Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Joint statement is issued from discussion of Annual Conference exhibit policy.

Representatives of the Brethren and Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests (BMC), the Womaen’s Caucus, and Voices for an Open Spirit (VOS) met with the Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee on Aug. 22 to discuss issues related to the denial of a Conference exhibit booth for BMC.

Present at the meeting were Carol Wise, Ralph McFadden, and Everett Fisher representing BMC; Jan Eller, Lucy Loomis, and Carla Kilgore representing the Womaen’s Caucus; Jan Fairchild, David Witkovsky, Roger Eberly, Liz Bidgood Enders, and Ken Kline Smeltzer representing VOS; and Scott Duffey, Kristi Kellerman, Sarah Steele, Jim Beckwith, Belita Mitchell, David Shumate, and Fred Swartz representing the Program and Arrangements Committee.

Also present were Susan Nienaber, facilitator from the Alban Institute, and Lerry Fogle, Annual Conference executive director.

Following is the joint statement that was issued following the meeting:
"The bulk of the time was spent in reviewing the more than 20-year history of the denial of exhibit space and in listening to the emotions and frustrations of both those representing BMC and the members of the Program and Arrangements Committee. Discussion focused on the guidelines for exhibits which state, both (1) the exhibit hall should ‘bring together Brethren from all cultures and points of view to proclaim Jesus as Lord,’ and (2) ‘The ministry and mission of all exhibitors shall honor the New Testament and Annual Conference statements and decisions.’

"The representatives of BMC, VOS, and the Womaen’s Caucus expressed their belief that the Program and Arrangements Committee guidelines for the Conference exhibit hall, as well as a variety of Annual Conference statements, including the 1983 statement on Human Sexuality, clearly call for Annual Conference and the exhibit hall to be ‘open and welcoming,’ to ‘bring together Brethren from all cultures and points of view to proclaim Jesus as Lord,’ and to ‘encourage open and compassionate dialogue.’ Persons from BMC, the Womaen’s Caucus, and VOS believe that the denomination should encourage ongoing dialogue on human sexuality, including homosexuality, should allow Christians of different cultures and points of view the opportunity to be included ‘around the table,’ and should permit BMC to have an exhibit booth at Annual Conference. They noted that the exhibit hall already includes groups who hold views that are contrary to Annual Conference statements.

"The members of the Program and Arrangements Committee agreed that the ideal Conference environment, toward which we all wish to work, is one in which all Brethren can come together in compassionate and open community in Christ. The Program and Arrangements Committee also expressed the willingness and openness to listen and to work further at understanding the issues that separate us from that ideal. The Program and Arrangements Committee feels bound, however, to the decisions and statements of Annual Conference, and until Conference changes its stand, the 1983 paper on Human Sexuality states that ‘covenantal relationships between homosexual persons is an additional lifestyle option but, in the church’s search for a Christian understanding of human sexuality, this alternative is not acceptable.’ The Program and Arrangement Committee also believes that the exhibit hall is not the place to ‘test’ whether the denomination is ready to change its position. The Program and Arrangements Committee has encouraged agencies and others to consider queries and other ways by which the denomination might be engaged in a new examination of the subject of human sexuality.

"Following the presentations by all of the groups, questions were asked for clarification, but there was little time left for deliberation of solutions. At the urging of the facilitator, a number of issues were identified as meriting further discussion. All of the participants left the meeting feeling unfulfilled in goal or acceptance."
Source: 10/10/2007 Newsline

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