For the past few years Congregational Life Ministries staff member Joshua Brockway has been developing a revision of the 1996 Ethics for Congregations paper, as requested by the study committee initially appointed to answer the Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper. Brockway is director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship for the Church of the Brethren. The final version of the polity came before the delegate body at this year’s Conference and was adopted.
A number of concerns were expressed as the delegate body deliberated over the document, some with great emotion. Some speakers worried about the legal implications of the document. There were concerns about creating layers of bureaucracy and red tape.
One delegate wondered what would be the result if a congregation refused to do the requisite self-study and paperwork and was assured that coercive action would not be taken, and that the matter would be in the hands of the district.
Another rose to explain that his congregation had already worked through most of the paperwork and that it was neither onerous nor difficult.
Brockway emphasized that the polity was designed to address those issues with legal implications, usually matters involving finances, and to draw lines that held congregations accountable yet left the door open to reconciliation.
Sections of the document outline scriptural visions of the church, talk about the church and its relationships including relationships within the congregation and with pastors and staff, and sexual improprieties. A section titled “Practices of Awareness, Assessment, and Accountability” advises congregations on self assessment and how occasions of misconduct may be addressed. A code of ethics also is included in the paper.
The paper was passed in two sections. The first, involving a change in polity, was adopted with a two-thirds majority vote. The second, involving implementation of the polity, passed by a simple majority.
Find the Congregational Ethics Polity at www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2014-ub2-congregational-ethics-paper.pdf .
— Frank Ramirez provided this report.