A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues

1988 Church of the Brethren Statement


In 1984, the General Board brought to Standing Committee a proposal for the development of a structural framework to deal with issues of strongly controversial nature. Standing Committee adopted the proposal which assigned the work to the General Board. In 1985 and in 1986, the General Board was granted extensions of time of one year for the completion of its work on the assignment. After receiving a progress report in 1986 from the General Board, Standing Committee had on its 1987 agenda the final report. The 1987 final report was titled “Guidelines for Special Response Queries.”

Guidelines for Special Response Queries


During the last decade, the Church of the Brethren has addressed a number of issues that have been controversial among our constituency: Scriptural Authority, Human Sexuality, Abortion, Taxation for War. During this period we have learned that it is important to address our differences about such issues as early as possible. It is important not to conceal points of conflict in the life of the church.

The manner in which we respond to queries sometimes delays the handling of controversy. We are made aware of a possible solution, for the first time, when the statement appears in the Conference Booklet or when the item is before the Conference body.

Our response mode has the potential for bringing a sense of winning or losing, a majority or minority report, or a statement that so compromises points of view by attempting to represent all views that it becomes less than useful.

The Structural Framework Committee, therefore, has as its principal goal the recommendation of alternative procedures for responding to controversial issues which will provide an opportunity for open discussion of difference and at the same time offer the possibility for affirming points of convergence. The response procedure should encourage discussion and questioning at an early stage and eliminate the need to quickly adopt a paper to address the questions raised under the usual time pressures of Conference business.

While Robert’s Rules of Order, which normally govern debate provide for a fair and orderly handling of business, they may appear to some to restrict adequate discussion, or sometimes be used by those who better understand the rules to control the results rather than allow for the wisdom of the body to be ascertained. Should we, therefore, not consider other modes of response that will enhance our life in community and our relationship to one another by encouraging a different posture in addressing such issues? Should there not be ways to prepare our brothers and sisters for deliberations on controversial issues long before a proposed solution of the issue appears in the Conference Booklet or is before the Conference body? What procedures are appropriate for such preparation?

The task of the Structural Framework Committee is not to call into question the query process itself. That process of creating and bringing a query is outlined well and is appropriate in order to set in action consideration of issues about which there is a lack of clarity or difference of opinion. It is the method of response to queries which needs review. In a church that holds strongly the reconciliation mode, we are called to think about how we can express differences in ways that will bring us closer together rather than pulling us further apart.

When queries come before the Standing Committee, it would be appropriate for that Committee to reflect on the way in which differences within the denomination are addressed. This report is an attempt to offer to Standing Committee procedures by which issues judged to be controversial can be processed so as to both address the concern and build community.

In this report we are suggesting that such concerns be addressed by what we call a “Special Response” procedure. At times there are questions before the body about which persons are honestly seeking to discern the mind of Christ. About others, however, people have already taken a position and seek for the query to advocate for a particular point of view. The Committee recommends that a query which will generate adversarial stances because of deep feelings and strong differences of opinion be called a Special Response Query.

We do not mean to say the Special Response Queries are more important than others but rather that the question requires a different approach. The Special Response we propose is a process through which differences may be explored for our mutual benefit. We recognize that a Special Response will require additional committee time and dollars to work through the process. The guidelines which suggest that an Annual Conference study committee complete its work in one meeting would not apply. A number of meetings will be required to insure that the church is fully engaged in the study and response. We believe the procedure will take at least two years.

Our committee recommends the expenditure of the additional funds for the following reasons:

  1. The Church of the Brethren is committed to reconciliation. When there are deep differences among us, we should work for mutual understanding.
  2. When quick answers are given or insufficient discussion has taken place, conflict can be prolonged and the work of the study committee rejected. Therefore, additional dollars are spent to deal with continuing differences after the answer to the query has been given.
  3. Where people continue to feel a part of the body, they will continue to support the life and work of the church. Where they feel excluded by decisions, they will withdraw support. Therefore, it is costly not to deal with controversial issues in a way which encourages greater investment of time and participation.

We believe these reasons make such a Special Response economically feasible. More than this, as a church we are committed to reconciliation as the way to deal with difference. We can hardly ask governments to effect a peaceful solution to conflict or congregations to deal with differences in a constructive way if at the highest level of our life we do not model processes that will facilitate reconciliation.

I. Gudelines for Standing Committee in Dealing with Queries Relating to Special Response Queries

When a query comes to Standing Committee, Standing Committee will decide if it is a query which generates adversarial stances because of deep feelings and strong differences of opinion. If it is adjudged to be so, it will be called a Special Response Query and the procedure for Standing Committee is as follows:

A. Send the query for approval as a Special Response Query to Annual Conference.

Rationale: This will allow Annual Conference to identify it as one that will be processed differently from a standard query.

B. Propose for Annual Conference election, a structured ballot for a study committee of 5 or 7 members.

1. Committee Membership

a. Committee members should represent the diverse perspectives of those most closely affected by the query.

b. At least one member (or an additional appointed consultant) should have skills in conflict resolution. (The Annual Conference Secretary will keep a current list of process/conflict utilization resource persons.)

c. At least one member should have knowledge of educational learning theories.

d. At least one member should have special writing skills, this person to be designated as recorder and writer.

e. All members should have broad church experience.

f. All members should be committed to work for the good of the church body and not simply to represent their own group or position.

2. Committee Responsibilities

a. Prepare a study paper and discussion guide to be used by congregations, districts, and denominational groups.

b. Collect and integrate feedback from the above study and discussion groups.

c. Prepare a position paper for consideration by Annual Conference.

Rationale: The primary function of the committee is to facilitate the church body’s dealing with the issue, not to attempt to resolve the issue for the church. Therefore, it is necessary to represent only some of the diversity within the church.

C. It is recommended that only one Special Response issue come before Annual Conference in any given year except under extraordinary circumstances.

D. It is recommended that this process be tried through three Special Response issues, and then evaluated by Standing Committee before becoming policy.

II. Guidelines for Special Response Query Committees

A. Preparation

Prior to the first meeting of the Study Committee, the Annual Conference Secretary will ensure that the following documents are mailed to each committee member:

1. “Guidelines for Annual Conference Study Committees”

2. “Special Response Queries” and/or The Preparation and Processing of Queries in the Church of the Brethren.

3. A letter from the Annual Conference Secretary with specific instructions. These instructions will include assigning a member of the committee for opening worship and assigning group building to the designated person with process and conflict resolution skills.

B. Process

The “Special Response” Query Committee will conduct its work in the following order:

1. The Committee will read in advance the following material:

a. Guidelines for Annual Conference Study Committees

b. “Special Response Queries” and/or the Preparation and Processing of Queries in the Church of the Brethren.

c. Special instructions of the Annual Conference Secretary

2. The Committee will engage in planned worship and Bible study. (Additional worship experiences should be planned throughout the life of the committee.)

Rationale: Even though it may gather as strangers, the committee holds in common a commitment to Christ and the Church and can celebrate that in moments of worship. And through worship the committee may seek assistance in finding the mind of Christ for its presentation of the Special Response.

3. The Committee will participate in get-acquainted and group-building activities—particularly related to conflict utilization skills.

Rationale: The group building experience should be more than just getting acquainted by exchanging factual data about one another. The group building process should include experiences which build trust among committee members and develop individual and group skills in working cooperatively and effectively.

*4. The Committee will select a chairperson and recorder.

*5. The Committee will review and clarify the assignment from Annual Conference.

*6. The Committee will review and clarify the material referred to in Item 1.

7. Each Committee member will be given the opportunity to:

a. Express his/her own thoughts and feelings about the assignment.

b. Name those perspectives and concerns with which he or she identifies.

c. Give his or her own assessment of the church’s present understanding of the issue.

Rationale: Members of the committee have been chosen for particular reasons. It is important for members of the committee to be aware of and to own what perspectives and agenda they bring to the work of the group. It is also important for the committee to be clear about the diversity of its membership as well as of the denomination.

8. The Committee will clarify issues and identify positions within the denomination.

9. The Committee will develop the calendar and timeline for the work of the committee.

10. The Committee will prepare a study paper and study guide to be used by congregations, districts, and denominational groups. The study guide should present a brief philosophy of conflict resolution which will help people understand the concept of recognizing and accepting differences, and the importance of listening and speaking in respecting other points of view.

Rationale: This study process is intended to give the denomination adequate opportunity to address Special Response Queries before they come to the floor of Annual Conference as business items. This study process should be designed to be educational and aid the denomination in discernment. Specifically, the process should help persons:

a. Become more informed about the issue.

b. Understand the various perspectives on the issue within the church.

c. Dialogue constructively with each other about the issue.

11. The Committee will collect and integrate feedback from the above study groups.

12. The Committee will prepare a position paper for consideration by Annual Conference. The final step of preparation should include professional editing and feedback to the Committee from a member of the General Board staff on Communications Team.

Rationale: Professional editing of the final draft can provide:

a. Feedback on how ideas may be interpreted by those not closely involved with the issue.

b. Feedback on points which may have been missed.

c. Attention to wording, phrasing, and format which will facilitate clear, concise presentation of ideas.

*The Annual Conference Manager will be called in to assist the Committee on items numbered 4, 5, and 6.

III. Annual Conference Procedure for “Special Response Queries”

A. Annual Conference hearings shall be held for Special Response Queries.

1. Open hearings shall be held on Tuesday evening and again on Wednesday evening.

a. The Tuesday evening hearing shall be videotaped for use in Wednesday small group hearings during the day.

2. Small group hearings will be scheduled on Wednesday during the day using the videotape of the Tuesday evening hearing. Two members of the study committee shall be present to answer questions and hear concerns.


1. Hearings allow for interaction and dialogue between delegates and the committee members.

2. Hearings allow committee members to make additions, changes, and editorial improvements before the report is officially presented to the delegates.

B. Special Response issues will be scheduled in regular business sessions for Thursday afternoon or later.

C. Procedure for Presentation of Special Response issues on the floor of Conference.

Step 1. Descriptive Presentation By Committee (approx. 20-30 minutes). The moderator will remind the delegates that this is a special procedure, and will direct them to the page in the conference booklet where it is described, and will make clarifying comments as needed. The moderator then calls for the report of the Committee. At this time, the Committee presentation will not include motions. It will include:

a. Changes and amendments which they wish to make as a result of the hearings.

b. Major suggestions which were made at the hearings and not incorporated and why.

c. Points where committee members modified their original positions and why.

d. The basic reasons the committee feels their report is in the best interest of the church.

Rationale: Step 1 allows for clarification of procedure. The committee responds to concerns which have arisen through the hearings and other conversations, and shares with the delegates some of their own pilgrimage. The delegates have not only the report before them, but also some of the history of the process.

Step 2. Presentation of Positions By Committee (approx. 20 minutes). Four members are chosen from the committee to present the views of the delegates in the dialogue.

a. One member who will present the views of those who favor the report as is will have five minutes to speak.

b. One member presenting personal/delegate concerns and changes, has four minutes to respond: One minute to summarize what the person has just said, and three minutes to rebuttal any concerns.

c. One member who will present the views of those who have concerns about or changes to propose in the report, will have five minutes to share.

d. One member presenting those in favor of the report as is will have four minutes to respond: one minute to summarize what the person has just said, and three minutes to rebuttal any concerns.

Rationale: Step 2 is intended to allow the Committee to present the key issues. The procedure is intended to model both speaking with intention and listening with understanding. In this process, the committee is representing not only themselves, but is seeking to summarize the views of the delegates.

Step 3. Open Sharing By Delegates (approx. 40 minutes). Moderator will open the floor for speeches. Speeches will be limited to up to one and a half minutes per person. No motions are allowed. Speeches will be accepted using a “sandwich process” (10 minutes appreciation, 20 minutes concerns or changes, 10 minutes appreciation):

a. First phase—Appreciation (10 minutes)

Speeches should begin with phrases such as:

“What I especially like about this paper is . . .”

“The strengths of this paper are . . .”

“I want to be sure this remains in the report . . .”

b. Second phase—Concerns or Changes (20 minutes)

Speeches should begin with phrases such as:

“One thing which concerns me is . . .”

“What is unclear is . . .”

“What I would like to add is . . .”

“What’s missing here is . . .”

“What I’d like to have deleted is . . .”

“It would really help me if some change could be made in . . .”

“I believe it could be even better if . . .”

c. Third phase—Appreciations (10 Minutes)

Speeches should begin with phrases similar to first phase.

One member of the committee should be prepared to respond to the speeches, not so much in terms of content but expressions of appreciation for the spirit and investment of the speakers.

Rationale: Step 3 allows delegates to express themselves on the issue. The focusing of the speeches is to encourage persons to begin to think of resolution as well as issue. Such a step is important because delegates need to begin to be involved in the dialogue and interchange before motions are allowed.

Step 4. Open Floor Dialogue (Unlimited time). The procedure is as follows:

a. The moderator will receive the committee’s motion to put the matter officially on the floor.

b. After this motion, normal Annual Conference procedure (Robert’s Rules of Order) will be temporarily suspended to pursue this process.

c. The moderator will then hear from persons seeking to propose action. Only “declarations of intent to move” will be heard at this time. The format for speaking will be:

“I intend to move the following . . . and my purpose in doing so is . . .”

d. The moderator will then ask the delegates, by hand vote, to indicate whether they want to hear and discuss the proposed amendment or motion.

1. If the majority vote no, the amendment or motion is not received.

2. If the majority vote yes, the amendment or motion is received and Robert’s Rules of Order for discussion and disposition are applied.

e. Steps b, c, and d will be repeated until the delegates are ready to vote on the original motion of the committee as amended, or the report is otherwise disposed of.

Rationale: Step 4 begins to deal with amendments and motions. It allows persons to present their ideas. It allows the delegates to say whether they wish to debate the idea. It shows respect for the individual and the community. The return to normal business procedure provides familiar ground for making the actual decision.

Step 5. Recognition of Participation. When the Special Response is completed, the moderator will address the delegate body speaking to the following matters:

a. Summarizing the conclusion.

b. Appreciating the process, the preparation, and the investment of all who participated.

c. Encouraging caretaking of each other.

Rationale: The moderator will remind us of our relationship and our continuing responsibilities as a community of faith.

Further Recommendations to Implement to the Special Response Query:

Proposed Revisions to the “Preparation and Processing of Queries in the Church of the Brethren”

(This document is “unofficial.” It is a working paper developed from Annual Conference actions and used by Annual Conference Officers.)

I. Addition of option No. 6 under “Conclusion.”

The Committee recommends that the following option be added:

“6. Recommend that the query be adopted as a ‘Special Response Query.’” This response presupposes that “the query will generate adversarial stances because of deep feelings and strong differences of opinion.”

II. Revision of option No. 3 under “Conclusion.”

A. While the Committee was not asked to address this issue, we feel that the other area where people feel uncomfortable about procedure is when the Standing Committee returns a query to a district. In such instances, it is appropriate that both the Conference and the district be given an explanation. Therefore, we are suggesting that the words, “can be a simple action or it can” be stricken from option No. 3. Option No. 3 will then read:

“3. Recommend that the query be returned. If for any reason Standing Committee does not feel it appropriate for Annual Conference to consider the query, it can recommend that the query be returned with a letter of explanation from Standing Committee stating the reasons for the return.”

B. The Committee recommends that Standing Committee invite representatives of the district and other persons who raised the query to hear the reason for its return before the recommendation comes to the Conference floor.

III. The Committee recommends that a point seven on page 7 be added to the options to be followed by Standing Committee: There will be a periodic review of the query response process by Standing Committee.

Action of the General Board

At its meeting in October, 1986, the General Board voted to approve the proposed “Guidelines for Special Issue Queries” for processing to the Annual Conference Standing Committee.

Phillip C. Stone, Chair
Donald E. Miller, General Secretary

Action of 1987 Standing Committee

Standing Committee, at its June 28-30 meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, directed to the 1988 Annual Conference, the paper, “Guidelines for Special Response Queries,” for consideration by that delegate assembly.

Guy E. Wampler, Moderato
William A. Hayes, Moderator-elect
Phyllis Kingery Ruff, Secretary

Action of the 1988 Annual Conference: Robert Alley, a Standing Committee member from the district of Middle Pennsylvania, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that the 1988 Annual Conference adopt the paper, A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues. The delegate body adopted the paper with one amendment, which is incorporated in the preceding wording of the text.