Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled (with different introduction)
Over the years here on YAR, discussions about the differences between the approach of the (Old) Mennonite Conference (MC) and General Conference (GC) have cropped up now and again. This comment from AlanS from 2010 is probably one of the most insightful. For non-Mennonites or those who have joined in the last 12 years, these reference are mysterious. Nevertheless, for those of of us working for change in the Mennonite church, understanding these differences are critical. To that end, here is my interview with Lin Garber, the convener of Mennoneighbors and a writer and editor. Lin graduated from Goshen College in 1957 and is a member of The Mennonite Congregation of Boston.
Tim: Lin, in a comment on The Mennonite website* you discussed the differering approaches of General Conference (GC) and the “Old” Mennonite Church (MC) to Section III (“Clarification on some issues related to homosexuality and membership”) of Membership Guidelines for the formation of Mennonite Church USA (2001). For those who have never heard of the terms GC and MC, can you briefly explain some of the history?
Lin: Today’s Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada) and Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) took their present forms around 2000 in what was termed a “transformation” (as opposed to discarded language like merger and integration). What had been the Mennonite Church, often informally and unofficially referred to as the “Old” Mennonites (MC), stemmed largely from 18th-century immigrants to North America with Swiss and south German origins. It had conferences in both the United States and Canada, a few of which had congregations on both sides of the border, but the bulk of its membership was in the United States.
What had been the General Conference Mennonite Church came out of a movement within the “Old” Mennonites of southeastern Pennsylvania in 1847 that in 1860 organized as the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America. A main stated goal of the group was to unite all Mennonites into one body. It grew slowly over the next dozen years as a few congregations decided to join it, but starting in 1874 its membership exploded with the influx of immigrants from central Europe and especially from southern Russia, mostly the Ukraine. The bulk of these immigrants were of Dutch-Prussian (i.e., north German) descent, and those cultural influences came to dominate. At the time of the “transformation” around 2000, the membership of the GC was roughly balanced between the United States and Canada, with the United States having a slight edge.