(San Diego, CA) -- The Church of the Brethren Annual Conference has acted on two business items related to issues of human sexuality, setting in motion at least two years of intentional denomination-wide conversation. The action took place on June 28 at the annual meeting of the Church of the Brethren, held this year in San Diego, Calif.
The delegates from congregations and districts of the church voted to accept the two business items, "A Statement of Confession and Commitment" and "Query: Language on Same-Sex Covenantal Relationships," as special response items to be dealt with using a newly revised process for strongly controversial issues.
In doing so, the Conference turned down a recommendation from its body of district delegates to postpone the query until a later time.
"A Statement of Confession and Commitment" came from last year’s district delegates, addressing the issue of homosexuality as one
that "continues to bring tension and division within our Body," confessing that, "we are not of one mind on this matter," and declaring that the church's 1983 paper Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective "remains our official position." The statement acknowledges tension between different parts of the 1983 paper, confesses "meanness and fighting" over the issue, and calls the church to stop unchristian behavior.
"Query: Language on Same-Sex Covenantal Relationships" was sent from Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Northern Indiana District. It asks "whether it is the will of the church that this language on same-sex covenantal relationships will continue to guide our journey together" referring to a sentence in the 1983 paper that same-sex covenantal relationships are "not acceptable."
Larry Dentler and Janice Kulp Long presented the recommendations on the two items from the body of district delegates. Long also is on the pastoral team at Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren, which sent the query.
"We are a diverse group, just as the delegates of our congregations are diverse," said Dentler, who reported that last year after the delegates from the 23 districts adopted their statement he felt "amazed that we could be unanimous...because there were persons of all theological perspectives." After further discussion this year, he realized that "some of us were seeing things in different ways." Some see the statement as saying that the 1983 paper is one "we need to stick to," he explained, while others see the 1983 paper as simply "what we have," and that the 1983 paper really opens up more opportunity for discussion.
"Others’ perspectives help me understand myself and our (church) body better," said Long. "Our denomination can only find a way through present brokenness as we seek God’s light together."
She also clarified that the Beacon Heights Church intends with the query simply to ask, "What words regarding covenantal relationships could God lead us to today?"
Debate on the two items was lengthy and marked by lines at the microphones, with many people wanting to speak. A group of young adults read a statement calling for support and inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Other expressions ranged from affirmation for an intentional denomination-wide conversation, to commitment to biblical authority and the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality, to weariness with the amount of time and energy already spent on the issue over the years. Some expressed a desire to immediately reopen the 1983 statement. Several speakers said that it will be impossible for the whole church to come to agreement.
"There comes a time when you have to agree to lay things to rest," said James Myer, speaking at the microphone from the floor. He is a minister at White Oak Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., and a leader in the Brethren Revival Fellowship. Myer had served on the committee that formulated the 1983 statement.
Myer spoke in support of a denominational conversation, but "with some reluctance" he said, because the church already has worked on this for 30 years. He said his support for further conversation came out of observing the district delegates’ process, "that it was possible in this day and time to come up with something that received unanimous approval."
The Church of the Brethren is a Christian denomination committed to continuing the work of Jesus peacefully and simply, and to living out its faith in community. The denomination is based in the Anabaptist and Pietist faith traditions and is one of the three Historic Peace Churches. It celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2008. It counts some 125,000 members across the United States and Puerto Rico, and has missions and sister churches in Nigeria, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and India.
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Director of News Services
Church of the Brethren
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