Standing Committee Denies Support to On Earth Peace ‘Statement of Inclusion’ but Commits to ‘Walk in Love Together’

photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Annual Conference moderator Nancy Sollenberger Heishman leads a conversation in Standing Committee, with representatives from On Earth Peace. Executive director Bill Scheurer and board chair Jordan Bles and a delegation of Standing Committee members reflected on recent meetings regarding the agency’s “Statement of Inclusion.”

The Standing Committee of delegates from the Church of the Brethren’s 23 districts has made a statement regarding the On Earth Peace “Statement of Inclusion.” The Standing Committee statement responded to the report of a second delegation that met with On Earth Peace leaderhip.

Two Standing Committee delegations have attempted to gain resolution of concerns that the “Statement of Inclusion” is inconsistent with Annual Conference decisions affirming the 1983 paper “Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective,” and denominational polity regarding ordination.

On Earth Peace is an agency of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference. Its “Statement of Inclusion” dates back to 2011, and has been the subject of a series of interactions with Standing Committee for the past three years. The conversation in this year’s Standing Committee meetings included On Earth Peace representatives Bill Scheurer, executive director, and Jordan Bles, board chair.

The Standing Committee action came at the close of its first full day of meetings prior to the 2014 Annual Columbus in Columbus, Ohio. Standing Committee was led by Annual Conference moderator Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, assisted by moderator-elect David Steele, and Conference secretary James M. Beckwith.

Denial of support, affirmation of love

The Standing Committee statement was arrived at after much conversation and at times emotional debate, and the vote revealed a significant divide in the group. The following statement was adopted by a simple majority vote, with a minority of more than a quarter of members voting against it:

“Standing Committee does not support the 2011 Statement of Inclusion of On Earth Peace as an agency of the church, but we will continue to commit ourselves to walk in love together in the face of differing interpretations of scripture and Annual Conference statements and decisions.”

The “Statement of Inclusion” from the On Earth Peace board 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.”

Series of interactions between Standing Committee and On Earth Peace

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Annual Conference officers for 2014 at the head table at Standing Commitee: at center, moderator Nancy S. Heishman, with moderator elect David Steele at left, and secretary James Beckwith at right.

Moderator Nancy Heishman introduced a time of sharing of feelings about the interaction between the Standing Committee delegation and On Earth Peace, offering information about the series of interactions between the two groups and reviewing other relevant information as well as the activities of the most recent delegation.

Interactions that led to this year’s statement included, among others, two Standing Committee delegations that both reported good conversations with the agency’s board and staff but that did not gain resolution of the conflict.

As part of its effort, the second delegation held a conference call with the executive committee of On Earth Peace and the two groups jointly proposed that On Earth Peace add the following additional sentence to the statement of inclusion, from which much of the language of today’s Standing Committee statement was derived:

“We continue to commit ourselves to walk in love together with the denomination in the face of differing interpretations of scripture and Annual Conference statements and decisions.”

However, the sentence did not receive consensus support from the full board of On Earth Peace, which requested consultation about the sentence from several other groups in the denomination including the Open Table Cooperative, Womaen’s Caucus, Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests, the Brethren Revival Fellowship, and the liaison to the Council of District Executives.

Other interactions over the three years included a specially called session with Scheurer during 2013’s Standing Committee meetings, reported by Newsline at , and in 2012 the Standing Committee statement of concern titled “A Way Forward” that said, in part, “trust in leadership has been broken” by three events–one being the “Statement of Inclusion.”

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
On Earth Peace representatives at the Standing Committee meeting were executive director Bill Scheurer (at right) and board chair Jordan Bles (at center).

At that time 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.” Find “A Way Forward” in full at .

In other business

Standing Committee also held elections for its Nominating Committee and Appeals Committee.

The Nominating Committee includes: from the class of 2015, Joel Kline of Illinois/Wisconsin District, John Shelly of Southern Pennsylvania District, John Moyers of West Marva District, chair Roy McVey of Virlina; and from the class of 2016, Duane Grady of Northern Indiana District, Ellen Wile of Mid-Atlantic District, Jim Myer of Atlantic Northeast District, and Lou Kensinger of Middle Pennsylvania District.

The Appeals Committee for 2014-2015 includes David Crumrine of Middle Pennsylvania District, Larry O’Neill of Atlantic Northeast District, Ron Nicodemus of Northern Indiana District. First alternate is Edith Kieffaber of Northern Ohio District. Second alternate is Jim Benedict of Mid-Atlantic District.

— Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services, provided this report.