By Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Delegates to the 2016 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren have referred the concerns of “Query: Same Sex Weddings” to the Leadership Team of the Church of the Brethren in consultation with the Council of District Executives (CODE). The vote to refer the query was close to unanimous.
The query from West Marva District asked the Conference to consider the question, “How shall districts respond when credentialed ministers and/or congregations conduct or participate in same sex weddings?” Find a link to the full text of the query at www.brethren.org/ac/2016/business .
Deliberation on the query went on for several days, starting in the pre-Conference meetings of the Standing Committee of district delegates, and continuing in the Conference business sessions where a spirited and, for the most part, thoughtful discussion was held with the whole delegate body.
The Standing Committee voted by a narrow margin for a response that included recommendations of a controversial nature, among them that “the districts shall respond with discipline, not with allowances based on personal conscience. The consequence for officiating or providing leadership at a same sex wedding is the termination of the ministry credential of the one officiating or providing leadership at a same sex wedding. This shall be for a period of one year, pending review by the district ministerial leadership team.”
Before the Conference could take up the Standing Committee recommendation, it had to take a vote to accept a query related to human sexuality as an item of business, because the 2011 Annual Conference had decided “to continue deeper conversations concerning human sexuality outside of the query process.”
The Standing Committee recommendations required a two-thirds majority vote to be adopted by the Conference. After several hours of deliberation, with many people speaking, and long lines at the microphones, the recommendations failed to gain a two-thirds majority.
At that point, the query was on the floor for an answer from the Conference as an item of new business. A motion to return the query to the originating district was made by Chris Bowman of Manassas (Va.) Church of the Brethren, immediately before the day’s business session ended.
When business resumed the next day, Bowman withdrew his motion in deference to Bob Kettering of Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, who made the motion that finally succeeded in gaining the support of the Conference. Bowman and Kettering deferred to each other and shared time at the microphone to explain that they had consulted together about their shared concern that the denomination find a way forward.
Concerns raised by the query will not “go away” without being addressed properly and with the guidance of trusted church leaders, Bowman said. Discussion about this query over the past several days revealed much misinformation in the church, he noted, and emphasized a need that “these issues are dealt with carefully.”
Kettering stated his concern that the Church of the Brethren is “in a quagmire” regarding the question raised by the query, and that the motion to refer will help the church find the guidance that is desired.
The Leadership Team of the denomination is made up of the Annual Conference officers--moderator, moderator-elect, and secretary--and the general secretary of the Church of the Brethren.
The Conference has asked the Leadership Team and CODE “to bring clarity and guidance concerning the authority of Annual Conference and districts regarding the accountability of ministers, congregations, and districts, bringing recommendations to the 2017 Annual Conference.”
A series of news reports is available for readers who want to follow the flow of deliberation on this query over the course of the Conference week:
June 27, “Standing Committee makes response to Query: Same Sex Weddings” www.brethren.org/news/2016/standing-committee-responds-query-same-sex-weddings.html
June 30, “Delegates open business floor to ‘Query: Same Sex Weddings,’ among other business” www.brethren.org/news/2016/delegates-open-business-floor-to-query.html
July 1, “Standing Committee recommendation on ‘Query: Same Sex Weddings’ fails to gain two-thirds majority” www.brethren.org/news/2016/standing-committee-recommendation-fails.html
July 2, “Delegates refer ‘Query: Same Sex Weddings’ to Leadership Team and CODE” www.brethren.org/news/2016/delegates-refer-query-to-leadership-team-code.html
The 2016 Annual Conference News Team includes: writers Frank Ramirez, Frances Townsend, Karen Garrett, Tyler Roebuck, Monica McFadden; photographers Glenn Riegel, Regina Holmes, Keith Hollenberg, Donna Parcell, Laura Brown; Conference Journal editor Eddie Edmonds; web manager Jan Fischer Bachman; web staff Russ Otto; editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford.