“Church discipline”

Behind Mennonite Same-Sex Sexuality Debates: Kathleen Temple and Virginia Mennonite Conference, 1998-2002

Kelly M. Miller—Senior History Thesis—Goshen College—April 19, 2011

Introduction

On May 1, 2002, Kathleen Temple, a part-time pastor of Shalom Mennonite Congregation in Harrisonburg, Virginia and a professor in Eastern Mennonite University’s Bible and Religion department, mailed identical letters to each member of Virginia Mennonite Conference’s (hereafter, Virginia Conference) Faith and Life Commission (FLC) Personnel Committee.  In this letter, Temple resigned her ordination credentials, realizing the Personnel Committee was on the verge of revoking the conference’s official blessing of her ministry.  This action was the climax of a conflict that began almost four years earlier when, after joining Shalom’s pastoral staff, Temple had requested a routine transfer of her ordination from the “special ministries” category to that of “pastoral ministries.”[1] At the time, the FLC Personnel Committee refused to process her request because they believed her advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) individuals was incompatible with Virginia Conference’s “theology, faith, and practice.”[2]  Several years of conflict ensued and though this tumultuous period officially ended when Temple terminated her ordination, the ripple effects of this conflict extended for many more years.  Careful study of both this conflict and its ramifications shed light on Mennonite conflict generally and, more specifically, on Mennonite debates about same-sex sexuality.[3]

Like in any other religious denomination or community, conflict is not a new phenomenon to the Mennonite church.  John D. Roth, editor of the Mennonite Quarterly Review, noted this reality in his introduction to a special April 1998 edition of the journal that focused on “Mennonites and Conflict.”  He said that as early as the sixteenth century, at the outset of the Anabaptist movement, Mennonites were “defined, reshaped and occasionally renewed by conflict.”[4]  However, Mennonites have not highlighted the continued presence of conflict throughout their history.  Rather, Roth suggested that both those within and without this faith tradition have commonly conceptualized Mennonites as a “people of peace” whose conflicts are “idiosyncratic or aberrant, an alien presence that must be squelched or denied.”[5]  Sociologists Stephen Ainlay and Fred Kniss, contributors to the “Mennonites and Conflict” volume, argued that ignoring or hiding Mennonite conflict is unhelpful.  Rather, they suggested that conflict must be “candidly” studied in order “to understand its full complexity.”[6]  In line with their insights, this study aims to frankly examine the conflict between Temple and Virginia Conference despite the fact that the recounted events are still recent and quite raw for many involved parties.

The catalyst for conflict between Temple and Virginia Conference centered on an intensely controversial topic among Mennonites today: understandings of sexuality and, more specifically, same-sex relationships. Over the last several decades, this topic has increasingly entered the sphere of Mennonite consciousness as some Mennonites have begun to identify as lesbian gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.  A variety of responses have arisen among the Mennonite church.  For many, this demographic switch has been difficult to reconcile with the traditional biblical interpretation that unrepentant same-sex sexuality is sinful and that engaging in same-sex sexual activity precludes an individual from becoming a member of the Mennonite church.  A quite difference response, championed by other Mennonites, holds that many LGBTQ individuals can express a healthy sexuality and should be integrated into every aspect of Mennonite life, from membership to leadership.  There are, of course, a plethora of understandings that fall between these two extremes and the subsequent polarization has led and continues to lead to divisions, often painful, among many Mennonite conferences, congregations and individuals.

Diverse responses to same-sex sexuality have, in some cases, created polarizing debates leading to disciplinary action and splits among congregations and area conferences.  As early as the mid-1980s, several regional conferences of the Mennonite Church (MC)[7] expelled congregations and removed ministerial credentials in response to differing applications of church teaching on same-sex sexuality.  For example, in 1988, the Iowa-Nebraska Mennonite Conference expelled Ames Mennonite Church because membership included covenanted gay couples.  Several years earlier, the conference revoked the credentials of Ames’ gay pastor.[8]  In 1997, Franconia Conference expelled Germantown Mennonite Church for their public acceptance of same-sex couples and Northwest Conference followed Franconia’s example by expelling Calgary Inter-Mennonite Church in 1999.[9]

It is easy to lump turn-of-the-century Mennonite disciplinary procedures relating to same-sex sexuality into a monolithic category.  While this issue’s complexity and potential to create division should not be underplayed, it is also important to note that a unique set of underlying themes and issues also framed each of these conflicts.  As Ainlay and Kniss suggested, these conflicts should be studied individually and rigorously to uncover their true complexity and better understand how to approach contentious debates and conflicts in the future.  Accordingly, this study attempts to examine the conflict between Virginia Conference and Temple in its full complexity and uniqueness.  In this case, distinctive and unaddressed personal, structural and contextual factors ultimately hindered the production of a satisfactory resolution to this conflict, with poor communication compounding an already challenging situation.

Personality: Kathleen Temple’s convictions

Kathleen Temple’s journey with church ministry began over thirty years ago in Phoenix, Arizona.  Though she grew up in a secular home, Temple became a Christian in her teenage years.  She connected deeply to Jesus’ message of “good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind.”  Temple felt a call to pastoral ministry almost immediately.  In a 1994 credentialing application for Northern District Conference, Temple wrote, “I could think of nothing better than to accept his gifts and to embrace the chance to become part of his work in the world.  The grace I was given, I wanted to give.”[10]

However, Temple did not begin formal theological study until years later.  In 1980, she began to audit courses in theology and peace studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, where her husband Ted Grimsrud enrolled.  For the first time in her life, academic studies completely enthralled Temple.  During her time in Elkhart, Temple also decided she wanted to be part of the Mennonite church.  Temple wrote that the Mennonite “dedication to the Bible and to peace” impressed her greatly.  She also noted that her “spiritual commitment to pay attention to justice and injustice for those who are the most vulnerable in society” was compatible with both the Mennonite “work of peace and justice on local and trans-local levels and Mennonite’s efforts to integrate faith and life, theology and ethics.”[11]  Based on her connection to these values, Temple became a member of Eugene Mennonite Church after moving to Eugene, Oregon in 1981.  Later, in 1992, Temple returned to AMBS and completed more courses in biblical studies, pastoral education, conflict analysis and mediation.[12]  In between, Temple studied at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkley, California from 1984 to 1986, graduating with a Master of Arts in Theology.[13]

In 1994, Temple secured her first congregational ministry position when she and Grimsrud began to pastor Salem Mennonite Church in Freeman, South Dakota together.[14]  There, Temple dedicated over half her time to pastoral care work.  Primarily, she visited elderly members of the congregation and learned of their experiences “growing old” in the Freeman community.  Temple loved this pastoral care and spent the remainder of her vocational time preaching, teaching and completing administrative tasks.[15]

In 1996, Northern District Conference of the GC Mennonite Church ordained, or officially blessed, Temple for church ministry.  That same year, however, Temple and Grimsrud relocated to Harrisonburg, Virginia where they both accepted faculty positions in Eastern Mennonite University’s (EMU) Bible and Religion department.[16]  At this time, Temple transferred her ordination credentials from Northern District Conference to the “special ministries” category of Virginia Mennonite Conference, a classification that included ordained chaplains, school administrators and professors.[17]  The ordination transfer proceeded without a hitch.  In addition to her part-time teaching duties, Temple joined the ministry team of Shalom Mennonite Congregation (hereafter, Shalom), a small church that formed in 1986 as a ministry to the EMU campus and Harrisonburg District.[18] Overseer Wayne North installed Temple as a pastor on October 10, 1998.[19]  At this point, Temple’s seemingly smooth transition into Mennonite leadership structures was nearing its end.  Though relatively new to a denomination which prides itself on long-standing community, Temple had quickly integrated into Mennonite structures.  However, her newly transferred credentials would soon come under question in one piece of a messy conflict that has been severely dividing Mennonites for several decades.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, many Christian denominations, including GC and MC Mennonites have found themselves in deep disagreement and divisiveness over same-sex sexuality.  For much of the twentieth century, people rarely talked about same-sex sexuality in public and churches largely ignored the matter. The 1969 Stonewall riot in New York City sent shockwaves through the nation and helped raise awareness about the secular movement for LGBTQ rights.[20] In the years that followed, many churches also began grappling with this issue.[21] For example, in 1975, Mennonite Central Committee, an international relief and development organization, fired Martin Rock, a gay employee, in one of the first open Mennonite conflicts relating to same-sex sexuality.[22]  Rock went on to found the Brethren/Mennonite Council for Gay Concerns (currently Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests) to “cultivate an inclusive church and society and to care for the Mennonite and Brethren lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied community.”[23]  Though initially very small, this group was quite vocal and continues to spread their message of inclusion in the Mennonite and Church of the Brethren denominations to this day.

In response to growing public discussion and debates in the 1980s, Mennonite leadership began to commission studies and produce statements exploring same-sex sexuality and attempting to state an “official” stance.  These statements have both reflected and contributed to growing church anxiety surrounding both biblical interpretation of same-sex sexuality and polity decisions regarding the inclusion of LGBTQ individuals in the church.

The two largest North American Mennonite bodies, the General Conference (GC) Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church (MC) jointly commissioned the first Mennonite study of sexuality in 1980, just as Temple was beginning to audit courses at Goshen Biblical Seminary.  This study was the first Mennonite attempt to respond to growing concern and anxiety among Mennonites struggling with diverse reactions to same-sex sexuality.  Four years later, study participants published “Human Sexuality and the Christian Life: A Working Document for Study and Dialogue.”  The preface to the document explains that this study worked to “clarify our position of God-given sexuality with regard to…homosexual behavior.”[24]  “Human Sexuality and the Christian Life” states that those who find themselves sexually attracted to someone of the same sex should either change their orientation or abstain from sexual activity.[25]  It also calls upon the church to “study sexuality diligently” and cautions that “if the church should err, let it be on the side of caring for and loving a group of people who are much persecuted in our society.”[26]  This report represented the beginning of denomination-wide studies and statements about same-sex sexuality by Mennonites.

In 1986, as Temple finished her studies in Berkeley, California, the GC church passed “A Resolution on Human Sexuality” at its triennial bi-national conference, held that year in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  The following year, the MC denomination adopted an almost identical statement known as “A Call to Affirmation, Consent and Covenant Regarding Human Sexuality” when it held it biennial bi-national assembly on the campus of Purdue University in Indiana.  These two documents, known informally as the Saskatoon and Purdue Statements, assert that same-sex sexual “activity” is sin.  However, both statements also call for Mennonites to remain in “loving dialogue,” even across divisions, thus following the precedent set in “Human Sexuality and the Christian Life.”[27]  The views expressed in both of these documents remain the official teaching position of the Mennonite church to this day.

However clear the Purdue and Saskatoon statements may have seemed to those who drafted them, there was misunderstanding among constituents about the intent of these documents.  Some Mennonites, for example, feel that the Purdue and Saskatoon statements “settle the parameters of this dialogue,” and prevent change to the core teaching of the church.[28]  Those espousing this view understand “loving dialogue” to mean nothing more and nothing less than pastoral care for those with minority sexual orientations.[29]  However, others insist that the call for dialogue leaves room for a new church stance, one that is more open and accepting of diverse sexual orientations.  These divergent interpretations are important because they shape how Mennonites understand this issue with some hoping and working for denominational change and other convinced that official church teaching cannot and should not be altered.

In 1990 the General Boards of the GC and MC churches jointly formed the Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns to encourage dialogue and foster “continued theological discernment.”[30]  Between 1990 and 1992, a group of ten Mennonites met four times and concluded by presenting a report entitled “None of Us Is the Same” in August, 1992.  Though the GC and MC general boards “gratefully” accepted the Listening Committee’s report, they were uncomfortable with the recommendation to “intensify…efforts to help churches study homosexuality.”[31]  Therefore, both boards only distributed the report to those who expressly asked for it.  Even then, the boards did not include the committee’s recommendation, fearing that some would be offended and find it contrary to the more rigid and permanent understandings of the Purdue and Saskatoon statements.[32]  There was backlash to this restriction.  In the May 6, 1993 Mennonite Weekly Review, Editor Paul Schrag expressed his displeasure and argued that church members should weigh in on the recommendations.[33]  Thus, the Listening Committee, along with previous attempts to engage diverse opinions regarding same-sex sexuality, failed to provide significant resolution or consensus on the issue.  Tensions among Mennonites continued to heighten as Temple’s convictions regarding same-sex sexuality and church inclusion continued to evolve.

In a recent interview, Temple recounted the first time she advocated for the LGBTQ population.  Before Temple’s introduction to the Mennonite church, she had attended a non-denominational church in Eugene, Oregon for a time.[34]  One year, when Temple was in her mid-twenties, election day neared with a proposal for equal housing and employment rights on the ballot.[35]  Temple recalled a speaker who came to her church and described the sinful nature of same-sex relationships.  According to Temple, his message was “vote anti-gay.”   On election day Temple went to the polls prepared to follow these instructions, but in the end, did not.  “I couldn’t vote what I thought was probably Christian,” she said in a recent interview.  “I walked down there, got in that booth and voted wrong.”[36]  Even though Temple did not identify as an advocate for same-sex relationships at that time, this election showed Temple that certain faith communities held specific expectations for individual action.  More specifically, she became aware that support of the LGBTQ population would be considered taboo by some religious denominations, congregations and individuals.

Despite this newfound awareness, Temple began to read and learn more about LGBTQ issues and biblical interpretation and felt an increasing call to “celebrate love in all its forms.”[37]  While Eugene’s ballot proposal planted the seeds of this conviction in Temple’s heart, her commitment to LGBTQ inclusion in the church continued to flourish as she became more intimately involved with the Mennonite Church and its call for social justice.  Ironically, the denomination which nurtured this commitment to social justice would also be the denomination that would discipline Temple for living out the Gospel’s message.

Much of Temple’s spiritual commitment to social justice focused on the LGBTQ community because, as she shared in a May 2004 discussion with the Shenandoah Valley Gay and Lesbian Alliance, “my guess is that individuals of sexual orientation minority are more vulnerable in almost any society to violations of the basic human values of safety, respect, and freedom than any other category of people except perhaps children.”[38]  After moving to Harrisonburg in 1996, Temple began to advocate for LGBTQ individuals in a variety of ways.  For example, Temple helped form a support group that later became known as “The Open Door.”  The group’s goal, recounted Temple, was to “provide a safe place for discussion and encouragement for people with concerns for the pain the church and society has been causing…many vulnerable people,” in this case, LGBTQ individuals and their family and friends.[39]  Temple did not hide her involvement in this group.  In fact, she took a public role as contact person for “The Open Door,” a fact for which some leaders in Virginia Conference would condemn her in future years.

Temple’s advocacy took private forms, as well.  For example, each year the faculty, staff and students of EMU sign an agreement called the Community Lifestyle Commitment which currently includes conduct rules such as abstention from the use of alcohol and other illegal drugs, stewardship of economic resources and abstinence from sexual relationship outside of marriage.[40]  On several of her faculty contracts, Temple edited the Community Lifestyle Commitment to ease her discomfort with some wording and content.  For example, in her August and September 1999 contract, part of the text read, “I recognize my responsibility as a member of the community to refrain from sexual immorality (including premarital, extramarital, and homosexual practices).”  In her contract, Temple circled “homosexual practices” and added, “ONLY so long as Ted [Grimsrud, her spouse] is male.”[41] Several months later, in her March and April 2000 contract, Temple made similar edits and wrote, “Without amending this statement, I could not, in good conscience, have signed it.”[42]

Until 1998, Temple’s growing conviction and action on behalf of the LGBTQ population had not proved a barrier to formal ministry.  Just prior to Temple’s Northern District Conference ordination request, another Northern District Conference pastor came out as a lesbian and subsequently resigned her congregational leadership position.  In response to this tense situation, Northern District Conference’s conference minister confronted Temple and inquired if she was a “normal, heterosexual woman.”  Temple recalled feeling deep discomfort with the question’s use of the term “normal,” but apparently her marriage satisfied the conference minster, and Salem Mennonite Church ultimately accepted her ordination request without question.[43]  When Temple transferred her credentials to the “special ministries” category of Virginia Conference, conference leadership did not question her convictions relating to same-sex sexuality.  However, two years later, in 1998, when Temple asked to transfer her ordination credentials from “special” to “pastoral” ministries after securing a pastoral position at Shalom, Virginia Conference officials began to question her pro-LGBTQ beliefs and advocacy.  This shift in interest on the part of Virginia Conference leadership can be partially attributed to Virginia Conference structures.

Structures: Mennonite polity and its limits

Before 2001, North American Mennonites were organized into two separate denominational groups: the GC and MC churches.  Northern District Conference, the conference which first ordained Temple, was part of the GC conference, while Virginia Conference, the regional conference to which Temple transferred in 1996, was a MC conference member.  One important structural difference between these two Mennonite groups relates to their respective understandings of authority.  The GC church practiced a significantly stronger congregational polity in which individual congregations had the authority to, for example, approve or reject a pastor’s ordination request.  For this reason, Salem Mennonite Church, not Northern District Conference, ultimately decided to ordain Temple.[44]  On the other hand, within the MC church this power rested in a centralized leadership structure.  In Virginia Conference, the Faith and Life Commission (FLC) Personnel Committee establishes leadership guidelines and grants, maintains and discontinues ministerial credentials.[45]  Thus, it would now be the FLC Personnel Committee, not a congregation like Salem or Shalom, which could authorize Temple’s credential transfer.

In 1995, GC and MC Mennonite churches began to move toward a merged organizational structure that would create one denomination for all United States Mennonites.  This process began with joint adoption of the “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.”  This document outlined core Mennonite beliefs ranging from the Trinity to the church’s relationship to government and society.  Though the “Confession of Faithdid not explicitly state the church’s position on same-sex sexuality, it did so subtly.  Article 19: Family, Singleness and Marriage states, “We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.…  Right sexual union takes place only within the marriage relationship.”[46]  This statement follows the example laid out in the Purdue and Saskatoon statements.  After adopting the “Confession of Faith,” the GCs and MCs moved forward with plans to merge into one North American Mennonite Church, to be given the name Mennonite Church U.S.A.  (MC USA).

However, plans to merge were made more difficult by continued tension surrounding same-sex sexuality.  In “Homosexuality and the Mennonite Church,” Loren Johns, Professor of New Testament at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, wrote that these divisions threatened to “derail” the merger.  For some regional conferences, the church’s membership guidelines relating to same-sex sexuality were not decisive enough so a few threatened to withdraw if the church did not more clearly state the intent to discipline congregations who extended membership to non-celibate LGBTQ individuals.  In response to this pressure from conservative conferences, as well as the mounting number of disciplinary procedures against pastors and congregations accepting LGBTQ individuals into church membership, church leadership developed membership guidelines that were eventually rewritten and approved at the 2001 general assembly in Nashville, Tennessee.[47]  This three page set of guidelines dedicated almost a third of its length to “Clarification of Some Issues Related to Homosexuality and Membership.” This statement acknowledges that “issues of same-sex orientation and lifestyle have been the source of deep controversy in our nation and in the church” and that “many people are asking for clarification regarding the beliefs and practice of the Mennonite Church USA regarding the matter of homosexuality.”  To that end, the membership guidelines reaffirm the Purdue and Saskatoon statements, forbid credentialed MC USA pastors from performing a “same-sex covenant ceremony” and set up a timeline and process for discerning conference membership for dually affiliated congregations who had been disciplined by one conference only.[48]  The membership guidelines proposed in conjunction with the Mennonite merger demonstrate mounting anxiety among Mennonites as they prepared to merge into one unified denomination.  However, the membership guidelines apparently satisfied enough constituents to allow the merger to move forward.  In 2001, the GC and MC denominations agreed to jointly form MC USA.  However, the clarification provided by new membership guidelines did not appease everyone.  In fact, several former MC congregations did not join MC USA, feeling the church did not condemn same-sex sexuality clearly enough.  On the other hand, sectors of the church favoring increased inclusion felt the new guidelines “largely abandoned” the Purdue and Saskatoon commitments to remain open to loving dialogue and discernment.[49]  As with other official church statements regarding same-sex sexuality, parties on both sides of the issue were left dissatisfied with denominational polity.

In past decades, contention surrounding same-sex sexuality has not, however, been limited to denomination-wide discussion.  Twenty-one area conferences currently comprise MC USA and these localized structures have also felt pressure to make policy decisions handle same-sex sexuality-related conflicts.  Virginia Conference is no exception.

Founded in 1835, Virginia Conference is divided into twelve districts, each with a bishop or overseer to provide oversight and resources for district pastors and congregations.  One conference minister carries out the conference’s administrative work and provides “support and counsel” for the bishops and overseers.[50]  Originally, Virginia Conference district affiliation was based purely on geographic vicinity.  However, more recently, the conference has begun to base district affiliation on a variety of factors including “affinity of theological faith understandings, historical developments, and congregational preference” in addition to geographic location.[51]  This shift can partially be attributed to the great diversity present within the conference.  According to Owen Burkholder, Conference Minister since January, 1996, Virginia Conference stretches “from academia to Appalachia” which has at times polarized the conference.  Burkholder further explained that a significant portion of the conference is heavily influenced by EMU in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  He noted that EMU “accommodates and addresses” societal changes more quickly than mountain churches in Appalachia.  Additionally, rural churches are more heavily influenced by fundamentalism and practice fairly literal biblical interpretation.  During his tenure as conference minister, Burkholder has seen the distance between “academia and Appalachia” create “huge tension” among various parts of the constituency in regards to issues such as women in leadership, military service and same-sex sexuality.  Differences manifest themselves not only through different opinions, but also through fundamentally “different ways of approaching the question.”  For example, in regards to same-sex sexuality, some constituents are open to dialogue and discernment while others believe the Bible unilaterally condemns same-sex sexuality and that the issue does not merit further conversation.[52]

The Faith and Life Commission (FLC) of Virginia Conference is intimately aware of conference diversity as it relates to same-sex sexuality.  Comprised of all district bishops and overseers, along with three other at-large members of the conference, the FLC provides leadership in “spiritual, doctrinal and faith and life issues” in the conference.[53]  In 1983, soon after the General Boards of the GC and MC denominations commissioned their study of human sexuality, Virginia Conference’s Council of Faith and Life (now the FLC), adopted a pamphlet entitled “Homosexuality—A Guide for Concerned Christians” that provides guidance for individuals dealing with same-sex sexuality, whether personally, with a family member or through their congregation.  This pamphlet condemns same-sex sexuality as a biblically “deviant expression of sexuality,” though it does differentiate between “orientation” and “practice.”  It also expresses confidence that some LGBTQ people can and should change their sexual orientation.  Reaffirmed in 1997, “Homosexuality—A Guide for Concerned Christians” remains the teaching position of Virginia Conference in conjunction with the Purdue and Saskatoon statements.[54]

For a time, Temple’s disagreement with Virginia Conference’s teaching position on same-sex sexuality did not hinder her participation in official ministry.  She settled into a routine at EMU and Shalom which included teaching, preaching, organizing Shalom’s young adults and participating in The Open Door, to name a few tasks.  During this time, however, tensions surrounding same-sex sexuality continued to mount on both a denomination and conference-wide level.  Though Temple began to hear criticism from some members of the EMU community for her involvement in The Open Door, she heard few complaints from Virginia Conference until Shalom requested that the conference recognize her new position at Shalom by transferring her credentials from “special” to “pastoral” ministries.[55]

Prior to her work at Shalom, the FLC was well aware of Temple’s support of same-sex relationships and participation in The Open Door.  However, when she requested to transfer her ordination credentials, a typically easy and routine task, the FLC declared her advocacy a potential problem for the first time.  As Harrisonburg District overseer, Wayne North, explained to Temple in a letter on August 10, 1999, before the FLC would transfer her credentials they wanted to know whether she was “supportive” and “able to work with the conference policy as it relates to same sex relationships.”  He further explained that in becoming an ordained pastor, Temple became “more directly answerable to the conference,” whereas before, EMU provided the main oversight for her work.[56] Thus, the addition of pastoral work heightened FLC interest in Temple’s position on same-sex sexuality.

On July 21, 2000 the FLC Personnel Committee passed a motion to “discern” Temple’s “embracing and acceptance of Virginia Conference theology, faith and practice, and the possible impact on the status of her ministerial credentials.”[57]  FLC Personnel Committee meeting minutes from August 2, state concern regarding Temple’s “perceived advocacy of sexual expressions at variance with acceptable Mennonite and Virginia Mennonite Conference standards of faith and practice.”[58]  However, Temple was not the only person whose position on same-sex sexuality concerned the Personnel Committee.  On July 21, the committee also passed motions to begin similar conversations with Ray Gingerich and Ted Grimsrud, then professors in EMU’s Bible and Religion Department.[59]  The FLC committee chair initiated discussions with Gingerich in response to a comment he made in a delegate session that summer which “raised questions” for bishops and overseers.[60]  The FLC Personnel Committee wished to confront Grimsrud after he signed “A Welcoming Open Letter on Homosexuality” that was published in the Mennonite Weekly Review on February 17 of that year.  This letter, signed by 650 North American Mennonites urged the church to “bless monogamous relationships of same-sex couples who affirm covenant vows” and to continue dialogue and discernment around LGBTQ inclusion.[61]

Beginning conversations with Temple, Grimsrud and Gingerich demonstrate Virginia Conference’s increasing awareness and nervousness about vocal leaders advocating for greater inclusion.  They also, however, put the FLC Personnel Committee in unprecedented territory.  As Burkholder remembers it, this was the first time the conference initiated disciplinary procedures against an ordained conference leader or congregation in response to views on same-sex sexuality.[62]  Thus, after initial meetings with Temple, Grimsrud and Gingerich, the Personnel Committee moved forward with caution.  August 22, 2000 meeting minutes reflect their awareness that “any action taken in reference to the issue(s) under discussion would set a precedent that may govern future responses in similar contexts.”[63]  To move forward, Grimsrud agreed to engage in a year of conversations with George Brunk III, special ministries overseer, Myron Augsberger, and Wayne North, both district overseers.  Though their conversations covered a myriad of topics, they primarily discussed the Mennonite “Confession of Faith.”   After the year passed, George Brunk III submitted a letter affirming Grimsrud’s continued presence as an ordained Virginia Conference minister.  For the moment, Virginia Conference released Grimsrud from official scrutiny.[64]  The FLC ended its proceedings with Gingerich without taking action.[65]

However, conversations with Temple did not end.  The FLC continued to discern how far an official church leader’s personal theology could acceptably diverge from that of the conference.  By September’s meeting, however, the FLC Personnel Committee set their course.  In an action passed by consensus, they encouraged the FLC to take “strong action on credentialed leaders who advocate for individuals involved in homosexual practice.”[66]  Two days later, on September 24, the FLC tabled the motion to transfer Temple’s credentials.[67]  For the next several months, FLC Personnel Committee meeting minutes show occasional updates on Temple’s ministry and ordination status, but the committee still failed to transfer her credentials due to “lingering questions” in relation to Temple’s position on same-sex sexuality.[68]

Though the structures set up by Virginia Conference should have allowed Temple to transfer her credentials rather simply, in this case, they did not.  This can partially be attributed to Temple’s personal position on same-sex sexuality, which was at odds with that of Virginia Conference.  However, in addition to personality, residual MC structure that left ordination-granting duties to conference leadership, questions as to acceptable amounts of diversity in theological thought among church leadership and the distinct oversight of “special ministries” credentials all complicated the transfer.  However, these factors in themselves do not fully explain the conflict between Temple and Virginia Conference.  An anxiety-ridden context also set the stage for this intense encounter.

Context: An anxious time for Virginia Mennonites

Virginia Conference experienced several severe conflicts in the latter part of the 20th century that enhanced conference-wide anxiety in the decades preceding Temple’s entrance.  For example, in 1972 the conference painfully split when 562 members of West Valley District left Virginia Conference and formed Southeastern Conference.[69]  West Valley District members, known for their traditional and conservative theology, felt uncomfortable with the “diversity of doctrine and practice and administrative policies” existent in the conference.[70]  For example, they supported strict regulations of traditional dress and felt uneasy with Virginia Conference’s programs that promoted “illegitimate involvements with ‘the world’” such as Mennonite Voluntary Service.[71]  Despite efforts to appease West Valley District concerns by granting them greater autonomy, West Valley did not remain a part of the conference.

Then, during much of the 1980s, Virginia Conference sought to navigate controversy surrounding women’s ordination.  In 1988, the Council of Faith and Life[72] approved an internal study entitled “Headship and Leadership Roles of Women” that identifies and explains two generally opposing viewpoints relating to women in formal church leadership.[73]  Around this time, bishops and overseers also authorized the FLC to process credentials “without consideration of gender,” allowing districts and congregations to ordain women if they were ready, yet not forcing them to do so.[74]  On September 10, 1989, Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus was the first woman ordained by the conference.[75]  Interestingly, Shalom, the same church of which Temple was a pastor, initiated Brunk Stoltzfus’ ordination.[76]  The FLC did not contest Brunk Stoltzfus’ right to be ordained.  However, Brunk Stoltzfus came from a high-profile family and some of her family members, such as her brother George Brunk Jr., opposed her ordination, generating controversy.[77]

Hardly had the dust settled from the debate over women’s ordination, when in the mid-1990s, Virginia Conference found itself discerning whether or how to accept active military service people as members of Mennonite congregations.  The Mennonite church traditionally adheres to pacifism.  However, several Virginia Mennonite congregations are located in the highly militarized Tidewater region where it is likely that new members come to the church with active navy or army ties.  In response to membership requests, several Tidewater congregations began accepting military service personnel as official church members.[78]  Approximately ten years after a task force initiated by Norfolk and Warwick districts, amidst increasing critiques from other parts of the conference, Virginia Conference officially stated that they did not “endorse” the decision to accept military service people into church membership, but would not initiate disciplinary procedures against these congregations.[79]  A July 6, 1995 press release prepared by the FLC further explained that the conference had recommended baptism and membership for military members with the hope that Mennonite congregations would “encourage” new members to leave the military.[80]  Some constituents were not satisfied with this compromised outcome and the issue remained unresolved even until the time of Temple’s disciplinary procedures.

Meanwhile, the church’s response to same-sex sexuality also proved a significant debate in Virginia Conference during the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries.  Upon becoming Conference Minister, Burkholder was well aware that discussions about same-sex sexuality had been on Mennonite radar for many years.  However, the years leading up to Temple’s conflict were especially “anxious” in Virginia Conference despite the absence of internal disciplinary procedures or conference transfers due to sexuality debates.[81]

In a personal interview, Elroy Miller, former chair of the FLC Personnel Committee,[82] commented on the growing conference “angst” during these years.  He said there was a sense of an “emerging energy” that would eventually “take on a life of its own” and result in changed conference policy regarding same-sex sexuality.  The possibility of reaching critical mass, a sociological term which describes a social movement that has achieved sufficient momentum to generate change and sustain itself, was generating “considerable unease” in the conference, especially outside of the Harrisonburg District, which was home to a progressive element within the conference.[83]

Soon after assuming the role of conference minister, Burkholder began to experience the intense anxiety pervading the conference around same-sex sexuality.  When he came across a document published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family called “Always our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers,” he ordered and distributed several copies to bishops and overseers.[84]  Subsequently, the FLC decided to produce a similar document that would give Virginia Conference pastors a model for relating to LGBTQ individuals in their congregations.  The creation of what came to be known as “A Pastoral Approach towards Persons with a Homosexual Orientation” (hereafter, “Pastoral Approach”) was a difficult process that required much time and energy.  Despite being in positions of church leadership, not all FLC members had the same understanding of an appropriate church response to same-sex sexuality.  During this time, two or three FLC representatives had same-sex oriented children which complicated the process.  According to Burkholder, FLC composition was a “fascinating cauldron” of people who were quite sure that same-sex sexuality was sinful and, simultaneously, those who were relating to their own children.[85]  Despite differing opinions, the FLC finally adopted its “Pastoral Approach” on September 25, 1999.  This document urges pastors to deal compassionately with LGBTQ individuals in the church.  It also holds firmly to the previously affirmed position that same-sex sexuality represents “bondage and sin.”[86]  In adopting the “Pastoral Approach” without putting it to a delegate body vote, the FLC, as Burkholder described it, protected delegates from a divisive adoption process.  In Burkholder’s understanding, this “gatekeeping action” helped manage anxiety in the conference.  As Burkholder expected, reactions to the “Pastoral Approach” varied.  While some members of the conference affirmed this document, others criticized it, and already present anxiety and tension continued to mount.[87]

At this time, national conversations about the Mennonite merger were intensifying and different sectors of Virginia Conference anticipated this structural change with varied enthusiasm.  According to Conference Minister Burkholder, congregations affiliated with both the GC and MC denominations were driving the merger forward.  However, at this point, Virginia Conference had only one dually-affiliated congregation, located in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The rest, however, were MC congregations.  Thus, much of the conference was not excited did not feel “pressure” to support the MC USA movement, fearing the loss of their MC heritage and structures.  However, Burkholder “was sure” Virginia Conference needed to join MC USA.  Though most Virginia Conference congregations were not officially tied to the GC church, Burkholder noted that Harrisonburg was home to people from across the continent that had been drawn to Virginia Conference by EMU.  These Virginia Conference members brought a “familiarity” with the GC church and would not have been content to remain independent of the wider church.  In essence, he said Virginia Conference “tolerated” the merger “on behalf of the rest of the church.”  Burkholder said the MC USA movement was certainly grassroots.  However, “it wasn’t Virginia Conference’s grass.”[88]

Some districts within Virginia Conference resisted the merger by leaving Virginia Conference.  In 2001, Cornerstone District withdrew because members did not find MC USA guidelines for dealing with LGBTQ people “clear and stringent enough.”[89]  Similarly, on the day that Virginia Conference joined MC USA, Mountain Valley District, a cluster of six “culturally conservative” congregations with about 400 members left the conference for a variety of reasons including issues of dress, jewelry, women in ministerial leadership, relationship to divorcees and fear of same-sex sexuality.  Thus, the merger not only affected Virginia Conference’s denominational membership, it also changed the composition of the conference itself.  In a matter of several years, the conference shrunk from twelve districts to nine as a direct result of tensions surrounding same-sex sexuality and, less significantly, other issues of cultural adaptation.[90]

Meanwhile, Virginia Conference leadership assessed pastoral feelings on same-sex sexuality through a newly passed “Commitment on Current Issues.”  On October 11, 2000 the FLC sent the commitment to all ministers credentialed in Virginia Conference.  This document acknowledged the diversity of opinions surrounding both “homosexual practice” and “participation in the military” within the conference.  Further, it reiterated official conference teaching on the issue.[91]  While a letter sent along with the commitment stated that the conference did not require “full assent of will and intellect,” it asked that church leaders “avoid teaching, preaching, or pastoral counseling that advocates against” official church position.[92] Finally, the commitment requested that credentialed ministers respond with either full assent, partial assent with willingness to avoid contrary advocacy or with a request for “further counsel and discernment.”[93]

Temple received the commitment less than a month after the FLC tabled her ordination transfer request, demonstrating the intimate connection between Temple’s conflict and the anxious context of the time.  Though neither Temple, Burkholder nor Miller were sure if Temple’s actions and conversations with the FLC Personnel Committee were the “lightning rod” that prompted the “Commitment on Current Issues,” all three acknowledged the tension surrounding same-sex sexuality during this time in Virginia Conference.[94]    In a 2010 interview, Burkholder hypothesized that the commitment might have been in response to Temple’s advocacy as she was, perhaps, the first “compassionately vocal” minister who tapped into fear among some of Virginia Conference’s leadership and constituency.  However, he was not certain of the commitment’s genesis.[95]  Whatever the document’s origin, it is clear that Temple’s conflict with Virginia Conference was framed not only by divergent opinions on same-sex sexuality, but also conference structure and an anxiety-ridden context.

Charting a conflict: 1998-2002

Needing to respond to the “Commitment on Current Issues,” Temple turned to her congregation Shalom for advice.  With the congregation’s help Temple decided that although she did not agree with Virginia Conference’s stated position on same-sex sexuality, she could refrain from contrary advocacy.  As she explained in a later interview, she could, for the time being, keep her “disagreement under wraps.”  Temple did not view her commitment to refrain from contrary advocacy as a long-term solution.  She hoped, instead, that keeping quiet would allow her to “buy time” while those opposing increased inclusion became “less fearful and vengeful.”[96]

Along with Temple, four Shalom members met with Virginia Conference representatives on November 15 to discuss Temple’s decision.[97]  The Shalom group also requested a clear definition of contrary advocacy.  According to Temple, Virginia Conference representatives were not able to provide one.  “They couldn’t agree amongst themselves,” she recalled in a recent interview. While all conference representatives agreed that officiating a same-sex commitment ceremony would constitute contrary advocacy, opinions were split on situations such as introducing alternative biblical interpretations in an EMU classroom or accompanying a parent to her or his child’s same-sex commitment ceremony.  In the interview, Temple said that this meeting convinced her that she could not “stay out of hot water” because some FLC Personnel Committee members needed her “full assent of will and intellect.”[98]  Even after committing to avoid contrary advocacy, Temple realized she would continue to walk on thin ice.

However, on December 16, 2000, more than a year after Temple requested that the FLC Personnel Committee transfer her credentials, they finally did so, though not without hesitation and reservation.  In fact, the decision to transfer Temple’s credentials came with a caveat.  Temple’s credentials were placed on probation for one year, until January 31, 2002.  According to Personnel Committee meeting minutes, Temple would be “under close supervision for a specified period of time in order to determine whether the credential becomes Active, Suspended, or Withdrawn.” [99]  Additionally, the FLC Personnel Committee required Temple to attend monthly meetings with Harrisonburg District Overseer Truman H. Brunk (1931-2010).  During this time, Brunk would serve as Temple’s mentor and encourage her to contemplate “compliance with VMC polity and positions.”[100]  According to FLC Chair Elroy Miller, the probationary year was to give Temple and Brunk time to “walk together, to talk with each other, to listen to each other, to diffuse the passion and give time for airing differences and grievances.”  Temple’s understanding of the probationary year, however, differed.  Temple stated that the conference hoped that after a year of probation, Temple would conform to their teaching on same-sex sexuality.[101]  And so, despite unclear intentions regarding Temple’s probationary period, she moved forward into a year of “navigating ‘contrary advocacy.’”[102]

Even before her year of probation began, Temple’s interactions with Virginia Conference weighed her deeply.  In a November 3, 2000 email to Shalom, she wrote, “I often feel these days that neither standing nor walking nor dancing nor flying are at all possible…I sometimes fear that I have completely lost my ‘dancing legs’ by being on thin ice for too long.”  In this email, Temple also predicted the struggles to come throughout the next year and a half.  “It is still going to be hard work every day, at least for some time,” she wrote.[103]

Despite the emotional energy required, Temple moved forward, complying with Virginia Conference requests.  She met with Brunk once a month and Temple called their meetings “congenial and frank.”[104]  In a personal interview, Temple characterized Brunk as a “pleasant person” who was “fun to be around.”  She greatly appreciated the chance to debrief her ministry with him.  Temple commented that Brunk usually “laud[ed]” her work as a professor and pastor.[105]

However, Temple’s conversations with Brunk inevitably returned to sexuality.  He would ask her to interpret various Bible passages and challenge her to feel compassion for those who feared increased openness to LGBTQ people in the Mennonite church.  These were difficult discussions and at times conversations turned tense.  “I know I raised my voice at him many times,” Temple admitted.  However, discussions of other aspects of Temple’s ministry and outside interactions at Virginia Conference functions balanced these intense conversations.[106]  In fact, in his first report to the Personnel Committee on December 19, 2001, Brunk described his conversations with Temple as a “positive experience” and requested to extend the probationary period.[107]  Brunk also expressed the desire to postpone additional disciplinary action because it could lead to a “conflictual situation” with Shalom.[108]  The Personnel Committee granted Brunk’s request by consensus.[109]

However, consensus did not hold for long.  Only two days after Brunk reported to the Personnel Committee, Elroy Miller sent an email to Conference Minister Burkholder, Brunk and the Personnel Committee.  Miller urged the Personnel Committee to take prompt action against Temple, fearing that a failure to do so would be perceived as “progress by…advocates for change.”  Further, he noted, a year extension would give these advocates “time to plant the seeds of doubt.” [110]  Personnel Committee Chair Glendon Blosser agreed with Miller, and in an email response of the same day Blosser stated, “Time is on the side of those that want to destroy the institution.”[111]  These comments reflect continued anxiety among Virginia Conference leadership.  Clearly, Temple’s year-long probation had not, as Miller hoped, given time to “diffuse the passion.”[112]

Brunk responded swiftly to Miller and Blosser’s passionate emails.  On December 22 he criticized communication patterns, writing, “I am war-weary and tired of tit-for-tat rhetoric.”  He proceeded to defend Temple and stated that through their year of meetings, he had “been keenly aware of her goodness—not her badness.  She has a heart for Christ and love for justice.”  Further, he defended her commitment to refrain from contrary advocacy.  He wrote, “I have not heard her make statements that would undermine the Conference or its principles.”[113]  Brunk, sensing the Personnel Committee’s readiness to discipline Temple, fought to remain in relationship with Temple and postpone any official disciplinary procedure.

Soon after this email exchange, Burkholder again added his voice to the increasingly tense conversation as he weighed in on structural and procedural factors complicating Temple’s situation.  In an email to Miller, Brunk and the Personnel Committee, Burkholder wrote that unclear structures for decision-making were making the conflict more difficult.  He wrote, “we are sorting out polity questions” relating to agency among the district, conference and larger church.  To this end, he echoed Brunk’s call to bring Shalom’s voice into Temple’s process.  Not only could the congregation hold Temple accountable to her commitment to avoid contrary advocacy, he also hoped that including Shalom, should the situation solidify “in a negative way,” could prevent the congregation from accusing Virginia Conference leadership of power abuse.  As conference minister, however, Burkholder was not a member of the Personnel Committee and could not mandate action.  Thus, he humbly closed his email, “you may be led to other options.”[114]  Indeed, Personnel Committee members were.

January 2002 Personnel Committee meeting minutes show more discussion about structural and polity issues as they related to Temple’s disciplinary procedure.  On January 8, the committee discussed a “spate of emails” asking them to include Harrisonburg District as well as Shalom in decision-making regarding Temple’s credentials.[115]  Two days later, minutes record one Personnel Committee member’s fear that the committee was “leap-frogging” Harrisonburg District, suggesting that the decision-making process was unclear to some people involved.[116]  As the conflict proceeded, the conference’s top-down structure became more evident.

As the Personnel Committee discerned how to address structural issues and move forward with Temple’s situation, Temple was left feeling alone and uninformed.  On December 30, 2001, Temple sent a letter to each member of the Personnel Committee expressing her pain and isolation.  She feared the Personnel Committee would not, even after a year of probation, grant her full ordination.  “You seem to be holding me at arm’s length even now,” she wrote.[117]  Temple’s letter engendered responses from several members of the Personnel Committee as well as Conference Minister Burkholder.  In a January 16, 2002 letter, Burkholder explained why Temple had not received personal communication from committee members or been allowed to form personal relationships with them.  Since the Personnel Committee worked through a consensus, the committee did not “respond individually to personal requests that would take away from the group consensus and relate only to our individual opinions,” he wrote.[118]  Harrisonburg District Overseer Wayne North, who had installed Temple as a pastor at Shalom over two years earlier, echoed the necessity of maintaining distance between Temple and the committee.  “Your appeal for communication is well taken,” he wrote.  However, “while personal friendship might well prompt response from individual members of the committee it would not be appropriate for us each to express our comments on committee agenda.[119]  Though Temple’s letter still did not establish personal relationships with Personnel Committee members (she had, early in the process invited them all to observe her EMU classes and work at Shalom), it did highlight inadequate communication patterns which North acknowledged in his letter to Temple: “It is clear that too much is taken for granted in the matter of communication.”[120]

Temple however, continued to call for increased communication.  On February 1, 2002, Temple sent an email to Miller bluntly asking why the Personnel Committee still hesitated to grant her full ordination.  She also criticized the committee’s lack of transparency.  “An accused person has the right to know of what she or he is being accused,” she wrote.  “I am not one from whom members of the committee should withhold information about any allegation about me that has been brought to the committee for deliberation.”[121]  Temple’s frustration with her distance from her proceedings continued.

The same day Temple emailed Miller requesting more information, she received a letter from Burkholder that revealed one reason the Personnel Committee continued to worry about her position on same-sex sexuality.  He cited two articles that had appeared in EMU’s student newspaper The Weather Vane as a source of continuing concern.[122]  Burkholder first noted a letter to the editor published on November 8, 2001.  In “Response to Previous Letter on Issues of Sexual Identity,” Temple addressed a student letter which expressed the pain experienced as a same-sex oriented member of the EMU community.  Temple wrote that the church and its members “have done a poor job of embodying God’s love for those who are suffering ostracism for who they love.”[123]  Temple’s story was also told, though she was not explicitly mentioned, in a December 6, 2001 article entitled “Faculty and Staff Take Issue with Forced Resignation.”  This article, which described faculty response to EMU’s firing of lesbian staff member Sue Blauch because of her sexual orientation, also recounted Temple’s work with The Open Door and mentioned her continuing disciplinary procedure with Virginia Conference.[124]  These articles, Burkholder wrote, had renewed Personnel Committee “uneasiness” and anxiety rose when Temple publicly “questioned” the church’s stance.[125]  This uneasiness was soon to skyrocket.

In the fall of 2001, Blauch and her partner Karen Meyers asked Temple and Grimsrud to officiate their upcoming commitment ceremony.  Both Temple and Grimsrud regretfully declined, Temple due to her tenuous situation with Virginia Conference and Grimsrud in respect of MC USA’s membership guidelines that forbade a credentialed pastor from performing a same-sex covenant ceremony.[126]  However, the two agreed to attend and play minor roles in Blauch and Meyers’ ceremony which was to take place in early 2002.  Temple did not expect reading and reflecting on a scripture passage to constitute contrary advocacy.  However, when Temple informed Brunk of her plans, he was “absolutely horrified” and told her that the Personnel Committee would not condone this participation.[127]  In an email to Temple, Brunk wrote that her decision put him in a “difficult position.”  He then asked to terminate their period of mentorship.[128]  This strong reaction shocked Temple initially. However, she later realized that Brunk had “barely been hanging on” and the Personnel Committee was pressuring him to distance himself from Temple.  Temple’s decision to participate in Blauch and Meyer’s service was, in effect, “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she noted in a recent interview.[129]

Brunk was in a delicate position indeed.  In a March 2003 letter he expressed the fragility of his position “walking the line” on issues of same-sex sexuality.  He wrote, “I have found myself in a difficult place while seeking to uphold Conference positions.  I have been ‘labeled’ by conservatives for being too liberal and by liberals for being too conservative.”  Despite a desire to “be compassionate with all people,” in March 2002 Brunk felt pressure to discontinue his formal relationship with Temple.[130]  In a March 3 email, Temple acknowledged the difficult position Brunk was balancing.  She alluded to the contextual tensions surrounding Mennonite response to same-sex sexuality and the “vehemence” of Virginia Conference constituents outside of Harrisonburg District.  In an email later that month Temple wrote, “I see that you probably need to distance yourself from my actions, or your effectiveness in your areas of ministry could be compromised.”[131]  Thus, Temple and Brunk terminated their mentorship.

At this point, the Personnel Committee once again took control of Temple’s ordination process and moved quickly to terminate her ordination.  In a letter sent to Temple on March 29, Blosser acknowledged that “communications have not been adequate…in this relationship.”  In an effort to rectify this, he included the definition of contrary advocacy which Temple had been requesting for over a year.  He also asked Temple to attend a Personnel Committee meeting and “personally state where you are with respect and support for” the Virginia Conference and MC USA position on same-sex relationships.[132]  However, before they arranged this meeting, Temple received another letter from Blosser which informed her that the Personnel Committee defined her upcoming participation in Blauch and Meyer’s commitment ceremony as “advocacy” and thus, grounds for the removal of her ordination.  This action also condemned Harrisonburg’s Broad Street Mennonite Church for renting its facility to Blauch and Meyers even though neither woman was a member of the Broad Street congregation.[133]  Eventually, Virginia Conference would revoke Broad Street’s conference membership for this action.

Temple’s response to the Personnel Committee’s threat was quick and strong.  She criticized Personnel Committee members and Virginia Conference leadership for failing to meet with her before making such a decision.  She further critiqued their interpretation of her action.  While Virginia Conference’s official definition of contrary advocacy includes “officiating” covenant ceremonies, Temple argued that scripture reading did not violate the terms of her commitment.[134]  In fact, Temple noted in an email to Brunk, “to ‘perform’ or to ‘officiate’ is what I told the couple I would NOT be able to do,” though that is what they initially requested.  In this email Temple also informed Brunk that she was “seriously” considering resigning her ordination.[135]  Temple wrote that this option seemed appealing because she felt “less and less hope that my ministry as a whole or the ‘fruit’ of my life will be evaluated by the FLC.”  Interestingly, Temple’s husband Grimsrud also participated in this commitment ceremony.  He welcomed all attendees to the service and Virginia Conference later questioned him for this role.  Grimsrud wrote a letter apologizing for violating conference expectations and promised to refrain from participating in same-sex commitment ceremonies as long as he was ordained in Virginia Conference.[136]  Apparently, this action appeased the conference.

However, based on her history with the conference, writing a letter would not save Temple’s credentials.  When Conference Minister Burkholder informed her that keeping her ordination was no longer possible, Temple ended her formal relationship with Virginia Conference.  On May 1, 2002, Temple wrote a letter to the Personnel Committee.  She stated, “I very much want to remain a part of Virginia Conference.”  However, she also took seriously the Personnel Committee threats to revoke her ordination.  “Given that the formal relationship seems to be no longer possible,” she wrote, “I request that my ordination be terminated.”[137] At their May 10 meeting, the Personnel Committee accepted Temple’s request and terminated her credentials effective August 21, 2002.[138]  And so, after almost three years of conversation, Virginia Conference and Temple ended their official journey together.

An unsatisfactory resolution

Temple’s break from Virginia Conference proved a resolution of sorts to this complex conflict between personalities, structures and context which also included significant communication problems.  However, in the end, this resolution did not prove satisfactory to Temple, Virginia Conference or Shalom Mennonite Congregation.

From Temple’s perspective, the conference defeated her.  In a presentation to the Shenandoah Valley Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Temple stated outright, “They had finally won.”[139]  She incurred deep wounds throughout the disciplinary process.  She recounted feeling “battered and bruised” by the “unjust and disrespectful” credential review. [140]  Conference Minister Burkholder also acknowledged Temple’s pain in a personal interview.  He said the conference indeed “squash[ed]” Temple, and he regretted this reality. [141]

In spite of the raw pain, Temple continued pastoring at Shalom and teaching at EMU because ordination was not a prerequisite for employment at either institution.  However, Temple found ordination an important affirmation of her work in the church.  In a personal interview she stated, “I really believed in the reality of the church’s blessing and…without the blessing through the official channels I really felt like the wind (as in the Spirit) had gone out of my sails.”[142]  Though formally cut from Virginia Conference, in the letter terminating her ordination, Temple noted that she would “cooperate fully” should Virginia Conference ever reconsider her “acceptability” as a credentialed pastor.[143]  However, for the moment Temple needed “a good rest” from the intense scrutiny experienced during the previous years.[144]  So, in September, 2003, Temple took a leave of absence from her pastoral duties at Shalom.  The following March she resigned from both Shalom and EMU.[145]  Temple’s disciplinary procedure with Virginia Conference had wounded her deeply enough that she could not continue in church ministry, the vocation she felt called to ever since becoming Christian.

Afterward, Temple returned to tailoring, a profession she explored as a young adult.  In a recent interview, she expressed that working with her hands has been important in her healing process.  In tailoring, “The highs aren’t as high” she said, but “neither are the lows as low.” Temple has experienced a measure of healing almost nine years after terminating her ordination.  She noted, “I just feel good when I wake up every morning.”[146]

Despite some healing, Temple has not forgotten the past and the pain.  Temple lost the freedom she once felt to “speak openly.”  After losing her ordination, Temple backed away from public LGBTQ advocacy.  While she still signs letter and petitions, she does not currently feel able to “step up” and enter the heated discourse still surrounding same-sex sexuality due to exhaustion from the disciplinary procedure and the emptiness felt without the conference’s blessing.[147]  She laments the fact that the church still discriminates against LGBTQ people.  Temple said she is not going to feel content until the “sickening” prejudice stops, but has also lost faith that the Mennonite church can change.[148]  For Temple, the resolution to her conflict with Virginia Conference was certainly dissatisfying because she lost the official blessing of the church and incurred a great deal of personal pain through an unjust process.  Temple was additionally heartbroken that her situation did not lead to greater understanding and acceptance of people with a diversity of sexual orientations among church leadership, polity and constituents.

Shalom was also dissatisfied with the process and resolution regarding Temple’s ordination credentials.   Temple’s at-the-time co-pastor Earl Zimmerman called Virginia Conference’s treatment of Temple “unjust” and not “constructive.”  He was also frustrated with process structure.  He felt marginalized throughout by Virginia Conference’s lack of communication.  In a personal interview, he called the proceedings “very impersonal” and “top down.”[149]  Two months after Temple submitted the request to terminate her ordination Shalom held a church retreat and addressed how to respond to Virginia Conference’s treatment of Temple.  Retreat attendees discussed a variety of options, and leaving the conference, while also “proactively addressing” contentions gained majority support.[150]

When Harrisonburg District realized that Shalom was considering leaving the conference representatives initiated a listening group to create space to “listen…and try to understand” why Shalom wanted to transfer to Central District Conference (hereafter, Central District).  The Listening Group met four times throughout February and March, 2004 and subsequently released a report which highlighted three primary reasons for Shalom’s transfer request.  First, Shalom was unhappy with Virginia Conference polity and the relationship of conference leadership to member congregations.  Specifically, Shalom felt that Virginia Conference did not trust the judgment of “the congregation to discern how to relate pastorally to homosexuals.”  Second, Shalom was dissatisfied with the conference’s treatment of Temple.  Shalom representatives expressed feeling “hurt and marginalized” by the process and the fact that “neither the congregation, nor Earl Zimmerman…were ever consulted concerning her ministry, how she functioned as a pastor, or about the theological perspective she expressed in the congregation.”  Finally, Shalom highlighted “significant errors of process and communication” in the way Virginia Conference handled disagreements with both Temple and Broad Street Mennonite Church.  The Listening Group report highlighted Shalom’s contentions with polity and process employed by Virginia Conference in their discernment of Temple’s credentials.  The report also noted that these inquietudes in addition to inadequate “acknowledgement of the wrongdoing and hurt” made it difficult for Shalom “to entertain the notion of reconciliation (in the sense of remaining in Virginia Conference).”[151]

Despite working in a context of significant pain, the Listening Group proved a positive experience for both Shalom and Harrisonburg District.  In the report, Harrisonburg District representatives said that the meetings “made Shalom’s journey and pain much clearer.”[152]  In a personal interview, Zimmerman said the Listening Group allowed both groups to “really hear…each other.”[153]  The report Shalom and Virginia Conference jointly wrote to Central District on March 25, 2005 echoed this sentiment.  They wrote that the listening group process had been “praised as something of a model for working together.”[154]  After the painful process with Temple, the Listening Group demonstrated Harrisonburg District and Shalom’s continued potential to work together constructively.

Despite renewed positive feelings, the Listening Group did not provide enough incentive for Shalom to remain affiliated with Virginia Conference.  In a congregational meeting on October 14, 2003, 84 percent of the congregation voted to apply for membership with Central District, which is based in the Midwest and has a more congregational polity.  In a March 25, 2005 report from Shalom and Virginia Conference to Central District, Shalom succinctly expressed its desire to leave by highlighting structural issues as well as reiterating pain experienced in recent years.[155]  Shalom stated, “We desire a more congregational polity than what we experienced in Virginia Mennonite Conference.  We believe that local congregations need to be directly involved in controversial matters of faith and life and should have the freedom to work pastorally in such situations.”  It went on to note, “because of mutual misunderstandings, failures in process, and human failing…trust has been broken to a degree that will not be easily or quickly repaired.”[156]  Thus, in the first congregational transfer under new MC USA polity guidelines, Virginia Conference released Shalom on February 5, 2005 and Central District accepted the congregation on June 25 of the same year.[157]  Though several years had passed since the more conservative Cornerstone and Mountain Valley districts left Virginia Conference, with this transfer, Virginia Conference now also lost two progressive congregations due to anxiety surrounding same-sex sexuality: Broad Street Mennonite Church and Shalom.

Virginia Conference leadership was saddened the resolution of their conflict with Temple led to the loss of Shalom and expressed their disappointment several times throughout the transfer process.  Conference officials also admitted to making some mistakes along the way.  The report of the Listening Group included a statement by Harrisonburg District representatives noting that the loss of Shalom was “painful to consider.”  They also recognized the “value of all voices” in the conferenced and expressed that Shalom was a “significant congregation” to both Harrisonburg District and Virginia Conference.[158]  The Listening Committee also noted that “in situations where anxiety is high” church leadership is under significant pressure and “sometimes make mistakes.”  In addition to reflecting the anxiety of the time, they also acknowledged the “brokenness of the church and its institutions.”[159]  They further stated that the conference should learn from this process, “taking seriously how it can improve communication and process.”[160]  Not only did the Listening Group express profound sadness at the impending loss of Shalom, they also acknowledged conference missteps during the process.

Members of the FLC also met with Shalom leadership in April, 2004 to review “management of the processes” surrounding Temple’s ordination transfer.  In this meeting, they acknowledged “missed opportunities” to include Shalom in the conflict with Temple.  Further, the FLC passed an action on June 6, 2004 which communicated official regret for these “missed opportunities.”[161]  In July, Michael Shenk, member of the FLC Personnel Committee wrote a letter to Shalom Pastor Earl Zimmerman and Ruby Friesen-Zehr, Shalom’s administrative assistant, which stated that the FLC was making a “genuine effort to be open and clear” in response to Shalom’s critique of procedural missteps.   This letter also asked Shalom to reconsider their decision to transfer to Central District.[162]  Other Virginia Conference representatives echoed this call.  A March 26, 2004 letter from Virginia Conference Moderator Joseph Longacher to Edwin Yoder, Shalom Congregational Chair, conveyed the unanimous desire of the Virginia Conference Council that Shalom would continue in formal relationship with Virginia Conference.[163]  Conference Minister Burkholder also sent Zimmerman an email asking Shalom to remain in Virginia Conference.  In this email he admitted to procedural missteps and stated that Virginia Conference had learned from their journey with Temple and was now more capable of carrying out “a careful process.”[164]  Clearly Virginia Conference was not satisfied with Shalom’s transfer.  However, neither was ordination loss satisfactory to Temple, nor decision-making without congregational input acceptable to Shalom.  Thus, the resolution of Temple’s ordination transfer proved unsatisfactory for the main players in this conflict.

If virtually no one was happy with the conflict’s resolution, why didn’t the parties involved take different actions or make other choices?  Conflict theory provides one helpful way of understanding the unsatisfactory resolutions stemming from Temple’s interaction with Virginia Conference.  Specifically, understanding multiple causation sheds new light on this situation.  In “Four Steps Toward a Healthy System,” Marcus G. Smucker wrote that “whenever there is anxiety, tension or conflict in a relational system, people look for the ‘one’ (person, group or issue) who is responsible.  However,…most events in any system are multi-factorial with all factors coming together to create the result.”[165]  In the conflict analyzed throughout this paper, same-sex sexuality was the “one issue” and Temple the “one person.”  The process set up by Virginia Conference, therefore, focused on Temple’s position on same-sex sexuality in relation to that of the Conference and greater MC USA.  However, this limited perspective failed to link the same-sex sexuality debate with underlying personal, structural and contextual issues.  Whether or not conference officials recognized underlying issues and questions—how much divergence from official church teaching is acceptable among ordained leadership in pastoral positions?  Should decision-making power lie primarily with the conference or individual congregations?  How can church institutions and leaders manage tension in “anxious” systems?—is difficult to ascertain, but in either case, the process did not address the multiplicity of underlying issues and those involved employed a more limited view of conflict instead.

Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, associate Professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies at Goshen College, has said that satisfactory conflict resolution relies on the ability of involved parties to recognize and address multiple causation.  To do less, she said, is “like putting a bucket under a roof that’s leaking.”[166]  Pressuring Temple to remit her ordination was, perhaps, one bucket under a roof with multiple leaks.  While, from Virginia Conference’s perspective, they succeeded in silencing Temple, this action also encouraged Shalom to transfer their conference membership.  More importantly, perhaps, it failed to set a helpful precedent for dealing with divergent opinions among a diverse conference and did not contribute to a healthy dialogue surrounding one of the most contentious issues currently facing Virginia Conference and MC USA: same-sex sexuality.  This reality can be seen in a recent resurgence of energy surrounding same-sex sexuality in Virginia Conference.

Despite tensions immediately following Temple’s loss of ordination, Virginia Conference’s decision to expel Broad Street Mennonite Church and Shalom’s subsequent decision to transfer to Central District, anxiety surrounding same-sex sexuality on a polity level soon quieted for a time in the conference.  Remarked Conference Minister Owen Burkholder, “I have enjoyed the lull…since all of this went somewhere else.”[167]  However, controversy will not stay away indefinitely.  Burkholder realizes this and in a recent interview noted that conversations surrounding same-sex sexuality have resurfaced.  For example, at the most recent Virginia Conference annual meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina, held June 24 to 26, 2010, Burkholder led a workshop focusing on pastoral approaches to same-sex sexuality.  It was incredibly popular, with 76 out the 110 people registered for workshops in attendance.[168]  Burkholder said this required much “emotional energy,” but was also quite “gratifying.”  He concluded that the brief “lull” experienced in Virginia Conference after the controversies with Temple and Broad Street is now over.  However, renewed energy does not mean that controversy has ceased.  Even today understandings of same-sex sexuality among FLC members are mixed.  “We are not of one mind,” said Burkholder.[169]   What, then, can faith communities who are “not of one mind” regarding same-sex sexuality learn by analyzing the interactions between Temple and Virginia Conference?

Conclusion

Kniss and Ainlay remind us that “any polarization that we see may be only one part of a picture that is much more complex than partisans would have us believe.”  They then suggest that “the challenge is to candidly account for conflict in Mennonite life and history while struggling to understand its full complexity.”[170]  In that spirit, this study attempted to explore the multiple and intertwining aspects of the conflict between Temple and Virginia Conference that led to a painful situation with an unsatisfactory resolution.  This broad focus does not attempt to downplay or suggest that divergent and divisive opinions surrounding same-sex sexuality and inclusion among Mennonites are unimportant.  It is most certainly an issue that requires much more dialogue, discussion, and ideally, a resolution that will be consistent with the Mennonite focus on justice and inclusion.  However, this paper does propose that this conflict, like many others, was about more than same-sex sexuality and conjectures that a more satisfactory resolution may have been reached if involved parties worked to identify factors complicating the conflict as well as addressed the obvious tensions surrounding same-sex sexuality.  One possible way to do this would have been to utilize a conflict framework employed by Speed Leas, consultant to religious organizations, and Dave Brubaker, Associate Professor of Organizational Studies in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU.  This framework suggests identifying personal issues, interpersonal issues, polarities to manage and systemic dysfunction in addition to the identified issue or person.[171]  This could have led to the development of a process that, instead of focusing only on Temple’s beliefs and actions regarding same-sex sexuality, would have also provided a space for the conference, congregations and church leaders to come together and jointly address underlying issues feeding this and other conflicts in Mennonite life. 

The Mennonite Church will continue to face divergent opinions on a variety of topics.  It is of vital importance, then, to understand the full complexity of conflicts such as the one discussed throughout this paper. After all, same-sex sexuality remains a hot-button topic in the church almost ten years after Temple remitted her ordination and by all appearances will remain so for quite some time.  In a December 8, 2004 email to Lloyd Miller, then Conference Minister of Central District, Zimmerman expressed this opinion.  He said, “The homosexuality controversy will not go away.  We all know it.”  He continued on, saying that it is vital to “create the space and time for discernment in our church family so that we can stay together in the same denomination and not do untold violence to each other.”[172]  Though often difficult, addressing the myriad of factors complicating such conflicts may be one way to helpfully reframe these disputes.  It could also lead to a Mennonite Church that respects the complexity of conflicts and, perhaps one day, the complexity of the lived human experience.


[1] The category of “special ministries” includes non-congregational appointments such as college Bible faculty.

[2] FLC:00:55, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 8 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Correspondence 2000-01,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[3] Though the term “same-sex sexuality” is currently replacing “homosexuality,” the Mennonite church has traditionally, and largely still continues to, refer to this issue using the older, “homosexuality.”  To encompass this tension, terminology in this paper will vary hereafter.

[4] John D. Roth, “In This Issue,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 72, no. 2 (April 1998):  117.

[5] Ibid., 117-8.

[6] Stephen Ainlay and Fred Kniss, “Mennonites and Conflict: Re-examining Mennonite History and Contemporary Life,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 72, no. 2 (April 1998):  139.

[7] The Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) were two separate North American Mennonite denominations that joined together to form the current Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) in 2001.

[8] Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia, (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood), s.v. “The Mennonite Church.”

[9] Lin Garber, “Mennonites and the ‘Homosexual’ Issue: A Recent History,” in To Continue the Dialogue: Biblical Interpretation and Homosexuality, edited by C. Norman Kraus (Telford, PA: Pandora, 2001), 104; Homosexuality and Religion.

[10] Kathleen Temple, response to “Questions for Ministerial License, Ordination, and Commissioning,” December 5, 1994, Folder entitled Applications NDC, Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[11] Kathleen Temple, “Ministerial Leadership Information,” November 25, 1993, Folder entitled ‘Applications NDC,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia; Kathleen Temple, “SVGLA Coffee Talk,” May 11, 2004, Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1.

[12] Kathleen Temple, “Navigating ‘Contrary Advocacy,’” in The Cost of Truth: Faith Stories of Mennonite and Brethren Leaders and Those Who Might Have Been, edited by Roberta Showalter Kreider (Kulpsville, PA: Strategic, 2004), 49; Kathleen Temple, interview, March 11, 2011; 25 minutes; Skype.

[13] Temple, interview, March 11, 2011.

[14] Temple, “Navigating ‘Contrary Advocacy,’” 49.

[15] Temple, interview, March 11, 2011.

[16] Ibid., 49.

[17] Ibid., 50.

[18] One of Virginia Conference’s then 12 regional districts.  Today, the conference has shrunk to nine districts.

[19] “History,” Shalom Mennonite Congregation, http://www.shalomcongregation.va.us.mennonite.net/Home/History (accessed March 20, 2011); Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, December 30, 1999, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 8 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Correspondence 2000-01,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[20] Eric Marcus, Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990: An Oral History (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 171.

[21] Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?: Another Christian View (San Fransisco: Harper, 1978) was one early and influential title.

[22] Donald F. Durnbaugh, Fruit of the Vine: A History of the Brethren 1708-1995 (Elgin, IL.: Brethren Press, 1997), 548-9; Mennonite Central Committee, http://mcc.org/ (accessed April 12, 2011).

[23] Martin R. Rock, “Rejected by the Church—Chosen by God,” in From Wounded Hearts: Faith Stories of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered People and Those who Love Them, edited by Roberta Showalter Kreider (Gathersberg, MD.: Chi Rho Press, 1998), 7; “BMC Mission Statement,” Brethren/Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests, http://www.bmclgbt.org/mission.shtml (accessed April 7, 2011).

[24] “Human Sexuality and the Christian Life: A Working Document for Study and Dialogue,” General Conference of the Mennonite Church, (Newton, KS: Faith & Life Press, 1985), preface.

[25]Ibid., 2.7.5.

[26] Ibid., 2.7.8.

[27] “A Call to Affirmation, Confession, and Covenant Regarding Human Sexuality,” General Board of the Mennonite Church, (Elgin, IL, 1987); “Resolution on Human Sexuality,” General Board of the General Conference Mennonite Church, 1986, available at http://www.ambs.edu/LJohns/Resolutions.htm (accessed Jan 23, 2011).

[28] Melanie Zuercher and Edward Stoltzfus, “The Story of the Listening Committee,” in To Continue the Dialogue: Biblical Interpretation and Homosexuality, edited by C. Norman Kraus (Telford, PA: Pandora, 2001), 83.

[29] Michael A. King, “Mennonites Shift Focus from Morality to Who Belongs,” in To Continue the Dialogue: Biblical Interpretation and Homosexuality, edited by C. Norman Kraus (Telford, PA: Pandora, 2001), 116.

[30] Zuercher and Stoltzfus, 81.

[31] Ibid., 85.

[32] Ibid., 86.

[33] Paul Schrag, Mennonite Weekly Review, May 6, 1993.

[34] Kathleen Temple, interview, Harrisonburg, Va., August 18, 2010; 175 minutes; in person.

[35] Ibid; Temple, interview, March 11, 2011.

[36] Temple, interview, August, 18.

[37] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[38] Temple, “SVGLA Coffee Talk,” 1.

[39] Temple, “Navigating ‘Contrary Advocacy,’” 50.

[40] “Community Lifestyle Commitment,” Eastern Mennonite University, http://www.emu.edu/about/clc/ (accessed January 16, 2011).

[41] “Eastern Mennonite University Faculty Contract—August, September 1999,” folder entitled ‘Teaching Contracts,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[42] “Eastern Mennonite University Faculty Contract—March, April 2000,” folder entitled ‘Teaching Contracts,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[43] Temple, interview, March 11, 2011.

[44] Ibid.

[45] “Bylaws,” Virginia Mennonite Conference (amended April 10, 2010), art. 9, sec. 3, cl. 3.

[46] “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective,” General Boards of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church (Scottdale, PA: Herald: 1995).

[47] Homosexuality and Religion.

[48]“Membership Guidelines for the formation of Mennonite Church,” Mennonite Church USA, July 5, 2001, available at http://www.mennoniteusa.org/Portals/0/WebDownloads/formation/membershipguidelines.pdf (accessed Jan 23, 2011), 3.

[49] Homosexuality and Religion.

[50] “Bylaws,” art. 7, sec. 1.

[51] Ibid., art. 5, sec. 1.

[52] Owen Burkholder, interview, Harrisonburg, Va., August 24, 2010; 90 minutes; in person.

[53] “Bylaws,” art. 9, sec. 3, cls. 1 and 3.

[54]“Homosexuality—A Guide for Concerned Christians,” Virginia Mennonite Conference Council on Faith and Life (Harrisonburg, Va., 1983).

[55] Temple, “Navigating ‘Contrary Advocacy,’ 50-1.

[56] Email from Wayne North to Kathleen Temple entitled “Interview Preview,” August 10, 1999, folder entitled ‘Homosex,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[57] FLC:00:55.

[58] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, August 2, 2000, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 8 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Correspondence 2000-01,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[59] FLC:00:54-6, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ folder 8 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Correspondence 2000-01,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[60] Owen Burkholder, interview, April 5, 2011, by email.

[61] Welcome Committee, “A Welcoming Letter on ‘Homosexuality,’” Mennonite Weekly Review, February 17, 2000.

[62] Burkholder, interview, April 5, 2011.

[63] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, August 22, 2000, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 4 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Minutes 1999-2003,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 2.

[64] Ted Grimsrud, interviews, April 8 and 12, 2011, by email.

[65] Burkholder, interview, April 5, 2011.

[66] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, September 22, 2000, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 4 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Minutes 1999-2003,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 2.

[67] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, September 10, 1999, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 4 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Minutes 1999-2003,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[68] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, June 20 and July 18, 2000, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 4 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Minutes 1999-2003,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[69] Fred Kniss, Disquiet in the Land: Cultural Conflict in American Mennonite Communities (New Jersey: Rutgers University, 1997), 104.

[70] Virginia Mennonite Conference West Valley District Minutes, May 30, 1970, quoted in Kniss, 103.

[71] Kniss, 103-5.

[72] Predecessor to FLC

[73] “Headship and Leadershsip Roles of Women,” Virginia Mennonite Conference Ad Hoc Committee on Headship, 1988.

[74] Burkholder, interview, April 5, 2011.

[75] Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus, A Way was Opened: A Memoir, edited by Eve MacMaster (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2003), 345.

[76] Ibid., 325.

[77] Burkholder, interview, April 5, 2011; Brunk Stoltzfus, 331.

[78] “Criteria for Membership in Tidewater Area Mennonite Churches,” Virginia Mennonite Conference Warwick and Norfolk Districts, April 1, 1995.

[79] J. Lorne Peachy, “Virginia takes stand on membership for military personnel but allows full membership for churches that disagree,” Gospel Herald, January 30, 1996.

[80]“Criteria for Membership in Tidewater Area Mennonite Churches,” art. 6.

[81] Burkholder, interview, April 5, 2011.

[82] Currently program director and professor in EMU’s applied social sciences department.

[83] Elroy Miller, interview, Harrisonburg, Va., August 23, 2010; 45 minutes; in person.

[84] “Always our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family, 1997, available at http://www.usccb.org/laity/always.shtml (accessed April 12, 2011).

[85] Burkholder, interview, August 24, 2010.

[86] “A Pastoral Approach to Persons with a Homosexual Orientation,” Virginia Mennonite Conference Faith and Life Commission, (Harrisonburg, VA., 1999) 2.

[87] Burkholder, interview, August 24, 2010.

[88] Owen Burkholder, interview, Harrisonburg, Va., August 19, 2010; 65 minutes; in person; Burkholder, interview, April 5, 2011.

[89] Zuercher and Stoltzfus, 90.

[90] Burkholder, interview, August 19, 2010.

[91] “Commitment on Current Issues,” Virginia Mennonite Conference Faith and Life Commission, (Harrisonburg, VA., May 12, 2001) available at http://www.ambs.edu/LJohns/Virginia.htm (accessed August 16, 2010).

[92] Letter from Virginia Mennonite Conference Faith and Life Commission to Virginia Mennonite Conference credentialed ministers, October 11, 2000, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1.

[93] “Commitment on Current Issues.”

[94] Burkholder, interview, August 24, 2010; Miller, interview, August 23, 2010; Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[95] Burkholder, interview, August 24, 2010.

[96] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010; Kathleen Temple, interview, April 8, 2011; by email.

[97] “Shalom and Virginia Conference Chronology,” Shalom Mennonite Congregation Archives, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1.

[98] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[99] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, December 16, 2000, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 8 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Correspondence 2000-01,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[100] Letter from Elroy Miller to Kathleen Temple, February 6, 2001, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[101] Temple, “Navigating ‘Contrary Advocacy,’” 52.

[102] Ibid., 49.

[103] Email from Kathleen Temple to Shalom Mennonite Congregation entitled “to my Shalom friends (and who have I missed on the Shalom list?),” November 3, 2000, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[104] Temple, “Navigating ‘Contrary Advocacy,’ 52.

[105] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[106] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[107] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, December 19, 2001, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 8 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Correspondence 2000-01,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[108] Email from Elroy Miller to Owen Burkholder et al. entitled ‘Recommendation,” December 21, 2001, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 9 entitled ‘Personnel Committee Correspondence 2002-03,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[109] FLC:PC 10:42, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 4 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Minutes 1999-2003,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[110] Email from Elroy Miller to Owen Burkholder.

[111] Email from Glendon Blosser to Elroy Miller entitled “Re: Recommendation on Kathleen,” December 21, 2001, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 9 entitled ‘Personnel Committee Correspondence 2002-03,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[112] Miller, interview August 23, 2010.

[113] Email from Truman Brunk to Elory Miller et al. entitled “Recommendation,” December 22, 2001, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 9 entitled ‘Personnel Committee Correspondence 2002-03,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[114] Email from Owen Burkholder to Elroy Miller et al. entitled ‘Follow-up to Open Letter,” December 26, 2001, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 9 entitled ‘Personnel Committee Correspondence 2002-03,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[115] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, January 8, 2002, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 4 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Minutes 1999-2003,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[116] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, January 10, 2002, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 4 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Minutes 1999-2003,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[117]Letter from Kathleen Temple to members of the Personnel Committee, December 30, 2001, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[118] Letter from Owen Burkholder to Kathleen Temple, December 30, 2001, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[119] Letter from Wayne North to Kathleen Temple, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[120] Letter from Kathleen Temple to Glendon Blosser, September 9, 2000, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia; Letter from Wayne North to Kathleen Temple.

[121] Email from Kathleen Temple to Elroy Miller et al. entitled “Another Try…,” February 1, 2002, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[122] Letter from Owen Burkholder to Kathleen Temple, February 1, 2002, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Kathleen Temple, “Response to Previous Letter on Issues of Sexual Identity,” Weather Vane, November 8, 2001.

[123]Kathleen Temple, “Response to Previous Letter on Issues of Sexual Identity,” Weather Vane, November 8, 2001.

[124] Amanda Jantzi, “Faculty and Staff Take Issue with Forced Resignation,” Weather Vane, December 6, 2001.

[125] Letter from Owen Burkholder to Kathleen Temple, February 1, 2002.

[126] “Membership Guidelines for the formation of Mennonite Church,” 3.

[127] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[128] Email from Truman Brunk to Kathleen Temple entitled “Response to your email(s),” Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[129] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[130] Truman Brunk, “Walking the Line: My Position on Broad Street,” March 30, 2003, Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[131] Email from Kathleen Temple to Truman Brunk entitled “To Truman and Betty,” March 23, 2002, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[132] Letter from Glendon Blosser to Kathleen Temple, March 29, 2002, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[133] Letter from Glendon Blosser and Elroy Miller to Kathleen Temple, April 15, 2002, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[134] Letter from Kathleen Temple to Personnel Committee members and Faith & Life Commission representatives, April 17, 2002, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[135] Email from Kathleen Temple to Truman Brunk entitled “Personnel Committee letter,” April 19, 2002, Folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[136]In 2005, Grimsrud transferred his ordination credentials to Central District Conference. Grimsrud, interview, April 8, 2011.

[137] Letter from Kathleen Temple to Glendon Blosser and Elroy Miller, May 1, 2002, folder entitled ‘Virginia Mennonite Conference,’ Kathleen J. Temple Collection, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[138] Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes, May 10, 2002, Box 1-H-2 entitled ‘Faith and Life Commission Personnel Committee Minutes and Correspondence 1984-,’ Folder 4 entitled ‘FLC Personnel Committee Minutes 1999-2003,’ Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[139] Temple, “SVGLA Coffee Talk,” 1.

[140] Temple, “Navigating ‘Contrary Advocacy,’” 54-5.

[141] Burkholder, interview, August 24, 2010.

[142] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[143] Letter from Kathleen Temple to Glendon Blosser and Elroy Miller.

[144] Temple, “SVGLA Coffee Talk,” 2.

[145] Temple, “Navigating ‘Contrary Advocacy,’” 55.

[146] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[147] Temple, interviews, August 18, 2010 and April 8, 2011.

[148] Temple, interview, August 18, 2010.

[149] Earl Zimmerman, interview, Harrisonburg, Va., August 20, 2010; 60 minutes; in person; Rich Preheim, “Way cleared for church to change conferences,” Mennonite Weekly Review, July 12, 2004.

[150] Shalom Mennonite Congregational Meeting Minutes, June 29, 2002, Folder entitled ‘VMCàCDC,’ Shalom Mennonite Congregation Archives, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[151] “Report of Listening Group,” Kathy Hochstedler, in “Report to Central District Conference,” Shalom Mennonite Congregation and Virginia Mennonite Conference, March 25, 2005, Folder entitled ‘VMCàCDC,’ Shalom Mennonite Congregation Archives, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[152] Ibid.

[153] Zimmerman, interview, August 20, 2010.

[154] “Report to Central District Conference,” 2.

[155] Shalom Mennonite Congregational Meeting Minutes, October 14, 2003, Folder entitled ‘VMCàCDC,’ Shalom Mennonite Congregation Archives, Harrisonburg, Virginia; “Report to Central District Conference,” 1.

[156] “Report to Central District Conference,” 1.

[157] “Challenge to CDC: Be people of vision,” Central District Reporter, July 2005; Memo from Central District Conference Board of Directors to MC USA Executive Board entitled “Report to MC USA Executive Board,” July 21, 2005, Folder entitled ‘Affiliation process 2004-2005,’ Shalom Mennonite Congregation Archives, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1.

[158] “Report of Listening Group,” 1.

[159] Ibid., 2.

[160] Ibid., 3.

[161] “Reflections with the Leadership of Shalom Congregation,” in “Report to Central District Conference,” 1-2.

[162] Letter from Michael Shenk to Earl Zimmerman and Ruby Friesen Zehr, July 20, 2004, Folder entitled ‘CDC,’ Shalom Mennonite Congregation Archives, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[163] Letter from Joseph Longacher to Edwin Yoder et al, March 26, 2004, folder entitled ‘Affiliation process 2004-2005,’ Shalom Mennonite Congregation Archives, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[164] Email from Owen Burkholder to Earl Zimmerman et al. entitled “VMC delegate action memo Shalom,” February 8, 2005, Folder entitled ‘Affiliation process 2004-2005,’ Shalom Mennonite Congregation Archives, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

[165] Marcus G. Smucker, “Four Steps Toward a Healthy System,” in Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual: Foundations and Skills for Constructive Conflict Transformation, 4th edition, edited by Carolyn Schrock-Shenk (Akron, PA: Mennonite Conciliation Service, 2000), 238.

[166] Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, interview, Goshen, IN, March 23, 2011; 60 minutes; in person.

[167] Burkholder, interview, August 24, 2010.

[168] Ibid.; Burkholder, interview, April 5, 2011.

[169] Burkholder, interview, August 24, 2010.

[170] Ainlay and Kniss, 139.

[171] Schrock-Shenk, interview.

[172] Email from Earl Zimmerman to Lloyd Miller, December 8, 2004, Folder entitled ‘CDC,’ Shalom Mennonite Congregation Archives, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

2 thoughts on ““Church discipline”

  1. Peter Blum

    Many thanks both to Kelly Miller for undertaking this important work, and to Ted for sharing it here!

    Reply
  2. Audrey

    Wow.
    I am a Mennonite mother of a wonderful Gay son. I love him like crazy and I’m very proud of him. I struggle with how the denomination known for adhering to peace and justice draws a line in the sand when it comes to LGBT members.

    Sometimes I despair of the homophobic infused theology our denomination holds to so tightly. But your thesis of showing how no one “won” in this horrible experience is a reminder to deepen my understanding many causes of the conflict over homosexuality. It is so easy to go toward polarization instead of investigation into the “other”,

    Temple’s story wretched me. I think of what Jesus said, “I was naked and you clothed me”. Temple has a gift of clothing those most vulnerable. In the process she herself became naked, and was not clothed and she shivered in the cold of fear and injustice.

    Temple, in your tailoring work may you with each stitch feel more deeply sewn into God’s love and care. I pray you will feel this garment of care and blessing I send to her today. Thank you for clothing my son and many other sons and daughters of God.

    Ted, thank you for sharing your gift of theology and writing on this issue. Your gift is so needed in our church.
    God bless you both.

    Reply

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