The following column from Annual Conference moderator Robert Alley provides an outline of the Church of the Brethren’s Special Response process. This process was entered into when two business items related to human sexuality came to the 2009 Conference: "A Statement of Confession and Commitment" and "Query: Language on Same Sex Covenantal Relationships." The two business items have put into motion a denominational process used specifically for addressing strongly controversial issues.
A Special Response Process 2009-2011:
Individuals and congregations have asked various questions regarding our current Special Response process. The officers of Annual Conference, in consultation with the Council of District Executives, have prepared the following outline to respond to those questions. Everyone should be attentive that while some parts of the process have been completed, some are still in process, and some will not be completed until the Standing Committee (of district representatives) and Annual Conference meet in Grand Rapids, Mich., June 29-July 6.
What will be completed before March 1, 2011?
- In 2009, the delegates of Annual Conference adopted "A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues" (see 2009 Annual Conference Minutes, pp. 231-240).
- In 2009, the delegates of Annual Conference referred two items of business to this framework: "Query: Language on Same Sex Covenantal Relationships" (see 2009 minutes p. 241) and "A Statement of Confession and Commitment" (see 2009 minutes pp. 244-5).
- A Resource Committee, called by the 2009 Standing Committee, prepared eight Bible Studies and a list of recommended resources for congregations and individuals to study related to the two business items.
- The 2010 Annual Conference provided two hearings and one Insight Session related to the two business items.
- The 2010 Standing Committee engaged in a day-long training to lead hearings on the business items in the districts of the denomination.
- Standing Committee has held approximately 115 hearings in the districts since the 2010 Annual Conference, to receive input from individuals regarding the two items of business.
- A Forms Reception Committee, composed of three Standing Committee members, is receiving "Facilitator Report Forms" from each of the district hearings.
- Individuals unable to attend a district hearing may provide input to the Forms Reception Committee through a special e-mail option on the Annual Conference website.
- The Forms Reception Committee will read and study the Facilitator Report Forms submitted by Standing Committee members from the district hearings, and the e-mail responses submitted by those unable to attend a hearing. Please note that since the purpose of the Special Response Process is to facilitate conversation, the Facilitator Report Forms from district hearings are weighted more heavily than individual correspondence received via postal mail, e-mail, or the Annual Conference sponsored e-mail link. Also, all input to the Forms Reception Committee is confidential information and will not be shared publicly.
- After reading and studying all the input from district hearings, letters, and individual e-mail responses, the Forms Reception Committee will prepare for Standing Committee a quantitative and qualitative report summarizing the input and noting common themes. They (the Forms Reception Committee) will not provide specific recommendations to Standing Committee.
- The officers of Annual Conference will provide copies of the report from the Forms Reception Committee to Standing Committee along with other information in preparation for their meeting in Grand Rapids prior to Annual Conference.
- In Grand Rapids, Standing Committee will discuss the report from Forms Reception Committee and then prepare recommendations to answer the two business items "Query: Language on Same Sex Covenantal Relationships" and "A Statement of Confession and Commitment." Please note that these are the two business items directly addressed by the Special Response process (see 2009 minutes, pp. 241 and 244-5).
- The 2011 Annual Conference delegates will receive the recommendations from Standing Committee and process them according to the outline in the 2009 Annual Conference Minutes: "A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues" (see 2009 minutes, pp. 234-6 for details of the outline).