A Way Forward
The 2012 Standing Committee devoted significant time listening to its members reflect on the state of the church since the 2011 Annual Conference. We acknowledge that many members of the denomination feel that trust in leadership has been broken in regards to three issues: granting exhibit space to Brethren Mennonite Council (BMC) at the 2012 Annual Conference, a proposed BVS position with BMC, and On Earth Peace’s statement on inclusion. We lament the lack of communication, lack of trust, and the unkind expressions of anger for leadership because of decisions made since the Grand Rapids meeting. In light of this conversation and reflection on the state of the church, Standing Committee met with representatives from the Mission and Ministry Board, On Earth Peace, and the Program and Arrangements Committee.
First, Standing Committee wants to clarify the process used by Program and Arrangements Committee (P&AC) for granting booth space to BMC. The 2011 Standing Committee heard an appeal from BMC concerning denial of booth space by the P&AC. Standing Committee’s judicial role is to review whether or not a challenged group followed its own processes, not to judge whether the decision was correct.
The 2011 Standing Committee made several suggestions including that P&AC provide an equal review of exhibitors so that there is consistency of decision making in the exhibitor application process. In reviewing the application for the 2012 Annual Conference exhibit space, P&AC determined the focus of the booth would be in keeping with the 1983 statement and not advocate for same-sex covenantal relationships and/or positions contrary to ordination polity. Therefore, approval was granted.
In addition, the 2012 Standing Committee also received P& AC‘s Guidelines and Expectations for Annual Conference Exhibits (http://www.brethren.org/ac/ppg/exhibit-guidelines.html as revised 8/09 by the Leadership Team. Numbers three and five were especially pertinent.) While P&AC decision was not unanimous, it did reflect a sincere desire to follow the guidelines for exhibits and the 2011 recommendations from the appeal. During Annual Conference, P&AC monitors the exhibit space to ensure that all exhibitors are in compliance with the guidelines. The 2012 Standing Committee requests that the officers schedule meeting time with P&AC during future Standing Committee meetings to continue conversation and support for the ongoing work of the committee.
Second, we heard that many people felt betrayed by leadership with the initial approval of a BVS position with BMC and others with the rescinding of that approval. Conversation between the Mission and Ministry Board and the BMC board concerning a possible BVS position has been ongoing for several years. The General Secretary and the chair of the Mission and Ministry Board explained the timeline and process of initial approval and ultimate rescinding. The initial request was understood to be consistent with Annual Conference decisions; however, the printed project description was not. An invitation has been sent by the Mission and Ministry Board to the BMC board to come to some understanding with each other over the process but not with the goal of reinstating the printed BVS position. The 2012 Standing Committee appreciates the sensitivity of leadership in explaining their decision. We counsel leadership to continue to proceed with sensitivity to Annual Conference decisions in future considerations of all proposed projects.
Third, Standing Committee also heard that members felt distrust in leadership surrounding the statement of inclusion by the On Earth Peace board, an agency of Annual Conference. Despite On Earth Peace’s desire to have a prophetic witness, the 2012 Standing Committee believes that an Annual Conference agency is accountable for upholding Annual Conference decisions as stated in the denomination’s polity that agencies are to provide “ a commitment to providing a ministry that is clearly within the scope of Annual Conference directives.” (Denominational Polity Manual Chapter II, preamble). We urge On Earth Peace to reexamine its statement of inclusion regarding “full participation” so that it will be consistent with Annual Conference decisions regarding Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective and the polity regarding ordination. The Standing Committee recommends the officers name a team of three persons to visit with the On Earth Peace board in the spirit of Matthew 18 to communicate these concerns.
The 2012 Standing Committee acknowledges that these three issues are symptomatic of recurring disagreements and conflict about biblical interpretation, the authority of Annual Conference actions and lack of confidence in leadership. There is also a prevailing desire by the membership to maintain unity as revealed by the 2011 Special Response process. (2011 Minutes, p. 232, line 5) How we address this requires continuing conversation and forbearance from all perspectives.
As we move forward as the Church of the Brethren, the 2012 Standing Committee calls the church and its individual members to:
- provide lessons on how to express strong convictions while exhibiting compassion
- provide opportunities for the denomination to come together in intentional Bible study and focused prayer about important matters of mission and service
- provide opportunities for persons to hold guided, facilitated dialogue at Annual Conference and/or District Conference about topics of mutual agreement such as the new denominational vision statement
- develop ways that the church can be intentional and systematic in working to address and eliminate ridicule, bullying, hatefulness, and bigotry toward all persons
- identify and address ways in which issues influence our perceptions of others and may hamper the mission and ministry of the church.
Approved by the 2012 Standing Committee, July 7, 2012