Standing Committee Holds Special Session About on Earth Peace Statement of Inclusion

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
On Earth Peace executive director Bill Scheurer (at center, third from left) speaks with Standing Committee members during a specially called session on the agency’s Statement of Inclusion.

The Standing Committee of district delegates began meeting yesterday, June 26, prior to the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in Charlotte, N.C. The meetings of Standing Committee are led by moderator Bob Krouse, assisted by moderator-elect Nancy Sollenberger Heishman and Conference secretary James Beckwith.

Today the delegates from the 23 districts in the Church of the Brethren held a specially called session with On Earth Peace executive director Bill Scheurer to continue conversation about the agency’s Statement of Inclusion.

The session concluded with a decision to send a second Standing Committee delegation to meet with the On Earth Peace board “to explore a way to attempt to find a resolution.”

Concerns date back to 2012

Last year’s Standing Committee issued “A Way Forward” statement of concern that “trust in leadership has been broken” by three events, one of them being the Statement of Inclusion made by the board of On Earth Peace, which is an Annual Conference agency.

The On Earth Peace statement reads: “We are troubled by attitudes and actions in the church, which exclude persons on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any other aspect of human identity. We believe God calls the church to welcome all persons into full participation in the life of the faith community.”

In “A Way Forward” Standing Committee urged On Earth Peace “to re-examine its statement of inclusion regarding ‘full participation’ so that it will be consistent with Annual Conference decisions regarding Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective [the 1983 Conference statement] and the polity regarding ordination.” (Read “A Way Forward” in full at www.brethren.org/news/2012/ac2012-onsite-news/a-way-forward.html .)

Since then, in September last year, a three-member delegation from Standing Committee visited with the board of On Earth Peace to talk about the Statement of Inclusion.

Today moderator Bob Krouse and Standing Committee member Kathy Mack, who were both part of the group, reported back. “It is clear that the OEP board heard the concern expressed by Standing Committee,” said Krouse’s report, in part. “However, the members of the board were unanimous in expressing their reluctance to change the language of the statement of inclusion,” he added, listing several of the reasons expressed by On Earth Peace board members.

Mack added that the On Earth Peace board also acknowledged the hard feelings caused by their statement, and the need to bridge gaps and restore faith in their board.

After a discussion in which several Standing Committee members raised continuing concerns, there was a motion “in the spirit of Matthew 18″ to approach On Earth Peace leaders to find a time for more conversation. The meeting took place this evening.

OEP executive called to special session

On Earth Peace executive director Bill Scheurer readily agreed to the specially called session, where he reiterated the conviction that because the agency does not marry or ordain, its Statement of Inclusion does not transgress Annual Conference polity and falls within the scope of the entire 1983 paper.

He said he did not view the On Earth Peace statement as an attempt at prophetic witness or an attempt to direct action by the denomination, but simply a way of “sharing an immense pain and sharing what we heard in response to that pain. We’re not telling anyone what to do. We are just one voice.”

Standing Committee members responded by characterizing the Statement of Inclusion as a statement of advocacy, with the implication that it advocates for a change in Annual Conference polity. Scheurer acknowledged that the phrase “full participation” means full inclusion in the church of people who he said are not fully included at present because of Annual Conference decisions.

Several changes of wording of the On Earth Peace statement were offered as suggestions to resolve the issue, which Scheurer said he would take back to the On Earth Peace board, but did not hold up any hope that the board would make changes.

Scheurer openly talked of the possibility of On Earth Peace losing its status as a Conference agency if enough members of Standing Committee push the issue, and it is brought to the full Annual Conference. He said that On Earth Peace recognizes that it is “well within the scope” of Annual Conference “to remove our agency status…and we would live with that. And we would still live and minister within the Brethren community,” he said. “It is conceivable it would come to that. We’d accept it in goodwill and with a sense of innocence.”

However, he added, “I would consider it a tragic step backward.”

The session concluded with a solid majority of Standing Committee voting for the officers to appoint another delegation to meet with the On Earth Peace board again, “to explore a way to attempt to find a resolution.”

The Standing Committee member who made the motion, Bob Kettering, said he hoped the delegation would be a next step in the Matthew 18 process for resolving differences in the church, and that a second delegation would take the conversation “to the next level.”