This morning in Greensboro, N.C., the Standing Committee of district delegates to the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference voted on a response to Query: Same Sex Weddings.
Standing Committee is the body of delegates from the districts, and meets in advance of Annual Conference to make recommendations on business items, among other tasks. Their meetings began yesterday evening and continue through June 29. The committee is presided over by Annual Conference moderator Andy Murray, assisted by moderator-elect Carol Scheppard and secretary James Beckwith.
The response to Query: Same Sex Weddings includes a page of background referencing previous decisions and documents, and a paragraph of recommendations. If adopted by the Annual Conference, the recommendations would make it a matter of pastoral/ministerial misconduct to officiate or provide leadership at a same sex wedding, instruct districts to respond with discipline to a minister who does so, and terminate that minister’s credentials for a period of one year pending review by the district.
Whether the query and this response from Standing Committee come to the Annual Conference depends on a decision to re-open the business of the Conference to queries on matters related to sexuality because the 2011 Conference decided that further discussion of sexuality should happen outside of the query process.
The Standing Committee response
With a narrow vote the Standing Committee adopted a response brought by a delegate from Atlantic Northeast District, after voting down a previous motion that ministers conducting or participating in a same sex wedding would lose credentials entirely.
In its section of background information, the response acknowledges that Standing Committee is not of one mind, yet states “we must set a standard for our life together.” It references Annual Conference statements including the 1983 “Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective” and the 2011 reaffirmation of that statement, the 1996 “Ethics for Congregations,” and the 2002 “Licensing/Ordination of Homosexual Persons to the Ministry in the Church of the Brethren,” along with the service of ordination of ministers in the ministry manual “For All Who Minister.”
The recommendations state:
“Standing Committee recommends to the 2016 Annual Conference that the conduct expectations of the general membership, as stated in the 1983 Annual Conference Statement known as ‘Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective,’ which was reaffirmed at the 2011 Annual Conference, and of licensed and ordained persons 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.”
Moderator Murray explained that the Annual Conference officers judge the Standing Committee response to the query to be a matter of church polity, and therefore must be handled with the process governing polity decisions. This may mean, among other things, that if the response from Standing Committee is presented to the delegate body this year it may not taken up for action until 2017.
Standing Committee business is expected to continue this afternoon with a decision whether to re-open the business of the Conference to Query: Same Sex Weddings. Also on the afternoon agenda are two queries regarding On Earth Peace: “On Earth Peace Reportability/Accountability to Annual Conference” and “Viability of On Earth Peace aas an Agency in the Church of the Brethren.”