We rejoice that the vision for unity that gathered the members and congregations of six denominations, including the congregations arising from the Church of the Brethren mission in India, and which formed the Church of North India (CNI) in 1970, has provided a strong church framework for most of the participants. We also recognize that this framework has not been suitable for many of the former Church of the Brethren members. As a participant in the union process, the US Church of the Brethren mourns the division that has emerged. Over more than three decades the US church has sought to be a partner of the united church seeking to uphold our commitment to this union. We seek forgiveness for instances during this period where either action or inaction by the US church was hurtful or divisive for either body.
We believe that the churches in India have primary responsibility for resolving the issues of name, property, and resolution of the conflicts that plague them. We discourage use of the courts for addressing these matters, both from biblical and practical perspectives. Instead we encourage sincere efforts to resolve these challenges in the spirit of Matthew 18, recognizing that the other party is also seeking to be a faithful part of Christ’s church. We are very much aware of the limits of power in the US church to influence either group; in the end each will be accountable before God for its own actions. As a church that helped to birth both groups, the Church of the Brethren in the United States desires the health and well-being of both churches, and encourages all involved to give priority to reconciliation, cooperation, and joint ministry. Even if oneness within a structure has eluded some participants in the union, let us continue to seek and make real our oneness in Christ.
Having acknowledged the essential role for the Indian churches to guide their own futures, the decision before the US church is simply a choice about how to relate to the two churches in India. While the committee understands the reasons for earlier stances taken by the church to relate solely to CNI, especially in the years immediately following the union, we conclude that a fresh approach is more in the spirit of God’s leading at this time. We envision an approach that nurtures new relationships with both churches.
In its role of overseeing international relationships for the denomination, the General Board is encouraged to begin an intentional process of building a relationship with the India Brethren. This will be a time of learning to know each other after three decades of separation. Initial tasks will include defining the relationship and clarifying mutual expectations. Based on preliminary discussions with the India Brethren, the following steps might be components of this relationship-building process:
The Church of North India has been our partner for more than thirty years. We remain committed to this partnership and desire to strengthen it. In consultation with CNI leadership, we want to explore ways to relate more meaningfully with CNI members as well. Based on our preliminary discussions with CNI leadership, the following steps might be included in strengthening our relationships:
The US church desires a relationship with two churches in India: the Church of North India and the India Brethren. And, to the extent that our participation is desired, the US church may continue to work with both churches to resolve the differences that exist surrounding the sharing of buildings and properties, joint mission and witness in their common communities, and the upbuilding of Christ’s church in India.
Since it had been two years since the committee’s last visit, a committee delegation traveled to India in January 2003 to renew and update relationships with both the Church of North India and the India Brethren. This committee delegation included General Board member J.D. Glick, replacing former Board member Christy Waltersdorff, and Ernest Thakor. The General Board committee also developed study materials that were sent to every congregation in March 2003 to encourage congregational study and to foster deeper understanding of these issues.
The Global Mission Partnerships office of the General Board continues to sponsor a reconciliation effort among the two groups in India, drawing upon the skills of Bob Gross as mediator. He traveled with the delegation and continued this effort in January-February.
General Board Study Committee:
J. D. Glick
Warren Eshbach, chair
Judy Mills Reimer, general secretary
Action of the 2003 Annual Conference: The delegate body accepted the recommendation of the Standing Committee that the General Board Recommendation on India Relationships be adopted. Standing Committee ruled that a 2/3rds majority vote was required on this issue due to a change in previous policy. The vote was larger than two-thirds.