In today’s meetings of Standing Committee, two queries–“Continuing the Study of Our Christian Responsibility to Care for God’s Creation” and “Living Together as Christ Calls”–were acted on, and received recommendations.
Standing Committee is the body of delegates from the districts, which meets in advance of Annual Conference to make recommendations on business items among other tasks. The committee is presided over by Annual Conference moderator Andy Murray, assisted by moderator-elect Carol Scheppard and secretary James Beckwith.
Additionally, Standing Committee turned down a motion to reconsider its response to “Query: Same Sex Weddings.” For a report on that response, which was made yesterday with a narrow vote, go to www.brethren.org/news/2016/standing-committee-responds-query-same-sex-weddings.html
Query: Continuing the Study of Our Christian Responsibility to Care for God’s Creation
The district delegates voted to recommend to Annual Conference “that a study committee be appointed to work with Brethren Benefit Trust to develop ways to support and extend our knowledge of renewable energy production with our financial investments and involvement in community projects to reduce our contributions to greenhouse gas concentrations and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The study committee shall consist of three members elected by Standing Committee.”
Although several district delegates spoke against the query as either already answered in previous Conference statements, or as too similar to a query on climate change that was returned by the 2014 Conference, the committee in the end supported the query.
The query was presented by the district executive of Illinois and Wisconsin District, and was initiated by Polo (Ill.) Church of the Brethren. Find a link to the full text of the query at www.brethren.org/ac/2016/business
Query: Living Together as Christ Calls
Standing Committee voted to recommend to Annual Conference that “the concern of the query be adopted and be referred to the Mission and Ministry Board.” The query was presented by the district executive of Pacific Southwest District, and originated in La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren. Find a link to the full text of the query at www.brethren.org/ac/2016/business .
Discussion saw many district delegates come to the microphone in support of the query’s call for the Church of the Brethren to work on the tensions being expressed across the church at this time, and to work on developing strategies to aid the church in “treating one another in a truly Christ-like manner.”
An initial motion to refer the query to the Committee on Vitality and Viability was amended and the final decision was to recommend referral to the Mission and Ministry Board. Several spoke to feeling uncertainty about whether a new committee should be formed as the query asks.
Said Eli Mast, who is a delegate from Southern Pennsylvania, “We need to have a strategy that makes this idea of forebearance and living as Christ calls central to everything we do together.” He turned to general secretary-elect David Steele, who has been in attendance at Standing Committee as past moderator of Annual Conference, and commented, “I pray that you have strong muscles to do that.”
In other business
Standing Committee today voted down a motion to reconsider its response to “Query: Same Sex Weddings,” which was adopted during yesterday’s business session by a narrow vote. The motion to reconsider was made by a district delegate who stated that he wanted to change his vote on the response. The motion came after the committee received a revised copy of yesterday’s response. The revision includes several corrections in a page of background information that references Annual Conference statements, and includes some new language in the paragraph of recommendations. The Annual Conference officers presented the revision as an “update” and said that they judged the changes not to be significant or substantive. The moderator asked the Standing Committee to approve the revision, and received a vote of approval.
The revision follows in full:
Standing Committee Response to New Business Item 1. Query: Same Sex Weddings
In responding to the query, Standing Committee reviewed the following decisions of Annual Conference:
“The Standing Committee acknowledges that it is not of one mind at this time. Nevertheless, in order to function together effectively as a denominational body, we must set a standard for our life together.”1
The statement by the 2014 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren titled “Congregational Ethics Polity” states: “Annual Conference has identified several specific responsibilities of the districts that are directly related to congregational life, such as the authorization, discipline, and placement of ministers….”2
In the service of Ordination of Ministers in For All Who Minister, the fourth set of questions to be asked by the district representative is: “Do you affirm your devotion to the church of Jesus Christ, and specifically to the Church of the Brethren, which calls you to ministry? And do you promise to live in harmony with its principles, ordinances, and doctrines, being at all times subject to its discipline and governance?”3
“The congregation shall covenant to support faithfully the program of the Church of the Brethren, recognizing Annual Conference enactments of the Church of the Brethren as having governing force in its life.” 4
“The prayerful conclusion not to support a denominational position…should be a matter of anguish, not competitiveness or superiority.” 5
“Disagreement with particular actions of the denomination does not give a congregation the right to disparage the whole church or individuals.”6
“Congregations are to help establish, support, and abide by the policies and decisions of the district. They are to welcome and work with the district executive or other appointed representatives of the district. They are to cooperate with and give encouragement to other congregations in the district.”7
“The gathered body, in the form of Annual Conference and district conferences, is the place for discussion of differences, the hearing of collective wisdom, and the discernment of the mind of Christ. This, then, is the nature of authority among the Brethren. ‘Authority is held accountable within the community, which in turn diligently seeks the “mind of Christ” in study of the scriptures, in dialogue with brothers and sisters, and in openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.’”8
The 1983 Annual Conference statement “Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective” was reaffirmed at the 2002 Annual Conference: “We understand that paper to conclude that homosexual practice is unacceptable behavior in the church and therefore implied to be sin. We also understand the 1983 paper to have strong encouragements for the church to be open and welcoming, and to develop helpful and compassionate ministries toward homosexual persons. We would urge that the balance represented in these two primary components of the 1983 paper be maintained in the Church of the Brethren.”9
The 2002 Church of the Brethren statement on “Licensing/Ordination of Homosexual Persons to the Ministry in the Church of the Brethren” continues, “We consider it inappropriate to license or ordain to the Christian ministry any persons who are known to be engaging in homosexual practices, and will not recognize the licensing and ordination of such persons in the Church of the Brethren.”10
Standing Committee once again acknowledges that it is not of one mind at this time. Nevertheless, in order to function together effectively as a denominational body, we must set a standard for our life together.
Standing Committee recommends to the 2016 Annual Conference that the conduct expectations of the general membership, as stated in the 1983 Annual Conference statement “Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective,” which was reaffirmed at the 2011 Annual Conference, and the conduct expectations of licensed and ordained persons, as stated in the 2002 Annual Conference statement “Licensing/Ordination of Homosexual Persons to the Ministry in the Church of the Brethren,” make it clear that for credentialed ministers to officiate or provide leadership at a same sex wedding is to go against the stance of the Church of the Brethren. It shall be considered a matter of pastoral/ministerial misconduct. The districts shall respond with discipline, not with allowances based on personal conscience. The consequence for officiating or providing leadership at a same sex wedding is the termination of the ministry credential of the one officiating or providing leadership at a same sex wedding. This shall be for a period of one year, pending review by the district ministerial leadership team.
1 2002 Minutes (2000-2004), “Licensing/Ordination of Homosexual Persons to the Ministry in the Church of the Brethren,” [page number to be added].
2 2014 Minutes, “Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper,” 262.
3 For All Who Minister: A Worship Manual for the Church of the Brethren (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1993), 299.
4 Manual of Organization and Polity, chapter 4, “Congregational Structure,” 2, cited in 2014 Minutes, “Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper,” 261.
5 Ibid., 262.
8 Ibid., quoting from the Manual of Organization and Polity, Overview, “Introduction,” 4, which is part of a section from 1968 Minutes (1965–1969), “Church Polity, Including Referendum on Merger and Coordination of Ecumenical Concerns,” 337.
9 2002 Minutes (2000-2004), “Licensing/Ordination of Homosexual Persons to the Ministry in the Church of the Brethren,” [page number to be added].