestants called Anabaptists, which means they believe that only adult baptisms are legitimate. They are distantly related to the Amish but prefer to pursue lives of service to their communities and to individuals around them instead of eschewing modern society. There are approximately 2 million members of the Mennonite denomination worldwide, 78,000 of whom are members of the U.S. Mennonite Church as of 2016 according to RNS.
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