Queries Address Same-Sex Marriage, On Earth Peace, Life Together in the Church, Creation Care

Five queries have been acted on by district conferences this year and received by the officers of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, for consideration in 2016 by the Standing Committee and/or the Annual Conference. The Standing Committee of district delegates makes recommendations about the business items that will be presented to the Conference.

The queries are from West Marva District, “Query: Same-Sex Weddings” and “Query: On Earth Peace Reportability/Accountability to Annual Conference”; from Southeastern District, “Query: Viability of On Earth Peace as an Agency of the Church of the Brethren”; from Pacific Southwest District, “Query: Living as Christ Calls”; and from Illinois and Wisconsin District, “Continuing the Study of Our Christian Responsibility to Care for God’s Creation.”

Because the 2011 Annual Conference decided “to continue deeper conversations concerning human sexuality outside of the query process,” the Conference officers have determined that they will ask Standing Committee to first decide whether to recommend that the delegate body reopen the query process to discussion of a topic related to human sexuality. Only if the delegate body decides that it is time to open up the topic again through the query process, can a recommendation regarding the query on same-sex marriage be considered.

The queries follow in full:

Illinois and Wisconsin District Query: Continuing the Study of Our Christian Responsibility to Care for God’s Creation

Whereas: two statements issued by the General Board of the Church of the Brethren–“Resolution on Global Warming and Atmospheric Degradation” (1991), and “Resolution on Global Warming/Climate Change” (2001)–calling on staff to give priority to the issue of the earth’s climate and thereby provide models and educational resources for congregations, institutions, and members to study the issues and take responsible actions, have had only modest impact on our congregations, communities, states, and nation;

Whereas: we in the United States are among the nations with the greatest consumption of nonrenewable sources such as fossil fuels, and our own leadership is not responding with sufficient urgency to stem this inevitable crisis for the earth and its people;

Whereas: reductions to greenhouse gas concentrations from our dependence on fossil fuels can occur through socially responsible investments and community projects.

Whereas: there are renewable energy sources and energy efficient methods that do not produce greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane which are contributing to the warming of the earth’s ecosystem;

Whereas: God who created the Earth along with the heavens called it good, and continues to love all of creation–(Genesis 1, Psalm 24, John 3:16-17, Jonah 3:8, 4:11 and others)–God commissioned us to be caretakers of all his earthly creation: plants, animals, seas, skies, and ecological systems, as well as all our neighbors (Genesis 2:15);

Whereas: to value God’s creation, the scriptures teach us we must be mindful of over-consumption, to seek justice for the weak and powerless, reflect God’s light to the world (Leviticus 25; the Book of Ruth; Luke 18:18ff; 12:13-31; Matthew 5-7; and others); and

Whereas: showing care for God’s gift of the earth and its inhabitants may well be a most effective way to bring the Gospel to our neighbors;

Therefore: We, the Polo (Ill.) Church of the Brethren gathered in Council on May 2, 2015, petition the Annual Conference through the Illinois/Wisconsin District Conference meeting at Peoria, Ill., November 6-7, 2015: What can we, the Church of the Brethren through our denomination, districts, and related agencies, do to promote and model creation care? What ways can we support and extend our knowledge of renewable energy production with our financial investments and involvement in community projects to reduce our contributions to greenhouse gas concentrations, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels?
— Bill Hare, Moderator; Evelyn Bowman, Church Clerk

Action of the Illinois/Wisconsin District Leadership Team:

At its August 1, 2015, meeting, the Leadership Team approved the “Query: Continuing the Study of Our Christian Responsibility to Care for God’s Creation” for consideration by the Annual Conference meeting in 2016 at Greensboro, North Carolina.
— Amanda Rahn, District Leadership Team Chair; Carol Novak, Acting District Leadership Team Secretary

Action of the Illinois/Wisconsin District Conference:
Approved by action of the Illinois/Wisconsin District Conference meeting at the First Church of the Brethren, Peoria, IL, on November 7, 2015.
— Dana McNeil, District Moderator; William Williams, District Clerk

West Marva District Query: Same-Sex Weddings

Whereas the 1983 Annual Conference position paper on Human Sexuality states, “Covenantal relationships between homosexual persons is an additional lifestyle option but, in the church’s search for a Christian understanding of human sexuality, this alternative is not acceptable,”

Whereas in 2011, the Annual Conference re-affirmed the 1983 Statement in its entirety, thereby clarifying that the understanding of the Church of the Brethren in regards to, covenantal relationships between homosexual persons, is unchanged,

Whereas the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that same sex marriage is a constitutional right in all fifty states,

Whereas there is uncertainty regarding the proper role of credentialed ministers and congregations in the Church of the Brethren where same sex weddings are concerned, it was felt that there was a need for guidance and clarity at the denominational level of the Church of the Brethren.

Therefore, the Mission and Ministry Board of the West Marva District petition Annual Conference through the West Marva District Conference, meeting at the Moorefield West Virginia Church of the Brethren, September 18-19, 2015, to consider “How shall districts respond when credentialed ministers and/or congregations conduct or participate in same sex weddings?”

West Marva District Query: On Earth Peace Reportability/Accountability to Annual Conference

Whereas the 1998 Annual Conference delegate body adopted the On Earth Peace Assembly Request for Reportability/Accountability to Annual Conference. Included in their request was a statement to: “commit itself to providing ministry that is within the scope of Annual Conference directives and congruent with articulated values of the Church of the Brethren.” On Earth Peace further stated, “If Annual Conference agency status is granted, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference is now advised of On Earth Peace Assembly’s intent and commitment to work honorably, as a full program partner, to further build the institution of the Church of the Brethren and the peaceful kingdom of God here on earth as in heaven.”

Whereas during its 2011 fall meeting, the On Earth Peace board of directors issued the following statement of inclusion: 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.

Whereas the 2015 On Earth Peace flyer that accompanied the On Earth Peace report in the Annual Conference packet referenced the scripture, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, She has anointed me to…” referring to God as “She.” This same flyer includes a picture of a rainbow-scarved pastor and the concept of “Inclusion.”

Whereas the On Earth Peace website Ministers of Reconciliation page states “Ministers of Reconciliation are a diverse group of trained volunteers who serve the church by being present and attentive, ready to respond where confusion, conflict or negative emotions are causing a problem in the gathered body.” Yet, while the declared intent is to work through conflict and resolve disputes, On Earth Peace, since 2011, through reports, statements, and actions, has brought more tension than peace.

Therefore we the Bear Creek Church of the Brethren of Accident, Md., convened in congregational business meeting on August 9, 2015, petition the Annual Conference through the West Marva District Conference meeting at Moorefield, W.Va., September 18-19, 2015, to consider if it is the will of Annual Conference for On Earth Peace to remain an agency of the Church of the Brethren with reportability and accountability to Annual Conference.
— Joyce Lander, Church Board Chair; Linda Sanders, Church Clerk

Southeastern District Query: Viability of On Earth Peace as an Agency of the Church of the Brethren

Whereas: The Church of the Brethren is and has been a living peace church since 1708; and

Whereas: Ministries of peace, non-violence, and justice for all are a concern of the denomination; and

Whereas: Both the staff of the Church of the Brethren, Inc. and On Earth Peace seem to have overlapping responsibilities and ministries, and

Whereas: The recent actions of On Earth Peace, during the last three years, have brought more conflict in the denomination and reflect their unwillingness to follow Annual Conference mandates or directives; and

Whereas: The denomination’s diminishing membership and reduction of resources reflects the need for less structure and more efficient administration.

Therefore: We the Hawthorne Church of the Brethren, who met on July 19, 2015, petition the Southeastern District Church of the Brethren District Board to review and evaluate the question “Would the denomination be better served by dissolving On Earth Peace as an agency of Annual Conference and their responsibilities integrated into the general work of the staff of the Church of the Brethren, Inc.?”
— Ralph Stevens, Church Moderator; Martin Murr, Pastor

Action of the Southeastern District Church of the Brethren District Board:
At the Southeastern District Board Retreat that met on September 12, 2015 at Camp Carmel in Linville, N.C., the Southeastern District Board approved the “Query: Viability of On Earth Peace as an Agency of the Church of the Brethren” for consideration by a called Southeastern District Conference to be held on November 14, 2015.
— Stephen Abe, Southeastern District Board Chair; Mary June Sheets, Southeastern District Board Secretary

Action of the Called Southeastern District Conference:
At the Special Called Southeastern District Conference held on Saturday, November 14, 2015, the Conference Body voted to send accept and send the Query: “Viability of On Earth Peace as an Agency of the Church of the Brethren” to the Church of the Brethren Standing Committee for review and acceptance for the 2016 Annual Conference.
— Gary Benesh, 2016 Southeastern District Conference Moderator; Jane Collins, Substitute District Conference Clerk

Pacific Southwest District Query: Living as Christ Calls

Query from the La Verne Church of the Brethren to be submitted for consideration to the Pacific Southwest District during District Conference November, 2015.

Whereas the Church of the Brethren, which has no creed but the New Testament, is made up of a breadth of theological understandings and cultural identities,

Whereas some Church of the Brethren congregations see themselves reflected in the church body, while others find themselves marginalized,

Whereas some in our denomination are comfortable with living out our history as a predominately white church, others are calling for a systematic institutional shift to address a lack of intercultural inclusion,

Whereas the 2015 Supreme Court decision on Marriage Equality has been a source of support for some Church of the Brethren congregations, and raised concerns for others,

Whereas some in our denomination see the role of women in church leadership as a call from God, and others see that call as acting against the will of God,

Whereas the inspiration of the Bible for some is seen as contextual and for others is seen as inerrant,

Whereas discussions on issues such as human sexuality, climate change, military drones, and denominational name have threatened to divide our denomination,

Whereas we all want to continue the work of Jesus through His call to the Great Commission, and His call to love the Lord our God, and our neighbor as ourselves, and His call to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned,

Whereas the 2008 paper entitled Resolution Urging Forbearance calls us to respect differences and embrace our commitment to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ,

Whereas the 2012 Standing Committee’s paper entitled A Way Forward calls us to “develop ways that the church can be intentional and systematic in working to address and eliminate ridicule, bullying, hatefulness, and bigotry toward all persons,”

Whereas we continue to adopt statements at the denominational level calling us to treat each other with Christian respect amidst our differences, in practice we continue to act in ways that are not respectful, peace-minded, or loving toward one another,

Therefore, we the members of the La Verne Church of the Brethren, gathered in council meeting on August 16, 2015, petition the Annual Conference through the Pacific Southwest District Conference to appoint a committee to address the roots of our tension and develop strategies that will aid us in treating one other in a truly Christ-like manner.

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