Among other business, the Annual Conference today began consideration of “Query: Same Sex Weddings,” but did not conclude discussion of the item. First, the delegate body took a vote to open the floor to accept a query related to human sexuality as an item of business, because the Conference in 2011 had decided “to continue deeper conversations concerning human sexuality outside of the query process.”
The vote to accept the query as an item of business required only a simple majority vote. It was close enough to force a count, which was announced after a delegate requested an announcement of the numbers: 387 voted for accepting the query, 279 voted against, making a total of 666 votes out of a registered delegate body of 703–the number of delegates as of Wednesday evening.
A representative of the Standing Committee of district delegates then moved the committee’s response to the query, which the committee had adopted by a very narrow vote (see the report at www.brethren.org/news/2016/standing-committee-responds-query-same-sex-weddings.html ).
The Standing Committee response includes more than a page of references to previous Annual Conference statements and other documents of the church, and the following recommendation:
“Standing Committee recommends to the 2016 Annual Conference that the conduct expectations of the general membership, as stated in the 1983 Annual Conference statement ‘Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective,’ which was reaffirmed at the 2011 Annual Conference, and the conduct expectations of licensed and ordained persons, as stated in the 2002 Annual Conference statement ‘Licensing/Ordination of Homosexual Persons to the Ministry in the Church of the Brethren,’ make it clear that for credentialed ministers to officiate or provide leadership at a same sex wedding is to go against the stance of the Church of the Brethren. It shall be considered a matter of pastoral/ministerial misconduct. The districts shall respond with discipline, not with allowances based on personal conscience. The consequence for officiating or providing leadership at a same sex wedding is the termination of the ministry credential of the one officiating or providing leadership at a same sex wedding. This shall be for a period of one year, pending review by the district ministerial leadership team.”
Standing Committee determined that its recommendation requires a two-thirds majority vote. If approved, the recommendation would be considered “proposed new polity” and would become an item of new business for the 2017 Annual Conference. In 2017 the recommendation would require a two-thirds majority vote to be adopted as a change in church polity.
Delegates began discussing the Standing Committee recommendation after numerous people came to the microphones to ask questions. When business adjourned for the afternoon with the matter still unresolved, there were many people still waiting at the microphones to speak.
The questions, and speeches at the microphones revealed a real division in the delegate body, displaying a sharp divide between those who agreed with the recommendation and those who disagreed.
A number of underlying concerns were expressed, such as the concern to be faithful to biblical teaching, and to express the love of Christ in the church. The sharp division in the body was displayed by–on the one hand–expression of concerns to maintain the Church of the Brethren as a diverse denomination marked by inclusion, and–on the other hand–concern to rein in the growing number of ministers who perform same sex weddings and to maintain the authority of Annual Conference.
The important role of personal conscience in the tradition of the Church of the Brethren was another concern expressed at the microphones. However, an amendment failed that would have deleted the sentence, “The districts shall respond with discipline, not with allowances based on personal conscience.”
One minister asked how the words in the recommendation about “providing leadership” at a same sex wedding would be defined: “Can I walk someone down the aisle? Can I offer a prayer? What is the level of leadership I can provide to family and friends?” he asked. After the Standing Committee presenter gave an answer to his question, another member of Standing Committee spoke from the floor to note that the presenter was giving his own interpretation and that the whole committee had not spoken about it: “At this point he can only offer his own opinion in these matters.”
Two people asked about applying the Special Response process for highly controversial issues to this query, and the moderator invited one of them to come talk with the officers during a break. No public answer was given to the question of applying the Special Response process.
Discussion of the Standing Committee recommendation is expected to continue tomorrow morning, after an opening prayer and Bible study.
In other business today, the Conference:
— Welcomed six new congregations and fellowships (full report to come).
— Welcomed representatives from the Lybrook Mission and Tokahookaadi (N.M.) Church of the Brethren.
— Welcomed international guests from Nigeria, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Brazil (the list of international guests is included on the “Today in Greensboro-Wednesday” page at www.brethren.org/news/2016/today-in-greensboro-wednesday.html ).
— Held elections in which Samuel Sarpiya was chosen moderator-elect (see all election results at www.brethren.org/news/2016/annual-conference-names-new-leaders.html ).
— Received the report of the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Committee and approved a one percent increase to the 2017 Recommended Minimum Cash Salary Table for pastors.
The 2016 Annual Conference News Team includes: writers Frank Ramirez, Frances Townsend, Karen Garrett, Tyler Roebuck, Monica McFadden; photographers Glenn Riegel, Regina Holmes, Keith Hollenberg, Donna Parcell, Laura Brown; Conference Journal editor Eddie Edmonds; web manager Jan Fischer Bachman; web staff Russ Otto; editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford.